HL Deb 18 March 1986 vol 472 cc926-50

7.15 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Gray of Contin)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill extends the rights of tenants by bringing tenants of housing associations and regional councils into the right to buy, and by increasing the discounts for tenants living in flats, The Bill makes a number of further changes to the right to buy, and it also provides for improvements to the system of building control.

The right to buy is only part of our wider housing policy, which aims to provide greater choice in housing matters, in line with the clearly expressed wishes of ordinary people. To this end, we have set out to promote variety in housing provision and greater choice of tenure, and we have aimed to tackle the problems of the large and dispiriting council estates, which have for so long been a depressing feature of the housing scene in Scotland, by giving control and responsibility over their housing back to the tenants.

The right to buy has made a major contribution to these changes. The 1980 Tenants' Rights Act gave many people their first opportunity of realising their wish to buy their own home. Since the Act came into force, more than 75,000 houses have been sold by district councils, the new towns and the Scottish Special Housing Association. Nearly 8,000 sales are at an earlier stage in theprocess. Sales are to the benefit of the community as a whole, not least because they release extra resources which can be spent on the remaining council stock. Nor have sales been concentrated exclusively in the better houses, as some opponents of the right to buy feared.

If I may turn now to the detailed provisions of the present Bill, Clause 1 extends the right to buy to tenants of registered housing associations and regional councils. Tenants of housing associations have had security of tenure since 1980, but they have not previously been able to buy their homes, except at the discretion of their landlord. We have been disappointed by the small number of houses which associations have sold to their tenants. To date, despite our encouragement to associations to operate a positive policy of voluntary sales, very few houses have been sold. We had been particularly concerned that a substantial number of housing associations in Scotland interpreted the voluntary nature of the sales policy as an avenue for simply refusing to sell houses under any circumstances. We concluded that it was unfair to continue to deny housing association tenants the rights enjoyed by other public tenants in Scotland. Housing associations were given a very clear warning, over a period of months and, indeed, years, of our intention to introduce a right to buy. I find difficult to accept, therefore, their claims that the present legislation has come as a surprise.

The provisions extending the right to buy to housing association tenants were given very careful consideration and were amended substantially in another place, in the light of representations received from various quarters. Particular concern was expressed over the issue of housing associations with charitable status. As a result, the Bill has been amended to exempt from the right to buy those Scottish housing associations which have been registered with the Housing Corporation under charitable rules from the outset and which have had charitable status for tax purposes continuously since October 1980. The main benefit of exempting these associations from the right to buy will be to protect their charitable tax status.

The Bill was also amended in another place to exclude from the right to buy integrated housing association schemes, where mainstream housing is linked with appropriate support services, with the aim of providing care and support in the community for groups such as ex-offenders and people suffering from mental disorder. Again, these changes were made in response to representations received. They indicate the Government's willingness to be flexible and to listen to views as to how the legislation can be improved.

Clause 1 also extends security of tenure and the right to buy to tenants of regional councils. Again, our experience of the right to buy has led us to the view that it is no longer possible to defend not giving such tenants the right to buy their homes. We recognised, however, that there are houses which regional authorities need to retain for operational purposes, and provision is made to exclude these houses from the right to buy.

Clause 2 provides that the discount to which a tenant is entitled under the right to buy will be increased by 10 per cent., where the dwellinghouse being purchased is a flat. We have been concerned that flats, which account for almost half the Scottish public sector stock, have been selling more slowly than other types of houses. When we undertook research into sales, it became clear that tenants of flats were deterred from buying by the thought of expenses which might arise after sale, such as service charges and common repairs. We concluded that it would be fair to give tenants of flats extra discount to reflect these additional responsibilities. As the Bill stands at present, tenants buying a flat will be entitled to discount at a new minimum level of 42 per cent. after two years, rising to 70 per cent. after 30 years.

There has been concern in another place that the additional 10 per cent. discount does not go far enough and that an additional incentive is needed if we are to make the purchase of a flat an attractive and reasonable proposition. The corresponding part of the Housing and Planning Bill has been amended, with the result that its provisions for England and Wales no longer reflect those in the present Bill for Scotland. We do not think there can be justification for tenants living in similar types of flats to have different entitlement to discount North and South of the Border. We have therefore undertaken to give further consideration to the issue of the discount on flats, and I envisage that we shall bring forward amendments to these provisions at a later stage.

The Bill contains a number of further provisions intended to amend and clarify aspects of the right to buy and other rights of public sector tenants. Our experience of operating the right to buy scheme has suggested a number of ways in which the legislation might be amended to make it easier for tenants to purchase and to remove anomalies which have given rise to difficulties in practice. Perhaps the most substantial of these changes is the proposal in Clause 11 and Schedule 1 to reduce the period within which a purchaser is liable to repay discount on early resale from five years to three; this will help aid mobility. The Bill also deals with certain other matters relevant to housing associations, including letting policies, share ownership and the granting of benefits to committee members in special circumstances.

I do not wish to spend a long time on a detailed description of these remaining provisions of the Bill. If noble Lords have particular questions on these provisions, I shall be happy to attempt to answer them in my concluding remarks.

Perhaps I may say a few words, however, about Clause 18, which amends the system of building control in Scotland. The provisions in the clause follow from a comprehensive review, involving wide public consultation, of Scotland's distinctive building control system. They are designed to make the system simpler and more efficient, in keeping with present-day needs. Clause 18 provides for a range of small additions to buildings to be excluded from the full requirements of the building standards regulations; it provides for the introduction of a measure of self-certification of design and a system of class warrants for standard building types; and it provides for more flexible fee arrangements which will enable work carried out for the benefit of disabled people to be exempt from building control fees.

I have described the main purposes of the present Bill. The changes introduced by the Bill are in line with the wishes of Scottish tenants for greater freedom and choice in housing matters. In their different ways, these measures will extend opportunities for home ownership and cut out unnecessary red tape. I believe that our policies are leading to a significant transformation of the housing scene in Scotland, distributing wealth more widely and providing for greater responsibility and choice.

The changes introduced by this Bill are in line with the wishes of the vast majority of tenants. On that basis, I commend it to the House and trust that your Lordships will give it your support.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Gray of Contin.)

7.25 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I must thank the Minister for the explanation that he has given of this Bill. We in this House have the advantage, in dealing with a Bill such as this, of having had the ability to look at the Committee stage in another place. I am sure the Minister will have read reports of the 18 sittings, plus the Second Reading and two sessions on Report and Third Reading of this Bill.

I should like to confine myself this evening principally to the effect of the right to buy housing association houses. There are a number of points in the Bill, as the noble Lord has said, which are quite good, including the provisions of Clause 18 and a number of other points. But the guts of the Bill and what has caused most interest in Scotland is the question of the right to buy housing association housing.

