HL Deb 25 April 1988 vol 496 cc70-108
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sanderson of Bowden)

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

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

Lord Hughes

My Lords, I want to come back to what happened before the House rose for pleasure. When the House was about to be adjourned I intended to ask the Government to state their intentions in view of the fact that we were starting consideration of the Housing (Scotland) Bill so very late. Unfortunately, the noble Lord in the Chair did not hear what I said and I was deprived of the opportunity. I understand, however, that further discussions through the usual channels indicate that we shall not proceed tonight beyond Amendment No. 16. That is a reasonable basis and so I am content.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. I heard him say quite distinctly, "Not-Content". I understand that the noble Lord in the Chair did not hear him. Therefore when the noble Viscount sitting on the Government Front Bench rose to say that it had been arranged through the usual channels, it might have appeared that this was acceptable to one and all and overruled any objection. This is most important from what I would call a constitutional point of view. The fact is that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, did object and owing to the bad sound the House adjourned without him being heard.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, and I undertake to go as far as he has indicated in the progress of the Committee stage of the Bill.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The BARONESS SEROTA in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Scottish Homes:]

Lord Taylor of Gryfe moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 12, at end insert— ("( ) assisting in promoting, developing and advising on the availability of housing—

  1. (i) for homeless people
  2. (ii) to prevent homelessness;").

The noble Lord said: This is the first of a series of amendments designed to improve this important Bill. Appropriately, it touches on one of the most serious social problems in Scotland, the problem of the homeless. Shelter has been good enough to provide me with some figures in relation to the extent of the problem. In 1983–84, 15,891 families were registered with local authorities as homeless. By 1986–87 that figure had risen to 30,859. It is difficult in this quiet, comfortable and subdued environment to visualise what that means. However, Members of the Committee should consider for a moment how they would feel if they or any of their family or friends were in the position of the 30,000 or so homeless families in Scotland.

The amendment is designed to ensure that this new body, Scottish Homes, will play a supporting role in the efforts of local authorities to alleviate and prevent homelessness. It is accepted that the responsibility for dealing with the problem lies with local authorities. However, in practice local authorities have required the co-operation of all the various housing associations and organisations in order to carry out their statutory responsibility.

The Government acknowledged the problem in the White Paper which preceded the Bill. They expressed the view that the problem of homelessness would be dealt with through a general improvement in the housing situation. However, such an improvement takes a long time to percolate through. The changes envisaged in the Bill will take a long time to work their way through to the large number of homeless people in Scotland. Therefore it is suggested in the amendment that Scottish Homes should play a role in co-ordinating and pushing the care of the homeless, although it is accepted that that is a local authority responsibility.

In the discussions about Scottish Homes frequent references were made in the press and also in this Chamber to the Scottish Development Agency. It was said that Scottish Homes would be a kind of development agency applying itself to the great social problem of housing in Scotland. One thing distinguishes the SDA. It has a dynamic and active role in bringing industry together with local authorities and all kinds of organisations involved in industrial progress. It is a dynamo that gets problems tackled. I hope that by adding this responsibility Scottish Homes will become a kind of SDA and will inject some urgency into dealing with the problem. I hope that it will become an important element in the co-ordination that is necessary.

The problem has been tackled in the city of Glasgow by the local authority in conjunction with the Housing Corporation, the West of Scotland Housing Association and the Scottish Development Agency. All those bodies are involved. They were brought together by the Glasgow Council for Single Homeless. As a result of their efforts a stop-over hostel was established. This has been remarkably successful. All of that work took a good deal of time. It took a good deal of time to deal with what is an immediate problem.

I urge the Minister to accept that giving Scottish Homes this new responsibility will probably expedite the co-ordination of the various agencies. It is said that the problem will be taken care of in the long term as we improve Scottish housing. We should consider that these families are homeless tonight. We cannot wait until a general improvement in the housing stock takes place and there is a general improvement in catering for the homeless. The problem is urgent.

I strongly urge that the new body be given that additional responsibility, although I acknowledge that the responsibility is basically that of the local authorities. Many agencies, including housing departments, social works departments, organisations catering for the single homeless, and so forth, are involved. We hope that the new body will succeed in achieving what the Bill sets out to do. We hope that it will be a dynamic element which will make some contribution to the ever worsening problem. I beg to move.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The Committee will be aware that it has been decided that it would be convenient to discuss Amendments Nos. 1 and 6 together. My name and that of my noble friend Lord Morton of Shuna are on the amendments. I should like to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, stressed towards the end of his remarks about people's problems. We are not just talking about people in poor housing; we are talking about families which have no homes. Many of them live in the notorious bed and breakfast accommodation, and that is no way to bring up a family. It sows the seeds of later problems for society.

At present, local authorities have a statutory duty to provide for, or to take account of, homelessness. I shall return to that point in a minute. I wish to stress what has been said before and what was in the Government's White Paper, where they talked about homelessness being a symptom of failures in the housing system. They suggested that the Bill, and Scottish Homes, provided the solution to the problem. We have all said that we believe that there are possibilities in Scottish Homes, especially if the Minister accepts many of the amendments to the working of Scottish Homes. Although we believe that that may be the long-term solution, nevertheless this point is likely to be missed if we cannot have Scottish Homes' responsibility implemented by these two amendments.

In Scotland, as the Minister knows, the Scottish Special Housing Association, with the local authority, is responsible for dealing with homelessness. We have received representations from a number of local authorities which feel the problem acutely. For instance, the Highlands and Islands Council is aware of its problem, and the district and island authorities have the statutory duty under Sections 1 and 85 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 to assess the needs of their areas for housing accommodation, and to ensure that all houses in their districts, whether public or private, are brought up to tolerable standards.

It is the district council's firm view, as it is ours, that Parliament, having placed this duty on those local authorities, should give them the financial resources or share the responsibility for discharging the duties with the new body (Scottish Homes).

The Bill appears, unless the Minister can satisfy us otherwise, clearly to propose to remove to a central body virtually all power over expenditure. Under Clause 2, Scottish Homes "may provide" and so forth, but local authorities, as the Minister will be aware, "shall provide" and consider the needs of their areas and "shall secure" that houses in their area meet a tolerable standard. There is a dilemma. It seems to me, and obviously to a number of other people, to judge from the representations that we have received, that there is a gap somewhere. A possible pool of houses, and a possible pool of money which at present is being used to bring houses up to a tolerable standard, are being taken away from the ambit of local authorities which, nevertheless, are charged with finding houses for the homeless. That is a weakness in the Bill to which I sincerely hope the Minister will address his mind.

It is important that in future there should be a statutory duty to share the responsibility of housing the homeless, as it is inevitable that under the Bill's provisions local authorities' housing stock is bound to diminish, and so their ability to meet their statutory duties towards the homeless will also diminish. Local authorities will become increasingly dependent upon other agencies which have no statutory obligation to provide housing for the homeless.

I hope that the Minister will give this matter his serious consideration and will realise that there is a gap in the Bill which badly needs to be filled. I therefore support the amendment.

8.15 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, raised this point. It is curious that the Bill which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said to me is an important Scots housing Bill, does not mention the homeless. I am not clear why it does not. It is important that we have a clear picture of just what Scottish Homes is to do. I am not greatly in favour of co-ordination. I rather think that someone should have a direct responsibility for dealing with the homeless. I am not sure that I should like to see that responsibility shared. It lies with the local authorities. It is right that local authorities should arrange with housing associations, Scottish Homes, and where one will, to obtain help, but I believe that the responsibility should rest with the local authorities.

I do not know what is the relationship of the local authorities with Scottish Homes. It has to be worked out. Scottish Homes is clearly going to be important. We shall return to that point in various ways later. What is the relationship to be? As I see it, local authorities should have their responsibility emphasised more forcefully. I do not know enough about the subject. Homelessness is difficult to define because few of us know what is happening. We see the statistics, but we do not wander around the back streets to see the homeless. We have to rely entirely on reports.

It seems to me that the local authorities are not fulfilling their duties. How can they fulfil them? Should they do rather less in relation to what is called general needs and place more emphasis on the homeless, and leave to housing associations and Scottish Homes the more general requirements? I put that as a question to the noble Lord. It is vital to know the answer because someone must be held responsible. I do not see how anyone can hold that responsibility as well as the local authorities do.

Viscount Thurso

It is unfortunate that owing to an administrative hiccup no one from these Benches spoke about the Bill on Second Reading. That was not because we are not interested in the Bill. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, will know that our colleagues in another place commented favourably on the Bill and tried to help improve it to the best of their ability. I should like the noble Lord to know that and that such comments as I and my colleagues from these Benches will make will be designed to be helpful. Where we are critical of the Bill, it will be only in the friendliest possible way.

I feel that perhaps I ought also to declare a very small interest in that I am chairman of a company which provides housing and flats for the accommodation of people by way of rent. I hope that this will prove of assistance to the Committee, rather than inhibiting my being able to speak on this subject. I feel that I have learnt a lot through doing this kind of work. I learnt it in the old days as a town councillor in the borough of Thurso and as a county councillor in the county of Caithness. It is true that statutorily the homeless are the responsibility of the local authority. But it is not always possible for the local authority easily to discharge that responsibility.

My experience tells me that a large number of tenants of this company with which I am associated are homeless people for whom the local authority finds it has no housing. The authority comes to us and asks us to provide these people with housing. In a small area dealing with small numbers of people with whom one is in ready contact, it is easy to get in touch with people such as ourselves. It is easy for the local authority to find us and say, "Look, we have this problem family. Can you help?" It is easy for us to respond, perhaps much easier than it would be in a large place where one is dealing with vast and more impersonal numbers.

However, I think that we should not lose sight of the fact that it is well nigh impossible for the local authorities solely to discharge society's responsibilities towards the homeless. We should use every agency available to us to deal with this real and often very sad problem.

