HL Deb 10 May 1984 vol 451 cc1037-51

15 Page 3, line 13, leave out subsection (3) and insert— ("(3) For paragraph 5 of Part I of Schedule I to the 1980 Act (circumstances in which the right to buy does not arise) there shall be substituted the following paragraph— 5. The dwelling-house is designed or specially adapted to make it suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age, and it has always been the practice of the landlord to let the dwelling-house for occupation by persons of pensionable age; and in this paragraph "designed or specially adapted" means accommodation built or adapted in accordance with the principles of advice and guidance on the design of elderly persons' accommodation issued by the Secretary of State and available to landlords at the time of construction or adaptation.".").

The Commons disagreed to the above amendment but proposed the following amendments in lieu thereof:

16 Page 3, line 16, at beginning insert— ("At the end of that Part of that Schedule there shall be inserted the following paragraph— "6.—(1) The dwelling-house is situated in a National Park, or an area designated under section 87 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 as an area of outstanding natural beauty, or an area designated under section 19 of this Act as a rural area, and the Secretary of State has determined, on the application of the landlord, that the right to buy is not to be capable of being exercised with respect to the dwelling-house on the ground that the dwelling-house—

  1. (a) is particularly suitable, having regard to its location, size, design, heating system and other features, for occupation by persons of pensionable age; and
  2. (b) was let to the tenant or to a predecessor in title of his for occupation by a person of pensionable age or a physically disabled person (whether the tenant or predecessor or any other person).

(2) An application for a determination under this paragraph shall be made within four weeks or, in a case falling within section 5(2) of this Act, eight weeks of the service of the notice claiming to exercise the right to buy." (5).").

17Page 3, line 16, leave out ("and the provision made by subsection (3) above").

18Page 3, line 19, leave out ("and").

19Page 3, line 21, at end insert ("; and the amendment made by subsection (4) above shall not apply where the tenant's claim to exercise the right to buy was made before that date unless, at that dale, the period specified in paragraph 5 of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the 1980 Act had not expired or there was outstanding an application for a determination under that paragraph. (6) Nothing in subsection (3) above shall be taken as reviving any claim to exercise the right to buy made before the commencement date. (7) Where the amendment made by subsection (4) above applies in relation to a claim to exercise the right to buy made before the commencement date, that amendment shall have effect as if for the words "the service of the notice claiming to exercise the right to buy" there were substituted the words "the commencement of Part I of the 1984 Act.".").

20Page 5, line 6, after ("person") insert ("or persons").

21Page 8, line 29, after ("age") insert ("or a physically disabled person ").

22Page 8, line 39, leave out ("section 8(3A) of this Act") and insert ("subsection (2A) below").

23Page 9, line 11, at end insert—

("(2A) A relevant disposal is exempted by this subsection if—

  1. (a) it is exempted by section 8(3A)(a), (c), (d) or (e) of this Act; or
  2. (b) it is a vesting of the whole of the dwelling-house in a person or persons taking under a will or on an intestacy and the person or one of the persons beneficially entitled to the dwelling-house is the spouse of the deceased or a
member of his family who resided with him throughout the period of twelve months ending with the death. ").

24Page 9, line 39, leave out ("section 8(3A) of this Act") and insert ("subsection (2A) above").

25Page 9, line 42, at end insert— ("(8) In any case where the landlord made an application for a determination under paragraph 6 of Part I of Schedule 1 to this Act, it shall be conclusively presumed that this section does not apply.").

26Page 55, line 1, leave out ("5") and insert ("6").

27Page 55, line 4, leave out ("6") and insert ("7").

28Page 66, line 18, at end insert ("or persons").

29Page 75, line 7, at end insert ("or persons").

30Page 85, line 17, leave out from ("in ") to ("of") in line 19 and insert ("subsection (2A) for the words "section 8(3A)(a), (c), (d) or (e) of this Act" there were substituted the words "paragraph 6(5)(a),(c). (d) or (e)"."). The Commons propose the following amendment to the words restored to the Bill by their disagreement to amendment 15.

31Page 3, leave out lines 14 and 15.

Baroness Birk rose to move:

31A That this House do insist on their Amendment No. 15 to which the Commons have disagreed, and disagree to Amendments Nos. 16 to 30 proposed by the Commons in lieu thereof and to the Amendment No. 31 proposed by the Commons to the words so restored to the Bill.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I do not want to spend a great deal of time on going over ground which we have already been over many times. As noble Lords will remember, this started in 1980 with an amendment which was won in Committee in order to exempt elderly persons' dwellings from the right to buy. We had another amendment which was more restrictive and conformed more to the criticisms that the Government had made of the working of the original amendment which has again been amended in another place. It was on this amendment, which is completely clear, restrictive and sensible that a Committee of this House voted with a majority of 23. The Government proposals in another place have replaced this very simple proposition with exemption for certain rural areas and pre-emption for the rest.