When I was reading through some of the reports of the Committee stage and the Second Reading of the Bill in another place, I was surprised to discover just how ill-informed many Conservative Members in another place are about the history of Scottish housing. Some of them seemed to give the idea that there was a period in Scottish housing when everything was lovely and when there was an abundance of housing to rent—a kind of victorian paradise in which people could move from house to house with very little effort. Of course for certain people—a small group of people—there was always this opportunity. The group included secure skilled craftsmen, and that is important because one of the things that bedevilled Scottish housing was that there was such insecurity in jobs that loans for the vast mass of the people were not possible. Because of the type of heavy industry we had and the hunger and so on that tended to go with it, the vast mass of the Scottish people had a housing problem.

It has always been inadequate, frequently mean and often insanitary. There are historic reasons, of course. There was the enormous influx of people from Ireland, from the North and South of Scotland and even from abroad. With people coming in, particularly in the industrial belt in Scotland, the growth of population was so incredible that housing facilities were very strained. We have never really got over that. We have been left with this legacy, and successive governments have tried to deal with it.

To give an example, I have a collection of what are known as "tickets"—they are actually little cast-iron discs that were on doors of houses, mainly slum property. I rescued some of them from houses in Bridgeton and some from Partick. The standard of housing round about 1900 was that an adult got 400 cubic feet of living space. One of the tabs has "six and a half adults, 2,600 cubic feet". Taking into consideration the height of the ceiling, it means that each individual had a space to live in of something like 4ft. by 10ft.; and a child had half of that. By the time the 1920s came, these tickets were ignored and the numbers living in those houses were way beyond the six and a half adults for a 2,600 cubic foot house. Housing became such a problem that it has always amazed me how people coming from housing such as that, with such overcrowding—with cold water and outside lavatory facilities—could still live and behave with a dignity and pride.

I am sure that part of the reason for the survival was that there was a wrap around them of the community. People belonged to an area; they had some identification with their environment and neighbourhood. I discovered in my surgeries that even people who had left the old areas and gone to live in some of the big housing schemes still talked about their roots and their sadness at seeing so many of the old landmarks disappearing. That, I believe, is the way in which housing associations have made a very great contribution—much greater than a purely statistical assessment of their work conveys to us.

I am sure that it will be stressed again and again during this debate and in Committee that the uniqueness of the Scottish housing associations is that so many are community based. That has meant, to a much greater extent than in England and Wales, that it has been local people who felt for their neighbourhood who have been the driving force and, to some extent, the corrective force to the professionals who did the associations' day-to-day work. I have in my time been close to a number of the Glasgow housing associations. I can assure the House that no amount of money could have provided the involvement and commitment that those voluntary members freely and enthusiastically gave to their associations.

Those people knew what was needed in their areas. Sometimes, with an almost obsessive persistence, they lobbied anywhere that there was a chance of an open door, making it possible for their ideas to be accepted. I am thinking, for instance, of some cases where people thought to try and preserve houses which were technically impossible to preserve, perhaps because of the subsidence which we have in many parts of the west of Scotland. Because they belonged to a community housing association and knew the area, were easily accessible and met in a responsible way, it was frequently possible for the experts to explain to them—not in a "them and us" situation, but in a genuine situation—that the rebuilding of the property was impossible.

On the other hand, those people held out a number of times for a house or a close to be rebuilt at sometimes much more than the face value would allow, in order to preserve the facade. I must give credit to my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock. When he was Secretary of State I took several cases to him and was able to obtain additional grants to preserve a whole row of tenement property. When I go back and look at it now, I can assure the Minister that the tenants were right and, perhaps, the experts were wrong. Twice I was able to intervene in that way, and other people were able to do much the same because of the feelings and the pressure of the local housing associations.

There was a period during which certain parts of our industrial cities had blue lines drawn around them—Glasgow was blue, but I do not know what the other areas were—and building societies did not give mortgages within those areas. I do not say that it was only the housing associations, but partly because of their work, which gave a sense of local pride to and cleaned up the areas, building societies regarded it as highly desirable to give grants in those areas, and they are giving them now.

I agree that the housing associations were only one of the factors in the regeneration of our inner cities, but I suggest that their existence brought a local dimension to the problem which would have been much more difficult to arrest without them. I am also sure that their examples spurred private owners to clean up their properties, which is of great aesthetic benefit to us all.

I believe that the Bill will change the nature of the housing associations. By reducing the number of houses available for rent, it will reduce the scope for flexibility to undertake new work. I believe that it will reduce much of the activity and a great deal of the input that went into a genuine housing association. Without in any way belittling other types of associations, I think we may finish up by having merely tenants' associations. They have their place, but it is a different place from that of the housing associations.

I believe that comparisons with the housing associations in England and Wales, which have the right to buy, are not appropriate. Community-based housing associations are a unique experiment. They are different from other associations and the public sector. An examination of the size of the Scottish associations, as against the English and Welsh associations, shows how marked that difference really is. By 1984 there were 2,450 housing associations in England and Wales, owning 500,000 houses. That is nearly one-quarer of all the public sector housing capital investment in England. In Scotland, by a little later—in mid-1985—there were 194 housing associations owning 25,000 houses, improved or purpose-built. Most of them were for rent. That is less than one-sixth of the Scottish public sector investment.

The size of the associations north and south of the Border also differs significantly. In England and Wales, 50 per cent. of association housing stock is in management units of more than 2,500 houses. In Scotland, just over 40 per cent. of the total stock is managed by associations which have between 500 and 1,000 housing units. That is a totally different scale altogether. Community-based housing associations in Scotland manage 72 per cent. of all housing associations' stock, so they are essentially small organisations.

Since community-based associations have closely defined geographic areas—this is an important point—the right to buy could have a very marked effect on associations' work in specific localities. The introduction of the right to buy will create a number of strains on the internal organisations of those community-based associations. Local committee members may become disheartened and feel that personal effort has been wasted when a number of recently rehabilitated properties are sold at substantial discounts, particularly now that the new discounts have been announced by the Minister.

Implementing the right to buy will involve associations in a complex administrative process which could mean that small professional staffs are distracted from the task at hand, which is really the rehabilitation of houses. The rehabilitation programmes will certainly suffer, particularly those of associations which expect a high demand for the right to buy.

Another point which worries people is that if too many houses are bought from the housing associations by people who can just make the buying price and who have very little extra, the possibility is that repairs will be neglected. It is not a criticism of private owners, but while it would be wrong to say that owner-occupiers do not maintain their properties it is true that adequate maintenance puts a severe financial strain on many, and some repairs are put off. That, of course, creates a problem. As witness to that, there has been a remarkable demand for repair and improvement grants by owner-occupiers over the past five years.