I feel that it would be right from the point of view of the country and society in general to draw the attention of the new Scottish Homes organisation to the fact that because the principal responsibility for dealing with the homeless may be laid at the door of the local authorities, they are by no means absolved from a responsibility towards the homeless, any more than private landlords within the private sector. There is a responsibility on anybody who is interested in our society to see that the homeless are housed, in just the same way as there is a responsibility to see that those who are already in homes are properly provided with the amenities and facilities which they should have within those homes.

That is why we on these Benches support both Amendments Nos. 1 and 6. We feel that this responsibility should be stated at this point and it should be known that homelessness is a very real problem which is part of the responsibilities that lie before this new body.

Lord Hughes

I also should like to support these amendments. I note that the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, where it deals with Scottish Homes, includes the words: It provides for the transfer to Scottish Homes of the property, staff and liabilities of Scottish Special Housing Association". I assume—I hope that I am wrong—that "liabilities" has a financial connotation. I would prefer it if liabilities were interpreted as including responsibilities. If it does, perhaps the Minister has a fairly easy way out of this.

At the moment the Scottish Special Housing Association is the owner of a very large part of the Scottish housing stock. That stock is being transferred to Scottish Homes. However, the Scottish Special Housing Association, in terms of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, Clause 38(a), has a duty to assist local authorities with regard to homeless persons. I think it would be contrary to what the Government had in mind as short a time as a year ago that the Scottish Special Housing Association should be playing a part in helping to deal with the problem of the homeless if, in transferring the property, they did not transfer these responsibilities.

In the amendments it would be made quite clear that the responsibility which the SSHA has at the present time would be transferred to the successor body, Scottish Homes. Perhaps I could be told that the use of the word "liabilities" includes these responsibilities, these duties, which are presently with the Scottish Special Housing Association. Then the amendments would not be necessary. Unless it is absolutely certain that Scottish Homes is assuming these responsibilities, it would be better that these words should be included in the Bill to put the matter beyond any possible doubt.

Furthermore, many local local authorities have informal working arrangements with housing associations in this matter. There is no legal responsibility on the housing associations. Of course the amendments do not suggest that this should be the position. But while the informal arrangements with housing associations are working very satisfactorily in some areas, in others this is not the position, possibly because in the other areas the housing associations may not be big enough to be able to make a contribution which is worth while.

I hope therefore that the Minister will be able to say something pleasing. It would be a nice way to start what he has described as a major housing Bill, perhaps even greater than or equal to the 1980 Act in its provisions.

Lord Strathclyde

I too was not present at the Second Reading and I am very sorry for that. However, I much enjoyed reading the debate in Hansard. I am also grateful to be given this opportunity to discuss homelessness because it must surely be a very serious problem. That is not to say that the Government do not care about it, because the main thrust of the Bill is ultimately to improve the situation for housing in Scotland, especially when we hear that there are 130,000 more homes than households in Scotland. Given that problem, I think it is essential that local authorities be left to deal with homelessness. It should be their role to look after the most needy in society, and thus there would be no confusion as to whose role that should be.

Also, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, mentioned the similarity between Scottish Homes and the Scottish Development Agency. But the SDA does not necessarily become involved in every single investment that is made in Scotland. Likewise, Scottish Homes should probably not be involved in every aspect of housing in Scotland. Homelessness is already dealt with in other areas.

Going on from homelessness, I have been told that in the fourth quarter of last year over 6,000 new private tenants were created due to people buying their own houses. That is about 20 per cent. of the figure which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, gave us of 30,000 homeless people. There is a difference between the two types of people. Surely this shows a dynamism in the Scottish market for housing, because there is an increase of 40 per cent. on the same figure last year. Private sector money therefore must ultimately improve the situation, leaving local authorities to deal with the real problem.

I do not really believe that this amendment would help homelessness any more than is happening at present.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I have great difficulty in following what the noble Lord has just said. He seemed to be saying that private tenants who had bought their houses would—

Lord Strathclyde

I hope that the noble Lord understood that what I really meant was that new private tenants were created by people buying their council houses.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I should have thought that it was self-evident that no tenancy is created by anybody buying any house. One removes from the rent market any house which is bought by a tenant. That house becomes owner-occupied. It is not available to be rented out by the council.

One of the problems of local authorities is that they have a duty to provide housing for homeless people. They have a large number of their acceptable houses removed by tenants who want to buy and they are restricted in the amount of money they are allowed to spend on new housing. I should have thought that it was very important for this new body to have a duty to look at homelessness. I regret to say that nothing the noble Lord has said convinces me otherwise.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

These amendments take us to the heart of this very important issue. I say straight away to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that the fact that no speeches came from the Members on his Benches on Second Reading does not mean to say that I do not realise how important they consider this Bill to be.

During the months of discussion of the White Paper and the Bill, the Government have repeatedly been faced with the entirely groundless charge that our policies ignore the plight of the homeless. And yet one of the Government's primary objectives and one of Scottish Homes's main tasks is to increase the quantity of housing available in Scotland. I am at something of a loss to understand what can be more relevant to the needs of the homeless than an increase in the numbers of available houses.

I made the point during our Second Reading debate that the surplus of houses over the number of households in Scotland, which is about 130,000, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has said, is more than five times the number of households whom local authorities assist as homeless in the course of a year. The Government's policies are directed at bringing more of those properties into use.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, mentioned the figure of 30,000 as being the homeless figure in contrast to the 24,196 which was the total obtained from the returns made by local authorities themselves to the Scottish Development Agency. Admittedly the department's figures are based on incomplete returns, but I expect any final figures to show a difference in hundreds rather than thousands.

Some of the houses to which I have referred are unused because the existing Rent Acts are a deterrent to their owners to let them out. We hope that introduction of assured tenancies will change that.

Some of them are unused because they are in parts of council estates where no one can be persuaded to go and live. Their boarded-up windows are a visible indictment of the failures of remote and bureaucratic public sector management. We hope that our policies will change that by encouraging local authorities to improve their management or to transfer the houses which they are not using to someone else—a housing association, a co-operative, a developer or individual families who might wish to buy them cheaply and devote their energies to rehabilitating them. Scottish Homes will be promoting and assisting in these processes.

As well as bringing unused houses into use, our policies will result in more houses being built, both for owner-occupation and for rent. Since 1979 we have provided the funding to enable the number of houses which housing associations have available for renting to increase more than six times over. The new financial framework for housing associations, which Scottish Homes will administer in succession to the Housing Corporation in Scotland, is designed to enable an even faster rate of annual growth than we have seen over these years.

All of these policies, with Scottish Homes at the heart of them, will help the homeless. Yet they are not for the homeless alone. They are for everyone who wants better housing and a wider choice of housing. The homeless are not a breed apart. They are ordinary households whom the housing system has failed to provide with a means of dealing with their own housing needs. As the White Paper says, very succinctly: Homelessness is a symptom of failures in the housing system. The Government's proposals will make the housing system work better". The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, mentioned timing. As regards the timescale of change and the immediacy of homeless people's needs, I invite the Committee to draw a distinction between the time needed to transform completely our housing system and the time needed to achieve results. The empty houses which I have talked about, particularly those in the public sector, could be brought back into use very quickly. Many thousands of extra houses are being provided every year and we are seeking to increase that number virtually as soon as the Bill is in effect. It will be some time before we bring owner-occupation to every family who wants it, or a real choice of renting arrangements to everyone who wishes to rent. But our policies are already producing results which are of real benefit to those in most need.

If I may turn more closely to the detailed wording of the amendments, it is important not to misconceive the purpose of the statutory provisions dealing specifically with the homeless, which derive from the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977. The purpose of those provisions is to provide a single door.

Here I refer to the point made by my noble friend Lord Selkirk when he talked about which door was meant. It is the single door to which those who have become homeless or who are in danger of doing so can go. That single door is, quite rightly, the local authority. The system as it stands works well. Let us remember that the statistical figures which are so often quoted in relation to the homeless are for people for whom the safety net provided in legislation works. They are people who go to the local authority and who receive housing, exactly as the legislation intended. They are not people who are left without a roof over their heads. We will not help the people whom we describe as homeless by introducing overlap and ambiguity into the statutory responsibilities in this field. It would not be a positive step to give Scottish Homes statutory duties which duplicate those of local authorities, as there is a danger that Amendment No. 1 would do.

Amendment No. 6 is a rather different matter. It is essentially unnecessary. The Bill already places a duty on Scottish Homes to co-operate with local authorities by assisting them to carry out their functions in relation to the homeless. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has said, this duty rests on the SSHA at present by virtue of Section 38 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 and it will pass to Scottish Homes through the operation of paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to this Bill, which converts existing statutory references to the SSHA into references to Scottish Homes.

Scottish Homes will play a vital part in easing Scotland's housing problems. But these amendments, in so far as they do not duplicate the existing effect of the Bill, are perhaps an attempt to separate one kind of housing need from other kinds. The Government's rejection of these amendments is not a rejection of the homeless. It is a rejection because they feel it is the wrong approach to deal with their needs. Therefore I hope that the noble Lords will consider withdrawing their amendments.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Will my noble friend say whether he agrees with me that an additional very important point in all this is that the district housing authority, which is the district or island council, which has the job of operating the Act has in many cases to work also with the social work department, which is a regional or island council function? My noble friend is quite right, however, to say that this does not apply in all cases and that there are different kinds of people who become homeless.

As my noble friend Lord Selkirk said, that function is best carried out by local authorities. The SDA was mentioned as having been compared with Scottish Homes as a concept. That is correct, but the SDA's function in bringing people together has never been concerned with being involved in social work in the way that social work departments are involved. For example, in GEAR in Glasgow the SDA has brought social work departments together with others to think out the planning of housing and of provision, and it has been very successful. There is no need for Scottish Homes to do that because that is what the planners do in all local authorities. That is stretching the comparison a bit far.

