HL Deb 27 March 1984 vol 450 cc138-204

3.3 p.m.

Lord Gray of Contin

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

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Gray of Contin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Calculation of discount and period of occupation]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 8, leave out paragraph (a).

The noble Lord said: This is a very simple amendment. The clause reduces to two years the length of tenancy after which people are entitled to a statutory right to purchase their houses, and automatically grants them a 32 per cent. discount on that purchase. I do not think there is any businessman in this Committee who would like to be under such an obligation in respect of any tenant at all. While I certainly accept the fact that three years is the existing position, it is carrying matters to an absurd point that someone who becomes a tenant is automatically given security of tenure and, after paying his rent for two years—I repeat, two years—can purchase that house with a discount of 32 per cent.

This is not a bargain that has been freely struck in respect of purchasing a house with a sitting tenant; this is part of the argument in respect of the 32 per cent. One need only read the original Bill. The valuation is carried out by the district valuer, or some other appointed qualified valuer, and after the price has been reckoned the Government formula has to be applied. It is not the local authority which is selling the house. The purchaser is the tenant who is given this considerable right by the Government. The house belongs to the local authority. In fact, when first we embarked upon local authority house-building it was the pride and glory of the party opposite. We introduced into this House not all that long ago the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, whose great pride it was that he was going to build 400,000 houses in one year—

Noble Lords

It was 300,000!

Lord Ross of Marnock

Was it only 300,000? I am glad to be corrected. But that was the importance he felt as to the need for good housing for the people. If one reduces the stock of those council houses it automatically means that the people who are on a waiting list must wait all that much longer; and, of course, this Bill will encourage more people to purchase houses.

I believe the number of local authority houses in Scotland is about 887,000, and if one adds in the new towns and Scottish special housing association houses, it is probably about one million. When one considers the population of Scotland, your Lordships may well say that that is a very big proportion. Of course it is, but that shows how bad Scottish housing was previously. The fact that there are still about 150,000 to 160,000 people waiting for a house is a very serious matter when the stock is being reduced. One must remember that people who are actually in houses are waiting for a better house, and the kind of house that is being sold at present is the best type of house.

The Government say that just over 40,000 houses have been sold. It has not been a great success in Scotland. If one looks again at the kind of houses that are being sold, in the area I know well—in Kilmarnock and Glasgow—it is reckoned that the best houses that other people want to get into are being sold. So the Government are selling the hopes of a better house and are selling the best of the stock. I think that enough is enough. We agreed to three years, but to go further and give people this kind of right after two years is just too much. I beg to move.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I must say that on Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Gray, expressed satisfaction at the rate houses had been sold, and he told us that the number of applications which were being received each month he deemed to be satisfactory. In this case I must agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ross, that, if it is satisfactory, why on earth is the Minister reducing the qualifying period? It is true, of course, that the most desirable houses are being sold. If someone is allocated a new house they can buy it in two years. I think the three-year period is plenty. Quite frankly. I do not understand the rush to add further attractions in order to improve a situation which has been described as satisfactory.

Lord Gray of Contin

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ross, for the way in which he has moved this amendment. I cannot agree with him, of course, and I think that the flaw in his argument is that he revealed the basic dislike of this party towards the whole principle of selling council houses. I know that members of his party suggest that they are not against the principle, but in every argument which has taken place, either in another place or during the Second Reading debate here, that weakness in argument has been revealed. The noble Lord's party is basically opposed to this principle, and, of course, naturally uses every means at its disposal for arguing that case. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, his party is not opposed to the principle of selling council houses, and in replying to this amendment I shall try to explain to him why we believe that the course we are following is desirable.

The purpose of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of Clause 1 is to reduce the basic qualifying time for the right to buy from three years' tenancy to two years' tenancy. Under the existing provisions of the Tenants' Rights. Etc. (Scotland) Act. a tenant must have been in occupation of publicly provided housing for at least three years before he qualifies for the right to buy. If a tenant has the necessary three years' occupation for the right to buy, this entitles him to a basic discount of 33 per cent. on the market value of his home. If he has further periods of "continuous occupation" in publicly provided housing, then he is entitled to an additional 1 per cent. discount for each year beyond the three years' qualifying time up to the current maximum of 50 per cent. after 20 years' tenancy. Clause 1 of the Bill will of course amend the discount scale so that the maximum discount available to tenants will be increased to 60 per cent. after 30 years' tenancy. As well as reducing the basic qualifying period for the right to buy from three years to two years, Clause 1 also makes a consequential change to the discount scale so that it starts at 32 per cent. after two years' tenancy.

As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland explained when the provision reducing the qualifying period was discussed in another place, there is no particular magic about the three-year cut-off point for qualification for the right to buy. It is obviously necessary to ensure that only bona fide tenants qualify for the right to buy: that is. tenants who occupy the property on a long-term basis. However, we have now concluded that two years' tenancy is long enough for this purpose. The change to two years will, we estimate, be of immediate benefit to some 30,000 tenants who will be entitled to buy at the new basic discount of 32 per cent.

Similar changes are being made to the right to buy rules in England and Wales in the context of the current Housing and Building Control Bill. These changes represent an important improvement in the right to buy, and I urge the noble Lords to withdraw their amendment.

I think that when on reflection noble Lords consider what I have said and consider the opportunity which will be afforded to a section of the community to make this purchase, they will agree that it is a step in the right direction. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, said that the policy of selling houses has not been particularly popular. But in fact it has been popular. It has been popular in Scotland with 46.000 households. That may be a small number out of the total number of houses that are municipally owned in Scotland; but I suggest that the policy in Scotland over the years has been a bad policy. There have been far too many people in municipally owned houses instead of their being encouraged to buy their own homes. For that reason, I believe that the policy which the Government are following is the right one and that this amendment is a mistake. I ask noble Lords to consider withdrawing it.

3.13 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

I have listened to the explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin. It seems to me that a discount of nearly a third at the end of two years is pretty considerable. If it was said that the discount at the end of two years was, let us say, 20 per cent., or even 25 per cent., I could understand it. But I think that it is a bit tough that after two years someone can get something for as little as that. I am not quarrelling about the idea of two years rather than three, although I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, is suggesting that we should be back to the three-year period. But I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Gray, perhaps to look again at the discount that is proposed.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I, too, have listened to the Minister's reply to the arguments presented in support of this amendment. I listened particularly because of course what was said in support of the amendment was a considerable argument. I was genuinely waiting to hear what the answer to these arguments would be, but the Minister has not told us anything at all that we did not know already. We know that the original Bill provided for a period of three years and that the Bill before us reduces that period to two years, but not a single word has been said to justify this change in answer in particular to the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, but equally to that of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. The matter therefore remains something of a mystery, certainly to someone like myself who was simply waiting to hear the argument and reach a conclusion about it. I think that the Government have no answer to the arguments which have been put forward in support of this amendment.

The Earl of Selkirk

I wonder whether I may ask my noble friend for one word of clarification. In the course of his remarks he used two words, "tenancy" and "occupation". Which is it? Does the provision mean that someone has to pay rent for two years or actually has to live in the house for two or three years? I am not very clear which of those it means, particularly in view of subsection (3), which I think repeals certain words in the previous Act. I am afraid that I have not checked exactly what those words are.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I am sorry to rise again, but I think that the Minister spoke to another proposed change, which is to raise the discount available to 60 per cent. I also find this inexplicable. I agree that it is a very good thing to encourage people to buy their own houses and their council houses, but we should not throw them away, and throw them away to a certain section of the community only. I come back to my old plea for the farm worker. The farm worker provides his own accommodation during his working life by his labour on the land but he has no right to buy that house, a council house or any other house at a discount of 50 percent., 30 per cent. or even 10 per cent. Why then should we deprive local authorities of the money that they should be using to provide retirement houses for these farm workers who have worked all their lives to provide their own accommodation?

This is the flaw in the argument. I do not see that the provision is necessary. It will deprive authorities which are very hard up of money that could be used, together with Government assistance, to build greatly needed houses. I fail to see the reason for the proposal, unless it is simply that the Government want to give away money, and they have not shown much sign of that up to now.

Lord Gray of Contin

I think that some of your Lordships have been arguing a false case, and I shall try to explain why I believe that is so. I have sympathy with my noble friend Lord Selkirk who asked me why I thought the proposal was necessary, and I have sympathy with other noble Lords who suggested that the discount was too high. But the level of discount reflects the fact that any house with a sitting tenant has a substantially lower value than one with vacant possession. Therefore, anything which can be done to encourage a sitting tenant to take advantage of the opportunity which is available to him to purchase his house must ultimately be to the good, and to the good of the local authority.

I come back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, made. By encouraging additional tenants to purchase their houses the local authority will have available to it greater funds than it otherwise would if it did not encourage tenants to purchase. I will not be drawn into the argument about agricultural workers. I know that it is dear to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, as it is to the hearts of many other noble Lords. But I merely say that the local authority or local authorities in general would have more money available, the more houses they sell. So that the step which we are taking here, by encouraging tenants, by offering them a higher discount, obviously must improve the potential for the sale of council houses. I am not quite sure of the point which my noble friend Lord Selkirk was making when he asked me about the difference between tenancy and occupation; but I think that I would be right if I said a secure tenant in occupation of a council house would be a tenant paying rent. I hope that answers the point which the noble Earl raised.

I am afraid I am not persuaded by the arguments in favour of this amendment. What we seek to do is the right policy. I believe that by doing so we will give hope and opportunity to tenants who might not otherwise be able to invest in the purchase of their own homes, and I hope that noble Lords, on reflection, will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Lord Tordoff

If that argument is to be carried to its logical conclusion, the Government will shortly be offering a 30 per cent. rebate after no occupation at all.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I am sorry to come in again, but that is exactly the point which the Minister has not faced up to. He compares the situation with the situation of a tenant of a private house,—a sitting tenant buying—and of course there would be some discount which would be acceptable in such a case. But here the tenant has also, as it were, a statutory built-in-right. You can lease a local authority house and have a statutory right to this extraordinarily large discount, and this is something that the Government must face up to.

Lord Hughes

When the Minister in his last intervention justified the selling of these houses at a discount, he pointed out, quite rightly, that the value of a house with an occupying tenant is less than a house to which the purchaser can immediately gain entry. When the Government originally fixed the discounts at figures between 33 and 50 per cent., did they have any evidence that the prevailing discount in these circumstances, when a house with a tenant was being sold, was anything like these percentages? Have they now any evidence that the figures at which such a house would be sold would range at a discount of between 32 and 60 per cent. I would doubt very much if they could produce any evidence to justify these percentages on the basis of the principle to which he referred.

Lord Gray of Contin

If I may take the point raised by the noble Lord first of all, I would not agree that that is necessarily the case. If I may answer his question, the Government obviously took advice on this matter before reaching a conclusion as to the desirable discounts to be offered. But of course this could conceivably vary from one part of the country to another. But nevertheless I would not agree with him that this was not realistic. Anybody who has owned property and has had that property occupied by tenants will appreciate that the value of that house is vastly reduced, so far as a sale is concerned, by the fact that it is occupied by a tenant. Therefore that must be reflected in the price which is offered. As we see it, we believe that we have got it just about right regarding discounts. We feel that what we are doing here is an encouragement to a group of people for whom this 1 per cent. might be the difference between being able to make such a purchase and not. As I mentioned earlier, we believe that there are probably about 30,000 people who conceivably could benefit by this decision, and I think that it is the right decision in those circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, have made points with which I think I have already dealt. I believe that the attitude the Government have adopted is the right one. I do not think that it is reasonable to suggest for one moment that the discount will go down and down. That is not necessarily the case. This is a conscious decision at each stage on the part of the Government, and if the Government saw or considered that there was likely to be a substantial increase in sales by the dropping of a percentage point to one group then I think that the Government are perfectly justified in taking that decision. I believe that in this case here we are taking the right decision, and that we are giving the opportunity to 30,000 additional council tenants to purchase their homes. I cannot believe that that is wrong.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell the Committee and the people of Scotland whether, if this amendment was accepted, the people of Scotland would be at a disadvantage as compared to the people of England, if the England and Wales Bill goes through?

Lord Gray of Contin

In that regard, yes. The particular group of people to whom I referred could be at a disadvantage; but it is our hope that this amendment will not be accepted, and that the 30,000 people who stand to benefit will be enabled to do so.

Lord Tordoff

On that particular point, if we are going to detain the Committee on matters of this sort and debate amendments, what is the point in bringing Scottish Bills before your Lordships if they have to be identical with the Bills on England and Wales that go through?

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Is not the law in Scotland slightly different?

Lord Gray of Contin

I am not going to start up any animosity between Scotland and England if I can possibly prevent it. But it has been a tradition that Scotland, on major issues—and housing has always been considered one of those major issues—has had its own legislation. I am dealing with a Scottish Bill at the present moment, and I was asked a question relating to an English Bill which I answered as best I could. However, I would rather direct my attentions towards this Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Amendment Bill.

The Earl of Perth

Before the noble Lord, Lord Ross, speaks, could the noble Lord, Lord Gray, help us a little more? I can understand that a 32 per cent. or 33 per cent. discount in relation to somebody who is already there as a tenant is a reasonable discount. But—and I think it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, who made this point—what about somebody who now, today, gets a council house? He is pretty lucky. He had no tenancy right; but what the Government are going to give him under this Bill, if I read it aright, is, in two years, to get the house at a 32 per cent. discount. In other words, those who are lucky enough to get a new tenancy after this, with no tenants' rights, are going to be particularly fortunate as opposed to those in the past because they are getting a house which enables them to buy it at the end of two years for one-third less than its value. It seems to me that that is mistaken.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in his remarks. He said that he was looking at the extent of the discount. I approached it from the point of view of the two years rather than the three years; but he has a very valid point even at three years, to give someone a 33 per cent. discount. It takes a bit of understanding how business men, who look at things rather fairly, should agree to this.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, seems to suggest we must not put the Scottish tenants at a disadvantage as against the English tenants. Simply because they put it in an English Bill, must we do the same? When was that a rule in Scotland? The Secretary of State is sitting beside the noble Baroness. He will know better than anybody else that the housing legislation for Scotland is very different. The noble Baroness will be suggesting next that we take away the Scottish Special Housing Association because there is not one in England. Housing in Scotland, under legislation, is dictated by the conditions in Scotland. The noble Lord seems to think that we have an animus against people buying their own houses. People in Scotland would love to have been able to buy their own houses but there was mobility of labour that demanded tenancies. There are many of the Glasgow and Edinburgh people who are landlords of private tenant property who are delighted about that.

Scarcity and bad conditions created the need for local housing authorities to provide houses, and in fact it was a Labour Government who provided in the original legislation that if five ratepayers were dissatisfied with the rate of building, they could apply to the Government in order to force the local authority to build. Never did I think that we should reach the position where a local authority would be forced by a Government to sell council houses.

But it is a strange doctrine. The only justification for it that we were given in the first speech of the Minister was that the Government had decided to redefine a long-term, stable tenant; and a long-term, stable, bona fide tenant is to be one who has been there for two years—two years! I ask the Committee to remember that such a person already has security of tenure, and to give him a 32 per cent. discount after two years beggars logic. But then the Government have been beggaring logic all through. Take the case of a tenant who has been in a house for 30 years or more. That is the last house that the local authority would sell because the tenant is older and the house would be likely to become vacant and so be available for, say, a person in a rural area who required it. But, instead, in a case such as that the Government are forcing the local authority to give a 60 per cent. discount. It really is crazy business.

We must remember that in fact the Government do not own the houses. When the local authorities built houses before the war they took on a 40 per cent. debt. and, notwithstanding a Government subsidy, the Government insisted that a quarter of the amount had to be paid by the local authorities. So the local authorities and the ratepayers are the owners of the houses. After the war, due to rates of interest, the debt rose to 60 per cent.; and of course the debts are still there. The noble Lord said, "Look at the money that the local authorities will be able to spend on housing". But will he look at the capital allocations? The Government determine exactly how much the local authorities will receive for capital spending on housing each year. By how much is that going down? It has been going down and down.

It is disgraceful to put an argument on those lines and then to suggest that there is animus on our part. When I was Secretary of State I allowed local authorities to sell houses; but after approval everything was left to the discretion of the local authorities, and anyone who wanted to buy a house had to be on a housing list. So, please, let us not have this kind of argument and let it not be suggested that there is animus. This is a matter of commonsense, and I think that anyone who has listened to the debate will hardly have been convinced by the repeated assertion of the Minister of State. All he says is that the Government think that it is right. Well, I trust that the Committee will think that it is wrong.

3.34 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 96; Not-Contents, 108.