On looking at this a little more closely, it will be seen that the definition of rural areas immediately raises a number of questions. The reference to areas of outstanding natural beauty is pretty clear where it refers to national parks. However, when we come to the designated areas, out of 130 applications only 22 areas have been designated by the department. That raises the whole question of what are the criteria for designation, which has not been covered in any of the deliberations in another place.

I am told by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations and the Association of District Councils that numbers of applications have been turned down for areas which most of us would consider to be rural—parts of Wiltshire, Suffolk, Hampshire and areas in Gloucestershire. There are probably many others but I have not had an opportunity to analyse them all. If the Government are really sincere and determined to answer the points on rural housing, why do they not exempt all housing in rural areas for elderly persons as defined in our amendment that was passed here? That would at least make some sense rather than have the complicated and very difficult proposals that have been put in its place and which will certainly not work anything like as well.

Rural Voice, which speaks for a number of rural and agricultural organisations of all sorts, including farming organisations, has come out against the amendments made in another place; as, indeed, has the National Agricultural Centre Rural Trust and Age Concern, among many others.

In making the changes that the Government have made, what will now happen is that we shall have to go back to the situation which existed in 1980 when the Secretary of State made the determinations. In other words, the appeal went to the Secretary of State and, as was explained by the Minister for Housing in another place and by the Minister here, this was an expensive operation costing about £150,000 a year. It was not very satisfactory and. as the Minister for Housing said in another place, the department has the greatest difficulty in satisfying itself that it is maintaining a consistent and impartial stance in its dealings with tenants and landlords. That applies just to the rural side of the argument, but we are aware that most elderly people are living in towns and cities. Nothing that is done by another place in its amendments to our amendment will help any of these people. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, who put her name to the amendment that I moved in Committee, referred in her speech not only to the rural areas but also to urban areas.

Relying on pre-emption, which is what all these changes will do and which means that the local authority has to be able to exercise its right to buy back these properties if it wishes to and is financially able to do so, is extremely unsatisfactory—as was pointed out by many noble Lords in Committee. These houses can be lost for ever. The decline in the building of old people's dwellings will add to the long waiting lists, and there is a shortage of rented accommodation. As my noble friend Lady Nicol pointed out on a previous amendment, about 20 to 25 per cent. of people will always need rented accommodation. As she also pointed out, that is a view expressed by a building society and not a local authority. As the span of life lengthens and as, with that, the turnover in elderly people's accommodation is greater than in general housing, it is even more essential that there should be a stock of rented housing for elderly persons— certainly in current circumstances where resources are so scarce and building starts have declined.

This is not a party matter. It is a question of supply and demand and of giving elderly people the opportunity to live in places in which they can be independent and in which they can live a comfortable life without being dependent on other people. The amendment passed on 28th April was clear, succinct, quite brief and referred to houses which are occupied by elderly people, designed or specially adapted to make it suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age, and it has always been the practice of the landlord to let the dwelling house for occupation by persons of pensionable age".

The amendment then goes on to describe what "designed or specially adapted" means.

The amendment did not go as far as many noble Lords and many people outside the House would have wished, but it was specifically drafted in this way to meet the Government's objections to an earlier amendment and in order to make it simpler for the Secretary of State to administer, and for everyone to know where they stood. Perhaps in the whole global view of legislation, and of what is going on, this might be quite a small matter, but it is not when we realise the number of elderly people who are not going to have a chance to live in a place that has been specially adapted or designed for them and who will still constitute, as they do now in many areas, about 15 per cent. of the waiting list.

The amendment we passed was clear and tightly drawn. This is not just a question of turning down the Commons amendments for the sake of it. That has nothing to do with it. There is no way of amending the amendments that the other place has put down without going back to our original amendment, which seems to me to be the simplest and best way to do it. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do insist on their Amendment No. 15 to which the Commons have disagreed, and disagree to Amendments Nos. 16 to 30 proposed by the Commons in lieu thereof and to the Amendment No. 31 proposed by the Commons to the words so restored to the Bill.—(Baroness Birk.)

5 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, in rising to support the noble Baroness in her amendment, I must declare that in general I have been entirely convinced by the Minister's propositions. It seems to me that, generally speaking, the right to buy has been abundantly vindicated and it has had the beneficial results that the Minister has claimed. Where I venture to differ from him. and why I rise to support this amendment, is on the passionate logic to try to carry that good principle into every corner of our social and legal life in the face of common sense, humanity, experience and convenience.