It seems to me that local authorities are clearly the people to operate the Act and to deal with the problem as such. Scottish Homes has the job of helping to reduce the shortage of housing, as my noble friend has said. Will the Minister agree with that? Am I making a correct assumption?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Yes. I can do no better in answering my noble friend than to read Section 38, to which I referred earlier and to which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, referred. It says: Where a local authority—(a) request … the Scottish Special Housing Association to assist them … the authority to whom the request is made shall co-operate in rendering such assistance in the discharge of the functions to which the request relates as is reasonable in the circumstances". That may answer the point.

Viscount Thurso

In discussing homelessness it is a great trap to talk in terms of statistics. The homeless are people. The way in which we should deal with individual needs of special people who have become homeless is not by talking of statistics. Sometimes they must be dealt with one by one, and sometimes more than one department or sector must be involved.

As I see it, Scottish Homes is supposed to bridge the gap between the local authority sector and the private sector. For that reason I feel we should put an obligation on Scottish Homes as regards homelessness. It is all too easy statistically to have plenty of houses for the people who need to be housed but end up with the wrong sorts of homes so that large numbers of people still remain unhoused.

When I was in local authority work, we found that certain classes of housing were difficult to let. For instance, a five-apartment house was difficult to let because the rent appeared to be high. It was difficult to interest the local authority in producing two-apartment houses. Local authorities wanted to produce three-apartment and four-apartment houses because it was easy to calculate the number of families to be housed and most of them wanted that type of housing. However, I believe that a large proportion of the homeless are in the unfortunate category of one-parent families.

It is easy for a local authority to say: "Why don't their parents look after them?" That is not always the answer. The unfortunate people who are forced into homelessness are not being fully provided for by the system which exists within local authorities. We should widen the responsibility and make it clear that we do not simply have one door to which those people come crawling on their knees, tugging their forelocks. It should be the responsibility of the whole of society to provide housing for those who are unfortunate, who are unable to provide it for themselves or who require help in finding it. The responsibility should be spelt out at the point of setting up a body to bridge the gap between local authority housing and the private sector.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

Perhaps I may say one or two words about Amendment No. 6, which has been spoken to with Amendment No. 1. I shall read with great care what the Minister has just said. He seemed to say that the amendment was superfluous because the responsibilities of the local authority under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, Clause 38, provided that SHHA had a duty to assist local authorities with regard to homeless persons and that that duty would be transferred to Scottish Homes. Once the Minister's speech is printed in Hansard, we shall study it carefully and decide what to do. However, if that is the case, and without making any commitment on Amendment No. 1, I would not propose to move Amendment No. 6.

8.45 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour

Perhaps I may ask one question. The Minister said that there was reference to co-operation between authorities in Section 38 of the Housing (Scotland) Act. While fully appreciating that that section mentions homeless people and threatened homelessness, as well as mentioning the Scottish Special Housing Association, I cannot find anything in the Bill that brings Scottish Homes into Section 38 of the Act of 1987. Perhaps between now and Report stage, in order to meet some of the points that have been raised, some amendment should be made to Section 38 to bring Scottish Homes into it.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

I am rather disappointed that we have not been able to convince the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, of the wisdom of the amendment. I should have thought that with the experience which the noble Baroness has had in local government she would welcome a new agency which could inject a degree of urgency into dealing with this terrible social problem.

I should also have thought that the noble Lord. Lord Strathclyde, with his close connections with the city of Glasgow through his father and his grandfather, who was a councillor in that city when Glasgow was the worst-housed city in Europe, would have felt a degree of urgency. It is a crucial social problem, and it is getting worse.

I admit that that problem is the responsibility of the local authorities under the statute. However, in 1983–1984, the number of homeless people in Scotland was 15,891. According to a survey by Shelter, the number has how increased to 30,859. Those are families who are actually homeless. Many have young children who go to school in the morning and who live in bed and breakfast premises. They do not have a home of their own.

Before we discard that new responsibility for Scottish Homes, we should think seriously about whether the new body with its new responsibilities can inject something into the situation which will help. I am not suggesting that the Government do not care. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that I am not suggesting that. Equally, we on this side of the Committee are anxious to be helpful.

We are creating a new body in Scotland. We are creating a new element. I should have thought that even in terms of its own credibility and standing, to provide that the new body should help to deal with the critical social problem of homelessness would increase its authority. I want Scottish Homes to succeed and I should like to see it play that role. It is possible to say that that is the local authority's job and that there will be duplication. However, I suspect from the correspondence which I have had with CoSLA that a local authority would not mind the new body taking an interest in, working with, co-operating with and co-ordinating the effort to deal with the homeless.

While I shall not press this amendment to a vote tonight, like the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, I shall read what has been said and possibly return to the subject at a later stage. However, I plead sincerely with noble Lords including the Minister to recognise that we are trying to be helpful. We are not scoring political points. We are not saying that we care more than they care. We are trying to be helpful in creating a new Scottish institution with authority and credibility that will make a contribution to dealing with this desperate social problem. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Morton of Shuna moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 8, after second ("associations") insert ("and all persons and bodies to whom it provides financial assistance").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment in the names of my noble friend Lord Carmichael and the noble Lords, Lord Taylor of Gryfe and Lord Mackie of Benshie, and myself, I should like also to speak to Amendment No. 3. I believe I have a very easy task because I know, or suspect, that the Minister is a reasonable man, even though I do not think that all of his colleagues are reasonable men. The amendment addresses what is an obvious omission.

As the Bill stands, Scottish Homes has the function of registering and supervising housing associations. We all agree with that. One factor that has helped housing associations and public confidence in them is the knowledge that the Housing Corporation since 1974 has supervised and registered the various housing associations and has gone along with their work. By Clause 1(3)(a) the Bill gives Scottish Homes the general function of, providing, and assisting in the provision of, finance to persons or bodies intending to provide, improve, repair, maintain or manage housing". That means of course anyone at all. Scottish Homes gives those bodies the money. It has no power anywhere to supervise what those persons or bodies do with the money. Such a provision is missing entirely. I cannot believe that the Government intend that money should be handed out to anyone—some might possibly be Rachman types—without any power to control or register who they are or any power to supervise what they do. Therefore, in the confident hope that the Minister sees the reason behind these amendments, I beg to move.

Lord Hylton

As the president of a very small housing association in England which is highly registered and supervised by the Housing Corporation, I should like to support very strongly the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Morton.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My name is attached to the amendment. We would argue that the position outlined in the Bill is anomalous. All recipients of financial assistance should be subject to the same degree of supervisory control. The procedures and mechanisms for doing so are already in existence and need only be extended to cover the whole range of landlords. The noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, has already mentioned the danger of a re-emergence of Rachmanism unless there is appropriate supervision. I suspect that the Minister may wish to avoid that. I support the amendment.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I am sure there is no dispute about the intention of these amendments—the need for accountability in relation to landlords and others in receipt of public funds. The question is whether the amendments are the best method of achieving that accountability. It is on that point that we are in some disagreement.

I am sure it is right for Scottish Homes to continue the well-proven system of registering and monitoring housing associations in receipt of high levels of public funds. However, Scottish Homes's financial assistance to other private landlords is likely to be at a much lower level and only in specialised circumstances. That is because housing associations will be receiving grants specifically to enable them to let at rents which are below market level. Private landlords, on the other hand, will generally be eligible for financial assistance only where a project is not commercially viable even on the basis of market rents and where the project would serve some public policy purpose.

Each application for assistance will be considered on its merits and an appropriate level of funding may be approved. It may be a very small proportion of the cost of a project. To require the same supervisory regime as applies to registered housing associations would be to apply an unwieldy and bureaucratic system which more often than not would be quite unnecessary.

There is no doubt that public funds must be protected and that standards must be maintained. We consider that both those requirements can best be achieved through contractual arrangements, including conditions under which financial support may be offered. This is a similar system to that operated by the Scottish Development Agency and the Highlands and Islands Development Board when offering grants or loans. We must remember that letting or developing housing is a commercial activity no different in principle from the provision of other important services.

The Government's approach will ensure that the conditions will be closely tailored to the circumstances of the individual project and the level of Scottish Homes's involvement. It would also have the benefit of reflecting the type of contractual arrangements familiar to the private landlord or developer. It would, as a result, be easier to operate and less likely to deter potential applicants.

I hope that with this explanation the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, will consider seeking leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I shall study what the Minister has said. However, I must say that at first hearing I find it singularly unconvincing. It seems to be that so long as one is a private body or corporation or building company—and I do not wish to mention any names—nothing is to be written into the Bill that would restrict anything the company might do with the money and there is to be no supervision as to how it is to be spent.

That seems to me quite farcical. If I may say so, the history of certain contracts supervised by St. Andrew's House, especially in the building of hospitals, does not give this side of the House total confidence in the commercial expertise of St. Andrew's House in arranging such supervision. It would be much better to have something in the Bill in the very general wording that I suggest in the amendment, placing a duty on Scottish Homes to supervise the financial assistance.

The quality of supervision varies. Some people supervise and require supervision that takes them along step by step, like a nanny teaching a mentally defective child to walk. Other types of supervision may be from long distance. I suggest to the Minister that he might reconsider this matter during the interval between now and Report stage. I shall certainly read with care what he has said. At this stage I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

9 p.m.

Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 4: Page 2, line 15, at end insert— ("( ) assessing the extent of the need for, and promoting and developing the provision of, housing for community care throughout Scotland in conjunction with relevant bodies").

The noble Viscount said: Last Sunday I went to church. We put up our prayers of intercession for the sick and the disabled. In the evening I sat and watched television and saw a most moving programme about the sad plight of the mentally ill in our society. I appreciate what the Government are trying to do through their policy of caring for the mentally ill within the community. It is an ideal with which we on these Benches would certainly go along, provided that the community are given the tools with which to perform the job properly. I feel that this amendment pinpoints one of the missing parts of what is needed in order to deal with this serious and real problem. Somebody must be assessing the extent of the need for and promoting the development and the provision of housing for community care.