Airedale, L. Banks, L.
Ardwick, L. Barnett, L.
Attlee, E. Beswick, L.
Aylestone, L. Birk, B.
Blease, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Blyton, L. Kirkhill, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Leatherland, L.
Bottomley, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Brockway, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Loudoun, C.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Collison, L. McCarthy, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Mackie of Benshie, L.
Davies of Leek, L. McNair, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Mais, L.
Denington, B. Milverton, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Mishcon, L.
Donnet of Balgay, L. Molloy, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Oram, L.
Ennals, L. Phillips, B.
Ezra, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. [Teller.]
Fitt, L. Raglan, L.
Fletcher, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Gaitskell, B. Rhodes, L.
Gallacher, L. Rochester, L.
Gladwyn, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Glenamara, L. Sainsbury, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Shackleton, L.
Grey, E. Stallard, L.
Grimond, L. Stamp, L.
Hale, L. Stedman, B.
Hampton, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hanworth, V. Stone, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Strabolgi, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Strauss, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hughes, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hunter of Newington, L. Tordoff, L.
Ilchester, E. Underhill, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Jacobson, L. Walston, L.
Jacques, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Jeger, B. Whaddon, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. White, B.
John-Mackie, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Kagan, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Duncan-Sandys, L.
Allerton, L. Effingham, E.
Alport, L. Ellenborough, L.
Ampthill, L. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Annan, L. Elton, L.
Avon, E. Faithfull, B.
Bauer, L. Ferrers, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Fortescue, E.
Bellwin, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L.
Beloff, L. Gainford, L.
Belstead, L. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Berkeley, B. Glanusk, L.
Blake, L. Glasgow, E.
Brookes, L. Glenkinglas, L.
Caithness, E. Gray of Contin, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Gridley, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Hailsham of Saint
Cathcart, E. Marylebone, L.
Cayzer, L. Harvey of Prestbury, L.
Chelwood, L. Henley, L.
Chesham, L. Hives, L.
Clitheroe, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Cockfield, L. Hood, V.
Coleraine, L. Kaberry of Adel, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Kilmany, L.
Cox, B. Kinnoull, E.
Craigavon, V. Kintore, E.
Craigton, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Cromartie, E. Lauderdale, E.
Daventry, V. Long, V.
De Freyne, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Luke, L.
Dormer, L. Lyell, L.
Drumalbyn, L. McFadzean, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Sandys, L.
Macleod of Borve, B. Selkirk, E.
Marley, L. Sempill, Ly.
Masham of Ilton, B. Sharples, B.
Merrivale, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Mersey, V. Spens, L.
Mills, V. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Molson, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal,
Montgomery of Alamein, V. L.
Morris, L. Suffield, L.
Mottistone, L. Swansea, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Nugent of Guildford, L. Torphichen, L.
Orkney, E. Tranmire, L.
Orr-Ewing, L. Trefgarne, L.
Pender, L. Trumpington, B.
Peyton of Yeovil, L. Westbury, L.
Renton, L. Whitelaw, V.
St. Davids, V. Windlesham, L.
Salisbury, M. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 15, leave out sub-paragraph (iii).

The noble Lord said: This sub-paragraph deals with the increase of the maximum discount from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. The argument follows closely upon that of the previous amendment. The difficulty about this change to the 1980 Act is to decide the economic justification for an increase from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. discount on the purchase price of the house. It is accepted that only those who have a long tenancy will be able to benefit from the 60 per cent. reduction. On the other hand, it has been admitted by the Minister, and is also, I believe, in the memorandum to the Bill, that there are likely to be very few additional sales because of the fact that the discount has been increased to 60 per cent. Most of the people likely to wish to purchase their house and falling within the category that would give them this very large discount would have already applied to purchase the house. The economic justification is difficult to understand, while the task of finding a replacement in the market for let property becomes even more onerous for local authorities.

The Minister claims that the Labour Party has always been opposed to the sale of council houses. My noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock has made clear that we have never been opposed in principle to the idea of selling local authority housing. My noble friend has stated that he gave discretion to local authorities when he was Secretary of State. It is important that the public should realise that. All else being equal, if a local authority believes that it is good policy and that it has a sufficient number of properties in its housing stock to enable it to allow people to buy, we look forward to the day when this can be done on a really big scale.

In the statistics that the Minister kindly sent me following the Second Reading debate, it is clear, as I have stated several times, that the best of the houses—the semi-detached and the terraced houses—would be those that would be purchased. These constitute nearly all the houses that will qualify for the highest rate, the 60 per cent. rate, of discount.

By the nature of things, these are the types of houses that tended to be built in large numbers between the wars and were of a high standard, particularly in West Scotland. Of all the houses sold in Scotland in the period covered by the statistical bulletin dated February 1984, 87½ per cent. were of this type. They are the houses that will most likely qualify for the full 60 per cent. discount.

It is perhaps not a major point, when one has already reached 50 per cent., to add another 10 per cent. In fact, the Minister has already stated that he does not think that it will increase sales. We are therefore entitled to ask why the Government are giving an additional 10 per cent. discount to sell the best and most desirable of housing stock, the sort of houses for which many people have submitted transfer applications. So if we take these houses off the house letting market it will increase the despair of people who are living in other types of housing whose goal or dream for many, many years may have been to get an end terrace house, a good terrace house or semi-detached house. The Minister and the Government have just discouraged them that bit more by increasing the discount from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reasons for this and whether he believes that as a result of the Bill there will be a big increase in the sale of houses in this category. I should also like to know whether or not he thinks that this is a bad thing for the other tenants who are awaiting better housing. I beg to move.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I should like to support the amendment. In the course of our discussions on this matter, both during Second Reading and so far today, a good deal has been said on behalf of the Government about the position of a private tenant sitting on his lease and seeking to purchase the house of which he has the tenancy. I should have thought that it would be quite a simple matter to put before the Committee some evidence—for example, the views of valuers—as to the kind of discount which would be regarded as appropriate within certain limits.

We have had no evidence put to us at all to justify the basis upon which discounting is allowed in the Bill. I should like to ask the Minister whether he has made any effort to seek expert advice which would justify the stand which the Government have taken.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

As I understood the Minister's argument as regards the debate on the last amendment, he said to me, first, that any house which had a secure tenant in it and which was in private hands would have a discount if it was sold—the difference being that the private landlord is not bound to sell it; he can wait and see whether he can secure the whole value for his property when the tenant dies or moves out. The second point which the Minister made, and which I thought was quite a good one, was that if, by greater discount, one could sell more houses, one could then use that money to build houses like, for example, my pet houses—namely, houses for retired farm workers.

I have worked from some rough figures. If we sold 40,000 houses in Scotland which were valued at only £10,000, the amount appears to come to some £400 million. If we are going to give an extra 10 per cent. away, the figure comes to £40 million. How many houses would we need to sell at ever increasing discounts to make up that £40 million? I am sure that the Minister's department is absolutely stuffed with statisticians who have worked this out, and I would like to hear the figure. I must say that up until now I am wholly unconvinced that the argument is correct.

The Earl of Selkirk

I find it rather difficult to become emotionally aroused either by the amendment which was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ross, or the amendment which has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. What are we trying to do in this Bill? We are trying to do something that is absolutely essential for Scotland. Roughly 85 per cent. of people in this country want to own their own houses. To a great extent after the First World War, councils were called on to build big housing estates and. by and large, I agree that they did a magnificent job. But today, after the Second World War, people want their own homes and they are less keen on council houses. The Government have quite rightly put emphasis on trying to help people buy their own houses. I honestly do not feel wildly excited about whether it is to be two or three years, or 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. What I am concerned about is that it is successful and that people get their own houses to live in. That is what matters. With great respect, I am unable to get highly emotionally excited about either of these two amendments.

3.55 p.m.

Lord Gray of Contin

The improvement to the right to buy, increasing the maximum discount to which tenants are entitled from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent., will enable more tenants of long standing—many of them nearing the end of their working lives or already perhaps in retirement—to buy at prices which fairly reflect their tenancy record and the resources likely to be available to them.

Section (1)(5) of the 1980 Act provides that a tenant who has the right to buy shall be entitled to a basic discount of 33 per cent. after three years' tenancy—other provisions in the Bill will amend this to 32 per cent. after two years' tenancy—plus an additional 1 per cent. discount for each year of continuous occupation in excess of the qualifying period, up to a maximum discount of 50 per cent. of the market value of his house after 20 years' tenancy. We have now come to believe that the present rules do not adequately recognise the position of a substantial category of tenants—namely, those who have been public sector tenants for more than 20 years. Such tenants will generally be well on in their working lives and the amount of discount may be crucial to their decision whether or not to buy.

Clause l(l)(b)(iii) proposes therefore that the maximum discount should be increased from the present 50 per cent. after 20 years' tenancy to a new maximum of 60 per cent. after 30 or more years' tenancy, by increments of 1 per cent. for each intervening year. The new maximum discount will be of particular help to older tenants wishing to buy, and recognises the contribution that they have made to the maintenance of their home over a period of years.

I believe that tenants have a right not only to buy their own homes, but to buy at a price which reflects the substantial contribution which they have made to the costs of their housing over a period of years. It is only fair that the discount which tenants receive should reflect their tenancy record and this is why we have decided further to extend the discount scale. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said that this added to the problem of those on waiting lists. But if tenants do not buy their homes, the evidence is that they would remain renting, generally for a considerable number of years, and the house would not become available for reletting on a time scale which is relevant to the prospects of those who are seeking houses or transfers in the immediate or medium term. So the fact that somebody does not buy does not mean that that person is going to move; it means that that house will not be available to anybody.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, asked about what expert opinion we have taken. He asked whether we had taken the views of valuers as regards discount. I have to take a national view on this matter. The basic level of discount reflects the value of the house because of the sitting tenant, and we took a judgment on that in 1980. In other words, if we could have the house available empty, its value would be vastly different from the value we can expect for it with a sitting tenant. The contribution of the tenant by way of rents has also to be taken into account. Therefore, we take the view that where somebody has been a tenant for a long time and has been a good tenant, then that record should be reflected in the terms which are offered to that tenant as far as purchase is concerned.

Lord Ross of Marnock

How on earth can the noble Lord say that and give someone a 32 per cent. discount after two years? In two years what contribution has someone made to the maintenance of that house?

Lord Gray of Contin

The point is that someone who is an early tenant should not be put at a tremendous disadvantage. He or she should not have to think, "I cannot possibly purchase this house for 10 or 20 years". It is reasonable that, once someone becomes a local authority tenant and if the policy is to sell local authority houses, that person should not be unfairly treated because he or she has been a tenant for only a short time. It is equally important that a tenant who has been a tenant for a long time, and who has been a good tenant, should have terms offered to him or to her which reflect the quality of his or her tenancy.

Lord Ross of Marnock

But the Minister actually said that they took into account the contribution that had been made by way of the rent paid by the tenant. What would two years effectively mean in respect of a discount?

Lord Gray of Contin

As I have already explained to the noble Lord, we do not consider it reasonable to put new tenants, or relatively new tenants, at a very great disadvantage. They should be entitled to an incentive. Earlier the noble Lord said that he had no objection to the sale of council houses, and perhaps he has no objection in principle to the sale of council houses.

But, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, neither he nor his party, when in Government, did anything whatever to encourage tenants to buy. That is the difference in the attitudes of this Government and of the party opposite, in that we are doing everything we can to make it easy for tenants of local authority houses to purchase their houses. There is a very great difference between paying lip-service to the principle of selling council houses and putting that principle into practice. We are putting it into practice. With respect, the noble Lord paid lip-service to it.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gray, can clarify a point. He used the phrase, "if a tenant has been a good tenant". Does that mean that a 30-year tenant who has not been a good tenant does not get the discount?

Lord Gray of Contin

No. The noble Lord must not put words into my mouth. I was trying to explain that if a tenant has a good record, he or she should have the opportunity to see the contribution which he or she has made, by way of regularly keeping up with his or her rent and so making a valuable contribution, reflected in the price which he or she will pay for the house. That is all I said. I shall not be drawn into the argument about whether or not a bad tenant should have the same privileges.

Lord Ross of Marnock

But he has.

Lord Gray of Contin

All right. I think that it is highly unlikely that a bad tenant would actually seek to purchase his house, because most local authority experience is that the bad tenants are not the sort of people with a community spirit who might be tempted to purchase their own houses.

Lord Hughes

Will the Minister give way on this point? I am sorry to interrupt him, but where in the legislation is any discretion given to the local authority which refuses to sell on the basis that the tenant has obviously and admittedly been a bad tenant?

Lord Gray of Contin

I have to keep talking for a little while until I receive the answer to that from the Box..

Lord Hughes

I suggest that the noble Lord will still be talking tomorrow before he receives that answer.

Lord Gray of Contin

In lieu of an answer from my advisers, I can only repeat what I have already said to the noble Lord, Lord Ross; I suggest that it is highly unlikely that a tenant of the type referred to by the noble Lord would be in the position of seeking to purchase a house. However, I am sure that if we can keep this little debate going for a few more minutes, I shall have the proper answer for the noble Lord.

Lord Kirkhill

I merely want to ask one question. Can the noble Lord possibly define, or attempt to define, what he means by a "bad" tenant? As I understand the experience of most local authorities in Scotland, it is that, as a result of this Government's policy, houses in the more desirable areas have sold reasonably well, but houses in areas which are somewhat disadvantaged do not sell. Therefore, at the very least, this policy is socially divisive. At any rate, can the noble Lord tell me what he means by a "bad" tenant?

Lord Gray of Contin

The noble Lord has considerable experience of local government, and I am sure that he is able to put his own interpretation on what a "bad" tenant might be. But I do not agree with his last comment that this is a socially divisive policy. It is anything but a socially divisive policy. Although it is true to say as regards sales that the more popular houses have been the older houses and the houses in perhaps more desirable municipal areas, they are by no means the only houses involved. Indeed, in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, in what one might not perhaps consider to be the most attractive municipal areas, there are cases where houses have been purchased, which is an encouraging sign. There are people who are prepared to make purchases of those houses.

In order to try to answer the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, perhaps I may now read the note which has been sent to me. The legislation does not prescribe the type of tenant who may buy his house, but only good tenants are likely to wish to buy. That fully confirms what I have already said. I am grateful that I was on the right line of thinking.

Lord Tordoff

Is the noble Lord saying that those tenants who buy are good tenants and those who do not are bad tenants? Is that what he is trying to say to the Committee?

Lord Gray of Contin

I am not suggesting that for one moment. I am suggesting that the type of tenant who is community spirited, who is aware of the privilege which he has had in having a municipally-owned house for which he has paid rent, is certainly the most likely person to wish to purchase that house. Two types of purchasers live in municipally-owned houses. Type A is the person who wishes to purchase the dwelling which he occupies. Type B uses his years as a tenant of a municipally-owned house and during those years he looks for and seeks to purchase a private dwelling outside. Both those categories of tenants are community-minded and are the type of tenants who are likely to purchase their houses. I shall not attempt to define a "bad tenant", but we all have our own ideas of what bad tenants might be.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Perhaps I may define it in this way: a good tenant will get the discount and deserve it, but a bad tenant will not deserve the discount but will nevertheless get it.

Lord Gray of Contin

I suppose that if the bad tenant can manage to raise the wherewithal to make the purchase he will benefit by the goodwill of the local authority and the fact that initially all tenants will be looked upon as good tenants. However, if he is a bad tenant it might be to the local authority's great advantage if he does buy his house, for it would relieve them of a great burden.

Lady Saltoun

I was about to say precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, has just said. If I had a bad tenant I should be only too thankful to sell to him and get rid of him as a tenant.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I do not grudge the Minister his party political fisticuffs with the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock; they add to the general enjoyment of the scene. I assure the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that I am not at all emotionally involved in this; in this context one's emotions do not get aroused a great deal. However, I was trying to find out on what basis and upon what principle of valuation, if any, the Government proceeded in reaching the conclusion that these discounts were appropriate in this Bill.

Lord Gray of Contin

I must apologise to the noble and learned Lord in that I think I failed to answer fully one of his earlier points. As I now have the information for which he asked, I shall try to give it to him. His point, which was a point also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, was: what contribution had the tenant of two years' standing made, particularly rent-wise? One must accept that after two years the tenant has not made a major contribution by way of rental. But the fact that a house has a sitting tenant reduces its market value by about 30 per cent. and even, perhaps, considerably more, so that it really does not matter in that context how long the tenant has been a tenant; the fact that he is a tenant of the house certainly reduces very substantially the value of the house. I think that we—

Lord Hughes

Would the noble Lord the Minister give way on this point? I promise that I will not interrupt again. He has just said, as a justification for the two years, that where a house is tenanted it reduces the value by 30 per cent. I have not had any evidence that in the private market the extent to which the value is diminished is affected in any way whatsoever by the length of the tenancy. You do not find that a house in the private market is diminished by 30 per cent. because the person has been a tenant for only two years, but it becomes 40 per cent. or 50 per cent. because he has been there longer.

Having said that, when the noble Lord the Minister spoke earlier in reply to my previous question he said that the Government had taken advice. Presumably, if they had taken advice, the 50 per cent. maximum and the three-year minimum were based on the advice which they received at that time. Have they now received new advice indicating that the people who advised them last time were wrong and it ought to be two years and 60 per cent.? Because when the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, asked what kind of professional advice they had sought, the noble Lord the Minister did not answer; he did not say anything about the quality of the advice, or from whom it was received. Can we now have an answer as to who gave the advice in the beginning, whether the 50 per cent. was based on that advice, and whether new advice has been given which would justify 60 per cent.?

Lord Gray of Contin

I am afraid that the noble Lord is unintentionally misrepresenting what I said. He is using the analogy of the house in the private sector which is privately occupied and which is going to be sold. That has nothing to do with what I have said. What I was explaining in my argument was that if a house which was privately owned but tenanted in the private sector was going to be sold, then that house would not have the same value as it would have if it was being exposed without a tenant. That is the point I made. I was not talking about a house in the private sector which is already owned. That is a major difference; we are not talking about the same thing. The house which is privately owned by a landlord in the private sector but which is let to a tenant does not have anything like the value on the open market which that house would have if it were being sold without a tenant. That is the point I was making.

I am sorry, but I know that the last thing the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, would wish to do would be to misrepresent what I said. I think it right to put the record straight on that point. That was the example I was giving.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Since my noble friend says he is not going to intervene again, may I intervene on his behalf? Where there is a house in the private sector which is valued with a sitting tenant, what difference does it make to the valuation whether that tenant has been sitting there as a tenant for two, three, ten, 20 or 30 years? It does not make any difference at all.

Lord Gray of Contin

I accept part of what the noble Lord says, but it is surely reasonable, whether we are talking about publicly-owned or privately-owned houses—

Lord Ross of Marnock

Privately-owned houses.

Lord Gray of Contin

Whichever it is, it is not unreasonable that the person who has been a tenant for 20 or 30 years should receive a special benefit.

Lord Ross of Marnock


Lord Gray of Contin

The noble Lord is suggesting that they should receive no consideration because they have been good tenants?