I know that the Government are very well aware of the financial costs of introducing the right to buy to housing associations, but I am not sure that they fully appreciate the social costs that that could bring. Houses sold to sitting tenants will be permanently lost from the stocks for rent, thus reinforcing the previous system of restricted choice. For those unable to obtain a rented property within the community there will be no alternative but to accept housing elsewhere. That, of course, is not the way to build stable inner city communities. Housing associations are greatly concerned and alarmed about the impact that sales will have on their ability to meet housing need within their communities.

As I said earlier, most associations have a relatively small housing stock, and, therefore, the loss of a few houses, particularly large family or specially managed units, will seriously limit their ability to meet the future requirements of those who wish or need to rent.

The right to buy will also take away one of the big advances that housing associations have been able to make; that is, the fact that they have been the third arm of housing choice. There was the private sector, the local authority and the housing associations. Experimentation in tenure is not achievable when associations are treated as a normal part of the public sector.

The success of the community-based housing associations' inner-city work has been dependent on a very strong sense of working for the community, both by staff and by committee members. The introduction of the right to buy introduces a new set of issues which have clear implications for both the organisation and the community. Collectively, the community associations are stressing that the right to buy really denies the right, in their case particularly, to rent.

I do not believe that this Bill helps in any special or noticeable way with our dreadful housing problems. By convention we do not oppose Bills on Second Reading in this House, particularly those that have gone through another place. But as the Committee stage approaches, we on this side will be putting down amendments as a last ditch stand which we hope will improve the Bill in a way that was not possible because of the situation in the other place. I believe that it is an extremely important Bill, particularly for inner-city areas such as the one which I represented and at present live in.

7.42 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I should like to start with an apology to the House, in that I may have to leave before the Minister gets up to reply. The reason for that is that I organise my affairs according to the Order Paper and I accepted an invitation to dine fairly late. But suddenly the usual channels put in the lawyers, who are off to their dinner, happily, and the Scots were put back in time, whereas I think they may well have deserved to stay in their place. However, I apologise for that.

I now follow the excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. I must say that the Government are being slightly doctrinaire. One of the most attractive things about the Tories is that they are pragmatic and often quite sensible. But why, having been successful with the selling of municipal houses, which has been going well, do they suddenly feel that they have to upset the housing associations by making them sell houses? They are on quite a different basis, being brought in to counter the great mass of municipal houses and it will upset the political balance, let alone anything else. Having that going reasonably well, why do they suddenly feel that they have to tamper with the housing associations, most of which in Scotland are small and have been working extraordinarily well?

This is a piece of retrospective legislation, and I am surprised that the Minister, who is a very sensible and nice man, should be talking so convincedly about the purposes of the Bill. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said, we shall endeavour to assist him by putting down sensible amendments which will perhaps make it a better Bill.

There are a whole number of points that one must raise. It is very difficult to speak about the broad aspect of the subject without mentioning the particular, and the charitable status will surely bring a lot of anomalies into this business. I understand that there will be exceptions made, if the associations were formed as charitable organisations before 1980. But that precludes any new associations—and they are very valuable and are acknowledged as such by the Government—being formed with charitable status and getting the advantage thereof, which does not appear to me to be particularly sensible.

In the Highlands areas, the new requirement on the regional authorities to sell houses will make it extremely awkward in the case of teachers, firemen and the police. The regional councils will be exempted only if housing is a condition of employment whereas there are many factors against it being a condition of employment. It is purely a matter of practicality that you get better people in the remote areas if you can offer them a house, and, in fact, it is often a condition of getting anyone at all; so we want to look at that.

The other question affecting the rural areas is that one-third of the stock has to be sold before the Government will consider making an exception. Even after one-third is sold, in some small housing associations, the houses must still be sold and have gone into the owners' possession as holiday homes before the Government will allow an association to hold on to the rest of the houses. I think that we shall want to look at that in the case of the rural and Highland areas.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has spoken with knowledge and with great truth about the community housing associations. They have certainly done much more than improve houses. In many cases, they have brought an entirely new spirit into the community and have acted not only as house improvers, but very much as community improvers. This is more necessary in the inner cities than practically anything else.

For example, there is a very interesting scheme in Edinburgh. The Grass Market scheme is in a lovely old part of Edinburgh which fell into disrepair and, in many cases, disrepute. The Grass Market Association has 86 houses and, having brought the area up, it has suddenly become extremely attractive. If the association sells one-third of its houses or anything near it, it will be too small to do the repairs. Furthermore, there are already people trying to tempt the association into selling, because that will be an extremely attractive inner area when it is cleaned up. It is an attractive place now, and it will get more attractive, and there will be a very artificial city centre there if a community scheme such as this is destroyed.

Of course, these are mostly flats, which means that they will be sold at upwards of 40 per cent. discount, and how the association will stand that sort of loss without a very large subvention from the Government I do not know. It does not appear practical, and great harm will be done to the morale of the committee if this whole Bill goes through unamended. It is very important that successful schemes and housing associations in Scotland, and particularly community ones, should be encouraged and not discouraged.

There is unanimity of opposition to the scheme. I do not know whether the pressure is coming from the tenants or from the Government. I suspect that the doctrinaire attitude of the Government has more to do with it than the desire of the tenants of the many excellent associations to buy their houses. However, the Government and the Minister are reasonable people, I suppose, and I have no doubt that they will listen to us with great attention and with reasonableness when we are speaking to our amendments. We shall put them down in that spirit and expect a similar response.

7.49 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I hope my noble friend is right in saying that this Bill will help housing in Scotland, and I wish him every joy. But I must confess that this is one of the most complicated Bills that I have tried to understand for a long time. Practically every single clause is amending some other section in two or three other Acts. I am quite certain that nobody will understand this Bill unless it is explained by professional advisers. Whether people are on legal aid or not, they will need such advice or they will not understand their rights under this Bill, and that is a matter of regret.

There are two clauses which are not amendments of old Acts. First, there appears to be something being done to the Scottish Special Housing Association. This organisation has done a magnificent job over half a century and we wish it every good fortune. Whether what the Government are doing to it is an improvement is wholly obscure and it is not in the least clear how it stands. It may be useful—I do not know whether it will or not.

Clause 18 amends the building regulations. It appears too much to put the emphasis on structure. Perhaps I may suggest that some consideration be given to design. I do not know whether anyone in the Scottish Office has an eye to design, but there are many architects who with shrewd changes of the line can make a hideous house into an agreeable one. Is this a consideration which is coming in? Clause 18 refers to class warrants for houses. Does that mean identical houses in rows, or are they going to be houses which at least to some degree are amenable and pleasant to look at?

I must reiterate what has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Carmichael and Lord Mackie. I do not know why the Government want to give a slap in the face to the housing associations. They are formed from a large body of people who are devoting themselves to improving the housing in Scotland, and for special cases. Why should the Government not treat them with a great deal more respect, as a minimum? Having made a code of practice negotiated by the present Secretary of State when he was holding a junior appointment, the Government simply scrapped that and without consultation put forward a completely new scheme. This needs some explanation. These are people who should be encouraged. The noble Lord says, "Oh, well, the choice will be better", but the choice will be smaller. The Government are reducing the number of houses to let, which is the great shortage at the present time.