Scottish Homes, if it is to do the kind of job which we have accepted from the Minister is the kind of job that it is supposed to be doing, should surely have a strategic and developmental role with regard to community care provision. It would be unrealistic to leave the strategic role to district councils alone. Many health boards cover several district council areas. In the Highlands, for example, proper Highland perspective is required, which none of the local authorities individually could be expected to provide. One would possibly get an unevenness throughout Scotland as a result of leaving Scottish Homes out of the role of assessing the need for housing for community care and promoting its development.

Owing to the fact that health board and regional council boundaries overlap and in many cases do not coincide, it is essential that there is a body with a broad national perspective on the issue. Surely Scottish Homes is the body to provide that national perspective. That is why we put forward this amendment to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I think that this is a very important amendment, although my own name is not on it. I wonder whether the Minister, in his reply, could give us an indication that paragraph (g), such other general functions as are conferred upon Scottish Homes by or under this Act or any other enactment". allows for the amendment that has been moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, because generally speaking people are anxious that there should be special provision. There has been a fair amount of provision, although we have frequently had a fight trying to preserve special housing for people in special need and not have the houses taken over by others through earlier legislation in this Chamber and in the other place.

The Minister may be able to reassure us. Perhaps he could confirm that there will be a role for the promotion of owner-occupation; for improvement of housing and improvement of management; for promoting development of housing associations; and for undertaking and assisting the development, redevelopment and improvement of physical, social and economic facilities. It would be a great help to us all if in paragraph (g) there could be a reference of some sort to meet the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and if the Minister did not just tell us that he was sure it would be covered but said that it is covered by earlier legislation.

The Earl of Selkirk

The noble Lord cannot give much of an answer because, after all, Scottish Homes has not been formed yet. It will have to make its policy in due course. But I ask the noble Lord to let this point be clearly before it. It is something that is necessary. Edinburgh is a splendid place, but one does not want everything to be centralised in Edinburgh. Other parts of the country must be considered. I believe we should be very happy if the noble Lord could say that that was very much in his mind.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

The Government are committed wholeheartedly to the Care in the Community policy, which enables many people to return to their own homes and communities rather than spend their lives confined to long-term residential care establishments. This amendment is intended to to give Scottish Homes a major role in bringing about that desirable object.

Care in the Community has a number of components which vary depending on the needs of the individual. In general the lead is taken by the health boards and the social work authorities, which often provide the care and support services that a person needs to resume life in the community. Many voluntary bodies play a major part in providing suitable houses and co-ordinating the support services. We all know of such bodies. Many of them are housing associations.

As chairman of a local housing association I was instrumental in promoting this policy with the social work department and the health board in the Border region, and a very successful development took place.

It has to be said that the success of such a policy depends on constructive co-operation between the bodies providing the various elements. In many areas this is now quite sophisticated. As I indicated, in the Border area there is a joint committee of the social work department and health board working consistently on this matter.

However, I do not accept that the difficulties of co-ordination between body A and body B will be any the less if body C, Scottish Homes, is introduced. The amendment seeks to give Scottish Homes a statutory central role. Given that its main aims are in housing and housing-related community development, I think that it would be in some difficulty in taking the lead in community care. However, it will provide any assistance it can to make community care a practical reality. If asked, it could co-ordinate a project involving, say, a housing association. It will play its part, but the real changes, if they are needed, must come from the main bodies; namely, the health boards and the social work authorities.

I hope that the noble Lord will accept that, powerful though it will be, Scottish Homes is not a panacea for all ills. I hope that he will consider withdrawing his amendment in the light of what I have said about the co-operative role that Scottish Homes, in this case through housing associations, will play.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, who asked about the point of Clause 1(3)(g), it would be more relevant to look at the general functions in Clause 1(3)(a), (b), (d), (e) and particularly (f), all of which may be relevant without altering the general thrust of what I have already said.

Baroness Seear

As a complete Sassenach I enter this discussion with the greatest hesitation. However, unless Scotland is far and away ahead of England and Wales—and I accept that that might well be the case—I can only say that, as the report by Sir Roy Griffiths on community care has made plain, already in England and Wales the policy of returning people to the community from institutions has far outrun the provision being made in local areas for receiving those people. Scotland may have better anticipated the position, but if not some provision of this kind will be very much in order.

Lord Hylton

I hope that, if the Minister is not already in the picture, he will inform himself about the arrangements that have been worked out in England and Wales stemming from the Housing Corporation. Year after year it was consistently provided with finance for community care projects. In this country these are usually done through housing associations. The property is built to a specification for the client group. It is leased on to a social work voluntary body which then operates it. This has worked very satisfactorily. The National Federation of Housing Associations in England and Wales had a working party on this subject over a period of years.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I am well aware of this. I am also well aware of what has been written in the Griffiths Report. I go back to the initial point that I made to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, on this. We are not arguing that Scottish Homes should not play a part in this. I am arguing on the point that was put to me: that it should play a central role in this. This the Government do not accept.

Viscount Thurso

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, for showing that he is so keenly aware of this problem. I do not totally agree with his assessment on whether Scottish Homes should play a greater part in this than it appears that it will do. However, I take some comfort from the fact that he seems to hint that it will be able to reach that decision itself. Perhaps I may receive more comfort than I do at this moment when I read more carefully in Hansard what he has said. I accept that it would be a mistake to give Scottish Homes the sole responsibility, but I feel that it would be a good thing to give them a measure of responsibility.

I shall read with care in Hansard what the Minister has said and if necessary I am sure that I or my colleagues will return to the fray at a later stage. Meanwhile I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 5: Page 2, line 15, at end insert— ("( ) producing an annual investment strategy and consulting local authorities on that strategy;").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to tie up the work and planning of Scottish Homes with the general planning of housing as a whole in Scotland. In the amendment we ask that Scottish Homes shall have the general function of, producing an annual investment strategy and consulting local authorities on that strategy".

The Minister will be aware that local authorities are expected to develop their enabling and strategic role in meeting the housing and other strategic needs of the areas. They will require an input to the plans for the future housing policies and proposals of Scottish Homes. Therefore, although in the Committee in another place the Minister said that he had made it clear that Scottish Homes will routinely consult local authorities and others, we feel that this is not as positive as it could be.

The amendment therefore seeks to make it a statutory duty of Scottish Homes to consult local authorities on ordinary investment strategy—not to give them control over it, but merely the right to know what Scottish Homes will do, and how it will spread the housing development. In other words, we are asking that the left hand should have an idea what the right hand is doing. There is no point in Scottish Homes deciding to build x number of houses in an area for which the local authority has already made plans. That seems to me common sense. The amendment is merely giving the local authorities the right to be consulted rather than to be routinely consulted. The phrase "routinely consulted" may be interpreted as meaning that perhaps they may be consulted when it suits Scottish Homes or when it is convenient for Scottish Homes. I believe that the wording should be stronger: that they must be consulted and that there can be no veto on that. At least they should know what is being done. I beg to move.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

We are again on the subject of the relationship between the local authority and the new agency. It is important at this stage that their respective roles and responsibilities towards each other should be clearly defined. Bearing in mind the very important involvement of local authorities in housing in Scotland, I believe it may be desirable that this should be written in. I am sure that the local authorities will welcome it and it need not impede the activities of the housing association. I hope therefore that this may be accepted.

9.15 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, mentioned investment strategy. Those are big words. I should like to ask who is responsible for the relative number of houses and trading estates. Who will decide that one area shall contain some industrial estates for development? It is no good building masses of houses unless there are places to work. That must be done absolutely at the beginning, when the planning is started.

It seems to me that Scottish Homes should have that in mind. It is perhaps a long distance ahead, but in laying out, perhaps with the assistance of the local authority, this matter should not be forgotten in the general planning of homes and opportunities for work.

My other point concerns roads. One of the greatest problems to face us all over the country is roads. Any development must have a proper road system, otherwise people cannot go to wherever they want to go to. I just throw this idea out because it should be within the capacity of Scottish Homes to make suggestions.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Are we not discussing this as if the district councils were not the local planning authorities and regional councils were not the strategic planning authorities? There is the overall structure plan for the regions and the local plans of the districts. I should have thought that all discussions about housing had to take account of those, or am I misunderstanding what the amendment proposes?

The Earl of Balfour

I wonder whether I may add one more comment here. There needs to be close co-operation among water, sewerage, lighting availability, industrial development that might be next to housing, shops and so on. These landscape architectural arrangements can be extremely expensive. I trust that Scottish Homes, in conjunction with local authorities, will employ its own architectural staff to work out the feasibility of developing something like this. I do not want necessarily to criticise architects, but it is not unknown for architects to be employed on landscaping for housing developments and for them to place houses in such a way that they cannot be drained because the levels are incorrectly taken. This can lead to a great deal of expense.

I know that the co-operation between the Scottish Special Housing Association and the local authorities has been remarkable, but these unfortunately are things that have happened in the past and I should not like to see them happen again.

Viscount Thurso

There is no doubt that Scottish Homes will have to co-operate closely with local authorities all over Scotland. It would help us all if the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, will spell out how he expects this dialogue to be started and maintained.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

The amendment seeks to subject Scottish Homes to a requirement to prepare an annual investment strategy. At this stage I should say to my noble friend Lord Balfour that I do not want to get into a debate on the merits or demerits of architects or their plans. There is no doubt that any body which undertakes capital spending, let alone on the substantial scale under which Scottish Homes will operate, must plan carefully. Both the Housing Corporation and the SSHA do so now. They do not do so in isolation. In preparing their plans they are fully aware of the competing claims and interests of a variety of bodies including local authorities and housing associations.