Lord Ross of Marnock

They do not from the point of view of an objective valuation of the house, and that is what we are seeking—an objective and open market valuation of the house. Whether the tenant has been there for 10 or 15 years does not matter at all; the valuation of the house with the sitting tenant remains the same.

Lord Gray of Contin

The valuation of the house with the sitting tenant remains, as I said, very much less than it would be without a sitting tenant, but it is at the discretion of any Government to suggest—

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am not talking about any Government.

Lord Gray of Contin

Very well; the noble Lord is not talking about any Government. Let us go back to the private sector. If the noble Lord, Lord Ross, was a large landlord who had a great many houses which were all tenanted and he wanted to dispose of them, would he not, out of the goodness of his heart, think it was a reasonable incentive to give an encouragement to his tenants, who had been his good tenants for 30 years? I cannot believe that the noble Lord would take other than that view.

Lord Ross of Marnock

They are giving them away for nothing.

Lord Gray of Contin

I think we have dealt with this amendment in some depth. I do not think I can agree to accept it. I do not believe that it is desirable to accept it, and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, whether he will consider withdrawing it.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I am terribly sorry, but I did a calculation and asked for a comment upon how many more houses needed to be sold to justify the drop of £40 million in receipts.

Lord Gray of Contin

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, and I am sorry I did not deal with that. It seems that the answer to his mathematical conundrum has not been provided for me, and I shall therefore write to the noble Lord in due course.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

This has been an interesting debate in that we have realised there is really no justification whatsoever for increasing the discount from 50 to 60 per cent. While I can appreciate the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that he is not really concerned and he could not find any emotional involvement in it, I think the point which it is important to appreciate—and I am sure he knows this at least as well as I do—is that one of the major problems in Scotland has been the type of industry we have had (the whole Clyde estuary and the Dundee area have always been areas of hunger and poverty) as well as the mobility of labour required. Because of that, as my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock said, very few people had jobs of long or steady tenure. That is one of the reasons why there was never the same house ownership in Scotland as there was in other parts of the country.

I think I really must make one comment on what the noble Lord the Minister said about long tenancies. I think some of his earlier statements are statements which we have all heard from him and from many of his right honourable friends in other places. I refer to when he spoke about the value of rental contributions made by people who have been in local authority houses for 30 years. In another place and in general throughout the country the party opposite have always spoken about the rents of highly-subsidised tenants. When he said that it struck me that he was perhaps contradicting some of his earlier statements. There was one famous Member of another place who described tenants as second-class citizens. This has tended to be one of the ways in which they were considered by many people in the party of the noble Lord the Minister.

Part of the reason for our not being anxious to sell what has still not been proved otherwise than the best houses—those are the two in the block or the terrace houses—is that people come to surgeries (and the noble Lord has probably had as many as I have) desperate to find a more suitable house in a better area, but such houses are now disappearing. To the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, I would say that emotion is involved. People who have been extremely good tenants in an area that is unsuitable for them or an area which is not the type of place they wanted to live and who have set their minds on something else, partly because of this policy find that their chances have been put back even further.

We have no objections. I keep saying that. If there are enough good houses, we have no objection to selling off local authority houses. We appreciate that the waiting lists are still very high. I, too, am interested in the mathematics and, like the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, will be very interested to hear the results of the mathematics because any of the estimates that I have had from concerns such as Shelter prove that little benefit will come as regards the local authority. In fact there will be a disbenefit from the increasing of the discount to 60 per cent. The local authorities will have to find more money to meet the needs of the growing waiting list of people, anxious for better houses. I should like to hear whether the Minister has any more to say on this before making a decision on whether to withdraw.

On Question, amendment negatived.

4.22 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 1, leave out paragraph (c).

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 3 deals with a paragraph which I am sure will delight the heart of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. This is where we seek to leave out paragraph (c). If he can tell me what paragraph (c) means, then he is a better man than I am; but he does not.

The Earl of Selkirk

No, I do not.

Lord Ross of Marnock

It starts with "occupation", and we already know that to know what that means we must return to the previous Bill. I should tell him that "occupation" is defined in relation to "a secure tenancy" so that one jumps from "occupation" to "a secure tenancy". Why "a secure tenancy" was not used in the first place I do not know. But after we have heard about the good tenants, the "black" tenants and the "grey" tenants—well, well! I do not think it was the happiest of half hours that the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, has had since he joined the Scottish Office.

This is a probing amendment. The paragraph does not mean a thing to anybody. It says: in paragraph (iii) of the definition of 'occupation' in subsection (12) (interpretation) the words 'in the discretion of the landlord,' are hereby repealed". One has to be careful about this, because in that definition one finds not only the words "in the discretion of the landlord", but "at the discretion of the landlord". They are left in; not taken out.

I want to know from the Minister whether that is deliberate. For the benefit of the Committtee—which is anxious to hear him again; after his lucid explanations of the last half hour or so, we are dying to hear him speak again—can he tell us what all this means? I beg to move.

Lord Gray of Contin

I shall do my best to try to explain to the noble Lord. Whether I shall be successful remains to be seen.

Under Section 1(12) of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980, housing authorities have discretion to allow a child who has succeeded a parent as a tenant of a public sector house to count towards the qualifying period for the right to buy and towards his discount entitlement any periods during which, since the age of 16, he occupied a public sector house of which his parent was the tenant.

This discretionary power was included in the 1980 Act in order to ensure that grown-up children who remain in the parental home in order to look after elderly or disabled parents (and who are in practice the tenant in all but name) are treated no less favourably with regard to the right to buy than if they had left the parental home and obtained a tenancy of their own.

Unfortunately, some authorities have abused this discretionary power by refusing to exercise it even in the most deserving cases. A small number of authorities which have consistently opposed the right to buy appear to have taken a decision that they would never exercise this discretion in any circumstances.

These authorities are clearly not exercising their discretion in the spirit which was intended. This has created disparity of treatment between tenants in different authorities, even though their circumstances may be similar. Tenants justifiably feel a sense of grievance when they find that their landlord refuses to exercise this discretion reasonably.

This is why we have decided that the discretion should be replaced by a requirement to count time spent as the child of a tenant. This will remove the present abuses in the system and ensure that all tenants in future are treated equally. The effect of the present amendment, however, would be to reverse this and to preserve the status quo, whereby authorities have complete discretion. There is no evidence that authorities which have behaved unreasonably in the past will suffer any change of heart. I hope, therefore, in view of that explanation, that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I had hoped to have an explanation. I have had an explanation of sorts, but it is not a full explanation. I referred to the inclusion of the words "at the discretion" and the words "in the discretion" of the local authority. I wondered why the second "discretion" of the local authority was not removed. I wondered how this would work, if it is to work at all, under this now amended clause. I have here the original, but I do not want to be long winded.

I know that the Minister of State is new to housing and new to the intricacies of the Scottish Office, but I believe that the last thing we want to do is to take away any further discretion from a local authority. If a local authority is not fairly exercising a discretion, surely it is correct to give a right of appeal to the Secretary of State, the Lands Tribunal, the land court or the sheriff. That would be better than placing a blanket option on a local authority by taking away its discretion. There may be cases where a local authority is right to refuse permission in relation to its conditions about length of reckonable tenancy. Let us remember that we are dealing with a secure tenant; a child or someone who has already been given a tenancy by the local authority. As I understand it, it is a question of how many years' reckonable tenancy is allowed for the purposes of discount. Here it is to be from the age of 16. Why 16 I do not know; such a child has not been paying a rent from the age of 16 so that this tenderness towards the former subsidised tenants that we used to hear about surely does not apply to a child of 16.

No one can have the right to buy unless he is a secure tenant. What we are dealing with here is not the secure tenancy or the right to buy; we are dealing with the conditions under which he buys and as to whether a child should be able to count the years from the age of 16.

All sorts of conditions arise in this connection. The child may go away to look for a job in London and he may be away for four years, but his permanent address may still be the council house where his parents live. The people who really know what has been going on are the local authorities and that is why I presume the Government in the first instance decided that they should have the discretion. I would plead with the Government to think about this once again. The last thing you should do is to take away what little discretion a local authority has left. If you are going to modify the discretion, modify it with the right of appeal of somebody objecting to it. I think it is the Lands Tribunal which deals with all the other disputes and you could have given them that right of appeal. However, I am not pressing this at the present time. I shall read every word of the explanation that has been given before the next stage.

Lord Howie of Troon

Before my noble friend sits down, would he comment on something which struck me on listening to the explanation by the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin? Perhaps I did not understand the explanation fully, but it seemed to me he was saying that this kind of tenancy was appropriate where a young person had been looking after an aged parent or something of that sort.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Not necessarily young; just a child.

Lord Howie of Troon

Exactly; but starting from 16 and then onwards he had been looking after an aged parent, so he could be regarded as the tenant in name. That strikes me as a quite admirable qualification for this kind of thing, but I was wondering whether the Bill as it stands really limits that arrangement to such a person or whether it applies to any person who has been in a council house since the age of 16, regardless of whether or not he has been looking after an aged parent or something of that sort.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My noble friend must get used to the fact that I am not Secretary of State and I am not here to answer his questions about what the Bill says and what it does not say. I could tell him, but I think I will leave that. This is something that the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, will not be able to get wrong, so I will leave it to him to reply to that particular point.

Lord Gray of Contin

The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, is as charming as ever. I shall try to answer the further points that have been raised. First, the noble Lord, Lord Howie, raised an interesting point. What I should like to try to explain is that some authorities were not choosing to exercise the discretion as a discretion. They were refusing to exercise it in any circumstances, irrespective of the case, and that is not a proper use of a discretionary power.

Clause 1(1)(c) of the Bill amends Section 12(3) of the 1980 Act and repeals the discretion that councils have at present to count time spent as the child of a tenant. The section has no effect on the subsequent provision that landlords may at their discretion overlook a break in tenancy of between one and two years. This discretion is not changed. What we are doing here is to try to ensure that the years spent as the child of a tenant shall count, and it is quite a simple measure to try to make sure that this is effective. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, has indicated that this is a probing amendment and that he will not seek to press it. I know he will read carefully what I have said, and doubtless at a later date he will come back to it.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The noble Lord has not dealt with the definition as to "child" and the question of someone else coming into the house to look after the old people. I do not want to answer that and I left it specifically for the noble Lord, Lord Gray, to answer.

Lord Gray of Contin

This does not deal with anybody else. It deals specifically with the child of a tenant and the years spent as the child of the tenant. It does not deal with anybody else in that situation.

Lord Howie of Troon

I think I understand that. What I was really getting at was the situation quite rightly drawn attention to by the noble Lord the Minister. He was talking of people who were there for a specific humanitarian purpose and of how he thought the change in the law would be advantageous to them, whereas the manner in which local authorities were now exercising their powers was not. I agree with him about that. What I was really asking was this. Would the new arrangements be limited to people who were doing the good things that he spoke of, or would it be more widespread than that?

Let me put it like this. I myself was the child of a tenant in a council house from, I think, 1929 until 1958 and was over 16 at the end of that time. I was wondering whether this would perhaps apply to me. I am still the child of a tenant of a council house, but I have not lived there myself for quite a while. I wonder where such a person as I would stand. I thought that in his remarks the noble Lord limited the right to people who were there looking after their parents. I quite understand and approve of that, but I was wondering whether the Bill limits the rights to such people or whether it is a right in general to people over the age of 16.

Lord Gray of Contin

Our intention in the Bill is merely to replace the present discretion to count time spent as the child of the tenant by an obligation to do so. We are not proposing to extend the categories of relatives who can qualify to include, for example, grandchildren, nephews or nieces. If one started to redraw the line in this way there would always be some other group which was narrowly excluded. I think the present position is seen to be fair and I would not favour changing it.

Lord Howie of Troon

Yes, I quite accept that and I quite approve of the Government's intention to remove the discretion. What I am really worrying about is the relevance of the Minister's argument about children looking after aged parents. Is that in fact relevant to the argument, or is it not? If it had been relevant to the argument I would have thought that the rights would be limited to such people, but as they appear not to be limited to such people I am wondering what the particular relevance of that argument is.

Lord Gray of Contin

The provisions are limited to humanitarian cases: any child will benefit. However, I do not think the noble Lord could benefit because he has had a break in tenancy and therefore he would not qualify.

Lord Ross of Marnock

With all due respect, the noble Lord would qualify, provided, first, that he is given the tenancy in succession by the local authority, and provided, secondly, that the local authority exercise their discretion to discount interruptions of more than two years. If he likes, I will read the whole section out to him: (12) In this section—'occupation' means occupation … (iii) in the discretion of the landlord, as the child of a person who has succeeded to the rights of that person in a dwelling-house occupation of which would be reckonable — but only in relation to any period when the child is over the age of 16 years; and any interruption in occupation of 12 months or less shall, and any interruption in occupation of more than 12 months and less than 24 months may at the discretion of the landlord, be disregarded". Therefore, a period of two years' interruption can be disregarded. However, the child first has to become the tenant. That depends upon the local authority accepting him as the tenant.

Obviously we are going to get nowhere on this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, did not reply to my alternative suggestion that there should be a right of appeal if the discretion has been unwisely used. I shall think about the matter and will read the noble Lord's comments. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.41 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 4: Page 2, line 33, leave out paragraph (u).

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 4. This is a probing amendment. I should like to know whether the Government have any intention of increasing the number of classes. Do the Government intend time spent in a tied house to be counted as time spent in a local authority house? Are the Government thinking of extending this provision to prison houses? What other categories of house are included in the "catch all" provision in paragraph (u): such other person as the Secretary of State may by order prescribe"?

May I also ask the Government whether somebody who has been occupying, for instance, an Atomic Energy Authority house will be able to obtain the tenancy of a local authority house? Will they be given credit for the time spent in an Atomic Energy Authority house? Will they qualify to be put on to the waiting list for local authority housing or, as used to be the case with tied houses in education and other jobs with the old local authorities, will the situation be that as soon as somebody obtains a job which involves living in a tied house the employer will put down that person's name on the waiting list for a local authority house? In such towns as Wick or Thurso the local authority might be shy of giving scarce housing to people working for the Atomic Energy Authority who are now living in Atomic Energy Authority houses. They will know that after they have been in local authority houses for two years they will become secure tenants and that those houses will immediately be removed from the stock of houses which they have available for letting. They might, for instance, wish to have houses available for letting to the employees of new industries coming to the area.

Could the Minister indicate how somebody qualifies for a local authority house and a secure tenancy after having been in one of these other categories of house for a certain period of time? Could the Minister also indicate whether a local authority will be compelled to provide a house which is available for letting? Does the Minister have any views upon which other categories of people the Secretary of State may by order prescribe as being able to benefit from this very important concession? I beg to move.

Lord Gray of Contin

Clause 2 extends the list in Section 1(10) of the 1980 Act of public bodies, former tenancy of whose houses can be counted by tenants of district councils, Scottish special housing associations and new town houses towards the qualifying period for the right to buy and towards discount. The basic principle upon which the list in Section 1(10) was originally constructed was that periods spent as tenants of local authorities and analogous bodies should be counted towards the benefits of the right to buy, while periods as tenants of Government departments and connected bodies should not. During the passage of the 1980 Act we accepted that there should be four exceptions to this general principle: in respect of members of the armed forces and the prison service and of employees of the Forestry Commission and health boards. These exceptions were made because tenants of these bodies are often required to occupy tied housing and in many cases are unable to arrange their own housing provision until they retire.

Since 1980 we have received frequent representations that tenants of houses provided by other central government bodies are in a similar position and should also be entitled to count their time as tenants towards the benefits of the right to buy. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced during the Second Reading of this Bill in another place, we have accepted that the list in Section 1(10) of the 1980 Act should, in the interests of fairness, be extended to include a wider range of public sector bodies than it does at present.

The noble Lord specifically mentioned prison houses, and of course I can confirm to him that time spent in a prison house before becoming a council tenant already counts towards the right to buy and discount. This is taken care of in the 1980 Act at Section 1(10), to which I referred earlier.

The amendment refers also to Clause 2. Although we have not yet had put to us the Motion that Clause 1 shall stand part, perhaps it would be convenient if I dealt with this point by indicating that it extends the list in Section 1(10) of the 1980 Act to include a number of other bodies: the coastguard service, the lighthouse service, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, which the noble Lord also mentioned, the Ministry of Defence and the state hospitals. We know from the representations we have received that there are a number of past tenants of these bodies who are now in a position to buy and who feel that they are unfairly treated in not being allowed to count their previous tenancy of public sector houses for the benefits of discount, et cetera. Clause 2 puts this right. It may be that there are further central government bodies—and we shall be taking steps to try to identify them—which also let substantial numbers of houses that should be added to the list.

Clause 2 also proposes, therefore, that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State should be enabled to add further bodies to the list by order. This will enable us to respond positively should it emerge that there are further categories of tenants who are disadvantaged by not being included in that list. Any such order would be made by statutory instrument, subject to negative resolution.

The noble Lord's amendment would delete the proposed order-making power from the Bill and would mean that the list in Section 1(10) could be further extended only by means of primary legislation. This would inevitably introduce delay between the identification of a body which should be added to the list and the extension of the list to include that body. This, in turn, would place former tenants of such a body who wished to purchase their council house in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to delay purchasing in the hope that an opportunity for amending legislation will arise or whether to proceed with the purchase at a discount which does not take full account of their previous tenancy record. In the light of this explanation, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Perhaps the noble Lord will accept the logic of using this power to include non-state tenants of tied houses. There seems to be no logic at all in confining this immense privilege to people who already have the advantage of a state subsidy as against people who do not have the advantage of a state subsidy. Will the Minister confirm or deny that this might possibly be included in the powers or the thoughts of the Secretary of State?