The building societies have made tremendous progress in owner occupation. The noble Lord cannot say that I have not done everything I can to encourage owner occupation in appropriate cases—but not at the price of destroying housing associations which are dealing, as they say repeatedly, with special cases of all kinds which come to them. I have no reason to believe that that is not correct. Why do the Government flatly refuse to follow the example of England in this matter? I am not commonly saying this but we had very extensive debates on this subject some two, three or four years ago, in which a great majority in this House—one of the biggest majorities the House has had—said that respect should be shown in this field to charitable houses. That has been completely ignored. I am afraid that we shall have quite strong discussions about this.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, mentioned this extraordinary date—3rd October 1980. It is like 1066 and All That—these famous dates which come up from time to time. Why should charitable houses after that date be cut off? Are you really trying to destroy the soul of the housing associations? This is a matter on which they feel very deeply. In the other place the Minister in charge was asked to explain the date 3rd October 1980. He gave no answer at all. He said, "Oh well, that is when the 1980 Act came into operation". That has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject. I hope that the noble Lord will look at this a little more seriously. There seems to be no reason why the people engaged voluntarily in helping housing in Scotland should be treated in this way as if they had done something they should not have done; but to put forward a Bill to break a code which was working—though perhaps not perfectly, by all means—without consultation is an act of discourtesy. I very much regret that the Scottish Office should be engaged—I think, quite wrongly—in something of this kind. They may have had warnings but to put forward such a Bill, which goes far further than the English Bill, is sad.

Charitable purposes are well established and are perfectly clearly laid down. They are well established in the Housing Associations Act which was passed last year. I cannot see why something nearer the English line should not be made. They deal with a special class of people—people who are older, who are infirm, who no doubt are mentally weak or physically handicapped. This is a class of person which wants special attention and which may not always get houses of a different kind. In some cases they are sheltered occupiers but others are cases where a minor amount of attention is given. I very much hope that the Government will look at this. I shall certainly go for this date of 3rd October 1980. I have had no answer to that point in any of the papers so far and it is something we should look at carefully.

I am afraid that the noble Lord's Bill will take the heart out of the housing associations. The 180 associations, or whatever is the number, will feel very much subdued. I should have thought that it was the task of the Government to encourage them to go on with their work instead of giving them something which will be of grave discouragement to the whole movement. Amendments will certainly be put down at the Committee stage and I hope that the Government will look very carefully at what they are doing at the present time.

7.56 p.m.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, while clearly this Bill is closely connected to the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 there is every good reason for judging it quite apart from that Act. We may support the right to become a house owner; we may consider that the 1980 Act has worked reasonably well in Scotland. But before welcoming this Bill, which seeks to extend further the right to buy in the public sector, it should be asked whether any of the measures threaten to undo some existing achievements; and equally whether the Bill in its present form may threaten to deflect Government initiative and energy from other important aspects of the Scottish housing problem.

In regard to housing associations, for example, if their inclusion in the previous legislation had not threatened to be counter-productive, they would not have been exempted as they were. In recent years, as we know, they have done a great deal to help rehabilitate inner city areas. In Dundee, where there is an acute shortage of homes that people want, although the number of council houses exceeds demand, housing association properties are much sought after. Naturally Scottish housing associations are concerned about the effect of this proposed legislation on their current activities. The noble Lords, Lord Carmichael and Lord Mackie, and my noble friend Lord Selkirk have already referred to this.

Can my noble friend the Minister give an assurance that the creative work of Scottish housing associations will not now be restricted but that money released by the Bill can instead be channelled into an enlarged programme of rehabilitation and into the special provision of homes for the elderly, sick and disabled?

Then there is the parallel extension of the right to buy to regional council properties. There are also in the Bill the new incentives to prospective buyers arising from the improvement in discounts and in the alterations in the cut-off dates. Undoubtedly, extension to regional council properties brings consistency and it can remove the loophole which district councils are alleged to have used on occasion to prevent purchase. This can arise when a district council sells houses to a regional council which then leases them back to the district council which in its turn sublets to tenants, who thus lose their statutory right to buy from the district. Nor will improved discounts and altered cut-off dates, as measures in themselves, detract from home ownership. They are bound to increase it.

Conversely, however, it should be asked as a separate question: what effect will the increases of house sales of all the types concerned have on those who buy, on those who continue to rent, and on the quantity and quality of Scottish housing stock? Take first the housing stock. All of us are aware of the report on the state and fabric of Scottish housing, and of the fact that our housing estates are in very poor condition. At present roughly 250,000 properties are not occupied at all. How do we find capital and resources to carry out necessary work soon enough? Certainly council house sales have been contributing towards annual receipts. This year Glasgow District Council now estimates that it will exceed its own calculation of all budgeted receipts by £2 million. My information is that this amount could enable it to modernise an extra 600 houses. But everywhere the process of modernisation is far too slow.

What is significant, however, is the action which has been taken by a number of councils of all political parties, for which they deserve a great deal of credit. Those councils have brought in private developers to develop estates and then sell them. One notable and now well known example is the Pilton Estate in Edinburgh. It was said to be a highly undesirable place to live. The council sold it to a private organisation which renovated the estate, and it is now one of the most popular places in Edinburgh. Clearly, there may be several variations of this kind of venture.

For example, private developers may take on properties in association with, or independently of, local authorities. Occupants of the properties, once the properties have been rehabilitated, may be a mixture of owners and tenants. Then again, estates might be handed over to tenant organisations for management in partnership with building societies and other financial institutions.

What all those variations have in common is that resources from the private sector are made use of to improve the quality and quantity of the housing stock and to give people the houses that they want far sooner than would otherwise be possible.

Does my noble friend the Minister agree that such ventures should be actively supported? Will he say what particular steps the Government are prepared to take to stimulate further the healthy developments that have already occured?

I turn now to the effect of the legislation on those who buy, or on those who would like to buy. There are a great number of people who, in spite of sales discounts, either can only just afford a mortgage or else cannot afford one at all. As a result, both the decision to buy, for those who can afford a mortgage, and the prospect of buying, for those who cannot, is a constant frustration. Nor, while in theory it may be, is it in practice much consolation to them to reflect that the right to buy might not have existed in the first place.

Does my noble friend the Minister not accept that if it is customary to subsidise people who cannot afford to pay their rented costs, then it is consistent to subsidise people to enable them to meet mortgage payments? Are the Government prepared to introduce low-cost mortgage schemes accordingly, possibly in conjunction with local authorities and building societies?