My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour is quite right about the planning authorities, the structure plans that exist in various areas and the importance of them. Discussions take place when necessary and no one is shy of letting either body or the Government know his views about where funds should be deployed.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, asked about the availability of information. Scottish Homes will produce a corporate plan which will be publicly available. It will operate within the terms of a financial memorandum and specific financial directions from the Secretary of State. These arrangements are similar to those used successfully in relation to the Scottish Development Agency. We should remember that Scottish Homes will be undertaking a variety of tasks, and judging the balance and priorities will be a major concern. I do not consider that consultation with local authorities in the formal manner implied by the amendment would assist in the exercise. Good and effective planning procedures are not synonymous with cumbersome routines and a need to allow for the long intervals that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, knows exist in dealing with local authority committee cycles.

If we take the spirit of the amendment as being that Scottish Homes's investments should be planned, and planned with the knowledge of needs, then we are in agreement; but the mechanisms required to achieve that must be flexible and capable of change. They are complex and not amenable to being reduced to one line in a Bill. No doubt this is one of the reasons why the SDA, the Housing Corporation, the SSHA and other bodies are not subject to a statutory requirement of this kind. I trust that the noble Lord, having heard the comments I have made, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the Minister for the spirit of his reply. Unfortunately that spirit is difficult to put into a code in perhaps 10 or 20 years' time. One of the problems which was raised rather sharply, I think, by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, is that at certain critical periods one could get within a local authority strong conveners of housing, for instance, who would push ahead without having the machinery in the council to uphold the operations. A convenor would be concerned with figures of housing, and, because he was concerned with increasing his housing statistics, schools, shopping and community centres might in the rush to do that sometimes be left with no room for development. That has contributed to some of the difficulties which have arisen in establishing the areas.

So, although I understand the Minister not wanting to tie Scottish Homes down too much, I am not sure that by the time it comes to planning permission it is not too late. As the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, said, it would all need to have planning permission ultimately through local authorities, with strategic plans and so on. However, perhaps it is too late by that time and too much "face" would be lost if there were a radical change. I feel that when Scottish Homes puts forward a big idea it will be anxious to get a certain amount of publicity and if a local authority then comes along and says, "Oh, no, this is just not the right thing" and turns it down on planning grounds, we could get unnecessary conflict between two bodies which are really going in the same direction.

I hope that the Minister will perhaps give a little more thought to that. I believe that his right honourable friend in another place was rather more progressive—although I hate to use the word in this context—than the Minister has been tonight. However, I hope the message has gone home. Does the Minister wish to speak?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I should like to say just one word. We are talking about the annual investment strategy: I think it is in the terms of the amendment. That is all we are talking about. So far as dealing with planners and Scottish Homes and their overall plan are concerned, that will go ahead: they cannot operate otherwise. So I hope I have not been as unhelpful as the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, seems to suggest.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I think the Minister has more faith in Scottish Homes and the professional people who will be pushing it. I believe that when they announce their financial strategy they will have a very good idea of exactly where they are going to develop. However, I will not labour this any more at present. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Scottish Homes]:

Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 7: Page 43, line 39, at end insert— (" . Scottish Homes will establish administrative offices in each region and islands area of Scotland.").

The noble Viscount said: The Government have said that they expect Scottish Homes to establish regional administrative offices to help in the execution of its responsibilities. I think an awful lot will depend on the word "expect". Do they mean expect in a confident sense, as Nelson did at the Battle of Trafalgar when he expected the crews to do their duty? Will Government urge on Scottish Homes with the lash, and draw it on with the rum tot, or will they just sit back and hope?

There is a real problem. Perhaps more than any other noble Lord I know the difficulties of travelling within Scotland. It is a burden to travel, for example, from Thurso to Edinburgh and back again in order to transact business. It is believed that there may be offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and possibly Perth which will serve the north of Scotland. Perth is a long way away. It is a hard drive from Perth to Inverness and having reached Inverness it is a further drive to Thurso. Therefore noble Lords will understand that from the point of view of those who live in the far north of Scotland, in places more remote than Thurso, with worse roads, it will be difficult for tenants to travel to the offices of Scottish Homes to make their complaints and discuss their problems.

There is a large SSHA housing estate in Thurso which some years ago I was partly instrumental in attracting there to deal with the housing problem. It found it necessary to run an office in Thurso, and, that being so, if Scottish Homes is developing in other strategic points in the Highlands I hope that it will open more offices around the country. I hope that the word "expect" will be used in the Nelson tradition rather than in a pious sense. I believe that in order for proper confidence to be established in Scottish Homes that should be so.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

These amendments, which were debated in some detail in another place, seek to impose what I consider to be unnecessary restrictions on Scottish Homes in relation to its organisation at administrative and board level.

I am aware that there has been some concern, as expressed by the noble Viscount, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, but also in other rural areas, that Scottish Homes may tend to concentrate its activities in the regeneration of large peripheral housing estates in central Scotland. My honourable friend the Minister for Housing and the Environment in another place has received a number of representations from district and islands councils about the likely location of Scottish Homes administrative offices. He has given assurances, which I can repeat here, that the Government's commitment to the appropriate developments of housing policy to meet the needs of rural areas is no less than their commitment in relation to urban areas. Scottish Homes will have an important role to play, alongside local authorities, in improving housing conditions throughout Scotland and for this reason the Government have expressed the view that Scottish Homes should have a decentralised organisational structure. I believe that that is not a pious hope on the part of the Government.

We believe, however, that it would be wrong to predetermine the detailed structure of Scottish Homes. At administrative level Scottish Homes must be left to produce its own proposals after careful consideration of its requirements. At board level Scottish Homes must have the flexiblity to set up committees as and when they are necessary, and to have serving on these committees representatives of interests relevant to the range of matters to be considered by the committee. The imposition of such a management and board structure as would result from these amendments would be entirely inappropriate to many of the matters with which Scottish Homes may find itself involved; and indeed may have the opposite effect than that intended by leading to greater conflict with local authorities.

For these reasons I hope that the noble Viscount will seek leave to withdraw his amendment. I should like to emphasise that the Government do not intend to put forward a pious hope and that his reference to Lord Nelson is perhaps more appropriate.

Lord Hylton

I believe that it is most important to get the urban-rural balance right in any country, including Scotland. Figures have been produced which show that 5.2 per cent. of the Scottish population at the moment lives in the Highland region; that is, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Yet during the past few years only 2.3 per cent. of the budget of the Housing Corporation in Scotland has been spent on those areas. That fact rather underlines the thrust of the noble Viscount's amendment.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I should like to reply to the noble Lord on this aspect. I think when he has been to the Western Isles, as I have recently, he will agree that because of the Crofting Commission and the work done by the local authorities—very good work—the housing stock in those areas is much better than it was only a few years ago. The Government take this point very seriously, although we come back to the issue of regional administration and so on. Scottish Homes will have to address that aspect early in its career.

Viscount Thurso

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the assurance that he will adopt the Nelson stance. However, I hope that Scottish Homes does not do so because Nelson turned a blind eye to the orders he received. I trust that it will not be Scottish Homes that has the Nelson touch but rather the Scottish Office. With the assurances that the noble Lord has given me, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Morton of Shuna moved Amendment No. 8: Page 44, line 22, at end insert ("in Scotland").

The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11. All the amendments relate to the terms of employment and, so to speak, the transfer of the Scottish Special Housing Association and Housing Corporation employees who may be or are to be transferred to Scottish Homes.

Paragraph 11 of Schedule 1 provides that: Scottish Homes shall … make an offer of employment … to each person employed … by—

  1. (a) the Scottish Special Housing Association;
  2. (b) The Housing Corporation, in connection with its functions in Scotland,
and any question as to the persons to whom an offer of employment is to be made … shall be determined by the Secretary of State". That seems to mean that the Secretary of State is to determine whether anyone is employed by the Housing Corporation in connection with its functions in Scotland; otherwise, I cannot see any content to it. Lines 26 and 27 therefore appear to be totally unnecessary. That is the reason for Amendment No. 9. It is a question of fact and does not need determination.

The other issue is more difficult. The purpose of Amendment No. 8 is to change the sub-paragraph to read: an offer of employment by it to each person employed in Scotland … by … the Scottish Special Housing Association". I understand that people are employed in Scotland by the Housing Corporation, whose functions might not be considered by the Secretary of State to be wholly in connection with its functions in Scotland but might be concerned with other duties as well. It would be rather difficult for those gentlemen, or ladies, to be transferred suddenly to the Housing Corporation in England; they might not wish to move from a pleasant country into an overcrowded area. There is a problem, perhaps a problem of definition, which needs to be looked at more carefully; as do Amendments Nos. 10 and 11.

They show what I am sure is a defect in the thinking of the draftsmen, because we have here the fact that the Secretary of State, or someone, has to make an offer to an employee. The employee then has three months in which to make up his mind. But if he refuses, then on the day he refuses and does not accept the offer he has to have put in his appeal to the industrial tribunal. That seems to me to be quite unreal and different from the normal situation.

If one looks at paragraph 13(2) the industrial tribunal, shall not consider a complaint referred to it under sub-paragraph (1) … unless the complaint is presented to the tribunal before the end of the period of 3 months beginning with the date of the offer". If one takes as an example Mr. Smith, who has made an offer on 1st January, he has until 31st March to accept or reject that offer. If he does not accept it by 31st March he has to lodge his appeal with the tribunal by 31st March, which is what is said, namely, 3 months beginning with the date of the offer of employment". For the analogy that I have taken, the date of the offer is 1st January. I do not believe that is what is meant and from the indication of the noble and learned Lord sitting beside the noble Lord the Minister he seems to think that that is not quite what is meant.

The reason for the amendment to make it "3" instead of "6" is, first, to put it in line with the industrial tribunal procedure with which the Minister will be well acquainted from Sections, 84, 90 and 101 of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act. It is also to make it reasonable for someone having failed to take up an offer to have a further period in which to consider whether he wishes to go to the industrial tribunal. Therefore I beg to move Amendment No. 8.