The noble Baroness has put the case so well that I desire to say only this. The Government's case against the view that your Lordships took has two bases to which I shall come in a minute, but first of all perhaps I may say this. Your Lordships have had this matter under consideration twice now. In 1980 an amendment was carried against the Government by a majority, I think, of almost 2:1 after a notable speech by the late Lord Amory. The Government did nothing to disturb your Lordships' decision. Although specific references were made in the election manifesto to the right to buy and the desirability of its extension in certain clearly specified particulars, nothing was said about this, nor was anything done when the Bill was introduced, nor at Committee stage. It was not until the Report stage in another place that the Government tried—and succeeded—to upset the decision that had been come to by your Lordships in 1980.

The second occasion when the matter came before your Lordships was on the first day of Committee on this Bill. Your Lordships then came to a decision in the knowledge of what the Government proposed as what are now claimed as concessions—the provisions which are contained in the Commons amendments. The noble Lord the Minister indicated the concessions that he had in mind—namely, the exclusion of rural areas and dealing with what is conveniently described as inheritance. Nevertheless your Lordships decided that that was not good enough and that the amendment of the noble Baroness was clear, specific and in every way superior.

When the noble Lord the Minister in Committee indicated the so-called concessions, he indicated further that they would probably be brought forward at Report stage in your Lordships' House. That would have been very convenient, because they could have then been examined at leisure. But there was absolute silence at that stage; absolute silence on the Motion for Third Reading, when we had a great number of amendments; and absolute silence on the Motion, That the Bill do now pass. It was not until the matter got back to the Commons that the Government took any steps to deal with it. It got back to the Commons on the last day before the Christmas Recess—a Thursday. I can only say that in that manoeuvre—the failure to deal with it at the Report stage in your Lordships' House and dealing with it in that way in what was clearly said to be a hurried debate in another place—one senses the odour of sulphur that seems to emanate from the office of any Chief Whip.

What are the Government's objections to the noble Baroness's amendment which was carried in your Lordships' House? The first one was that paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 has proved to be extremely difficult to administer. That is neither here nor there, because the noble Baroness did not propose to maintain that criterion. She proposed a very clear one, and there has never at any time been any argument that her criterion is not workable. The second reason was that it would amount to discrimination against the elderly (the people of pensionable age), and that has been the main argument both in your Lordships' House and in another place. But that of course is the purest rhetoric. Are we really going to have the Government moving by that sort of rhetoric? Is it so catching? Is the Minister to be seen flailing alternate arms to make his points apparently more cogent? Is it discrimination against the disabled that we have just seen the Government carry? Is it discrimination if the elderly are disabled? Is it discrimination if the elderly are of unsound mind? What stuff is this that your Lordships are asked to swallow under the name of discrimination?

I turn to the so-called concessions. The first one is the exclusion of rural areas. The figures were given by the noble Baroness and are made the subject of a Question by my noble friend Lord Hylton which is down, I think, for next week or the week after. Only 22, I think, out of over 130 applications have been granted. Why? Scarborough, which the noble Lord the Minister knows well, made an application. Its application was for the exemption of the rural areas outside the town and outside the National Park. Are those not rural areas? Why was that turned down? Why are so many others turned down?

It was suggested alternatively that, if that was not acceptable, the parishes which adjoin the National Park should be exempted, but that was not taken up. There was nothing except a negative reply. If that area is not a rural area, what is? The noble Lord knows the area south of Scarborough and west of Filey. Is that not a rural area? Why was it not certified as such by the Secretary of State? Of course we all know the reason. It is that the Minister has grown to be (I think probably justly) extremely cautious and critical of many of the local authorities. He fears that they have dragged their feet, that they have been recalcitrant in applying the 1980 Act.

In fact, in another place the words "injustice" and "cheating" were used. Unfortunately I think that feeling has swelled out and overwhelmed a great many quite meritorious local authorities. My Lords, that is the first concession: the rural areas. Perhaps I should just add this: that the Minister in another place invited further applications in view of the new criteria, as he put it. But there are no new criteria relating to rural areas. An area is either a rural area or it is not. That was so under the 1980 Act. It is equally so under the Commons amendment which your Lordships have under consideration.

The second concession is the exemption as a relevant disposal of a vesting on intestacy or under a will. That undoubtedly is valuable; but, as the noble Baroness said, it is a right of pre-emption in the local authority. They have to have the first offer. Whether it is worth anything depends on whether they have the money to accept the offer. If one takes the proposed discount of 60 per cent., it will require the sale of 2½ houses in order to purchase one. Adaptation cannot be very different. Of course, one has to multiply that by the curb on local authority spending. They are not today allowed to spend more than 40 per cent. on capital expenditure of their capital receipts. So that means that one must double the 2½—a bit more than double—and I think that is the origin of the figure of 6-plus which has been used on occasion. So, as I said, valuable and necessary as the concession on inheritance is, it is worth nothing at all unless the local authority can find the money.