Apart from that, there will always be a number of people who, even if they can afford fairly easily to buy their own homes, prefer to rent. Until and unless mortgage schemes are reorganised, there are also those who have to rent because they cannot afford to buy. For such people, it is necessary that there should be wide choice of rented accommodation throughout the country. As it is, the choice is not nearly wide enough. Clearly, that situation restricts mobility for those who do not necessarily want to stay in the particular community where they currently live. Equally, it diminishes opportunities for employment for those who are otherwise eager to move to another area to obtain a job.

While this Bill sets out to improve mobility and to widen choice, does my noble friend the Minister not acknowledge that a great deal more ought to be done in that respect? Further, does he not agree that reform of the rent Acts in which all new lettings were deregulated would create a vital new supply of accommodation for all those who wish to move, as well as for those who at present have little chance of being housed by the local authority at all?

Insofar as this Bill further encourages ownership and control of houses by their occupants, it is to be welcomed. However, it is very much to be hoped that action will soon be taken to lower mortgages for those who want to buy; to widen choice for those who wish to rent; and to encourage more private sector resources in the housing stock. If such measures were carried out, they would be of lasting benefit to all housing communities and to the Scottish housing problem.

8.3 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I have listened with great interest to all the speeches that have been made on the Second Reading of this Bill. I take a more optimistic view of what this Bill will achieve than that taken by my noble friend Lord Selkirk and possibly by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. I speak this evening simply because I have had some experience of housing. I was on the Roxburgh County Council for 29 years, and one of the responsibilities I had there for a number of years was to be chairman of its housing committee.

Indeed, my recollections go back much further; to 1936, when my husband, the Secretary of State, started the Scottish Special Housing Association, which did more to build houses in Scotland than any other legislation. Fifty years later it still is a vital part of Scottish housing.

The situation today is different. The demand now as I see it in my own area is for the right to buy, which was encouraged by the tenants' rights Bill of 1980 and the increase in private company building. All that is good. I have been a tenant of my house in London for 47 years. When I was given the right to buy by my landlord—which in this case was Westminster City Council—I accepted it readily. I am sure that most people would like to own their own houses if they possibly can.

In this new Bill, 22,000 housing association tenants will be given the right to buy their houses, and I believe that that is only proper. I do not share the gloomy view that has been put forward by some that the housing associations will not benefit from this legislation. They will probably have more money to build more houses. I would have thought that this legislation will be a great asset to them.

The Bill proposes to increase the discount on the sale of flats by 10 per cent., and flats are nothing like so popular to buy or to live in as are houses. However, with a discount starting at 42 per cent. and rising to 70 per cent., there will be more opportunity and thus more incentive to buy.

One of the problems that we face in connection with unemployment is that very often jobs are only available some way from the places where people are living and from where houses are available. I hope very much that as a result of this Bill, people will be able to move from their original house or flat to places of work where there will be homes available for them. It is important that that should be done under this Bill, and I can see no reason why housing should not be made available in that way.

Immobility of the workforce is one of the troubles that we have in this country, as opposed to other countries such as the United States, where people move much more readily because there are more houses available. In order to assist employment, priority should be given to housebuilding in areas where jobs are available and to which people can move. I should like to see the Secretary of State being able to help council tenants to transfer to new areas where jobs are available, or perhaps to exchange houses if such were possible. That would give added help under this Bill.

The problems of housing vary enormously. What was said by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, is absolutely true. Glasgow is, on the whole, an area that, in my long experience, has always been different from any other part of Scotland. I can remember when the housing waiting list in Glasgow numbered more than 100,000, whereas I believe that today it is down to something like 20,000 or 30,000. That is all to the good.

Other areas are quite different. For example, I live near a town that has 200 empty houses. That is not because those houses are uninhabitable but simply because the council overbuilt. At the same time, the people in that town are building their own houses and buying new homes. They are leaving the council housing. In many ways that is interesting, but certainly it is not what one normally expects.

Again, in a rural area such as that in which I live in Scotland, empty houses are very often found. Owing to the mechanisation of farming, there are very often rather nice agricultural houses left empty. They are usually let as holiday homes, but sometimes they are not used at all. I have a feeling that under a Bill such as this, there might be more enterprise and more use made of houses that are empty but which could be used, if that were at all possible.

In the very old parts of cities, reconstruction is desperately needed. I agree with what has been said about reconstruction in cities. As I understand it, that is an aspect about which the Government are very keen. Certainly they appear so in England and I believe that that applies in some of the cities in Scotland. I hope that this will be encouraged and helped by this Bill.

In Scotland we are still below the figure of home ownership compared to England. By the end of 1984 nearly 60,000 houses had been sold from the public sector—5.8 per cent. of the housing stock. In England the proportion is very much greater. But there are three new towns in Scotland—Cumbernauld, Glenrothes and East Kilbride—where 16 per cent. of the housing stock has been sold to private families. I am sure that that is a good idea which should be encouraged.

I believe in the importance of private building and home ownership. In the Bill there is much to help that policy. I do not believe that the worry that has been expressed about housing associations cannot be met quite generously by the Government. I am sure that can be done. I give my wholehearted support to this Bill. I believe that it will be of great help to the housing situation in Scotland.

8.11 p.m.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I apologise for not putting my name down to speak in this debate, but I am moved to rise as I have had some experience in the subject, having been chairman of a Scottish housing association for some years. I should like to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said about the dedicated people of all political persuasions who have made the housing association movement in Scotland. I speak of an association in a rural area as opposed to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, who knows Glasgow so well. I know what good work has been done. Therefore, I go along with him on that particular matter.

I also agree with the noble Lord on the architecture and architects involved. The schemes which have been produced in our area are a great credit to the profession. Certainly they have improved a lot of very poor housing that has been remodelled. My remarks also apply to some new buildings.

However, there is one aspect on which I look forward to hearing from the Minister when he replies to the debate—that is, we must never forget that the cash involved is taxpayers' money. My aim as chairman of a housing association in Scotland was to do as much for as many people as possible. If the right to buy that is given under this Bill is going to release cash which will help more people to be better housed, then I for one will support the Bill wholeheartedly.

I look forward very much to the debates when amendments are tabled in Committee. I shall follow them very carefully. However, I believe that we must be very careful to remember that we are all in the business of improving the lot of people in Scotland. There must be better housing, particularly for single parents who we are helping dramatically, and particuarly for the elderly who wish to have warden services, and so on, to help them in their later years. If the housing associations in Scotland have done nothing else, they have certainly shown the way in that direction.