The Earl of Dundee

I am grateful to the noble Lord. Like him I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 10 and 11. If I understand it right, Amendment No. 8 is intended to establish which staff of the SSHA and of the Housing Corporation in Scotland are to receive offers of employment by Scottish Homes. The intention is that all those employed by both bodies immediately before a date set by the Secretary of State should receive an offer of employment. Under the terms of paragraph 12 of the schedule, that offer shall be on terms which taken as a whole are no less favourable to the person than the terms on which he or she is employed on the date of the offer.

I believe that the Committee will recognise that that is a fair way of proceeding. However, as the Housing Corporation in Scotland is not a separate legal entity from the Housing Corporation and technically all its staff are employees of the Housing Corporation proper, there is a problem of definition. The words used in the paragraph are intended to mean that all the staff of the Housing Corporation in Scotland receive offers of employment.

The lines that Amendment No. 9 seeks to remove provide that where any question arises as to whom an offer of employment should be made, the question is to be determined by the Secretary of State. This is a safeguard to ensure that no one is left out through a doubt. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 seek to extend from three months to six months the period of time during which a person who has received an offer of employment from Scottish Homes with which he is dissatisfied may refer a complaint to an industrial tribunal.

I expect that if all goes well the terms of employment which Scottish Homes will offer will be known well before the appointed day on which formal offers have to be made to every employee at that time of the SSHA and the Housing Corporation of Scotland. I expect that these terms will be the subject of keen examination by every prospective employee or his representative. Scottish Homes will be involved no doubt in substantial discussions on them. I cannot say when the formal offers will be made, but our plans are still that Scottish Homes will take over the staff and the obligations of the SSHA and the Housing Corporation in Scotland by 1st April 1989. That could mean that the terms of employment were in discussion by late this year.

Only where the discussions fail to produce a result acceptable to an individual will reference to an industrial tribunal be necessary. The complainant will know of this well before he receives a formal offer and it would seem reasonable that he should make his complaint within three months of that offer. To allow his six months would leave the staffing of Scottish Homes in limbo for a long time and could affect adversely the appointment of colleagues.

These provisions are well precedented. As far as I am aware, no individual member of staff of the Housing Corporation in Scotland or of the SSHA, in respect of which these definitional problems do not arise, is in any doubt as to whether he or she will receive an offer of employment. If the noble Lord has any such person in mind I shall be happy to have the case examined and will write to him.

I hope the noble Lord will accept that there is no difference between us as to the intended effect of these provisions. We shall study his erudite words carefully, and if there is a drafting error we shall correct it. In the meantime I do not think his amendments add anything to what is already in Schedule 1. I trust therefore that he will feel able to withdraw them.

The Earl of Selkirk

Perhaps I may ask one question. Is it contended that paragraph 11 should continue indefinitely into the future, or does it apply only to the initial period while Scottish Homes is being set up? In other words, will the Secretary of State have complete control over all appointments at all times to Scottish Homes?

The Earl of Dundee

I can reassure my noble friend that that is a different point in a different context. The reference to the Secretary of State in this context is simply so that if there should be any doubt whether somebody is an employee of Scottish Homes the matter can be referred to the Secretary of State. It is then up to him to decide one way or the other.

The Earl of Selkirk

That is not what the Bill says. It says that under this paragraph any such question, shall be determined by the Secretary of State".

The Earl of Dundee

If I am wrong, and if the point to which my noble friend refers is ambiguous, I shall certainly have it looked into and come back to him at Report stage.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I hope the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, understood what he read out to us. If so, he is way beyond me because I could not understand it at all. First, who is to ask the question that the Secretary of State is to answer? Is this a right of appeal to somebody who thinks he should have had an offer and does not get one? If so, how will it operate? The paragraph says, any question as to the persons to whom an offer of employment is to be made". Who will have the right to ask the question? The Secretary of State must answer it, but who will ask it? Will it be just a civil servant who says, "Is A within paragraph 11, or does A have the right to say 'I should have received an offer of employment?' ". It is not clear. It is far from clear to me why the Secretary of State, with all his many rights and duties, should have this quasi-judicial one.

The Earl of Dundee

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He asks who will ask the questions. I can assure him that it is our intention that all existing employees of the SSHA and the Housing Corporation in Scotland will be offered a job by Scottish Homes. Therefore we hope that there will be no need for any questions to be asked.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Morton of Shuna

That is fine. As I follow it, that answer means that the noble Earl is accepting the terms of my amendment, which is to leave out lines 26 and 27 because they are unnecessary. I should have thought that if there was any question about that offer the one person who should not be deciding it is the Secretary of State. If those lines are left out, and there is a strange person who is not certain whether he is employed by the Scottish Special Housing Association, that matter would be better dealt with by the court or an industrial tribunal and not determined by the Secretary of State, whose qualifications to decide who is and who is not employed do not necessarily follow with everyone who holds the office of Secretary of State.

On Amendment No. 8, I can see that there is a certain difficulty about whether someone is employed in connection with a function or is employed in Scotland. However, I entirely failed to understand what the noble Earl said about Amendments Nos. 9 and 10. If I followed him at all, apparently everyone is to receive an offer before they receive an offer, will therefore know what is in the offer before they receive it and will have decided whether they will accept it before they get it. So it is right for them to have to appeal against the terms of the offer before they have accepted the terms of the offer. That seems all wrong, but I shall read with care what he said. In the meantime, I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 9 to 11 not moved.]

Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 12: Page 46, line 13, at end insert— (" . Scottish Homes will establish a committee for each region and islands area of Scotland on which a representative of each local authority which is a housing authority, a representative of the tenants, and a representative of Scottish Homes will serve.").

The noble Viscount said: There is a precedent for the suggestion contained in the amendment with regard to the Highlands and Islands Development Board. It has an advisory body on which a number of persons with knowledge of the Highlands serve and from which advice is given to the HIDB from the community in general. A similar body to advise Scottish Homes with regard to regional problems would not only be helpful but in some ways almost essential.

The Bill allows Scottish Homes to establish subcommittees, as deemed necessary, but it is clear from the drift of the Government's arguments that they are generally hostile to decentralisation and they do not envisage regional committees being set up to oversee the work of the agency in each locality. It is important to establish the principle that local groups should have some say in the way that Scottish Homes operates in their areas. That is the purpose of the amendment. I should like to hear what the Minister has to say about it. I beg to move.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I should like to ask the Minister some questions. Although I agree with the spirit of what the noble Viscount said, I am not sure whether the words are right. We do not have a shape for Scottish Homes, which leaves us in some difficulty. It will be much bigger than the Scottish Special Housing Association, for instance, which has its own structure, and the housing associations, which have an intimate structure and a relationship with local people. It will probably be difficult to get sonic sort of organisation that will give the best of both those organisations. I can see the housing association pattern for a large body such as Scottish Homes being a little too small, finicky or oppressive.

There should be some input and acceptance by Scottish Homes that it must establish a presence, a Mr. Scottish Homes, a Mrs. Scottish Homes, a Miss Scottish Homes in each area. Remember, Scottish Homes has a great deal of responsibility in appointing factors who will be local people. We have already discussed the problems of trying to "sell" factors in Scotland. They are not terribly popular in mythology or in fact. There must be some way in which Scottish people will relate to Scottish Homes and to a person in the area with whom they can have some contact. While I am not sure about this amendment which is perhaps too binding, I believe that the spirit of it is absolutely correct. I hope that the Minister will respond in some way.

Lord Hughes

Like my noble friend Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, I support the spirit of what the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has put forward. He introduced an interesting case for the appointment of advisory committees. Unfortunately, so far as I can see, that is not what the amendment says. It talks about appointing committees but says nothing about what these committees will do. I do not think the Minister will have much difficulty in rejecting the amendment as it stands. But perhaps the noble Viscount can come back at the next stage of the Bill with an amendment worded along the lines he spoke of, with advisory committees being appointed. We should certainly have no difficulty then in supporting it. However, I cannot bring myself to support the appointment of a committee with a totally unspecified function.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I think that the noble Viscount has put forward an idea based on experience in the Highland region. I do not know whether he has worked out the size of the committee for Strathclyde, with somebody from each housing authority. I do not know whether there is a representative of the tenants on each housing authority or whether the people of Argyll might have to represent the people of Glasgow. I should not have thought that that would be very acceptable.

I feel the suggestion needs rather more thinking about than perhaps it has had to date. I do not know whether the noble Viscount would agree with me about that.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I thought that we had dealt with Amendment No. 12 with Amendment No. 7. The two amendments have much in common. I must make very clear that the direction will come from the Scottish Homes board itself. I thought on the previous amendment we were talking about administrative "devolution", if I may use the word. I entirely agree—I know what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is saying—that it is no use setting up a committee to do nothing. What we are looking at is administrative devolution. That is one of the first tasks to which Scottish Homes will have to address itself.

Perhaps I may go back to Amendment No. 7 where I said clearly that the views expressed to my honourable friend, the Minister with responsibility for housing and the environment in another place, by those from the Highlands and islands in particular and others were very carefully considered. As I said at the time, it was not a pious hope that an administrative set-up would take place which would have regard to the very points which the noble Viscount made in respect of Amendment No. 7.

Viscount Thurso

I regard these two amendments as being completely separate. I think the noble Lord, Lord Hughes understood that. I am grateful for his sensible criticism of the amendment as it stands. There are two points here. The first is that the administration should have suitable decentralisation so that people can make contact with their landlord. That arose on the previous amendment. Now we are dealing with a much wider matter. We are not suggesting that the management or direction of Scottish Homes should be in the hands of a lot of different bodies. I agree that this would be for the board of Scottish Homes itself, just as the direction of the Highlands and Islands Development Board is in the hands of that board.