Lord Gray of Contin

Whatever the merits of such a move might be, it could not be embraced by this legislation. I fear that it would require primary legislation of its own.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

Since the noble Lord the Minister dealt rather widely with Clause 2, perhaps he will go on to answer the question that I put to him. I asked exactly how one makes sure, if one is an Atomic Energy Authority tenant in a place such as Dounreay, that one will get a local authority house, and ensure that one's time in the AEA house will count towards the purchase. There could be an understandable reluctance on the part of a local authority to provide houses, particularly the more saleable types of houses, to people who are in tied houses, knowing that after two years they would lose them permanently from the stock.

In most cases local authorities will have waiting lists of people, and those people will wonder how it is that a newcomer can take over a house while they are still left waiting. The newcomer will be able to move into a local authority house which he can purchase in two years' time, whereas others on the list will be left waiting without an opportunity. Can the Minister give me any idea how a person in that situation can be sure of getting a local authority house? Is there some compulsion in a part of the Bill that I have not noticed?

I should apologise for including prison houses in my previous remarks. I was looking for possible additions, and had forgotten that prison houses were covered in the parent Act. I shall be very interested to hear whether the Minister can help me.

Lord Gray of Contin

I believe that I can help the noble Lord with his question about how an occupant of a tied house will secure a local authority house. Such tenants will be allowed to apply for a local authority house in the normal way, merely by putting their names on a waiting list. The local authority is required to publish its allocations policy, and it could not discriminate against former tenants of the public sector as long as they had been tenants of houses which will be added to the list about which we have been talking. That will give them the protection which the noble Lord seeks for them. It will ensure that their period of tenancy in one of those houses will count as far as the local authority is concerned. If they decided after the two-year period to purchase, then their period of public sector tenancy would also count.

Lord Howie of Troon

I am a little concerned about the reply made by the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, made a fairly firm point in general terms when he suggested that there was a very strong element of unfairness in the distinction between one kind of tied house and another in relation to the obtaining of what is quite a substantial concession in the purchase of a council house at some stage.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, I cannot see that it is fair that someone should obtain a concession merely because his tied house is an Atomic Energy Authority house in Dounreay (which was the example cited a moment ago by my noble friend Lord Carmichael) as against, for instance, a tied house not that far away on a farm, perhaps even a farm run by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. If there is a distinction, it is only that one tied house is in the private sector and the other tied house is in the public sector. That does not seem to me to be a distinction that is adequate to permit someone to enjoy a substantial concession over someone else in buying a capital property. The Minister's arguments so far have not been powerful enough to convince me. I am always ready to be convinced by strong arguments.

Lord Gray of Contin

Though it may not be powerful enough to convince the noble Lord, I am afraid it is a fact. The plain truth of the matter is that it would require primary legislation, as I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. In this legislation we are dealing with local authority housing in the public sector. The noble Lords, Lord Mackie and Lord Howie, have been referring to housing in the private sector. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, sugested that it would be a good thing to extend this provision to private sector housing. I am not in a position to go into the merits of that argument. Perhaps it would be a very good thing. I merely said that it would not be possible to do so in this particular legislation, which deals with public sector housing. That is the fact of the matter: it would not be possible to achieve that change in this legislation. It would require a new Bill for primary legislation.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Jacques)

The Marshalled List inadvertently lists Amendment No. 4 as an amendment to Clause 1. In fact, it is an amendment to Clause 2. In the circumstances, I will put Clauses 1 and 2 together.

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Before calling Amendment No. 5 I would point out that in the third line of this Amendment as shown in the Mashalled List there appears a printing error: the word "nor" should be substituted for the word "not".

4.57 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 5: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause

("Saving for elderly persons.

. In subsection (11) of section 1 of the 1980 Act the following shall be inserted after paragraph (c)— ("; nor (d) where a dwelling-house is one which the local authority usually lets to elderly persons.".").

The noble Lord said: We are grateful to the noble Lord the Deputy Chairman for keeping us right. This is a rather more important amendment than some we have been discussing. We now come to the very serious question of housing old people. I have received representations from Shelter in Scotland and from Age Concern. Age Concern is still worried about the whole question of the proper provision of housing for old people; it is concerned about the right to buy provision.

Information from the 1981 Census tells us that there are 264,000 pensioners in Scotland who live alone, and the majority of them receive housing benefit.

There is not much likelihood of them being able to buy housing in the private sector; I do not know about the public sector. Also, 20,000 households headed by pensioners occupy a house without a bath. In other words, they are not council houses, but those are the conditions under which some of our most deserving old people live in Scotland. Council house sales, say Age Concern, decrease the likelihood of many pensioners getting a decent house.

The fact is that there is little discrimination in respect of the kind of houses that are sold. The only protection we have in Scotland on the prevention of the sale of houses is in respect of sheltered houses. There are only a few housing authorities in Scotland who have housed even the recommended 50 in every 1,000 old people, as used to be laid down by the SDD. That figure is met by only a handful of local authorities. So there is this great need for old people to get into the right kind of housing.

The definition of sheltered housing is such as to cover the specialised provision of these grouped houses and the existence of certain services provided by the local authority as well. But local authorities in Scotland have, over the years, been providing smaller houses, where a limited amount of climbing is involved. I know of some very good housing. It is not sheltered housing as such because it has not been adapted. There is not the provision of a caretaker or someone who will respond to alarm bells and the like, but there are little groups of houses and local authorities have, over the years, provided these houses for elderly people. I remember an uncle of mine who lived in one in Ayr. I believe there was a block of only about eight houses. What happened was that the most fit of the tenants looked after the others. It was more or less a co-operative of elderly people. They do not come under the Government's definition of sheltered houses. These houses, which consist of only about two apartments, can now be sold and no doubt many of them are. It means that each house sold is one house which is not going to be available for those who have been waiting to get in; those old people who in some places are living without a bath and who are waiting to get such a house. That surely sticks out to anyone as pure logic.

I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, is not here because he did not want to get involved emotionally. I get involved emotionally with old people living in the oldest houses and towns, and I feel they have a right to get into a local authority house when we are giving credit in the form of discounts to people who have been in houses for a long time. Do not your Lordships think that we should give some credit to the older people who have been paying rates and supporting the housing of other people for a long time? Yet here we find their opportunity of being housed reduced every time a house of this type is sold.

I opened a new housing section in the new town of Irvine just a few months ago. They are putting elderly people into homes which are surrounded by a garden and are on one level. There is just a bedroom, living-room, bathroom and kitchen. They are ideal for an old couple. But those houses have no protection under present legislation. I remember saying to the person in charge that I hoped he appreciated that after the old people have been there for two years—indeed, after five minutes if they have come from a local authority house—they can buy their house. The houses are most desirable in relation to the area. They are most desirable in relation to what is provided. But it is unfair, bearing in mind that they have been provided for and occupied by elderly people on a decision by the local authority because it reckoned that the houses should be occupied only by elderly people.

I know that of the households of old people in Scotland about two-thirds are single persons living alone. The local authority in Ayr has over the years had a special scheme of building two-apartment houses purely for single people. They are sometimes occupied by widows and sometimes by spinsters who have continued working, paid rates and income tax. It was realised after a long time that there is a growing population of single people like that, or of people living alone, who require consideration with regard to local authority housing. It was provided, but that housing is not protected.

The more that this kind of housing is sold the less chance have the elderly of getting such accommodation. In rural areas the position is even worse because there is not the same spread of local authority housing in such areas and they become very desirable for people who want eventually to take them over. It may be they are sold to an aged parent who immediately hands over his rights to someone who lives in the town; and so another house goes out of the stock that could have provided for the need of an elderly person.

I do not know what the Government's argument will be. We had hoped at one time that we had convinced this House that if there was a group of people which required protection we had done so in respect of the elderly. It was an English Bill in which we did it. Our will prevailed and we held matters up in another place. I know that the conditions in Scotland are such that the older people tend to live in the older houses, older houses of the kind that we have been familiar with—my noble friends Lord Hughes, Lord Howie and Lord Carmichael, and those who come from Glasgow and the area round it. We want to get the people out of those old houses and into decent houses for elderly people. And there are many such houses within the local authority sector. To allow those to be bought by sitting tenants will deprive those old people for two or three years—and it may well be just two or three years because we are talking about elderly people—of comfort and good housing in the latter part of their lives.

Therefore, the amendment is designed to ensure that where a dwelling-house is one which the local authority usually lets to elderly persons it shall not be sold. This is one of the most important amendments we have on this Bill. I am glad to see the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has returned to the Chamber. I do get emotionally involved in this subject because I have known so many people who need to get into these houses. I instanced an uncle of my own who was in such a house. It was a godsend for his health and for those of his own family who were looking after him, but who could not have him in their own homes. I appeal to your Lordships to give this amendment full consideration. I beg to move.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I very strongly support this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has marshalled the arguments extremely well. I do not propose to repeat the case for keeping these houses, but I do hope that the Minister is not going to produce the argument which was produced to me on the original Bill; that it was a great shame that these poor old people did not have the same rights as others to buy their houses. That is arrant poppycock, if I may say so. Obviously old and retired people's houses will be bought only for the commercial advantage of the family or of someone else who will provide the money. That is the only possible scenario in which old people will buy a house specifically let by the housing authority to old people.

I make this point very, very stongly indeed. In rural areas there is the further temptation that the house can be used as a holiday home by the family, or indeed sold as such, when the new owner dies. That is the strongest argument for an amendment at this stage of the Bill. I hope that we shall have a logical, and indeed favourable, reply from the Minister.

5.10 p.m.

Lady Saltoun

I do not support this amendment. Although on the face of it it is very tempting to do so, I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that pensioners would wish to buy their houses only in order to sell them again at a profit or because their heirs wished to do so. A great many pensioners may wish very much to own their houses, particularly in view of the fact that a man becomes a pensioner at the age of 65 and he may very well have 20 years or more of active life ahead of him.

I wonder whether it would be possible for local authorities to sell houses usually let to elderly persons to the tenants but to retain the right of pre-emption. That would mean that in the event of a re-sale the local authority must be offered first refusal. In that event possibly the price which the local authority would have to pay to re-purchase the house should be the original price plus inflation.

Lord Howie of Troon

I am strongly attracted to this amendment. Despite the proposal made by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, I incline towards the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, in addition to those of my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock. I look at the matter emotionally, somewhat as my noble friend does. I shall draw my illustrations not from Ayr, which I know rather well, but from Troon, which I know better. My wife's mother is 85 and lives in a sheltered house in Troon. It is accommodation provided for old people and remains protected under the provisions of the Act. She cannot buy the house and therefore it will remain in the stock available for letting to old and retired people in the way that my noble friend, myself and the Government regard as desirable.

About 250 yards away in a non-sheltered council house lives my father. He is 90. He shares the same amenities as my wife's mother of a luncheon room and all that kind of thing. Her house is sheltered and protected; his house is not. If he were so inclined, he could buy this house, remove it from the stock and inflict the precise damage on the prospects of other old people in the vicinity to which my noble friend has drawn attention. If my father were the kind of person at whom the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, pointed the finger, he might leave the house to me or use it or sell it as a holiday home. He would not do that because he is not that kind of man; but in theory he could do so. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, is undoubtedly right. If he were to buy the house he would remove it from the stock of housing available for other retired and old people in Troon. It seems extraordinary that my wife's mother cannot remove her house from the stock of housing available to retired and elderly people—which is right—whereas my father, who lives all of 250 yards away, can do so.

As my noble friend Lord Ross said, it is a very strong amendment. It is strong because it is intended to protect the opportunities for old and retired people to get a council house because the stock is maintained at a certain size. I am not saying that the stock should never be diminished, but every house of this kind which is removed from it diminishes the opportunities for certain old people. My noble friend is right to be emotional and to move his amendment and I think that the Committee should suppport it.

Lord Gray of Contin

This new clause is very sweeping in its effects. It would not only remove the right to buy from most elderly tenants; it would also remove the right from anyone who happened to live in a house which the authority could claim was ordinarily let to elderly persons. As a result, almost all one-apartment or two-apartment houses in Scotland might be excluded from the right to buy.

The new clause is both undesirable and unnecessary, and I shall try to explain to your Lordships why this is so. The 1980 Act already does all that is necessary to enable authorities to preserve a stock of sheltered and amenity housing for elderly people, as indeed they must be permitted to do. Under the 1980 Act, sheltered housing is wholly excluded from the right to buy. If tenants were allowed to buy individual sheltered houses, this could undermine the viability of such schemes, which will have been designed as a unit with a warden and an alarm service.

Special needs housing for the elderly—where the houses do not form part of a sheltered housing development—is a rather different case. The sale of such houses is not of immediate consequence to other tenants. Such houses are likely, however, to have been built or adapted with special features for elderly people, and Section 4 of the 1980 Act enables an authority —and this will satisfy the point raised by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun—to impose a pre-emption condition on the sale of such houses which will allow the council to buy the house back, if it wishes, when it is re-sold. In addition—

Lord Ross of Marnock

If, if! Can the noble Lord give us all the conditions in respect of that?

Lord Gray of Contin

No, I am replying to the amendment which the noble Lord moved. He moved it in his way; I hope that he will let me reply in mine. In addition, when an authority receives an application to purchase from a tenant a house which has been specially adapted for elderly people, it can, as an alternative to imposing a pre-emption condition, make an application to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State under Section 3A of the 1980 Act for his consent to refuse to sell the house, so that the point which was worrying the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, is also taken care of.

We believe that these provisions are working very well: indeed, we have certainly not received any representations to the contrary. I suggest therefore that the present legislation contains adequate safeguards to enable councils to retain a stock of houses for elderly people with special needs and that the present amendment, in view of what I have said, is unnecessary. I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock and Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, may be prepared to withdraw their amendment.

The Earl of Selkirk

Can I ask the noble Lord one question? How does a house become a sheltered house? Who does that?

Lord Ross of Marnock

It is built as such.

Lord Gray of Contin

The noble Lord, Lord Ross, said himself that we must get used to the fact that he is no longer the Secretary of State for Scotland. He answers so well for me that I cannot improve on that answer—if he is correct. It is the local authority.

The Earl of Selkirk

He has not given me the answer, though. What is the answer?

Lord Gray of Contin

The answer is that the sheltered housing is provided by local authorities.

The Earl of Selkirk

And they can make any house a sheltered accommodation, can they?

Lord Gray of Contin

They can either build purpose-built sheltered accommodation, or they can adapt existing houses suitable for old people. But the concept of sheltered accommodation is housing which is purpose built in a complex with a warden and an alarm system.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I wonder whether the Minister would answer this question. Am I right in assuming that the County of Angus, for example—it is a district, now—built, specially for retired people, two-apartment houses, and that these houses may now be sold in spite of the fact that they have built them specially for retired people? I accept that if they are adapted for some special circumstance, they can be exempted from sale; but in my estimation there are many houses built by the local council in Angus, which in fact were built for old people and which can now be sold.

Lord Gray of Contin

Yes. I did try to cover that point when I was replying to the noble Lord. The council is able to make conditions which would enable them to have a pre-emption on the house when it was resold. They have the right of pre-emption, and the council can make that condition itself in the type of house which the noble Lord is suggesting. But the complex type of house, where there is a warden and an alarm system, is already exempted.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Would the noble Lord the Minister explain? If the council may buy it back, do they buy it back at the new price or at the open market price, or, if they buy it back at a prearranged price, what is the point of making a condition of pre-emption? It is surely far more logical simply to keep the stock for the great need there is for it.

Lord Gray of Contin

Would the noble Lord not agree that it seems wrong to deprive an elderly person of the right to purchase his or her home, and is it not a reasonable safeguard to maintain the housing stock to include a right of pre-emption for the local authority to buy it back?

Lord Mackie of Benshie

In my original remarks, I have described that argument in a very rude way.

Lord Howie of Troon

I regret to say that I did not find the Minister's original reply totally convincing. I regret it because it seemed to me that his reply was couched in very properly sympathetic terms, and he recognised and was willing to continue to recognise the special needs of certain old people. I rejoice in that but regret that I found it did not go quite far enough to meet the point which I thought I had generally made. I was not in fact talking about housing for old people which was adapted in any special way; I see that he understands their needs perfectly well and is quite sympathetic towards them. But quite a number of old and retired people do not actually require special needs. They live in ordinary houses in an ordinary way. It was houses of that nature about which I was talking, not ones which had been specially adapted, because the ones which are specially adapted are unlikely to be bought by anybody other than people who require the special adaptions. I was talking about houses which were ordinary in every way but which could be bought and thereby taken out of the stock, and thereby diminishing the stock. I do not think the noble Lord met that point at all.

Lord Gray of Contin

Houses such as the noble Lord describes can be sold. They come into the normal conditions. If they have not been adapted, if they are merely houses which are occupied by old persons, then they can be sold in the normal way. I do not want to go into the details again. I have already described the two different types of either complex, sheltered housing or adapted houses.

Lord Howie of Troon

Yes, they come in very close together. It was precisely to that that I was objecting.

Lord Wilson of Langside

As I listened to the argument of the noble Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock and Lord Mackie of Benshie, and indeed the argument, in his first speech, of Lord Howie of Troon, the only thing I wondered—because the Minister is a kindly, thoughtful Minister and I am sure he listens to all the arguments and weighs them carefully—was whether he would accept the amendment in the light of these arguments or at least say that he would take it away and look at the situation once again.

I say that because, in my simplicity, I must confess—I am slightly ashamed to confess that I was so simple—I had thought of the situation as being amply covered by Section 1(11) of the 1980 Act. No one has suggested that there was not substance in the facts on which these three arguments which the Committee has heard was based. And if there is substance in fact in that, then surely the situation is that Section 1(11) is not adequate to meet the housing and social problems presented in relation to the old aged.

I could not improve on the arguments which were presented. But it seemed to me to make clear that if you concede the need for something like Section 1(11) then clearly we need something to meet the situation outlined by those three members of the Committee. I had really thought—again in my simplicity—that the Government had simply overlooked the situation and that perhaps their advisers had not told them. I did not know about it. I ought to have known, of course. I wonder whether the Minister knew before this debate began? I do not think there was an amendment moved to this effect in the other place—certainly not one that I could find; I may be wrong about that. But if this is the first time that the Government have given consideration to these arguments, then I must say that I am surprised that they should reject them out of hand.