Now how can a local authority like Scarborough find the money? It has 25 per cent. of elderly people within its boundaries as against the national average of 16 per cent. So however one looks at the Government's case or the Government's so-called concessions, in my respectful submission to your Lordships there is no new argument at all which would cause your Lordships to depart from the decision to which your Lordships came in knowledge of the sort of so-called concessions that were proposed; no reason to depart from that. Therefore, in my submission, the noble Baronesss's amendment should be carried and I shall certainly support it myself.

Lord Molson

My Lords, I have been involved in carrying three amendments against the Government in the Committee stage. On each occasion they undertook to take the matter back and look at it again.

In the case of the disabled, as I have said before, they have responded fairly and generously and I have thanked them for so doing. In the case of the charities, they did not really move any distance at all in order to enable charities to reacquire the whole of the freehold which had been let. Therefore it was necessary for your Lordships to divide against the Government and once more to defeat them.

In the case of the elderly, I think the position is marginal. I freely recognise the value of the concession that there should be pre-emption in cases where the heir of the elderly person inherits. I think that is an important concession. We wanted to avoid a state of affairs where some heir would be able to acquire a great capital appreciation, not due to any merit of his own but because he was the heir of some elderly person. The fact that the Government have taken care of that is, I think, a concession of very considerable importance

I want to be realistic about these matters. I quite recognise that, if the Government choose to stand firm, it will not be possible for your Lordships to effect the whole of the amendment, with regard to the elderly living in rural areas, which your Lordships desired. It all turns upon the exercise by the Minister of his discretion in designating areas as being rural. That is done under Section 19 of the Act of 1980. The figures have been given once or twice but I repeat them: that after 130 applications, only 22 areas had been designated as rural areas. My Lords, it is difficult to understand how it can be that, when all these applications have been made by local authorities, who know the conditions where they live, in only 22 cases has the Secretary of State exercised his discretion to designate them as rural areas.

In his speech in another place, the Minister went some distance towards indicating that in the future a more generous, a more reasonable, a more equitable line might be taken in considering whether or not areas should be designated as rural areas. When they are designated, then the provisions giving advantages for the preservation of dwellings especially suitable for the elderly take effect.

The Minister followed up his speech in another place by writing a letter to TheTimes. I thought that went just a little bit further than perhaps he had gone in his speech in the House of Commons. I have had the advantage of a letter from my noble friend the Minister here, indicating that he hoped to be able to say something on the subject this afternoon, although he safeguarded himself by saying—and I wholly accept that as being reasonable—that he cannot anticipate how the discretion of his right honourable friend will be exercised.

But a very great deal depends upon this. Here we are being asked to legislate. The preservation of rights for the elderly is to depend entirely upon the exercise by the Secretary of State of his discretion. When we have the figure that only 22 of those applications out of 130 have so far been granted, it does make one feel that we ought to have some reassurance. So far as I am myself concerned, I feel that, if the Government could go a little bit further in the way of indicating the spirit in which they are prepared to act, I should not feel inclined actually to vote against them. But I hope we can have some indication that they are going to take a more broadminded view in the future than they have done in the past.

5.20 p.m.

Baroness Denington

My Lords, before I start on the point I wish to make to your Lordships I should like to comment on the final remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Molson. Which Secretary of State and what climate of opinion are we being asked to rely upon? We do not know. It is too hazardous, and I hope the noble Lord will think very carefully about that point.

I want to stress to your Lordships the relevance and importance of this amendment to a grave national problem that we have—and I mean "we". I mean the nation; I mean each one of us as an individual. This amendment is not, and ought not to be, a matter of party business; in my view it is far too serious for that. We have an ageing population. People are living longer, and they have to be housed properly. Not only is that so in human terms, but it is the nation's responsibility to see that its citizens are housed adequately and properly at whatever stage of their life they happen to be. This amendment is absolutely relevant to this problem.

When people are elderly they pass through three stages. We are concerned with the first stage, which is when they are 60 or 65 or perhaps into their 70s and require what we are talking about in this amendment—an adequate house, a bungalow or a ground-floor flat without stairs; a place that is easily looked after; and a place that is adequately heated, which is very important. They need a proper dwelling to meet that stage of their life. This is covered in the amendment.

The second stage is when they get more frail; and, finally, the third stage is when they are very frail and need to go into an extra-care home. But we are not talking about those stages; we are talking about the first stage. Those people in our nation can be divided broadly into two groups. The first comprises those who have assets and some money and are able to look after themselves. They have an asset to sell and they can sell it and move into a dwelling suitable for them. I could almost say that all the big builders seem to be climbing on the band-wagon, but I am delighted to see that they are now building sheltered housing for those of the elderly who have assets to sell and who can now buy. Those people can look after themselves. That is well and good—and thank goodness they can!