8.13 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, it has been an interesting debate. I do not know that it has covered the actual Bill, but then I do not blame anyone for not covering the Bill because it is a difficult Bill to understand. The Minister did his best. However, when one looks at it one discovers that clause after clause is amending the 1980 Act. And it is not just the 1980 Act. Your Lordships should not refer only to the 1980 Act, because that was amended by the 1984 Act; or was it the 1983 Act? There are also amendments to the 1985 Act. Believe it or not, when another place dealt with it the 1985 Act had not even been printed. So there was a little, secret enclave within the Scottish Office amending an Act and nobody else in Scotland had any idea of what they were doing. Well, we have made this complaint before about the comprehensibility or incomprehensibility of Bills. It will lend some interest to the Committee stage and we expect to know more about the Bill, when we finish it, than when we started. We hope to know more about all these complicated technical terms and about paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of Clause 1(3), as amended by whatever it is, and so on. They do not mean a thing. Therefore, I have a feeling that a number of noble Lords were speaking very much in the dark.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, made a very sensible speech. He pointed to the nonsense that there is. I shall tell the Minister the answer. It was cyclostyled and people were able to obtain a copy. That was the promise that was given and I hope the Minister gives the same promise in respect of the 1985 Act.

However, the housing associations in Scotland are very different from those in England and they are so different within Scotland. One cannot make comparisons with the Link Association work at Barnton, which is a very big association. It is even cynically suggested that the reason for the Bill is that the sitting Member of Parliament has a majority of only 500 or so. He hopes that giving the right to buy to people so that they can purchase a £60,000 house for probably less than £30,000 will endear him and the Government to the hearts of the people concerned. I would not be as cynical as that; but it is a fact that the people who are going to be hardest hit by this are the smaller and uniquely Scottish community-based housing associations. They have been saving tenements from disaster. Some of them have been worth saving because of their architectural features. Anyone who has paid attention to what has been going on in Glasgow and other places will appreciate the new spirit that has arisen. These are local people dealing with a local problem. They know the difficulties. Not one housing association has asked for this Bill. Where did it come from? That is what we want to know.

It was suggested by some people in 1980 that housing association tenants should be given this right to buy, but it was turned down. The right to buy was raised again when we had an amending Act in 1984. An amendment was tabled by that very Member of Parliament I mentioned. But there has been no indication of extensive interest by tenants to purchase houses except at the Link Housing Association at Barnton. That was the answer given by a Minister in 1984. Then, late in August 1984, the Secretary of State said that he believed in the principle of a voluntary code and that there was no need to introduce legislation. In late 1985 Mr. Younger himself, speaking in another place, said: I … feel sad that tenants in housing association properties are precluded from the right to buy".—[Official Report, Commons, 28/11/85; col. 1049.] This sudden cloud of sadness appeared over the Secretary of State. He had nothing else to worry about, but then sadness descended upon him and he said, "We must have an Act", and so it appeared. I do not believe this for a minute. This Bill is pure dogma. It is something which may help him but which may well prove destructive. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, is present tonight because he knows the nature of housing associations in Scotland. He knows the enthusiasm of people in the locality which springs from being in houses which they know, in which they were brought up and which are worth saving. Yet the Government went ahead.

These housing associations cannot be compared with housing associations in England and Wales, which have a stock of about half a million houses altogether. Scotland has a very small stock of houses. The housing associations need a stock of empty houses into which they can decant people from the houses which they are going to repair. If the size of the rented stock is reduced even by five, then their job is made impossible.

At the moment, operating on a shoestring, as they are, with few professional advisers, it means that they will be distracted from their task and must turn to the administration of selling houses, obtaining surveys and all the rest of it; and then they are left with the problem. The problem of tenanted property in Glasgow is that it is in multi-ownership. Some is rented by factors, some belongs to owner-occupiers, and some is owned by "spiv" owner-occupiers who proceed to pack seven or eight students or single people working in Glasgow into one place. Then problems arise as the standard of the houses goes down. They cannot get agreement, for example, to a repair which is needed to the roof.

The Secretary of State at the Scottish Office said that the maintenance requirement in respect of one of these flats is £500 a year. Can that be afforded by the people who buy their flats from these community-based housing associations? One may well find that within a period of a few years there is a repetition of the situation which led to the need for the housing associations. Their work will be destroyed, as will be their enthusiasm. Some of them will leave—I think this point was made by Mr. McClelland, of the Partick Housing Association—because they see the work which was their pride, which consisted in saving something for their own area, their own community, with their own people in it, just disappearing. There is no guarantee that once you give the right to buy after a tenancy of only two years, people from the same area will live in them. There is no guarantee at all of that. In fact, I heard only the other day about a man who lives nearly a hundred miles away from his father who bought the house for his father and who will get the house when his father dies. This was a local authority house. How do people whose sons and daughters are on the housing waiting list feel about this situation? On a smaller scale, what do the people in the housing associations feel about it?

I do not think this measure is right. Nobody asked for it. No tenant of a housing association asked for it, and no housing association asked for it. But suddenly there was a sadness which descended on the Secretary of State for Scotland, and Mr. Younger produced this mockery of a Bill which will not add one house to the housing stock. There is no guarantee that the money coming from the sale of housing will be passed to that particular fund. The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, knows that. He also knows that the amount of money given to the Scottish housing associations this year is a reduction of £21 million in real terms. Would it not have been far better to have left these unique associations alone? Their work has been lauded to the skies in Scotland—and by Ministers—but the Government must meddle and interfere. It is quite wrong.

I was interested in what people were saying about the problem of housing in Scotland and the interest that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has shown in this matter. He hoped that the process of modernisation, which he said was slow, would be improved. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, also said that she hoped that the Bill would be an encouragement and help, as did the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk.

By pure chance I happen to have the report of the Scottish Office in respect of housing, which is headed "Housing Trends in Scotland: Quarter ended 30 September 1984", and was published in March 1985. It says: From information reported to date applications approved"— that is, for improvement of dwellings— have again dropped both in the public sector and to private owners. The public sector figures show a decrease of 66 per cent. over the corresponding quarter of 1983". The same thing applies even more so in the private sector, where there is a decline of 50 per cent.

So we have this problem, the nature of which has been mentioned by CSLA: in Scotland there are 300,000 houses which require modernisation; 118,000 houses require re-wiring; 314,000 suffer from damp and require treatment; and 50,000 require structural repairs. And less and less is being done.

I had hoped that this would be a housing Bill. But it is a miscellaneous provisions Bill which does not merit the title "Housing (Scotland) Bill". There are no great principles involved. It is merely a tinkering with the sale of houses. They have no right to be proud of the numbers that have been sold. Only 75,000 houses have been sold, and that is all. The peak was reached in the first quarter of 1983. It is shown in the telling graph which I have here. The first quarter of 1983 showed the peak, and since that time, right through 1984 until today, it has declined.

It has happened as we said it would happen. The desirable houses in the desirable areas have been sold. This will happen with the housing associations. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has said, it is the flats in the Grassmarket and the houses in Barnton which will be sold. We have problems with housing in Scotland, and this Bill does nothing to resolve them.