The Earl of Selkirk

Sheltered property is all very well for towns. It is much more difficult to get such property in the country, partly because with sheltered accommodation you need maybe 20 houses or more. In the country you do not have that. As I understand it, in many cases there are houses which would be sheltered if there were enough of them together. Special consideration has been promised to us in the English Act. I do not know whether the noble Lord has referred to this at all here. There are places which are obviously suitable for people working in the country to retire to. If these homes are sold off, the retired people will have no option but to go and live in the towns, which they will not want to do. Can the noble Lord give us some indication of whether he is prepared to reserve certain cottages or places habitually used by retired agricultural labourers for this purpose? Can we have any indication whether this is in the minds of the Government at all?

Lord Gray of Contin

I take the point raised by my noble friend. First of all, most of the houses to which he refers are not public sector houses; they are private sector houses. I think that the majority of the type of houses he has in mind are perhaps cottages on farms or estates, which over the years have been occupied by retired persons. But if he has in mind houses owned by local authorities, then the situation is as I have already described, depending on whether the house has been specially adapted for old persons, or whether it is merely a house which by custom has been used by old persons. So I have already dealt with the three types of house.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, asked me whether I would take back this point and look at it again. I would if I thought there was any point in doing so, but I do not wish to mislead or deceive the Committee, and I am quite sure that if I were to take back the point and look at it again, I would return with merely the same answer. As I tried to explain when I replied to the new clause moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, the situation is already covered in regard to the points which have been raised. With regard to the houses about which the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, was concerned, the local authority already has the power by means of pre-emption. The sheltered housing complexes are already excluded.

So I do not feel that it would be to the benefit of the Committee if I were to take back this matter because I do not believe that the new clause is necessary. The arguments put forward have not convinced and I believe the situation is already covered. So I would not be prepared to take away the matter for consideration and I am afraid I cannot accept the new clause.

Lord Hughes

The noble Lord the Minister has again referred to the pre-emption conditions. I wonder whether he can refresh my memory on how this works. As I understand the position, at present houses are sold at between 50 and 60 per cent. of their market value at the time when the sale takes place, and if the Bill becomes an Act in its present form, the discount will range from 40 per cent. to 68 per cent. of the market value at the time when the transaction takes place. Let us assume therefore that it has been possible to insert a pre-emption condition in the sale. When the house comes on the market, if the local authority is to operate the pre-emption condition, under what terms does it buy it back? Does it buy it back at the same discount on the market price at which it was sold, or does the pre-emption right enable the authority to buy back the house only at full market value? If the second course is correct, then of course there is every encouragement for someone to buy so that he can at least pass on a profit to his heirs.

Lord Gray of Contin

The noble Lord is correct in the second suggestion. The house is bought back at the market value placed on it by the district valuer at the time of the purchase.

Lord Ross of Marnock

If I may add to that, regard must be had to what price was paid for the house when it was purchased in the first instance. I think that that is the completion of the definition. We have been very disappointed indeed in the Minister—not for the first time. I had hoped that as the years passed there may have been an accretion of wisdom on the part of the Government, because we are dealing with a growing problem. Between 1971 and 1981 the number of elderly people (pensioners) in Scotland increased by 8 per cent; I think that I quoted the figure as being about 375,000.

I must tell the noble Lady who spoke that most of these pensioners are on supplementary benefit, and it must be remembered that those who are already in local authority houses—and there is a large number of them—are not in a position to buy their houses. They are in receipt of housing benefit and just cannot afford to buy. I could make a long speech about this; I have here material from Age Concern and Shelter on exactly the same kind of point that the noble Lady herself made.

I know that the noble Lord has not been very long in the Scottish Office, but if he cares to look back at circulars issued long before I was Secretary of State, he will see that local authorities were then being encouraged to build two-apartment houses specially for single householders. Most of them were elderly people. They were not all married couples. We were concerned about single people who, for their own reasons, had decided not to marry, who were able to maintain themselves and a household, possibly with their parents, and who afterwards were left on their own. Those people merited consideration as ratepayers and as citizens, as deserving as anyone else of good housing. I could take the noble Lord to see houses that were built as a result of the Scottish Office asking for attention to be paid to this aspect.

We can understand the position regarding sheltered housing. It forms a complex. There has to be a warning system, a warden and, if at all possible, other services. But other houses in which the right of pre-emption is involved must have facilities which are substantially different from those of an ordinary house. The kind of houses that the Scottish Office asked should be built—such as the one- and two-apartment houses—are not different from any other houses. But the definition that I have just mentioned does not end there. It says that the type of house in question must have facilities that are substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house and it must have been designed or adapted for occupation by an elderly tenant whose special needs require accommodation of the kind provided by the dwelling-house.

Not all old people require special housing provision. All they probably require is a house on a lower floor, in a quiet neighbourhood. I performed the opening ceremony for such a housing scheme in a new town the other day. That kind of housing does not meet the pre-emption requirements and the great bulk of the houses that we are talking about do not come within Category 1 or Category 2, but they are houses which by custom the local authorities have been letting to elderly people, whether they be married or single. That is an actual fact.

Consider sheltered housing. In regard to sheltered housing—that is, the specially built houses—the SDD suggested a ratio of 50 per 1,000. So, for a start, on that basis there are 950 houses, without the sheltered housing. The tenants just want to live as ordinary people; they do not want anything special at all, other than facilities to meet the needs of old age.

But what happens if this type of house is to be sold?—and it is being sold now. I am not saying who goes into such a house; it might be an overcrowded house before very long and so it will be necessary to provide a far bigger house. Here is the weakness of the Government's plans. There will be more and more need for this kind of house, but the need will not be met by sheltered houses, because there are not enough of them, and not very many more are to be built. The great bulk of the need can be met only by the type of one- and two-apartment houses I have been talking about. I do not think that the Government have begun to appreciate the difficulty, nor the growing need for this type of housing in towns and rural areas. I think that the point was well made by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk; there will not be many sheltered houses in rural areas. I am willing to bet that there is none in designated rural areas. The same applies to the others.

We are dependent, in helping elderly people, on the type of house about which I have been talking which is customarily let to old people. For that reason, I do not think that we can allow this matter to go. I am sorry, because I know that the Minister has tried hard. But it is not hard enough. I have been waiting for a Minister to start throwing his weight about at the Scottish Office and to realise just what kind of office he has. So let the noble Lord use his power. But let the House of Lords also use its power in showing the Government how we feel about the problem. Let the Government recognise that the amendment will offer some help, if not a solution.

5.40 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 94; Not-Contents, 113.

Airedale, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Ardwick, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Aylestone, L. Kirkhill, L.
Banks, L. Leatherland, L.
Barnett, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Birk, B. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Bishopston, L. [Teller.]
Blease, L. Lockwood, B.
Blyton, L. Loudoun, C.
Bottomley, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Briginshaw, L. McCarthy, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Caradon, L. McNair, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Milford, L.
Chitnis, L. Molloy, L.
Collison, L. Mulley, L.
David, B. Northfield, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Ogmore, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Oram, L.
Donnet of Balgay, L. Phillips, B.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Ennals, L. [Teller.]
Evans of Claughton, L. Raglan, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Rea, L.
Ezra, L. Rhodes, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Rochester, L.
Foot, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Gaitskell, B. Segal. L.
Gallacher, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Gladwyn, L. Stallard, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Stedman, B.
Hale, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hampton, L. Stone, L.
Hanworth, V. Strabolgi, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hayter, L. Tordoff, L.
Hughes, L. Underhill, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Jacobson, L. Walston, L.
Jacques, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Jeger, B. Whaddon, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. White, B.
John-Mackie. L. Wigoder, L.
Kagan, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Kaldor, L. Winstanley, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Avon, E.
Allerton, L. Bauer, L.
Alport, L. Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Belstead, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Blake, L. Luke, L.
Bolton, L. Lyell, L.
Brookes, L. McAlpine of Moffat, L.
Caccia, L. McFadzean, L.
Cairns, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Caithness, E. Macleod of Borve, B.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mancroft, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Marley, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Cathcart, E. Maude of Stratford-upon-
Chelwood, L. Avon, L.
Cockfield, L. Merrivale, L.
Coggan, L. Mersey, V.
Coleraine, L. Molson, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Cox, B. Morris, L.
Craigavon, V. Mottistone, L.
Cranbrook, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Cromartie, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Nathan, L.
Daventry, V. Newall, L.
Davidson, V. Norfolk, D.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Nugent of Guildford, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Onslow, E.
Eccles, V. Orkney, E.
Elgin and Kincardine, E. Orr-Ewing, L.
Ellenborough, L. Pender, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Perth, E.
Elton, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Faithfull, B. St. Davids, V.
Ferrers, E. Saint Oswald, L.
Forte, L. Salisbury, M.
Fortescue, E. Saltoun, Ly.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Selkirk, E.
Geoffrey-Lloyd, L. Sharpies, B.
Glenarthur, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Gormanston, V. Somers, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Halsbury, E. Sudeley, L.
Henley, L. Suffield, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Swansea, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Swinfen, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Inglewood, L. Terrington, L.
Ingrow, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Killcarn, L. Tranmire, L.
Kimberley, E. Trefgarne, L.
Kintore, E. Trenchard, V.
Lane-Fox, B. Trumpington, B.
Lauderdale, E. Vaizey, L.
Lawrence, L. Whitelaw, V.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Windlesham, L.
Long, V. Wise, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreeed to accordingly.

5.49 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 6: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:

(" Saving for rural areas.

In subsection (11) of section 1 of the 1980 Act the following shall be inserted after paragraph (c)— ("; no (e) where the sales of dwelling-houses situated within an area or community which is designated a rural area or community by the district or islands council in which it is situated have exceeded one-fifth of the stock available since the introduction of the statutory right to buy, at the discretion of the council.".").

The noble Lord said: This is a protection for houses in rural areas and the population of rural areas. It is not suggested that there should be no sale of local authority houses in rural areas. We are suggesting, however, that when a limit is reached of 20 per cent., any further sales should be at the discretion of the local authority.

I am sure that the Minister has already been given correspondence from various bodies, including Shelter, from which it is interesting to note that the sale of council or local authority houses in rural areas is considerably higher than the Scottish average. Shelter says that although about 3 per cent. of local authority housing stock in Scotland has been sold, in certain rural areas—and it gives the example of the stewardship of Kirkcudbright—11 per cent. of the houses have been sold, which is really taking it to a fairly high number. Within the larger districts there are small areas where the increase has been as high as 25 per cent. or more. These sales tend to reduce the amount of housing available to rent and they frustrate the very genuine needs of applicants who are on the waiting list.

The other difficulty is that the local authority has still to replace these houses if it wants to fulfil its other obligation to provide houses for rent in the area. But the cost of building in rural areas is considerably higher than in urban areas. The high cost of house building in sparsely populated areas means that local authorities will remain the most important source of supply of new house building. Indeed, that is the view of the Scottish Consumer Council which looked into this matter some time ago.

I also understand that the Scottish Office is very well aware of the problem, and it has said that many people are not able to command sufficient income in the rural areas to enable them to buy houses. A survey carried out by the Scottish Office indicated that wages in rural areas are just not sufficiently high to allow people to be able to rebuild or to build from new themselves. So, although the Bill applies to rural areas—and we accept that it must apply to rural areas if it is passed at all by Parliament—we on this side of the Committee feel that there should be some restriction because of the very special nature of the rural areas, such as I have tried to describe; for example, more expensive house building and the fact that there are fewer local authority houses proportionate to the population than in the rest of the country.

The other very important point is that if we sell houses off in the rural areas, bearing in mind the high costs of building and especially if advantage is taken of the very big increase in the discount that is going to be allowed—the 60 per cent. discount—the cost to the rural districts will be even greater. Even under the present level of discount, without going to 60 per cent., I understand that the money received from the sale of houses would mean that the local authority would have to sell three houses in order to be able to build one, and that means that the market for rent would be considerably reduced.

Of course there is nothing to stop a person getting one of these new houses in a rural area and, after having the let of the house for two years, applying to buy at a very considerable discount—32 per cent. discount. Therefore, I submit that the rural areas do need very special protection. I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically at this amendment and will realise that we are speaking about a very special case which has already been borne out not by any sentimentality, but by the fairly hard figures already available to the Scottish Office. I beg to move.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I rise to make another plea to the Minister to support this very reasonable amendment. We are, after all, dealing with rural areas, and in the rural areas there are enormously sensible councils. Surely the Minister must know that he is not dealing with recalcitrant militants in the big cities; he is dealing with the type of people he knows and understands, some of whom might even support the Tory Party.

The amendment says quite clearly: at the discretion of the council". In rural areas it is very important that there is an adequate stock of council houses. What is very noticeable is the difference between the attitude of the farmworkers' union in England and in Scotland. One of the reasons for the Scottish farmworkers' union looking upon the tied house with a very kindly eye is that in Scotland there are rural councils which have been very good about providing retirement houses and, indeed, about providing alternative housing in the country. In fact, 20 per cent. or one-fifth of the stock is a very large proportion. But if it is found that it is not needed and that they can sell more, then it is at the discretion of the council. This appears to me to be an entirely reasonable amendment and I implore the Minister to chuck his weight about and his brief away and to listen to the very sensible arguments which are being adduced for inserting the new clause.

Lord Gray of Contin

It is quite clear from what has been said that at least some noble Lords opposite are still labouring under the misapprehension that houses which are sold are in some way lost to the housing stock. I have tried to make it as clear as I can, on several occasions during our discussion, that this simply is not the case. If tenants were not allowed to buy their homes it does not mean that they would move away; the great majority of them would continue to rent their homes, often for a considerable number of years. This is equally true whether the houses are in rural areas or in urban areas.

Houses which are sold would not become available for re-letting therefore on any timescale which is relevant to the needs of people currently on the housing authority's waiting lists. It is simply not the case that by not purchasing houses those houses would by some means automatically become available—they would not do so. Other and more immediate ways must be found of helping people on the waiting lists, and the additional finance released by sales can be of considerable benefit in this process.

Under the block allocations system, authorities are free to determine their own priorities for expenditure within the resources available. However, it follows from what I have said that since sales do not increase the need for new building, there can be no argument for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to give authorities specific consent to incur additional capital expenditure to replace houses which have been sold.

Therefore, I do not accept the points which the noble Lords have made regarding rural areas. In this context I do not see rural areas as being in any way different from urban areas. I believe that the problems which the noble Lords have suggested arise in rural areas are more imagined than real and I hope, therefore, that they will agree to withdraw their amendment.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I ask your Lordships to forgive me once more, but rural areas are different, and they are different for this reason. Since the advent of the motor car people who have good jobs in towns often wish to live in the country, and they buy their house in the country and they motor to work. Further-more, with rising prosperity—or prosperity was rising until recently—people have wanted a house in the country as a second home. We have illustrations of this and of the trouble it has caused in the Highlands and in Wales.

Without any doubt there is a difference. Everyone knows the trend towards commuting in Scotland; everyone knows the trend towards having a second house. In fact, it is necessary to have a good stock of council houses in a rural area so that, if competition is normal, people can buy a house. They cannot compete with the rich commuter to the nearby city.

The Earl of Selkirk

I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has just said. My noble friend the Minister has made an unfortunate remark when he said that country areas are no different from town areas. They are fundamentally different in a number of ways. He made a great mistake. Frankly, unless my noble friend can show that he is giving some consideration to this—which, if I may say (though perhaps irrelevantly), to some extent is in the English Act—I must ask him to take it away and think about it again. This is not good enough. I am thinking of council houses to which people can retire; that is to say, people are no longer living in tied cottages and so require employment and they do not want to leave the district. Unless some other form of housing is available there will be no alternative but for them to go to the town. This is a considerable hardship for people who have lived all their life in the country, so there should be some degree of protection for these people when they reach pensionable age. It would be quite wrong if they were not cared for. Therefore, I must ask my noble friend to think a little more about this before turning it down flat.

Lord Gray of Contin

I should like to try to deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. The 1980 Act already does all that is necessary to safeguard against substantial numbers of former council houses in rural areas being sold as holiday or second homes.

The Earl of Selkirk

Could we please have the section?

Lord Gray of Contin

Subsections (6) and (7) of Section 4 of the 1980 Act enable the Secretary of State to make an order permitting authorities to impose pre-emption conditions on sales of houses in rural areas, provided that more than one-third of the council houses in the area have been sold and that an unreasonable proportion of the houses sold have been resold as second homes. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, will accept that there is substantial protection as regards that.

During the passage of the 1980 Act the Government took the view that the likelihood of substantial numbers of council houses being resold as holiday homes was remote, and our experience still has not caused us to alter that view. To date not one single authority has approached us to suggest that the conditions have been satisfied and asked for an order to be made under Section 4(6) and (7). Therefore, I believe that when the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, considers what I have said he will appreciate that from the outset this was a point which greatly concerned the Government, and therefore the Government took the necessary action. However, as I have again explained, we have not been approached by any councils which are apprehensive about this condition.

My noble friend Lord Selkirk has said to me, not for the first time, that he is concerned about elderly people who live in rural areas. He also suggested that rural areas are very different from urban areas. That I accept. I said that as far as I could see the actual sale of a council house is no different in a rural area from a sale in an urban area. The principle is the same. Indeed, substantial numbers of council houses have been sold in rural areas. However, my noble friend seeks to achieve something which I cannot guarantee. If he is asking me to ensure that there will always be a readily available supply of empty houses suitable for elderly people to retire to, I am afraid that that is something which I cannot guarantee.

However, there is no doubt that from time to time houses which have traditionally been occupied by elderly people will continue to be occupied by elderly people. However, I am afraid that I cannot give my noble friend the guarantee which he seeks. I hope that I have clarified the point for the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and for the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and that they may be prepared to withdraw their new clause.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I should like to make one small point. On an Act that was passed in 1980 I do not think that the experience to date is enough to go on. That is not an argument that I could accept in looking at this matter.