But now we have to think of the bulk of our population, particularly the elderly, who have not moved into the affluent society. They are dependent largely on local authorities and housing associations to provide them with the accommodation suitable for them in the first stage as they get more elderly—I will not say the first stage of their old age. On second thoughts, I will call it old age. Some people are still young when they are 80 or even 90. as we in your Lordships' House know from the noble Lord who sits near us.

Lord Graham of Edmonton


Baroness Denington

Yes, maturity. I thank my noble friend for giving me that word; it is very helpful. These people number thousands, and, as I say, they must look to the local authorities and housing associations to house them adequately. We have not got enough of these dwellings. Although there are many thousands of them, the number is still inadequate for the people who need to be in such accommodation. If they are not in such accommodation they will age more rapidly; they will suffer, and then they will have to go into geriatric wards in hospitals. I am sure that those of your Lordships who have been in such places will agree with me that they are painful and sad beyond words.

As I said, this matter ought not to be a political issue. The Government are always telling us that they must push to the extreme limit this policy of theirs for the sale of public housing. Why? A policy can be a good policy, but when one pushes it to extreme limits it ceases to be a good policy, and that is so in this case.

In the case of the disabled, we are most grateful for what the Government have done. The whole House is delighted, as is everybody concerned with that group of people. But for many more people it is just as essential to preserve the type of housing that this amendment is talking about. If the houses are sold at some point in their history—for some of them that will not be far along the road—they will not be occupied by this group of the population for whom they were purposely built and financed with public money. Surely this is a group which ought to be left out.

We are asking the Government to be reasonable. People are reasonable. I find that when one puts a case to old people they are exceptionally reasonable. I quite accept that a few will be disappointed if the Government say. "Sorry; we can't sell to you; we have had a look at it". A manifesto is a broad-brush thing but one has to consider all its implications. One does not always do that at party conferences, where one is swept away by enthusiasm. What I am saying to the Government is that people may be disappointed but they will understand. We are asking that the Government should understand the plea and the national need.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, since 1980 a very large section of this House has been actively concerned about this matter. The reason for this concern is that in 1980 there was an acute shortage of bungalows and flats suitable for old people. There still is the same acute shortage. If anything, it is getting worse because of the restrictions and cuts that have been imposed on the housing association programme and on local authority building.

From my personal experience I can bear witness to the shortage in my rural part of Somerset. In the village where I live there are three-bedroomed and four-bedroomed houses occupied by one or two pensioners who are having to live on the ground floor because they are unable to climb the stairs to the bedrooms. They would move out readily if bungalows were available for them. At the moment this is not the case. Other Members of your Lordships' House who have great knowledge of urban areas, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, can bear witness to exactly the same sort of situation in the towns and cities.

There is a further point which has not yet been mentioned. If the right to buy is allowed to be exerted over these bungalows and flats, it is most likely that quite soon they will be occupied by young families with children. We are almost certain, in my view, to have conflicts and tensions arising as a result. The elderly tenants will be disturbed by their younger neighbours and that will be most unpopular. I beg the Government to think again on this matter. If they will not do so, then I urge the House to support the amendment of the noble Baroness.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I, too, should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. The Lincolnshire Echo of 4th May reported that West Lindsey District Council were being forced to sell old people's bungalows when they have a massive waiting list of pensioners"— and I ask your Lordships to note the word "massive". The article goes on to say that the council have called upon their local Member of Parliament—who happens to be a Conservative— to help them try to get the right-to-buy law changed". The law is of course being changed, but to a totally inadequate extent as so many of us—or perhaps most of us—believe. The report continues that one councillor explained that the council: "were being forced to sell these types of homes against their wishes". It goes on to say that another councillor revealed that: in many cases old people's bungalows were not being bought by the pensioners themselves", from which one can deduce that many of them are being bought or financed by younger people, possibly related to the elderly people living in them, with a view to making a quick capital profit.

It is noteworthy that West Lindsey is very far from being a Left-wing area. It is very far from being a part of the world which is in general opposed to the Goverment's policies. Only three councillors out of 37 are members of the Labour Party; the other 34 are divided almost equally beween Conservative, Liberals and Independents. In other words, opposition to the Government's proposals cuts right across party lines.

I hope therefore that those of your Lordships in all quarters of the House who disapprove of the Commons' virtual reversal of your Lordships' amendment will be prepared to go into the Division Lobby with the noble Baroness.