What happened with the sale of houses? About half the sales of public authority houses in Scotland have fallen through. The ones which have not been sold are the ones in the less desirable areas, even when they say that after two years they will give a greater discount and they will pay up to 70 per cent. of the purchase price. It is a bribe to purchase—but many of the people who have already purchased find themselves in difficulty because they have discovered for the first time what it means to own their own house. For the first time they have a mortgage to pay, and the rates, which carry on, and they have discovered that the repair grants from the local authority are not exactly what they want. According to this leaflet a total of 4.5 per cent. of local authority houses, 9.9 per cent. of SSHA stock and 13 per cent. of new town stock has been sold. But numbers are declining, so they must inflate it further.

Of course, the people who are saving money are the Treasury. It is not for the local authorities because they cannot get the money to do exactly what they require in respect of these immense problems. Figures have been produced elsewhere but what they are not getting is the support they require, the money supply or the right to spend the money that they require. The Scottish Office is responsible. It is a great pity that here we have the business of a Bill which does nothing to stop the impoverishment of Scotland's housing stock. Indeed, it is extending dangers into an area where we have had every reason to be proud of the achievements. I have long supported the development of housing associations in Scotland. It came very late to Scotland, and so comparative figures are nonsense when it comes to what this Government did against that. But the actual fact is that it has been a success. It has been growing. The chances are that it is going to be killed by this Bill unless we can get the right measure of support for amendments during Committee stage.

As I understand it, when the Bill went through the House in respect of the English and Welsh housing associations, more than half of the stock of their houses was exempted from the right to buy. What is the percentage of Scottish houses? I think the number of Scottish houses is only 2,500. Can we have an estimate of how many of them as compared with England and Wales will be exempted?

The Bill is really rightly irrelevant, and disappointingly so. The only good thing we can say about it is that the licences required for putting a porch on your house will probably be ended. There will be little improvements like that. That is not something to trumpet abroad. That is something that should be done in a very realistic way with a gathering together of all the little things that are needed, but not this business of bringing in a measure that really to my mind does not do credit to the Scottish Office or even to the hopes of the Scottish Office.

I understand that we shall see the Bill eventually. We shall have an opportunity of looking at it. May I refer to what Mr. Younger said on Second Reading in another place? He said that there was a major problem to be tackled; that there was a vast amount to be done but maximum resources would be put into solving the problems. That was dampness improvement and all the rest of it. What do we get? We get a Bill that does nothing about them at all.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, this has been a very useful debate. The fact that our discussions have not been over-prolonged reflects the very close consideration which the Bill has received in another place, where, for example, its provisions were examined for over 41 hours in Committee—18 Sittings.

The Bill introduces no new principles, but it extends rights created by The Tenants' Rights (Scotland) Act 1980. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, in winding up suggested that there was no demand for this, no demand by tenants of housing associations to purchase their houses. The Labour Party would have had us believe a few years ago that there was no demand for the purchase of council houses. Lord Ross suggested in rather a derisory way, that only 75,000 houses have been sold; 75,000 families now own their own homes and have had the right to do so under this Government. With the greatest respect, his colleagues along the corridor are doing their utmost to change their ground on this whole question now. If it has been such a flop, I cannot think why the Labour Party in another place is changing its tune at this late date about the purchase of houses.

Nevertheless, I will come back to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, in due course because his contribution, although I seldom agree with it, is always lively and deserves the courtesy of a reply. A reply he will surely get.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, is one whose knowledge of the city of Glasgow is indisputable, whose knowledge of the housing situation there over the years is probably not exceeded anywhere in either House. I listened with great interest to the most interesting speech which he gave us this evening. He asked me a number of questions and he also referred to the good work done by housing associations, particularly community-based housing associations. Others who contributed to our debate this evening did the same. I agree absolutely. The housing association movement has achieved, is achieving and will continue to achieve a very great deal to improve the condition of Scottish housing stock. I am delighted, therefore, to acknowledge the importance of the housing association movement and the very considerable efforts made by those who involve themselves at all levels in its organisation. Indeed, I was delighted to hear my noble friend Lord Sanderson, who has direct experience, and my noble friend Lady Elliot also make reference to the housing associations. None of us can possibly deny the very great contribution that they have made. However, that does not mean to say that those who happen to be their tenants should be debarred from the same right as is available to other tenants so far as the purchase of their homes is concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, spoke about the unique nature of community-based housing associations and the contribution of the voluntary committee members. The community-based housing associations are perhaps unique to Scotland. They have made a major contribution to inner city rehabilitation. I cannot accept that the right to buy will lead to a major disruption of those activities. A house and its occupants do not cease to be part of a community because the house goes into owner occupation. The reverse may even be true, and indeed often is true: that when people own their own homes or their own flats they take a much more lively interest in the general wellbeing of the community in which they are located. The valuable work of the voluntary committee members will be able to continue in undertaking new and challenging projects and managing the existing stock.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie—who indicated to me earlier his regret that he would have to leave us before the wind-up—made a number of points. He suggested that there was no means of creating any new charitable housing associations. Well, it is wrong to suggest that the Bill prevents the formation of any new charitable housing associations in Scotland. I accept, however, that no new association could benefit from the particular exemption from the right to buy which a new paragraph in the Bill would insert. Nevertheless, your Lordships will no doubt appreciate that there are other reasons why housing may be exempt from the right to buy. Both the Tenants' Rights Act and this Bill provide for other circumstances in which the right to buy does not apply. Section 1(11)(c) of the Tenants' Rights Act provides exemption for sheltered housing which has a call system and the services of a warden. Such things as hostels, cluster flats, etc., are excluded by definition.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, also spoke about regional sales and sales in rural areas. The noble Lord referred to various exclusions from the right to buy designed to safeguard houses required by the regional councils to house employees and to avoid houses in rural areas being sold as holiday homes. No doubt we shall discuss these matters more fully at Committee stage, but I believe the exclusions in this Bill and in the parent Act of 1980 are sensible and strike just about the right balance. However, this is something to which we shall no doubt return at Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, also asked about the cost of discount to the housing associations. The housing associations concerned will not suffer any loss as a result of discount given to the tenant. Where necessary an appropriate adjustment will be made to the grant to be repaid to ensure that there is no loss to the association concerned.

My noble friend Lord Selkirk spoke about the purpose of Clause 17. It is very much a technical and financial clause. It amends and updates the existing powers of the Secretary of State to make grants to the Scottish Special Housing Association and the new town development corporations. The opportunity has also been taken to introduce a new power to make grants to the Scottish Special Housing Association for affording relief from income tax and corporation tax which was previously lacking.

My noble friend also asked me about views expressed earlier on charitable housing associations. He maintained also that legislation that existed for England and Wales was being ignored. I do not see the need to follow slavishly England and Wales in these matters. We have separate legislation on housing; and, indeed, charities legislation is different north and south of the Border. The present proposals, which exclude most charitable housing associations, reflect long and careful consideration in another place. But, again, this is no doubt a matter to which we can return in more detail at Committee stage.