The Earl of Selkirk

Can my noble friend say whether rural areas have been designated? Section 4(6) of the 1980 Act says that: an area which is designated a rural area by the islands or district council". Has that been done, and is there somewhere where we can find the decision that was reached?

Lord Gray of Contin

I shall have to check on that point for my noble friend. An area which has been designated a rural area within an islands or district council speaks for itself. I shall have to seek information on whether actual designations have taken place. Once again, I find that by speaking long enough, the information has arrived. Areas as such have not been designated. Therefore, when we refer to rural areas we are merely talking about country areas, because no rural area as such has been designated.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The noble Lord the Minister will not be surprised to realise that his answers have not been totally successful in allaying the fears of the Committee. He quoted, quite correctly, subsections (6) and (7) of Section 4 of the 1980 Act, and he also pointed out that local authorities have not urged the Secretary of State to use his power. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, made one very important point when he said that it is rather early days to discover whether local authorities will not at some point require to use those powers. The period between 1980 and today is not all that long for someone contemplating purchasing a house, and it is also right in the middle of a recession, when perhaps there are fewer demands by people to buy second homes than there were previously or will be in the future.

The point about protection was raised. It is still a very narrow protection that is given to a local authority when it has reached the level of one-third of the stock of the whole area. I quoted an example that in certain rural areas perhaps 10 or 11 per cent. of houses have been sold. Within larger districts there are small areas where sales are as high as 25 per cent. So in certain districts if it goes any higher and if it went to a third for the entire district, it would mean that there would be total saturation of sales of local authority houses, and no opportunity for the large number of people who are indigenous to the area to be able to retire to a local authority house or even to get a local authority house for rent.

Here again, I believe that the noble Lord was wrong—and he was corrected by a number of noble Lords—when he said that in this regard there is no difference between a rural area and an urban or city area. I and others tried to point out that there are obvious differences. The Scottish Consumer Council made it very clear in its statement that the levels of income in rural areas tended to militate against people being able to accumulate enough funds to be able to buy a house, so the local people are most unlikely to be able to do it. It also pointed out that the increase in the number of people may be a good thing. But they come to certain areas—and I think that Tweeddale was one—where there is a large number of commuters, who find a nicer life (and I do not blame them) living in that area and who travel to Edinburgh and other cities during the day. These are the kinds of people who will be able to take local authority houses if they are given the opportunity.

The other difference between rural and urban areas is the high cost of building a house. On the figures given by Shelter you have to sell three houses in order to gain one. I take the point of the noble Lord the Minister when he says that there is a tendency to think that these houses disappear once they have been sold. Of course they do not disappear, but they disappear from the letting market and in rural areas there is a very high proportion of people who need houses to let. If houses disappear from the letting market and others are able to buy them—even given the protection of Section 34 of the parent Act—it would still make it very much more difficult for the indigenous people to get decent housing accommodation at a reasonable rent. I feel therefore that the answers given by the noble Lord the Minister have not been adequate enough and I urge my friends and others to support the amendment.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 6) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 83; Not-Contents, 104.

Airedale, L. John-Mackie, L.
Ardwick, L. Kagan, L.
Aylestone, L. Kaldor, L.
Banks. L. Kilmarnock, L.
Barnett, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Kirkhill, L.
Birk, B. Leatherland, L.
Bishopston, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Blease, L. Lockwood, B.
Blyton, L. Loudoun, C.
Boston of Faversham, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Bottomley, L. McCarthy, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa. L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. NcNair, L.
Caradon, L. Milford, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mishcon, L.
Chitnis, L. Molloy, L.
Collison, L. Mulley, L.
David. B. Northfield, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Ogmore, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Oram, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Perry of Walton, L.
Ennals, L. Phillips, B.
Evans of Claughton, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Rea, L.
Ezra, L. Rhodes, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Rochester, L.
Gaitskell, B. Ross of Marnock, L.
Gallacher, L. Stedman, B.
Gladwyn, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Stone, L.
[Teller.] Strabolgi, L.
Gregson, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hale, L. Tordoff, L.
Hanworth, V. Underhill, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
[Teller.] Walston, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Hughes, L. Whaddon, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. White, B.
Jacques, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Jeger, B. Winstanley, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Cox. B.
Allerton, L. Crathorne, L.
Alport, L. Cromartie, E.
Avon, E. Daventry, V.
Bauer, L. Davidson. V.
Belhaven and Stanton, L. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Bellwin, L. Eccles, V.
Beloff, L. Elgin and Kincardine, E.
Belstead, L. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Blake, L. Elton, L.
Bolton, L. Ferrers, E.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Fortescue, E.
Brookes. L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Glenarthur, L.
Caccia, L. Gormanston, V.
Cairns, E. Gray of Contin, L.
Caithness, E. Henley, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Hives, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Hornsby-Smith, B.
Cathcart, E. Hunter of Newington, L.
Chelwood, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Cockfield, L. Ingrow, L.
Coleraine, L. Killearn, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Kintore, E.
Lane-Fox, B. Orkney, E.
Lauderdale, E. Orr-Ewing, L.
Lawrence, L. Pender, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Long, V. Renton, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Lyell, L. St. Davids, V.
McFadzean, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Salisbury, M.
Mancroft, L. Saltoun, Ly.
Marshall of Leeds, L. Selkirk, E.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Sharpies, B.
Maude of Stratford-upon- Shaughnessy, L.
Avon, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Merrivale, L. Sudeley, L.
Mersey, V. Suffield, L.
Molson, L. Swansea, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V. Swinfen, L.
Morris, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Tranmire, L.
Napier and Ettrick, L. Trefgarne, L.
Nathan, L. Trenchard, V.
Newall, L. Trumpington, B.
Norfolk, D. Whitelaw, V.
Nugent of Guildford, L. Windlesham, L.
O'Neill of the Maine, L. Wise, L.
Onslow, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.19 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 7: After Clause 4, insert the following new clause:

("Dwelling-houses for educational purposes.

After section 3A of the 1980 Act there shall be inserted the following section—

Landlord's right to refuse to sell certain dwelling- houses required for educational purposes.

3C.—(1) This section applies where an application to purchase a dwelling-house is served on an islands council as landlord and—

  1. (a) the dwelling-house is—
    1. (i) held by the council for the purposes of its functions as education authority; and
    2. (ii) required for the accommodation of a person who is or will be employed by the council for those purposes;
  2. (b) the council is not likely to be able reasonably to provide other suitable accommodation for the person mentioned in paragraph (a)(ii) above; and
  3. (c) the tenant would, apart from this section, have a right under section 1 of this Act to purchase the dwelling-house. The landlord may, within one month of service of the application to purchase or of the commencement of this section, whichever is the later, refuse the application.

(2) A notice of refusal shall specify the grounds on which the landlord refuses the application of the tenant;

(3) Where a landlord serves a notice of refusal on a tenant under this section, the tenant may within one month thereafter apply to the Lands Tribunal for Scotland for a finding that the landlord has acted unreasonably and that the tenant has a right to purchase the dwelling-house under section 1 of this Act on such terms as it may determine." ").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the words on the Order Paper. This is an important amendment but one of limited importance from a Scottish point of view. Indeed, it originates from the Western Isles, from Orkney and from Shetland Islands Council, which has control both over education and housing: so it is unique in that respect. I think the first thing I want to do is thank the Government for what they have done so far in meeting their difficulties in respect of teachers' houses. The position in areas such as that is that the provision of a house for a teacher is a considerable attraction. In fact, without it the areas could not get teachers. That is where it starts. Most of the teachers' houses are local authority houses. It was so under the Inverness County Council in one incarnation, and the same thing applied to the Shetland and Orkney County Councils. Under reorganisation the Islands Council is now multi-purpose. The same thing is true of Orkney and of Shetland. The three councils have been worried about this since 1980.

There has been a considerable sale of teachers' houses; mainly in Stornoway from the figures I have received from the Western Isles. It was felt that some of the houses would have sold anyway without the compulsions of the 1980 Act, but some houses, about 11 to 14, the councils would rather have held on to, to enable them to attract teachers into the area. The whole affair became so desperate that they have been in touch with the Scottish Office and an amendment was moved and accepted in another place. That is one of the reasons why the Bill is so much larger now than it was when it first set out in another place.

The councils still feel a sense of unfairness about the matter. They know the difficulties and the local conditions; but they feel hard pressed that it has not been left to their discretion to decide which houses to sell, and they are particularly annoyed that they have to apply to the Secretary of State for approval. The only reason as to why the Secretary of State should make a judgment was whether it was wise in the first place to say that a house should not be sold.

The councils are the people who know about this; the Secretary of State does not. It used to be bad enough for a Secretary of State to read in a newspaper that he had decided to refuse planning permission for a petrol pump somewhere. It was always an education for me to find out the things that I had done or that had been done in my name in relation to many things in Scotland. But surely this sort of thing should be left to the discretion of the Western Isles Council and the Orkney and Shetland Councils.

The reason for my amendment is to try to restore a measure of discretion to these councils. They rightly think that if an appeal or a decision is to be reconsidered by someone, it should not have to go to the Secretary of State. I so much agree with them. It should not go to the Secretary of State, but should be dealt with elsewhere. That, simply and quickly, is the reason for this amendment. If Lord Grimond had been here I think he would have dealt with this amendment, and probably better than I have. Unfortunately, he was not available today. I beg to move.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I agree with the amendment.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I, too, agree, and I was sitting wondering whether this would be the record when the Minister accepted this very sensible suggestion.

Lord Gray of Contin

In the interests of brevity and to be in accord with others who have spoken, I am tempted just to say that I do not agree and sit down. But I hardly think that would be suitable, and I should give your Lordships the reasons why I cannot accept the amendment.

It may be helpful if I explain that Clause 4 was brought forward by the Government as an amendment in another place in response to representations from the Islands Councils. The Islands Councils felt that they should not be required to sell teachers' houses in remote areas where they could not easily be replaced. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, for acknowledging what the Government have done in this repect.

The Government readily accept the principles here. Indeed, the 1980 legislation already provides that where a tenant is employed by his landlord and is required to occupy the house he rents as part of his contract of employment, that tenant, who, in effect, is a tied tenant, does not have the right to buy. Unlike with other employees, however, the teachers' contracts did not require them to occupy specific houses even though the houses they rented were clearly tied to their employment. As a result, teachers in the islands had security of tenure and the right to buy. This is why, in response to the representations from the Islands Councils, the Government brought forward the provisions which are now contained in Clause 4.

I know that the Islands Councils would have preferred that the decision whether to sell teachers' houses, or to refuse to sell them, should have been left in their own hands. However, since the teachers are not tied tenants but are secure tenants, with all the other rights which that means, the Government did not feel able to accept that this discretion should be left in the hands of the Islands Councils.

This is not to suggest that any Islands authority would act other than most fairly. At the same time, however, there must be an element of arbitration between two, possibly conflicting, points of view. To leave the decision to the Islands Councils would mean that they were judge in their own cause. We did not feel that this was acceptable from the tenants' point of view, and so we concluded that the fairest and best way to proceed was by asking the Secretary of State to consider the matter and to make the decision. With that explanation, I trust that your Lordships might be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Could we have a bit of argument about why it is the Secretary of State and not the Lands Tribunal?

Lord Gray of Contin

I appreciate that the noble Lord's amendment seeks to deal with this matter by providing that a tenant who feels aggrieved by a decision of his council to refuse to sell his house may have recourse to the Lands Tribunal to have the decision reversed. However, this would add a further stage to the process and an additional complication, which I believe is neither necessary nor appropriate to the relatively small number of cases which we expect to arise under this provision.

The approach we have adopted in Clause 4 is similar to the treatment under the existing 1980 legislation for houses which have been specially adapted for the needs of elderly people. I believe that in relation to those houses the approach has provided a satisfactory means of guarding the interests of both the landlord and the tenant in cases where we recognise that there are houses of a special category which it is important that the council should be able to retain, if it is to carry out its statutory functions. I appreciate that the Islands Councils original suggestions were somewhat different, but we have made our position clear to them and they have not indicated that they are unhappy with the new Clause 4. I understand that it is also acceptable to the teachers' representatives.

In short, we accept that the Islands Councils have a problem over the sale of teachers' houses and we believe that Clause 4 provides the best possible balance between meeting the difficulties of the Islands Councils while, at the same time, safeguarding the interests of the tenants. I am not attracted by the noble Lord's further amendment and therefore I urge him to withdraw it.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The Western Isles teachers are not terribly well represented in this House. We have faced the problem and the difficulties of getting teachers into the Western Isles—let us remember that the areas concerned are not all as big as Stornoway—where quite a number of teachers' houses have been sold without any difficulties. But when you come to the smaller islands and the more remote areas it is very difficult indeed to be able to advertise for a teacher and to get one without being able to afford him a council house.

What does the Secretary of State know about conditions there? Why bother the Secretary of State with a thing like that? Certainly he has got enough on his plate. To my mind, this is obviously a matter where you have to rely on the discretion of the local authority and, if you want to have a back-up in respect of that, then appeal to the Lands Tribunal.

The Minister will recollect, or somebody will tell him—he does not like people putting words into his mouth unless the words come straight from St. Andrew's House, and from my own experience their choice of words is not always very wise—that this was the hope, I think, that was being expressed: that he would start thinking for himself and speaking for himself. He has got some experience of remote areas, because the Member for Ross and Cromarty in another place at one time would be very conscious indeed of this particular difficulty, although there is no solution for them. The difficulty of course arises because under the reorganisation the district council is concerned with housing; and the other council, the Highlands Council, is responsible for education. It so happens that probably in the areas worst affected— the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland—the Islands Council is responsible for both education and housing, so we can reach a solution to the problem.

I would appeal to the Minister of State not to turn this down offhand, because I am afraid I will need to bring this one back again in some other form. In fact, but for the well-chosen words of the Western Islands Council, I would simply have left out the approval of the Secretary of State altogether and given a blanket discretion to the councils. But they are even more fair-minded than I: they think about the teachers and of possible discrimination there, and so they say, "Well, if he thinks it is unreasonable, give him an appeal to the Lands Tribunal". The Lands Tribunal is very much nearer to the hearts—and not just to the hearts, but actually nearer to the islands—than the Secretary of State. I think they have been very sensitive to the demands of the Scottish Office in respect of the amendment they have put down. I think it is a very, very good amendment and I am really disappointed that the Scottish Office has not gone so far as to be able to accept it.

I shall not press the amendment just now, but I am afraid I will have to come back to it because I am not satisfied with the explanation that has been given. It has been virtually a non-explanation. We have had this all day, with the Minister rising and saying, "The Government think they are right, and that is that." So I hope he will do a little better, if not at this stage, then at the next stage. I know he has other work to do—he has got a roads Bill, which is coming on Thursday—but, with all due respect, so have we, and we have no Scottish Office behind us to provide us with arguments and to fashion amendments. His greatest job on the Roads (Scotland) Bill will be to keep the place. I am not going to help him on that one. He has not been very helpful to us today, has he? He could have made a name for himself with this Bill—the great Lord Gray of Contin: he accepted an amendment and gave his blessing at the same time to the civil servants who are anxiously waiting to see whether he continued to say, "No". But he has not risen to the occasion. I am prepared to withdraw the amendment, and I hope that between now and the next stage of the Bill the Government will have second thoughts. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.35 p.m.

Lord Wilson of Langside moved Amendment No. 8: Insert the following new clause:

("Duties of landlords.

. In section 7 (Duties of Landlords) of the 1980 Act in subsection (1) for the words "the progression" there shall be substituted the words "the speedy and efficient progression".").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move this amendment, and I can be very brief for two reasons. The first is that your Lordships' discussion on this Bill has already occupied more time than had been anticipated; and the second reason is that the Government do not seem in the mood to accept even eminently sensible amendments. Accordingly, I think it is unlikely that they will move far in response to this one.

Its purpose is merely to focus on the point which was touched on during Second Reading, that some local authorities, in processing applications under Part 1 of this Bill, were, as has been said, dragging their feet. Accordingly, the amendment suggests that in Section 7 of the 1980 Act, which lays down the duties of the landlord in relation to the processing of applications under the Act, the words "speedy and efficient" should be added.

I was in some doubt as to whether a progression can indeed be either speedy or efficient but the meaning is clear, I think. The purpose of the amendment is simply to probe the Government's attitude towards the situation that arises (as it has arisen) that certain local authorities, albeit a small number, are inclined, for whatever reason, to drag their feet in putting through these processes.

Lord Gray of Contin

The later stages of a sale, once an offer to sell has been accepted and missives concluded, are not regulated by the Tenants' Rights Act. Rather, they are subject to the ordinary law of contract. The legal remedy available to a tenant who considers that the district council is failing to complete the sale of his house within a reasonable time is therefore to raise an action of specific implement in the sheriff court, requiring the district council to implement the contract enbodied in the missives.

An individual tenant who experiences delays in the processing of his application to purchase thus has legal remedies available to him. Having said this, our view or course is that tenants should only require to have recourse to these remedies in exceptional circumstances. The Scottish Development Department keeps a close watch on authorities' performance in relation to the processing of applications and reports to Ministers regularly. If these reports indicate that significant delays are occurring in any area in the processing of applications, this is of course a matter of concern to us and we take whatever action is open to us to secure an improvement in the relevant authority's performance.

In October, for example, the reports submitted to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State indicated that there were 15 authorities which, on the basis of the most up-to-date information then available, were taking more than 12 months to complete sales, despite the fact that the-right-to-buy legislation had been in force for over three years. My right honourable friend therefore instructed the Scottish Development Department to write to these 15 authorities expressing his concern at the delays in completing sales, drawing attention to the serious consequences that delay in the delivery of receipts would have for their capital programmes and asking for an indication of the action which they had taken or proposed to take to ensure that sales were completed within a reasonable period.