Lord Somers

My Lords, I just want to raise a passing point which has not yet been mentioned, and it is as follows. One matter which has not been thought of by many councils is that when one reaches old age—and I point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, that I am not in the least ashamed of that—one needs transport of some kind or other. One must be mobile. Even when one reaches my age one still wants to go shopping and one will probably want to be near a station, particularly if one happens to be a Member of your Lordships' House. Therefore, I think that that is a matter which councils should take into consideration.

5.33 p.m.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I should like to begin with a few observations on what the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, said, because her remarks went right across the spectrum of the whole housing situation. Exactly 20 years ago I was saying that, as regards all the public housing that was being built, the priority should be one and two bedroomed units of accommo-dation. That is still the position today. But one and two bedroomed units of accommodation are also those which are in the greatest demand by young people as well as elderly people.

The point is: what is a dwelling for the elderly? It is a one or two bedroomed unit of accommodation—a bungalow or whatever. That is the type of dwelling which it is felt is most suitable for the elderly. But how do we distinguish for the elderly? The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said that elderly people would be disturbed by having younger people near them. I cannot think of anything with which I could more disagree. When we were trying to decide where to house elderly people or people who were perhaps ill, the one thing that we did not want to do was to isolate them so that—as we used to say in those days—all that they saw were the ambulances turning up from time to time. Elderly people—and this point has so far not been mentioned in the debate—also have rights. They have rights in that they themselves should not be so disadvantaged that they, as a body, should be singled out to be excluded from having the right to buy.

When we discussed this matter in Committee I said that my late mother used to say, "It's not good to grow old". I used to say to her, "Mother, it's no good if you don't grow old". The point is that she was right in the sense that so often there is discrimination against elderly people and what we are proposing to do here today is further to discriminate against elderly people. I do not accept the arguments that sound so right on the face of it but which, when we begin to look at them closely, do not stand up in terms of human values. The elderly must not be discriminated against, as is the case at the present time.

Let us talk about one and two bedroomed units of accommodation", let us talk about the provision of housing for elderly people. It is right that we need more. It should be the priority in public housing. I was saying 20 years ago—and so were many Labour leaders that I knew in housing—that we should not be building any more three and four bedroomed units or even five bedroomed units for large families, but that we should be building only one and two bedroomed units. That is the key to what we are talking about in this debate; if we are talking about human values and being concerned for people. If I sound very impassioned about this matter it is because I feel so deeply about elderly people, and I have many reasons for so doing.

It is a problem but the fact is that you do not—as the noble Baroness. Lady Denington, said—purposely build houses for elderly people unless they are sheltered units of accommodation, and that is something with which I agree very much. I did not interrupt the noble Baroness but—

Baroness Denington

My Lords, I just want profoundly to disagree with the Minister. When I was chairman of the GLC Housing Committee we built many thousands of units specially designed for elderly people, and last time in this Chamber I produced plans to prove that point.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, in that case the noble Baroness will have to explain to us what was special about those houses that meant that they could not be used by young people as well. The fact is that what we are really talking about is one and two bedroomed units of accommodation. If the noble Baroness does not agree with me, then we will agree to disagree.

The fact is that we are not talking here about quick capital profits, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said. That really is not fair. The fact is that the Government have taken this matter back. The noble and learned Lord. Lord Simon, talked of "a manoeuvre" because we did not bring something back at Report. If I may say so that, too, was most unfair from someone who is always so very fair. The fact is that at Committee we proposed that, if the amendment was not pressed, we would come back at a later stage—it would have been Report—with certain proposals. In the event the noble Baroness—as is her right—decided to have a vote and the decision went a certain way. In those circumstances, if we had brought the matter back at Report we would have been accused then of overturning at that stage a decision of your Lordships' House. It is not fair to say that it was a manoeuvre. We went through the correct procedure; namely, that if a matter is defeated in this House, the Commons have the right to consider what to do with it. They have decided in this case to come back with compromise suggestions—and they are compromise proposals that are being put forward—and that surely is not in any way a manoeuvre, but the correct procedure.

This Bill is a Bill to extend the right to buy. The Government could not possibly agree to proposals which had the effect of taking that right away—and that is what this amendment seeks to do. The amendment is not restoring the position as it was prior to the Bill being introduced. Let us be clear about this. The amendment is now about taking away from tenants a right which they currently possess. It is not about giving a new right. The amendment is about actually taking away from people a right that they currently possess, and that is a vastly different matter. I wonder whether your Lordships really appreciate that that is the significance of this particular amendment. That is as important a point as any that I could make in responding to this debate.