In addition, my noble friend asked me whether Clause 18 would do anything to encourage designers to improve house design. Clause 18 deals with changes to the building control system, and this is concerned with health and safety rather than amenity issues, which are for the planners. The Government's proposals will, however, permit designers to certify, in certain circumstances, that their designs comply with the building standards regulations.

My noble friend also asked about charitable status and the justification of the 1980 date. The Bill produces exemption from the right-to-buy for those associations that were established on a charitable basis from the outset, thus reflecting their original objectives. The requirement to have had charitable status since 1980 reflects the fact that prior to that date the right to buy would have no bearing on how the association was established. Again, this is something with which my noble friend may wish to deal in more detail in later proceedings.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, may I ask one question? It is very difficult, amid these complications, to know exactly what is the right-to-buy. If my noble friend was able to say which brands of houses have an exemption, that would help a great deal. There are many ways in which special houses are acquired. I should like to know whether my noble friend can explain at some time which types of houses are exempted.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that intervention. I shall make that clear. I have already mentioned tonight some types of houses. I shall, however, make sure that a complete list is prepared for my noble friend and made available at Committee stage.

My noble friend Lord Dundee, in an interesting speech, put forward useful points, both in his criticisms and in his constructive attitude, which I much appreciated. He asked about the stimulation of joint venture initiatives by the Scottish Office. As my noble friend said, many councils in Scotland have already entered into joint venture private sector arrangements with a range of developers to improve previously rundown housing stock. We greatly welcome such initiatives. The Scottish development department issued a circular in 1983 to local authorities indicating ways in which planning and housing authorities may be able to co-operate more effectively with private builders. The department is also undertaking research to evaluate experience of low cost home ownership initiatives and joint ventures with the aim of making rcommendations to local authorities on the best possible practice.

My noble friend also asked whether the Government would take action on low cost mortgage schemes to help people to buy. He drew attention rightly to the need for low cost mortgage schemes. The Government's home loans scheme is just such a scheme giving first-time buyers a hand on to the home ownership ladder. Our support for the housing association movement and other initiatives will illustrate our determination to introduce helpful methods to make it easier for tenants to achieve what my noble friend has in mind.

My noble friend Lady Elliot, in an interesting contribution, reminded us that it was her late husband Colonel Walter Elliot, when Secretary of State, who set up the Scottish Special Housing Association. All of us were, I believe, rather shattered to realise that it was as long ago as 1936 that that wonderful organisation was created. I warmly thank my noble friend for what she said about the Bill and what we seek to achieve. I look forward to her further support as we proceed through our deliberations.

My noble friend asked me about support to help tenants who wish to move. I agree that a large public sector is a barrier to mobility. This Government have introduced two schemes to help tenants who wish to, or need to, move: the national mobility scheme and the tenants' exchange scheme. Clause 7 of the Bill places the power of the Secretary of State to contribute to such schemes on a regular basis.

My noble friend Lord Sanderson of Bowden, to whom I have already referred, spoke about the right to buy, saying that this would release cash. My noble friend is absolutely right. This is a significant point. Sales release substantial resources that housing authorities can use in accordance with their own priorities.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, does not money from houses sold by housing associations go back to the Housing Corporation?

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I was talking about money that is available for rebuilding by authorities or associations in due course when the opportunity presents itself.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, if a house is sold, surely the housing association has to pay the money straight back to the corporation. Is that not correct? It is important to know that.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, the money is available, as I understand the position, to the authority to be used in accordance with its own priorities, whether building new homes or modernising older properties. The sums involved since 1980 run into hundreds of millions of pounds.

My noble friend Lord Selkirk and the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, complained that the Bill was complicated. I recognise that the Bill is not easy to understand. This is inevitable in amending legislation. But the Notes on Clauses are available in the Library of your Lordships' House. Study of those will, I believe, considerably help to simplify the Bill, read in accordance with the respective clauses.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, also asked about multi-ownership in tenements. Housing associations already have direct and successful experience of operating in tenements alongside owner-occupiers. The noble Lord said that there was no indication that housing association tenants want to buy. I accept that the number of housing association tenants who choose to buy may not be large. What matters is that, like tenants of municipal authorities, they should have the right to buy if they wish.

The suggestion that this is a sudden change of heart by the Government is simply not so. We have learnt over a long period of time that if we were not satisfied with the results of the voluntary sales policy—and only a very small proportion of the housing association stock has been sold—we should introduce a right to buy. The conditions which led us to arrive at that conclusion have been well known for a long time. We have never made any secret of the fact that it was our intention to enable the greatest possible number of people who lived in rented accommodation municipally, and more recently through associations, to have the opportunity to purchase their homes.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, spoke about the CoSLA campaign for increased investment in Scottish housing stock. The convention alleges that £700 million requires to be invested in Scotland's council housing stock each year for the next 10 years; a total of £7 billion. But the bids for resources for 1986–87—that is, what individual authorities indicated they wished to spend—amount to only £475 million. That alone casts a slight measure of doubt on the CoSLA figure, where the total is patently greater than the sum of its parts.

Nor has any detailed explanation yet been offered of how the figure of £700 million is made up, apart from the words in a recent press release: About half is for the repair and modernisation of existing stock and the remainder for new build and conversion". That hardly seems to me to provide a sufficient basis for reasoned discussion. The campaign also appears to shy away from any assessment of priorities as between the more and the less urgent works.

The noble Lord suggested that there is not enough money for housing. Capital allocations for local authority stock have increased by no less than 41 per cent. over the two years 1984–85 to 1986–87. This is substantially higher than the increase which would have corresponded to inflation. It shows the concern to ensure that authorities have necessary resources.

The noble Lord also suggested that sales are declining. He suggested that the best houses have been sold and that the situation will continue to exist that only the really good houses will be sold. The noble Lord quotes selectively, I am afraid. I do not blame him for that. We all quote selectively when it suits our argument; but he has certainly been quoting selectively. Applications to buy—the best guide to the interest which exists—have been running at 1,600 a month, slightly less than the peak of last year which was 1,750 a month, but still a very healthy demand. Our research shows that sales have not been concentrated in the best estates, and it is not true that all the most popular houses are the ones which have been sold. There has been a very good mix.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I think it is wrong to say that I quote selectively. I quoted from a Government paper and I quoted every word that was there. It was not selective; it was in full.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, my retort to that would be that the noble Lord selects his Government papers!

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, what is wrong with taking the latest one, which is March 1985?

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I have no doubt that the noble Lord and I could continue for a very long time and still not agree at the end of the day. The figures which I gave perhaps put the problem in perspective a little more accurately.

We have had a very useful debate. I should like to thank those noble Lords who have taken part. Many points have been raised. I am sure that I have not answered them all but I have tried to cover as many as I reasonably could. I look forward to the further stages of the Bill in due course. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.