I am pleased to say that most of these authorities now either have provided evidence of satisfactory performance or have given undertakings to improve their processing arrangements. We shall of course continue to monitor the position.

Statistical returns submitted by authorities indicate that across Scotland as a whole the average time taken to process a sale from application to completion has fallen from just over 13 months in the last quarter of 1982 to just over 10 months in the last quarter of 1983. There is a clear downwards trend in the average processing time and I am confident, therefore, that we shall see further improvements in the coming months. In view of what I have said, I trust that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I am grateful for the explanation which the Minister has given to the Committee, and I am happy to ask for its leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Renton)

I have to confess to an omission on my part. I failed to put Clause 3 and Clause 4 stand part. I propose to do so now—I hope better late than never.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clauses 4 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Right to carry out repairs]:

6.43 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 9: Page 5, line 4, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is designed to tighten up the obligations on the Secretary of State and to try to elicit from the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, under what circumstances, if the word "may" were to be retained, the Secretary of State would decide not that he may but that he shall make a scheme by regulation. To give to the Secretary of State this kind of discretion, which relates to one group of tenants as compared with another is very unfair. Therefore, it is important to be positive and not to leave it so vague as to give wide discretion to the Secretary of State. Before deciding what to do about this amendment, I should like to hear what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.

Lord Gray of Contin

The noble Lord's amendment seeks to convert the proposed new Section 17A of the 1980 Act from a provision which will enable my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to set up a right to repair scheme into a provision which will require him to set up such a scheme. I appreciate that the purpose of this amendment is probing. The Government have made clear that it is their intention to introduce a scheme which will give secure tenants a right to carry out repairs which would otherwise be the responsibility of their landlord and to claim a payment from the landlord for having done so. The commitment to introduce such a right was included in the Government's manifesto at the general election last year.

We have embarked on a process of consultation on the detailed operation of the scheme. We are currently considering the responses we have received to the consultation paper we issued in November, together with the many helpful comments and suggestions made during the debates on this Bill both in your Lordships' House and in another place. When we have completed our consideration of these responses we will be making a draft of the regulations available for further comment before the regulations are laid formally before Parliament.

I would suggest, however, that the noble Lord's amendment is unnecessary. It is unnecessary because we are fully committed to introducing a scheme. It is also inappropriate because the power in the Bill is properly an enabling power; the details of the scheme will be set out in the subsequent regulations, which we shall be bringing forward in due course. I trust that in the light of this explanation, the noble Lords will agree to withdraw their amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The noble Lord's reply is disappointing. He began by saying that there is no question of its not happening; that we must believe in the good faith of the Government; that they are holding interviews; that they will listen to what is said both here and in another place before they draw up their scheme, and that there is no doubt that they will draw up such a scheme. The Minister then refused to accept a very simple amendment stating that the Government "shall" draw up the scheme instead of "may" draw up the scheme. The word "may" in the Bill suggests that there is no time limit as to when the scheme should be drawn up and the regulations laid. The word "may" is quite indefinite. Even if the word "shall" were included, there would be no timetable and the Government would still have plenty of time in which to decide when to bring in such a scheme.

Having given all those assurances, the Minister appears to have doubts as to whether or not there will be a scheme. Are the Government finding it difficult, or almost impossible, to draw up a scheme, or schemes? This is an important point. Will there be one scheme for the whole of Scotland, or will there be different schemes for different parts of Scotland? Will there be one set of regulations for one part of Scotland and another set of regulations for another? The Minister's reply is most disappointing. This is one occasion upon which he could have said, "Yes", and received a certain amount of credit for it. Further-more, he would have given away very little of substance, unless it is that "may" means that the Government do not quite know what they are going to do about it and are still holding so many discussions that they may end up by not even having a scheme.

Lord Gray of Contin

The noble Lord is being less than fair. We should have been very strongly criticised if we had not prepared regulations and agreed that there should be further consultation upon them. I do not envisage that the draft regulations will be available before the early summer. There will then be a period for further consultation. We should then aim to lay the regulations before Parliament in the autumn and the scheme could be brought into operation then. Or there might even be advantage in delaying its introduction until the beginning of the following financial year. But I can assure the noble Lord that there will be further consultation. I believe that it is better to deal with this matter without too much haste. I trust that my explanation has satisfied the noble Lord.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

In view of some of the legislation which the Government have produced, in this case I must disagree with the noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench. I should like to see the sort of mess they will make of it when the regulations are produced before committing the Government to producing a scheme.

Lord Ross of Marnock

That is very unfair. I dread to think that this House will be subjected to the mess which the Government will make, but we shall come to that problem later. The Minister has told us that the Government will introduce a scheme. It was included in their manifesto, and that declaration was accompanied by the blowing of trumpets. But what do we find? We find that, After Section 17 of the 1980 Act there shall be inserted the following words". And what do "the following words" say?—that the Government may do something. It does not say that they are going to do something; nor does it say that they shall do something. No statutory fetters are being bound around the necks of this willing Government to introduce the right to carry out repairs. It just says that they may introduce this right. How can anyone justify that? How can anyone justify the retention of the word "may"? We are seeking to help them with their manifesto commitments by inserting the word "shall".

What if they had gone to the Scottish people? They did not get many votes when they did go to the Scottish people; certainly they did not get very many seats. They did not say, "We may introduce this scheme". Perhaps this is where the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, went wrong. If in Ross and Cromarty—or whatever its new name is these days—he had said, "We may introduce this", he might have won. Instead of which, he was far too definite and he lost.

Is that the reason for all of this? It is absolute nonsense and the sooner the noble Lord rises to his feet and tells somebody at the Scottish Office to pull their finger out, the better. If they are going to do it, then make it mandatory upon the Government. After all, there might be some sudden change of government and another government may have a different point of view. They will feel under no obligation, and they will be under no obligation because "may" means that one may not do something as well.

This is very disappointing. I can see a very gloomy future for the noble Lord as a Minister of State. This is not what we expected of him. It may well be that he has been taking the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. I am perfectly sure that he did not take the advice of his noble friend Lord Selkirk, because the noble Earl knows quite well that if one wants something done, one makes it mandatory upon the Government to do it.

One cannot make something mandatory by using the word "may". There was time when I would have argued for at least three and a half hours on the subject of "may" and "shall" in the Scottish Grand Committee. I always considered that my greatest achievement in the Scottish Grand Committee of old was to bring the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, into that committee for the first time at five o'clock one morning. Mind you, he had been pairing off for term after term with John Strachey, so he was just as big a sinner so far as that was concerned.

The use of the words "may" and "shall" is important here, because they are not equitable. I have heard governments argue that "may" means "shall". If it does, then they should use the word "shall". If they want to get the best out of their manifesto commitments, they will not do so with the word "may"; nothing could be weaker. I hope the Government will think again about this point.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment No. 10: Page 5, line 5, after ("scheme") insert ("which shall not affect existing common law rights").

The noble Lord said: I will not take very long to move this amendment. We do not believe that the existing phrase in Clause 7 does mean that common law rights will be affected, but we should very much like to hear the Government's opinion. I beg to move.

Lord Gray of Contin

The noble Lord has asked me to explain what the Government have in mind and I shall try to do so as briefly as I can. Under common law, landlords are obliged to maintain their property in habitable or tenantable condition. Landlords may also have additional responsibilities with regard to repairs under the terms of their tenancy agreements with their tenants. If a landlord fails to carry out a repair for which he is responsible, after due notice from the tenant that the repair requires to be undertaken, the tenant has a right at common law to withhold his rent until the repair has been completed—unless such action is expressly excluded by the terms of his lease. In appropriate circumstances the tenant can, if he wishes, carry out the repair himself and offset the cost against the rent retained.

These common law rights can, however, be difficult and costly to enforce. A tenant who withholds his rent in order to pay for a repair may, for example, find himself being sued by his landlord for the outstanding rent and could find himself in considerable difficulty if the court subsequently holds that he did not have the right to withhold his rent and to carry out the repair himself—either because the repair was not necessary or because he did not give his landlord adequate opportunity to carry out the repair himself.

The proposed new scheme, which will be entirely optional, will not affect these common law rights in any way. Rather, the scheme will extend the existing rights of tenants under the Tenants' Charter by giving tenants who wish to do so the right to carry out repairs for which their landlord is responsible and to claim a payment from the landlord for having done so. This right will be exercisable whether or not there has been a delay by the landlord in carrying out the repair and will not be subject to the uncertainties which attach to a tenant's common law rights.

I can assure the noble Lord therefore that it is unnecessary to seek to preserve the common law rights of tenants in the way proposed in his amendment. Tenants' common law rights are not affected by the Bill, and I hope that in the light of this assurance the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Wilson of Langside

In view of what the Minister has said, why not insert the words proposed and put this matter beyond doubt? I was tempted when moving my own amendment, Amendment No. 8, to go on to say in reply (but because of the hour I resisted the temptation and kept quiet) that one of the primary objects of legislation should be to enable people to avoid being involved in situations in relation to which the law is in any doubt at all. What harm would it do to insert the proposed words and to put the matter beyond all doubt?

Lord Gray of Contin

I am always a little apprehensive about arguing legal points with the noble Lord, but I have so often had it put to me, both in this House and in another place, that in legislation it is desirable to have as few words as possible; and this frequently from members of the noble Lord's profession. I am surprised that the noble Lord suggests that it would be an advantage to insert additional words. The words proposed would not add anything to this Bill. I have explained that the rights are not affected; and with those few words I will ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I thank the noble Lord the Minister for his explanation which is of course reassuring. I do think that my noble friend has something in that a few extra words might make it absolutely clear that the rights are not affected. One might have to wait a very long time for a landlord to pay the money that is owed to a tenant, and in the meantime he could be taking advantage of the common law requirement.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, should he now take up the Minister on his point about the number of words in this Bill? Does what the Minister said mean that between now and Thursday he will look at his amendments to Schedule 8 of the Roads (Scotland) Bill? It began life with 25 pages. When we started with it in Committee it had 50 pages. There are amendments on the Marshalled List to increase that number by another 10 or 20 pages. We will take the noble Lord up on the point he made. He has to appreciate that we mark every word that he says as a Minister and we will use it against him.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I must say in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, that I wholly agree with him. However, at the present moment my stomach is beginning to tell me that at the present time the use of words in this Committee is what I most want to cut down on. At this point I should like to withdraw the amendment, although we may bring it forward again later.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

Lord Wilson of Langside moved Amendment No. 11: Page 5, line 12, leave out ("to recover from the landlord such sums") and inert ("to have the right to arrange for the cost of such repairs to be recoverable directly from the landlord").

The noble and learned Lord said: As the matter presently stands as regards repairs, the Bill entitles a tenant, after carrying out repairs, to recover the cost of those repairs from the landlord. The purpose of this amendment is to improve the tenant's right in this context and to put him into the position in which arrangements could be made for the cost of the repairs to be recoverable directly from the landlord. I should have thought, in the context of the kind of situation in which tenants under this scheme will be placed, that it would be commonsense to put them in this improved position. I think that the tenant's position should be made quite clear.

Referring to the previous amendment, the Minister said that he had often been told that the object in legislation should be to keep words to a minimum. That is a general rule of guidance and we must certainly try to strike a balance in the matter. He said that sometimes members of my profession expressed this view very strongly. My anxiety is to make the position clear and to leave no doubt that the arrangement which is made will ensure that tenants will not be prejudiced by any delay on the part of the local authority in meeting the cost. One can imagine all kinds of situations, particularly with local government housing authorities, against which tenants should be protected. It is in order to give this additional protection and to put the matter beyond any doubt that I put forward this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Gray of Contin

The noble and learned Lord has argued that the amendment would help poorer tenants, and I certainly have some sympathy with this aim. I believe, however, that there is an objection in principle to requiring the landlord to make payments direct to a contractor, since it is the tenant who will be responsible for carrying out the repairs. It seems to me only fair that if a tenant has undertaken to carry out a repair himself and is responsible for selecting and appointing a contractor and for supervising his work, then the tenant should also be responsible for paying him. The arrangements between a tenant and his contractor are a matter for them alone. It is right that the landlord's responsibility—and, therefore, the payment—should be to the tenant.

There is also. I believe, a practical objection to the contractor being reimbursed directly by the landlord. Under the Government's proposals, the payments under the scheme are to be based on what it would have cost the landlord to carry out the work himself: they are not directly related to what it will actually cost the tenant or his contractor to undertake the repair. The contractor's bill may well be less than the payment set: or it could conceivably be higher. Under the system we propose, this is a matter for the tenant. The important thing from the landlord's point of view is that he will be paying out not more than what it would have cost him to carry out the repair himself. If, however, the landlord had to meet the contractor's bill direct, then I am doubtful whether this system could work.

The noble and learned Lord has drawn attention to the fact that some tenants may feel that they cannot afford to pay a contractor and then wait to be reimbursed by their landlord; and this may inhibit them from exercising their right. I appreciate that there may be a problem here. But I think that the best way to get round this, as we have suggested in our consultation paper, is to set firm limits on the time within which payment must be made to the tenant once the repair has been satisfactorily completed.

I hope that in the light of these comments, the noble and learned Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I am really very unhappy with the Minister's reply. I should perhaps blame myself for not making the points in support of the amendment as forcefully and effectively as I should have done. I am astonished at the Minister's attitude, which has led to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, being so highly critical of him, and I must say I sympathise entirely with the criticism which the noble Lord directed to him.

I had hoped that here again the Government would be willing to take another look at this situation, the practical implications of which are very complex and could be very difficult indeed for tenants to resolve. However, in view of the lateness of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, and the matter can perhaps be brought up again at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.6 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 12: Page 5, line 34, at end insert ("and (c) may provide information of the landlord's obligations in respect of repairs generally and list the type of repairs covered by this section.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to have a list, a schedule, or at least information available so that tenants will know precisely the sort of repairs that should be done and which are the duty of the landlord. I move this amendment very conscious of the fact that there are great difficulties. As I said on Second Reading, I believe that minor repairs or running repairs on houses—or what is known in the trade as "jobbing building"—is an incredibly difficult matter to handle, whether public authority or in the private sector. However, the state we reached in Scotland, particularly in the big cities, with the housing stock was such that the Government—originally a Labour Government and later a Conservative Government supported by the Labour Opposition—made grants to endeavour to make up for the lack of repairs, something that had been neglected for decades in the housing stock of Scotland.

Many millions of pounds have been spent on repair grants, and I hope that the Government will see the importance of trying to maintain the property that has now reached a reasonable level of repair, and will take a lesson from the fact that over the past 20, 30 and 40 years there has been such neglect that in regard to any new houses they will stipulate clearly what repairs should be done. We must never again reach the stage we had immediately after the war, and particularly in the last 10 years, when massive repairs were required in so many houses. Practically no type of house—no matter how expensive, but particularly the expensive tenement flats—did not need some sort of expensive repair.

I believe that had there been available an understandable and easily comprehensible list of the sort of repairs that were the responsibility of the landlord, it would have taken away a great deal of doubt. People would either have known that a particular job was the responsibility of the landlord and pressed him to do it, or could have gone ahead much more quickly and perhaps done it for themselves if they thought it was a job for them. Therefore, I am not moving this amendment purely in terms of the present Bill; I am thinking of the future and the lessons that we should have drawn from the past.

I should like the Government to grasp this nettle. I agree that it is a difficult subject. We have a comprehensive list of landlords' repairs that should be included which has been submitted by a number of bodies, and particularly again by Shelter. It includes roof and chimney, walls, brickwork, stair rails, incinerators, fire bricks, grates, lavatory basins, sinks, baths and showers—all these things. As I said, it is a difficult nettle for the Government to grasp. Someone will have to do it at some point. The quicker the list is set down in an easily understood form, the better.

I understand that Section 41 of the English Housing Act 1980 gives English and Welsh tenants statutory right to information. All we ask is that by accepting this amendment the Government will extend these rights to Scottish tenants. If the Minister cannot give us an answer right away, the matter is sufficiently serious and important for him at least to say that he will take it away, look at it and come back at the Report stage with something more tangible than he might have been willing to give us earlier. I beg to move.

Lord Gray of Contin

As the noble Lord has explained, the amendment is designed to ensure that tenants have a clear idea of which repairs their landlord is responsible for and of whether they have the right to carry out a particular repair themselves under the new scheme. It will of course be necessary to make clear in the regulations which repairs fall within the scope of the scheme and which do not. It is our intention, however, to do this by means of broad descriptions of classes of repair which are excluded from the scheme, rather than by means of a list of specific repairs—for example, the replacement of a door frame—which are included. The reasons for this are that there could be no guarantee that a specific list would be fully comprehensive, and the nature of a specific repair can vary considerably according to the circumstances. Repair of a wall, for example, could cover anything from repairing a small hole in the roughcast to repairing a large crack caused by subsidence.

Our consultation paper proposes that repairs to the structure of blocks of flats or maisonettes and repairs to communal services or facilities should be excluded from the scheme. It also proposes that repairs which would cost the landlord more than a certain minimum sum or more than a certain maximum sum should be excluded. The consultation paper suggests that the cut-off points might initially be set at, say, £20 and £200. We are currently reviewing this list of exclusions in the light of the responses which we receive to our consultation paper. The second part of the amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Ross and Lord Carmichael, thus seeks to provide for something which we fully intend to provide for anyway.

In conclusion, I believe that the first part of the noble Lords' amendment would be impracticable, and, as I have tried to explain, I believe the second part is unnecessary since we fully intend to include information of the type in question in the regulations. I hope, therefore, in the light of what I have said, the noble Lords will be prepared to withdraw their amendment.

The Earl of Selkirk

If the noble Lord the Minister is to include a list of the type of repairs covered by this provision, why does he not want to put it in the Bill? It is merely outlining the type of regulations. He says that he will include these points. Why does he not agree to include them? I find it rather difficult to follow the reasoning.