The point has been raised as to how valid is the concession. My noble friend Lord Molson said that he would be influenced by the extent to which the Government say that they are willing to give greater effect through the exemption procedures. I believe that it is significantly different in rural areas. I would say to the noble and learned Lord. Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that if Scarborough made its application for designation of its hinterland under the proposals now intended in the legislation—although, of course, as he knows, I could not guarantee what the decision would be—certainly the factors which would come into the assessment would be rather different from what existed previously. I think we said that some 160 local authority districts in England and Wales are covered to a greater or lesser extent and will, therefore, be able to use the new exemption procedures if they so wish. That is quite a cry from the position that has existed hitherto and I think it is fair for me to say that.

On the inheritance point, it is also fair for me to say that one can argue about the effect and extent of it, but the fact is that it is a genuine attempt to meet the concerns expressed in your Lordships' House. It is genuinely meant to be so. I have said all along that I see nothing wrong in young people wanting to help their parents to own their own homes. If they contributed something towards it. what is wrong with that? All their lives their parents have helped them, so why should they not help their parents? I can think of little that is more noble than that.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked that question not merely rhetorically. Is not the intention of this Bill to give a right to buy a dwelling-house and not to make a financial windfall?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, there is no question of making a financial windfall. Prohibitions exist and there are pre-emption rights that go with them, so I see no case for saying that there will be windfalls. This is an attempt by the Government to meet concerns which have been expressed. We have done what I think your Lordships would fairly expect us to do; we have moved and we have made concessions. We come back in that spirit and we find before us an amendment which takes us still further away and which will take away from people rights that they now have. It is because of that more than almost anything else that 1 think I am entitled to say that your Lordships should not accept this amendment. It does not have the effect that we have been told; it does not mean that if one sells a dwelling to an elderly person, the availability of that dwelling being used and occupied by elderly people is lost for ever. It does not apply to the other people who buy under the right to buy procedure.

I have said all along that if a person buys, he then continues to occupy the home as an owner rather than as a tenant, and that makes a dwelling neither more nor less available to rent than it was before. I concede that there is a marginal difference with regard to elderly people, but with the safeguards on pre-emption and with the other safeguards that we are now bringing forward at the suggestion of many members of your Lordships' House, in all equity—and I think that if we went back we would worsen the position of existing tenants—we should not support this amendment, but reject it.

Lord Monson

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, as he challenged my assertion about people making a quick capital profit, I should like to put one question to him. Is it not the case that a person who buys a house from the council at 40 per cent. of its market value can, under the pre-emption scheme, then sell it back at 100 per cent. of the market value, which represents a profit of 150 per cent.?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, that is assuming that the person buys it and immediately re-sells it. First, he has to wait for several years and then the authority still has the right to buy it back, if it so chooses. So do not let us talk about the windfall profits of these people; it just does not apply.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I was chairman of a housing committee for a number of years and when you have been on housing committees, as has the noble Lord, you know all about it. When you have hundreds of young people wanting houses and you are very short of houses, it is very difficult to get the county councils or the town councils to build the kind of houses that are suitable for old people. Of course, that can be left entirely to the free market, and I am not against people owning their own houses. I have owned my own house and I like to see other people owning theirs.

My noble friend has not spoken about the concessions and I do not really know what they are. The trouble is that you cannot get these dwellings built for old people when there is great pressure on housing committees to build for other classes of people, with the result that there is a terrible shortage of old people's dwellings. Of course, the young try to buy them because they are there and they have much more money than the old, but if you do not protect the old you will not get the result for which we all hope.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I can only say that I am in total agreement with my noble friend on this point. I want to see more dwellings of one and two bedrooms built for elderly people. They are being built. The noble Baroness, Lady Denington, was fair enough to acknowledge that fact earlier on. That building must continue. But what we propose will not disadvantage those people in any way. It will give the elderly people rights, and I am passionate for them to have those rights and not to be disadvantaged just because they are elderly.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I should like to reply to the debate. We are very grateful to all those noble Lords from all sides of the House who have spoken so strongly in favour of this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, had some doubts about it and wanted reassurance on the rural side. I do not think that he got the reassurance that he wanted, but, as someone who takes an interest in the welfare of the elderly and who is himself a very kindly man, I put it to him that he should also look at the plight of the elderly in the urban areas—in the towns and cities—for it is the whole area with which this amendment is concerned.

In reply, the Minister started by asking how we distinguish the building design for the elderly. Clause 7 of the original Bill, which we are using at the moment (the unamended Bill, the Bill that came from the other place) says quite clearly that where a conveyance: is particularly suitable, having regard to its location, size, design, heating system and other features, for occupation by persons of pensionable age". Even in the other place, speaking on the amendments, the Minister for Housing—and I am delighted to see him here today—more or less made the same points, and made it quite clear (either overtly or by implication) that certainly they are dwellings which are manifestly suitable for older people.

The Minister then went on to use the argument, with which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, dealt with tremendous brilliance, about the people being discriminated against. The Minister has gone on and on making this point, which is not really true, because all it can do is perhaps upset a certain number of people. We are saying that where there are not enough houses of this sort to go round—and this is the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, was making a few moments or so ago—it is the Government's duty to make sure that those who are really in need will have the opportunity to use these houses and to live in them. If the Government's plan is agreed to, it would be a discrimination against those who need the houses and who will not get them.

With great respect, when the Minister said that you do not lose a house if it is sold to an elderly person, that is not true. If it is sold to an elderly person, it becomes lost because it then goes into that family. We have had a great deal of cross-discussion about age this afternoon. As the turnover in elderly persons' accommodation must be greater than that in other accommodation because of the sheer age of the people when they go into it—and even if they live longer, it does not make all that difference—when it goes back into the council stock more people will have use out of each unit of accommodation than will be the case if the accommodation is sold. It is also interesting that the rural organisations, the agricultural organisations, the local government organisations, are all against these amendments which have been proposed in another place and all support the original amendment passed in this House. Therefore, I beg to press the amendment.

5.51 p.m.

On Question, Whether this House do insist on their Amendment No. 15 to which the Commons have disagreed, and disagree to Amendments Nos. 16 to 30 proposed by the Commons in lieu thereof and to Amendment No. 31 proposed by the Commons to the words so restored to the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 101; Not-Contents, 100.

Abinger, L. Gregson, L.
Airedale, L. Grimond, L.
Ardwick, L. Hale, L.
Attlee, E. Hanworth, V.
Aylestone, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Beaumont of Whitley. L. Henderson of Brompton, L.
Beswick, L. Henniker, L.
Birk, B. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Boothby, L. Hylton, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Bottomley, L. Irving of Dartford, L.
Brockway, L. Jacobson, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Jacques, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Jeger, B.
Chelwood, L. John-Mackie, L.
Chichester, Bp. Kagan, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Kaldor, L.
Collison, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Crowther-Hunt, L. Leatherland, L.
Darling of Hillsborough, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
David, B. Lockwood, B.
Davies of Leek, L. Longford, E.
Dean of Beswick, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B. McCarthy, L.
McGregor of Durris, L.
Denington, B. MacLeod of Fuinary, L.
Derby, Bp. Masham of Ilton, B.
Diamond, L. Meston, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Milverton, L.
Ennals, L. Mishcon, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Monson, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Mulley, L.
Gainsborough, E. Nicol, B.
Gaitskell, B. Oram, L.
Gallacher, L. Phillips, B.
Gladwyn, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede. L.
[Teller.] [Teller.]
Prys-Davies, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Rathcreedan, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Rhodes, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Ross of Marnock, L. Strabolgi, L.
Sainsbury, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Seebohm, L. Templeman, L
Sefton of Garston, L. Underhill, L.
Serota, B. Wells-Pestell, L.
Shackleton, L. White, B.
Shepherd, L. Wigoder, L.
Simon of Glaisdale, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Stallard, L. Winstanley, L.
Stedman, B. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Ampthill, L. Lyell, L.
Avon, E. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Bauer, L. McFadzean, L.
Bellwin, L. Mackay of Clashfern. L.
Belstead, L. Mancroft, L.
Boardman, L. Marley, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Cairns, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Caithness, E. Maude of Stratford-upon-
Campbell of Croy, L. Avon, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Merrivale, L.
Chelmer, L. Minto, E.
Cockfield, L. Morris, L.
Coleraine, L. Mottistone, L.
Cox, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Crathorne, L. Munster, E.
Crawshaw, L. Norfolk, D.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Northchurch, B.
Daventry, V. Nugent of Guildford. L.
Davidson, V. Onslow, E.
De La Warr, E. Orkney, E.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Orr-Ewing, L.
Dilhorne, V. Perth, E.
Drumalbyn, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Eccles, V.
Ellenborough, L. Portland. D.
Elton, L. Rankeillour, L.
Enniskillen, E. Renton, L.
Faithfull, B. Rodney. L.
Ferrers, E. Romney, E.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Rugby. L.
Gainford, L. Runciman of Doxford, V.
Gisborough, L. St. Aldwyn. E.
Gormanston, V. St. Davids, V.
Gowrie, E. Saltoun, Ly.
Gray of Contin, L. Shannon, E.
Gridley, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Hailsham of Saint Soames, L.
Marylebone, L. Somers, L
Henley, L. Spens, L.
Hives, L. Strathclyde, L.
Holderness, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal,
Hood, V. L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Strathspey, L.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Killearn, L. Terrington, L.
Kintore, E. Teynham, L.
Kitchener, E. Trefgarne, L.
Lane-Fox, B. Trumpington, B.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Vickers, B.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Whitelaw, V.
Luke, L. Wise. L.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.

6 p.m.