I have forgotten exactly what went into the English Bill, but I remember a certain amendment, although I cannot remember where it went in. To my mind it is most important that tenants should know what has to be done. In many cases it is the tenant who reports what needs to be Jone to the landlord, although there are different contracts. There are repairing leases and all sorts of other things.

One of the things which I want to mention particularly is electrical repairs. It is commonly known that most houses which are damaged by fire burn because of electrical breakdown, which is almost impossible to define. This is the sort of fault which tenants should report if they see any sign of it. It is very important that tenants should be fully informed of what the landlord is responsible for and what they are responsible for.

I am not quite clear why there should be a limit to the landlord's responsibility. If a wall is falling down, surely that is a matter that the landlord should see to. I should like this matter to be more fully explained. The maintenance of property is important and it lies in a combination of the tenant and the landlord. I should like the noble Lord to think a little more about this. Frankly, I do not quite see why he objects to the amendment.

Lord Gray of Contin

I think that my noble friend is absolutely right. He and I have exactly the same objective. That is why we are determined to make it absolutely clear what can and what cannot be included. But I remind him that this is an enabling power. When they are produced the regulations will contain all the information which the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, seeks to have included. But, with respect, it is unnecessary to include all this in the Bill. It will be included in the regulations. I have tried to outline as clearly as I can how we are proceeding. We are consulting as much as we possibly can. We are waiting for observations on the consultation paper. We shall take into account those observations and what has been said in another place, and indeed here. We seek to clarify the position beyond all doubt. I hope that that satisfies my noble friend.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The Minister has to some extent satisfied me, although he has left a great number of questions unanswered. In fact he almost himself raised questions which he has left unanswered: for instance, what happens when it is a major structural repair? We know that that point was partly covered by the fact that the liability would be somewhere between £20 and £200. I assume that there will be some way of keeping pace with inflation and changing times. Buildings last a long time. In 20 or 30 years, £200 could look very silly. I am not even sure whether a great deal would be done now by many-builders for £200.

I should also like an assurance from the Minister which he has not quite given me. To some extent this ties in with one of the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, when he spoke about the English and Welsh conditions. It is important that people know exactly what their responsibilities are. I have no worries at all about giving people responsibilities. I think that the problem has always been that people have never known what was their responsibility and what was the landlord's, and what they should or should not do. By and large, when people are told that they have certain responsibilities they tend to carry them out. I hope that the Minister can assure us that in the very important matter of tenants knowing where their responsibilities lie, Scottish tenants will certainly be no worse off than those in England and Wales.

When we get the lists from the Minister—ultimately from the Scottish Office—I hope we shall have scope in the House to look at them, discuss them, perhaps make a few additions and make them more intelligible than Government regulations sometimes are. I hope that the Minister will reply shortly to the points that I have made. I should then be happy to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Gray of Contin

I think that I can help the noble Lord. Landlords in Scotland have a common law duty to keep their property in "wind and watertight" and in a "tenantable and habitable" condition. In addition, Section 8 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1966 requires landlords to keep the structure and exterior of their houses in good repair and to maintain in proper working order installations for the supply of gas, electricity and water and for sanitation. With these limited exceptions, however, the division of responsibility for repairs between the landlord and the tenant is entirely a matter for agreement between landlord and tenant. Practice varies considerably from district to district and even within districts where some tenants may be responsible for a particular type of repair while others are not. Some authorities, for example, exempt elderly or disabled tenants from responsibility for certain repairs. It would not therefore be practical to attempt to list the repairs for which landlords are responsible in regulations which are to apply nationally. Tenants should be able to ascertain whether a particular repair is their responsibility or the responsibility of their landlord by reference to the terms of the written lease which their landlord is obliged to issue to them under Section 16 of the Tenants' Rights Act.

The noble Lord also asked me about what the Government are going to list. The Government are going to list the repairs covered by exclusion. As I have explained, this is why the noble Lord's amendment, which seeks to define the repairs covered by inclusion, is not acceptable. I trust that the noble Lord would be prepared to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.21 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment No. 13: Page 5, leave out lines 35 to 38 and insert— (" (4) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument which shall not have effect until approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament." ").

The noble Lord said: I beg leave to move Amendment No. 13 standing in my name. All the discussion over the last five or six amendments shows how necessary it is that this matter is not dealt with in a negative manner. We are going through a Bill and we have heard that there is a consultative paper. Consultations are going on but we do not know what the regulations are going to be. It is not good enough to do it by means of a negative instrument. It should be dealt with an affirmative instrument and passed, and be subject to discussion and approval by both Houses. The reason for it is not far to seek. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has just made several points; the noble Lord. Lord Carmichael, has made several points. My noble and learned friend has had a very unsatisfactory answer to the question of recovering costs, and for the tenant to get the bill sent directly to the landlord.

These are all minefields—that is the only word—of trouble. It may well be, when we look at the regulations, that we will think that they will make things more difficult for the tenant; they will introduce a great deal of bureaucracy and make repairs even more expensive and slower. In view of the great importance of the regulations to this clause I think it absolutely necessary that we have a positive instrument, so that we can make sure that we examine these regulations properly. I know that any noble Lord can see that they are examined; but who knows what pressures the House may be under when the regulations lie on the table? I beg to move.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to this amendment. After all, here we are dealing with provisions entitling a tenant under a tenancy to carry out repairs to the property in which he is a tenant which the landlord is under an obligation to carry out. The implications of this, right at the beginning, are considerable. The legal implications are considerable. The practical implications may very well be even more considerable, and I would have thought that it was quite vital that regulations of this somewhat novel nature should be dealt with in accordance with the amendment, rather than, as is at present proposed, under the negative resolution procedure. I hope the Minister and the Government will give serious consideration to this—more serious consideration than appears to me to have been given to many of the very sensible amendments that have been moved this afternoon and evening.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I would have thought that the Minister of State would have accepted this amendment because it would have meant, of course, that it would have come back here. Otherwise I think there is little chance of this Chamber seeing it. Usually with negative resolutions if the matter is dealt with in the one place, then that is it, finished. We do not get the chance of having any discussion upon it.

If this amendment were accepted it would mean that the Government would need to bring the matter back here and get our approval. I can almost hear the Minister telling us, "Oh ye of little faith; here we are, I have got to these amendments. Do you remember when we had the debate on 'may' and 'shall'? I asked you to trust the Government". And he would be giving us it right back in our teeth that they had done it.

I do not think that there is the slightest doubt about the importance of this, and I want to see this carried into law, and carried into law well. But if anyone tomorrow asked me about these regulations and what is going to be done, I would have to say that I do not know. All the Minister has taken here is an enabling power and we are given very, very scant information about what is going to be. It is all in some consultation document sent out—was it in the month of November?—I thought the replies were to be in by the end of the year. But here we are, very nearly into April, and we are no further forward. I have known Parliaments that would have insisted that they see these provisions in draft so that we would have an indication as to what we were actually passing and what the Government were going to do. Now he tells us, "Oh, its all right, we are going to define in a negative way what it is not going to be possible to repair". I suppose the rest will be repairs within a financial limit. Let him watch his words by the way. He used the word "minimum" when he did not really mean it: it had to be "less than". Was it less than £20? Not more than a minimum. He got his £200 right but the first one was wrong. He can check Hansard for that and put it right. But it means that we just do not know what is between this £20 and £200. We do not know what the legal implications are for the tenant who undertakes repairs himself. After all, the house is not his, it is the local authority's. I presume the local authority is covered by insurance, and if anything happened—say it was an electrical installation and some change had been made there by the tenant—is the local authority going to take responsibility for that, just by the fact of paying for it?

There is a lot more in this than we have been able to even scratch in our discussion tonight. I am going to suggest to the Minister of State that he and his civil servants get down to this because we will need to give far more of a keelhauling to this at the next stage of the Bill, when we are not being so pressed for time to deal with other matters. At this late stage we cannot do justice to the importance of it. It is the Government who proclaim this as important—so important they put it into their manifesto. This is going to affect far more people than the right to buy. Some 887 local authority houses—about a million altogether if you take all the others. Of that, 44,000 have bought; but the number of them who will be wanting repairs done is 99 per cent. of that figure. I had something today from the City of Edinburgh district, and they talked about 250,000 repairs in a year.

Each tenant will want to know what he can and what he cannot do, and whether or not he will be served well under the legislation. I have already come to the conclusion that very few will be able to obtain the benefit of it. Whether they do the work themselves or get a contractor to do it, they will have to meet the bills and then wait for some considerable time before they get their money back. We can count out every single old-age pensioner. Unless the Minister devises some kind of scheme such as was put to him by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, it will be a non-starter so far as many of the poor people are concerned.

Those are only some of the points in respect of this aspect of the Bill, and I am very disappointed that the Government will not accept the amendment so that we have the opportunity here to see the regulations. It may be that we would be delighted with what was being done and that we would be full of congratulations for the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, if he was still in his post, though by then it might have been taken by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, as the Scottish adviser to the Government. But whoever is in the post, he may well be deserving of congratulations.

Yet the noble Lord is to deny himself the chance of hearing the words of wisdom from the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, about how the Government have carried out their duties and their promises as to what they would or would not do in respect of the regulations. We are anxious to help the noble Lord. We are anxious to congratulate him. if appropriate. But, above all, we want to see whether the regulations match the needs of the million people who will be depending on getting their repairs done much more efficiently. I support the amendment.

Lord Gray of Contin

I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, had to say and to the contributions made by other noble Lords. However, I do not accept that it would be appropriate to make the regulations setting up a right to repair subject to affirmative resolution procedure. Generally speaking, in recent years it has been the practice to restrict affirmative resolution procedure to cases where the powers are concerned with the alteration or definition of the extent of a statute, or with the levying, application, or management of public money. If too many instruments were made the subject of an affirmative resolution, the purpose of delegating legislative power would be largely defeated by the time expended in directing the attention of your Lordships' House to the subordinate legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross, said that there would be no way in which your Lordships' House would have an opportunity to debate the regulations under negative resolution procedure. But that is not so; it is a decision for your Lordships as to whether your Lordships' House debates the regulations. A debate will be held if the regulations are prayed against, and that is the difference between the procedures.

The negative resolution procedure means that the regulations would be laid before both Houses, but would not be debated unless they were prayed against. If affirmative resolution procedure were adopted, the regulations would have to be debated by both Houses, though they would still not be capable of amendment. What is more, if this amendment were accepted, it would mean that every subsequent minor change or adjustment to the regulations—for example, regulations amending cost thresholds in line with inflation—would also have to be debated by both Houses.

The substantive features of the right to repair scheme are set out in Clause 7 of the Bill. The regulations will be concerned with the detail of its operation—important as these are. I can understand the desire of noble Lords to comment on the regulations and I should therefore like to confirm the undertaking given in another place by my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for home affairs and the environment that we shall make available to interested parties a draft of the regulations before they are laid. This will ensure that there is an opportunity for interested parties, including noble Lords, to comment on the detailed regulations in draft and then for us to take account of those comments before the regulations are formally laid before your Lordships' House. In view of the explanation that I have given, I trust that the noble Lord might be prepared to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I have listened to the explanation, which was given in the Minister's usual kind and pleasant manner, but I must say that I am not really convinced that this is not an exceptional case. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, put forward the fact that the regulations will have a very much greater effect on far more people than will the main object of the Bill. Clause 7 does not give a tremendous description of what is proposed in the way of regulations; it cannot give a tremendous description. For us to go through the clause knowing that we may not see or debate the regulations that are to affect so many people makes me disinclined to withdraw the amendment.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Clause 7 agreed to.

7.36 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 14: After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:

("Provision of information about tenancies.

. After section 17 of the 1980 Act there shall be inserted the following section—

Provision of information about tenancies.

17B.— (1) Every body which lets dwelling-houses under secure tenancies shall, within one year of the commencement of this section and thereafter from time to time, provide information in such form as it considers best suited to explain in simple terms

  1. (a) the provisions of this Part of this Act;
  2. (b) the provisions of the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981;
  3. (c) the provisions of section 8 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1966;
  4. (d) the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants at common law in respect of the repair and maintenance of houses let under secure tenancies;
  5. (e) such other matters as the body considers appropriate.

(2) Every such body shall ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the information provided by it under subsection (1) above is kept up to date.

(3) The landlord under a secure tenancy shall supply the tenant with a copy of the information provided by it under subsection (1) above as soon as practicable during the period of one year following the commencement of this section and after the expiry of that period—

  1. (a) when the tenancy is created; and
  2. (b)when information is revised in accordance with subsection (2) above.".").

The noble Lord said: At this late hour I shall be very brief on this amendment. The other day I listened with considerable admiration to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, on the subject of the intelligibility of statutes and to his suggestion that before a particular statute comes into force there should be a certain measure of consolidation that would enable people to understand what was happening. Unless people understand the whole business of their right to buy and their right to repair, then obviously they will not properly and efficiently be able to take advantage of the new rights given to them.

So in the amendment we are proposing something entirely different—a right to information. We place an obligation on the body which is the landlord of the house. It might not be a local authority; it might be a new town corporation, the Scottish Special Housing Association, or some other such public body. The obligation is that the body should vouchsafe information to its tenants—information which will enable them to understand their rights and therefore be able to exercise them. The matters on which information is to be provided are listed in subsection (l)(a) to (e) of the new clause proposed in the amendment. The first paragraph refers to, the provisions of this Part of this Act".

Well, we do not know them at the moment. The Act will come into force two months after it is passed and I do not know whether the regulations will be drawn up by that time.

The amendment goes on to refer to, the provisions of the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act".

That is very important from the point of view of many people who try to exercise their rights under that Act, which are now partly incorporated within this Bill in terms of secured tenants.

Then the amendment refers to, the provisions of section 8 of the Housing (Scotland) Act".

My noble friend mentioned that when he spoke about the common law rights of tenants as against landlords. Very few people know about that. There is no doubt that the reference there is to Section 8. We are not talking about the rights which arise from the variable leases that the Minister of State spoke about.

The amendment then refers to, the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants at common law in respect of the repair and maintenance of houses let under secure tenancies", and, (e) such other matters as the body considers appropriate".

Subsection (2) states: Every such body shall ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the information provided by it under subsection (1) is kept up to date".

That is important. Subsection (3) states: The landlord under a secure tenancy shall supply the tenant with a copy of the information provided by it under subsection (1) above as soon as practicable during the period of one year following the commencement of this section and after the expiry of that period—"(a) when the tenancy is created".

This is information to enable the tenant to know his rights and to assess what he should do under them. It is not placing any burden on the Government. We are placing the responsibility on the local authority. People have a right to know. If they know, they will probably be able to assess what they should do in respect of the tenant's right to buy and the tenants' right to repair. I beg to move.

Lord Gray of Contin

This new clause would require authorities to provide tenants with more and clearer information about their tenancies. I have some sympathy with the aims of the amendment, but I cannot accept that the administrative and financial burden for local authorities which would result from this amendment would be justified. The 1980 Act already requires authorities to provide tenants with a written lease which must set out the terms of their tenancy. This is all that the great majority of tenants will ever need. The additional information which the new clause would require authorities to issue to their tenants would, given human nature, lie undisturbed and unread until a particular dispute arose, and again, given human nature, that dispute would almost certainly be sui generis and not covered by guidance provided by the authority. Local authorities employ skilled housing managers, and Citizens' Advice Bureaux and housing aid centres have many years' experience of assisting tenants with problems. The additional information referred to in the amendment would in itself solve no problems. It would, I suggest, be little used by tenants and would impose additional burdens on housing management staff who, I am sure, have many more pressing problems with which to deal. I hope that in the light of these comments, noble Lords will agree to withdraw their amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

There is no doubt about what the noble Lord said. He touched upon a very sensitive point concerning housing management staff who will have plenty to do. It is interesting that, according to the Government's own introduction to the Bill, they were not going to have much to do. It says: The introduction of a right to repair is unlikely to have any significant financial effects. There may be some unquantifiable but minor manpower implications for housing authorities". Either the Minister believes that or he does not. It was because I believed it was true that I felt that we could reasonably place this burden upon local authorities. I am now told, however, that it is not true. They have so much more to do that they cannot possibly undertake this obligation. I recall a friend of mine going to a local council about some important matter. The council oozed sympathy, to which my friend replied: "It's no' your sympathy we want. It's action". The same goes for the Government. We want action to enable the million people who are in local authority and public authority housing to know what their rights are.

I thought that the Government might have welcomed the fact that we were justifying expenditure to proclaim how they had covered their manifesto commitment in respect of tenants' rights to repairs. Evidently not. The Government are concerned about the expense. I love the way that one minute local authority tenants are great, proud people, needing all these rights and the rest, but who then become people who really do not matter. They allow everything that affects them to lie somewhere and they do not read about it.

I wish that the Minister would make up his mind about local authority tenants and decide whether they are worthy citizens who pay attention to what that local authority puts through their doors. Evidently, however, now that we are coming to the end of the Bill, they are not really good tenants after all. They do not read anything until something happens, when they can go to the Citizens' Advice Bureaux. The Government have always underestimated local authority tenants. At the same time, I do not want to overestimate their ability to weave their way through their rights in respect of this legislation and particularly in respect of regulations that we have not yet seen. We do not know what is to come. I shall not, however, delay the House at this late stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Citation, commencement and extent]:

On Question, Whether Clause 9 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Ross of Marnock

May I ask the Government whether we are to see the regulations before the Bill actually comes into force under Clause 9; that is, two months from the day that the Act is passed? Surely, by that time we shall have the regulations.

Lord Gray of Contin

As I explained at an earlier stage, we shall have draft regulations by that time, but I cannot give the noble Lord any guarantee that we shall have the final regulations because when we produce the draft regulations we shall give an opportunity for further consultation. I am sure that the noble Lord would agree with that. Having received comments on the draft regulations, we shall take those into account before producing the final regulations. We shall therefore not have them within that period.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.