However, I feel that it should be clear that there is proper contact between the board and the communities it seeks to serve. Different areas will have different problems. I believe it will be helpful to the board of Scottish Homes to have advisory boards on a regional basis which can advise it on specific regional problems.

It is not always possible, considering the distance to Edinburgh and Glasgow from many parts of Scotland, to be omniscient and see everything that goes on and understand all the problems. It is from that point of view that the amendment is proposed. However, I agree that the flaws in it have been pointed out to me, and at this stage I should seek—

Lord Gray of Contin

Before the noble Viscount withdraws the amendment I must say that I find the amendment quite outrageous. Those of us who live and have worked in the Highlands of Scotland emphasise to all and sundry the ease of access to that region. After all we can be in Edinburgh from Inverness in two and a half hours. Even the noble Viscount can reach Edinburgh in a maximum of four hours from his part of the country, I should have thought. Perhaps the way he drives he could even do it in three and a half hours. Anyway, he should be able to do it easily in four hours.

We cannot on the one hand say how easy access is to the Highlands of Scotland and invite industry to come here and see what we have to offer it and on the other hand make a fuss about having to travel a few miles to a meeting.

I think that the amendment is irrelevant. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, was generous to it. I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, should take it away, think again and perhaps forget it altogether, because it really is a non-event. For my part I think we should leave it to Scottish Homes—which is the intention in the Bill—to get on with the job. We are appointing a responsible body. Let Scottish Homes make its mind up about what is needed and what is not. Let us not mess around with this nonsensical idea which has been put forward tonight.

Lord Hughes

This is a rather unusual development. The noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, describes the amendment as outrageous and then proceeds to delay its withdrawal.

Viscount Thurso

I do not need to defend myself against the attacks of the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, because he knows perfectly well that I am right and he is wrong. He will understand why it is that I have to drive so fast. But I feel that at this stage I should beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [General functions of Scottish Homes]:

The Earl of Selkirk moved Amendment No. 13: Page 2, line 27, at end insert ("including the relations of landlord and tenant").

The noble Earl said: My noble friend will be getting a little bit tired of our questions as to what exactly Scottish Homes will do. But he must remember that there are some 27 functions which stand in this Bill. Scottish Homes must, I suppose, perform all those 27 functions. It is therefore not surprising that we should be just a trifle inquisitive about this.

I shall ask the following question in rather a different line. We have been emphasising the power and the finances of Scottish Homes. I shall ask a different question. What about the element of morale which it will set going? When the social history of Scotland is told, one of the things that children learn is that it started with about 90 per cent. of rented property in the 1920s but that it is now down to 7 per cent. Why is that?

Of course in this world of propaganda we live in we hear constant stories of brutal landlords and riotous tenants. One never hears of a cheerful household where those two parties live happily together. That is not the stuff that television is made of. It is just not looked at in that way at all. Somebody must restore the prestige of rented property. I do not know whether Scottish Homes will do that but I do think that it should not exclude it from the range of its responsibilities. People should realise that it is not a kind of hell to live in rented accommodation. It is the norm for most people in the world, apart from those living in tropical areas. There should be an attempt to publicise the fact that the majority of people in France and Germany live in rented property. Perhaps that is not true to such a large extent in North America. But in many countries it is the case. The concept of rented property deserves better treatment. Scottish Homes could give it that treatment with a bit of care and thought.

10 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

I should like to support the amendment from a slightly different angle. Scottish Homes is to provide or assist in the provision of advisory services. Once it has been given that job, it is important that it should make clear the kind of service it will provide. I have in mind the problem of harassment, which is usefully covered in Clause 35.

We are anxious that, when landlord and tenant arrange a secure tenancy or whatever it may be, the tenant should know that he can go to Scottish Homes and say: "Help; I am having trouble". That may be implied in the Bill. However, it would be useful to spell it out specifically. If we do not wish to spell it out in exact detail, the amendment will help us to know what we are talking about.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I also support the amendment. It seems at times that the Government are against rented property and in favour of owner occupation. If they are, as they now say, in favour of rented accommodation, something must be done to improve relations between landlord and tenant. Over the last few years, there has been some criticism of landlords from one side of the Committee as regards Rachmanism and from the other side as regards heartless local authorities. It is remarkable how many local authority tenants seem to want to remain in that position. However, I am not trying to make a political point but merely saying that if we wish to increase the availability of rented homes (as we all agree should be done) it is a good idea to improve the relationship between landlords and tenants. Scottish Homes should be able to help. I strongly support the amendment.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

The Government are fully sympathetic to the aims of the amendment. However, we take the view that it is unnecessary. We recognise that, through the revitalisation of the private rented sector and the introduction of the tenants' choice provisions of Part III of the Bill, tenants will be faced with options which are unfamiliar to them. Some of them are likely to be hindered in taking the best advantage of those options in the absence of reliable and unbiased advice.

Equally landlords, and particularly small landlords who are entering the field for the first time, may find it difficult to judge the market opportunities and understand their legal responsibilities without factual advice. Scottish Homes, as I said at the Second Reading of the Bill, is an organisation which I hope will be a catalyst, will be able to advise on such matters or perhaps more commonly give advice to agencies, including the voluntary sector, which wish to offer advisory or other services. I note that Scottish Homes will also be able to promote publicity in relation to its functions which will inform people who are interested in housing matters.

I believe that the amendment is unnecessary because there is no doubt that the Bill is adequate for the purposes which my noble friend Lord Selkirk wishes to see pursued. The powers already contained in the Bill are very widely drawn. Indeed, to add the words proposed may be interpreted as narrowing the provisions by casting doubt on certain uses of the power not also singled out for explicit reference.

With those assurances I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to seek leave to withdraw his amendment. I come back very strongly to the point that we need— and it is one of the prime duties of Scottish Homes—to recognise that 6 per cent. is a very low figure for the private rented sector and has to be increased by some means or other. It is quite wrong to say that this Government are against renting in any shape or form.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

We are getting near to the end of the proceedings tonight and I do not propose to extend them. However the Minister said that that would be one of the functions of Scottish Homes and that he regarded the words as unnecessary. There is a public relations job to be done by Scottish Homes. It is a new organisation. As the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said, one of the problems in Scottish housing is the conflict between the landlord and tenant and the confrontational atmosphere that arises even when one mentions the words. I should have thought that there was a case to be made for adding the proposed wording. It would not limit or impede Scottish Homes at all but perhaps give it an additional role in the public relations sense and a certain credibility and standing. The organisation has to establish itself.

We talked about the Scottish Development Agency earlier in the discussion. It took some years for that body to establish its credibility. I should have thought that this was an additional function and responsibility which may well enhance Scottish Homes. I am a little disappointed with the Minister, who is a very reasonable chap. He seems to be picking up a brief all the time and rejecting every kind of helpful suggestion. I ask him to think again about this helpful suggestion from the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk.

The Earl of Selkirk

Perhaps I may just put one question. Subsection (2)(e) reads: provide or assist in the provision of advisory or other services". Is that deliberately vague or has the noble Lord some clear picture of what those words mean? As they stand they mean nothing at all. I should have liked them to indicate clearly that an element of human relationship and morale is included in those words.

I ask the Minister to consider very hard whether at the next stage he cannot produce words which indicate the ground which I and other noble Lords have sought to cover. Will he try? The words mean awfully little as they stand at the present time.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Of course I shall take very careful note of what has been said on this point. I am concerned that by writing something in on the lines which the noble Earl has suggested by inference we are ruling out other points and that that may be taken by some to indicate that we are thereby going against the spirit of what is required.

However, I shall look very carefully at those words. I shall look to see whether we need to change or embellish the words under subsection (2)(e) which have been suggested by the noble Earl on the understanding that we are giving Scottish Homes the widest possible powers to promote its activities and indeed to act as a catalyst in the whole area of housing in Scotland.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, mentioned that the Scottish Development Agency had taken time to achieve its very good reputation. I hope very sincerely that the reputation that Scottish Homes will achieve in a very short time will run alongside that of the Scottish Development Agency in relation to the very matters to which the Committee has paid most attention, namely, improving housing in Scotland.

Lord Hughes

The reference which the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, made to the number of functions makes me think of a rather stupid little point and perhaps I may be forgiven for raising it. I noticed in looking through the functions that we proceeded from letter (h) to letter (j) in order, I presume, to avoid a conflict with the Roman numeral (i). Should the same omission not apply to the Roman numeral (v), which appears at the end as the letter (v)?

The Earl of Perth

I know the noble Lord will think about this point. It is perfectly true that the whole includes the part, but in this instance it seems to me that the part is of the greatest significance for the functions of Scottish Homes. Nothing can be more encouraging or more valuable in the aim of providing housing than to know that Scottish Homes will be concerned in particular that there is no abuse of the powers of either the landlord or the tenant. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to find some words which suit our purpose if he does not accept those of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk.

The Earl of Selkirk

I accept readily what my noble friend has said. I hope that he will make the point clear. I have in mind simply that the relationship between landlord and tenant should be personal. If it is personal there should be no difficulty. If the relationship is cold and indifferent then there will be hardship and nasty questions with which the Scottish Office will have to deal in the long run. I beg the noble Lord, in his own interest, to define a little more precisely what he has said. I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 14: Page 3, line 18, at end insert— ("( ) For the purpose of providing public access to Scottish Homes meetings the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 shall apply as if Scottish Homes were specified in the Schedule to that Act and as if this section were contained in an Act in force immediately before the commencement of that Act.").

The noble Lord said: It will probably be helpful if when moving Amendment No. 14 we also discuss Amendment No. 15. As a publicly-funded body, Scottish Homes should make its meetings accessible to the press and public. This is especially important for a quango which is not democratically elected and has no accountability to the public. I wonder how many quangoes there are now. We wanted to get rid of them all.

The noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, spoke very truly about Scottish Homes being a responsible body and therefore I am assuming he will help us in trying to make it responsible to the people by this amendment. At present it seems to be responsible to no one. This new clause would give Scottish Homes, subject to exemptions and confidentiality being imposed on its meetings, the opportunity to give public notice of the time and place of meetings of members' committees or sub-committees; it will permit Scottish Homes to give press and public access to meetings of its committees or sub-committees and give press access to agendas and connected reports.

Certain bodies other than local authorities, for instance health boards, have responsibilities to give the press and public access to their meetings in terms of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960. This amendment would extend those responsibilities to Scottish Homes. These responsibilities are very much fewer than those given to local authorities by the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985.

Amendment No. 15 is slightly different, but I think it reflects the general feeling that the public should be allowed to know what is happening.

As a publicly funded body, Scottish Homes should make all its records and minutes available to the public. The records relating to approved landlords, for instance, would be extremely useful for tenants deciding whether or not to exercise tenants' choice. Scottish Homes may build up quite a dossier on certain landlords, and it would be only right that, before tenants decided whether or not to change the landlord, they should have the right to see the record that certain landlords have.

This clause would also permit Scottish Homes, subject to confidentiality and exemption provisions, to give public access to meetings of Scottish Homes and to agendas and connected reports as well as minutes and other documents prepared after meetings, and background papers. It would give Scottish Homes's members access to documents in the possession or control of Scottish Homes containing material which related to any business to be transacted or proceedings at the meetings of the members of any committee or sub-committee thereof.

This is a responsibility that local authorities have to an even greater extent. These amendments will extend the same responsibilities to Scottish Homes, which has responsibility for a great deal of public money being spent, and responsibility for the contentment of many families in Scotland. It would give these families and others the right to know exactly how Scottish Homes is behaving. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

The Earl of Dundee

Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 seek to make Scottish Homes subject to the terms of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 and to the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985. The main thrust of both these statutes is to allow public access to meetings of certain bodies. Until it was amended by the 1985 Act, the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act in general terms applied only to meetings of committees of local authorities and health boards. Since 1985 it has applied only to health hoards, and its provisions have in the main been superseded by the 1985 Act.

Amendments in almost identical terms to those we are presently discussing were fully debated in another place. However, I am happy to repeat the arguments which led to their rejection.

I regard these amendments as concerning two issues: first, the accountability of Scottish Homes; and, secondly, the provision of information about the work of Scottish Homes. It is entirely right that we should be examining these aspects. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, bore this in mind when he tabled his particular brand of amendments.

However, the Bill already makes substantial provision towards ensuring that Scottish Homes is fully accountable to the Secretary of State, the Comptroller and Auditor-General and Parliament. Clause 11 requires Scottish Homes to keep proper accounts, to submit them to the Secretary of State and thence to the Comptroller and Auditor-General for scrutiny. An annual report is to be laid before Parliament. These provisions are similar to those applying to the housing corporation and to the SDA.

On the question of information about the work of Scottish Homes I do not think that I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that this is best achieved by permitting public access to meetings and minutes of meetings. Bodies such as Scottish Homes take decisions at a variety of levels and what is presented at a board meeting would in many instances not be informative. There are two further important points which I must mention on this issue. The first of these is the question of confidentiality. Indeed, the noble Lord alluded to this. Both the 1960 and 1985 Acts mentioned in these amendments contain provisions which permit the public to be excluded from meetings where specified confidential matters are to be discussed; for example, matters of commercial confidentiality. The very nature of Scottish Homes suggests to me that many such confidential matters would be discussed at meetings and the public would thereby necessarily need to be excluded.

The second point I wish to make is that if these amendments were accepted it could be counterproductive with regard to the dissemination of information. I am sure that Scottish Homes will be an organisation which will work in an open way, but surely it should not be forced to do so by statute.

As I said earlier, the application of the 1960 Act is restricted to health boards and the 1985 Act applies only to local authorities. These Acts are not designed for bodies such as Scottish Homes and do not apply to the Housing Corporation, the SSHA or the SDA as matters now stand. It would not be right to introduce such application to Scottish Homes. In view of these few remarks, I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The Minister will realise that I followed the proceedings in another place and found the replies then not as full as I should have liked. I cannot say that his reply has been any better. Scottish Homes will handle very large sums of government money or, as Ministers continually tell us, taxpayers' money. Taxpayers will not be allowed any observation on how that money will be spent until it appears on the contract. That seems quite inadequate. Merely to have the assurance of the Secretary of State and Parliament that an annual report will be made is not enough for a body as important as this.

The Minister spoke about commercial confidentiality. This is allowed for in what I said moving the amendment. But more so even than in respect of commercial matters, local authorities, in their social work departments—dealing, for instance, with adoption—have to be extremely careful. A code and a method are worked out so that citizens know what is happening but not to whom. I am sure this could be done if there were a will to let us know what this quango will do.

I should like to return to this vitally important matter at a later stage. At this point, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Dissolution of SSHA and transfer of its property, rights, liabilities and obligations to Scottish Homes]:

The Earl of Selkirk moved Amendment No. 16: Page 4, line 28, at end insert ("and Scottish Homes shall be deemed to be infeft in all heritable property.").

The noble Earl said: This is a purely technical point, but nonetheless it is rather important. I propose it on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland. It is also viewed, not unfavourably, I believe, by the Keeper of the Scottish Register, but I cannot speak authoritatively on that.

We pride ourselves in Scotland that for a long time we have had public registration of titles to land and heritable property. I am glad that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Templeman, is introducing this gradually into England. We offer him our warmest congratulations; I believe the proposal was well received in both Houses of Parliament.

If, at any one time, 80,000 houses are registered the problem of infeftment which arises is considerable. It is a burden on the Keeper of the Register which I feel is unreasonable. If he does not maintain the register, what will happen? In the first place nobody would buy a property in Scotland unless it was on the register. That is well established. That means that such property would be difficult to sell under any circumstances.

When the Scottish Register gets under way, the insurance indemnity which the Government offer on this property will be invalid. I therefore suggest that it is of great importance to have a system of infeftment which is valid for the property which will belong to Scottish Homes. It would be foolish to try to by-pass that system. I do not think anybody understands the system of conveyancing in Scotland better than the Law Society of Scotland. I am afraid I must include in this the men in the department who are advising my noble friend. The Law Society knows what it is talking about because this is business it does every day. It is not without complication.

Although the proposal is not by any means perfect—indeed, I am told that the perfect proposal would be to amend the Conveyancing (Scotland) Act 1924—it would be absurd to attempt to do that in a housing Bill. I realise that entirely, but this is a simple method which I think would cover the point. It will reduce the labour of the Keeper of the Register and enable the proper infeftment of property to be done at a reasonably leisurely speed, which would not upset anybody. I beg my noble friend to think very hard about this because I believe it is in the interests of his own staff, for whom he is responsible, indirectly at least.

Lord Morton of Shuna

It gives me great pleasure, as usual, to support the noble Earl and it is an even greater pleasure to think that perhaps we shall be bringing some Scottish words like "infeftment" and "sasines" to the acquaintance of certain of your Lordships. I would strongly support the amendment.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I have listened very carefully to what the noble Earl has said as to the purpose of his amendment. I agree with him that it is necessary for Scottish Homes to complete title to the heritable property which is transferred to it from the Scottish Special Housing Association under Clause 3(1) of the Bill if it wishes to continue the practice of the SSHA of granting feu dispositions to tenants who wish to buy their houses. This is because under Scots law it is only a person who has a completed title to land who can grant a feu disposition of it.

Clause 3(1) of the Bill does not automatically complete the title of Scottish Homes to such property. It only enables it to do so, first, by recording a deed known as a notice of title in the Register of Sasines; or, secondly, by registering its title in the Land Register of Scotland.

As the noble Earl said, these are the only methods at present known under Scots law by which title can be completed to land held under feudal tenure. In technical terms this involves a vassal becoming infeft in the land, which means that he has been given legal possession or saline of it by the superior. Since 1617 this has required and is now constituted by recording his deed in the Register of Sasines or, more recently, by registering his title in the Land Register. As both these registers are public, the principle has evolved that the public are entitled to rely upon those registers to ascertain who owns land in Scotland.

These principles would be breached by the amendment, which merely deems Scottish Homes to be infeft in the property by virtue of the statutory provision and without any deed or title being recorded or registered in the public registers.

I am quite certain that the Committee will agree that we should tread softly in this area and not seek to breach those principles which have lain at the very foundation of Scottish feudal land law for almost four centuries unless there is a real and pressing need to do so and without careful consideration being given to all the consequences of doing so, including the precedent which it would create.

This is particularly so when there are ways available to Scottish Homes which would enable it to complete title to such land without the need for any amendment. It could, for example, record a notice of title either to all the land in the estates still belonging to the SSHA or to each individual house as and when the tenant wishes to buy it. It is said that these ways give rise to administrative difficulties and would be costly. We therefore propose to give urgent consideration to whether the extent of these difficulties would justify a departure from these fundamental principles. We are already in consultation with the Keeper of the Register of Scotland and we hope to discuss the matter with the Law Society of Scotland. If it is considered that an appropriate and limited amendment might be justified, we shall bring one forward for your Lordships' consideration at Report stage.

In the meantime, I would point out that the amendment goes too far, because it would not be known what are the properties in which Scottish Homes is deemed to be infeft. Its effect would be to deem Scottish Homes to be infeft in property in which the SSHA is not infeft and might not even be capable of being infeft, such as where the SSHA only has a leasehold interest in property or where it might only have a right under missives. I hope that in these circumstances the noble Earl will seek leave to withdraw his amendment, and we hope to come back to it at the next stage.

The Earl of Selkirk

I am grateful to the noble Lord. However, I must point out that the Bill has been in production for a long time and that the Law Society has made these representations for a long time. It is a little disappointing to note that the Government have not been a little more on their toes in order to ensure that this matter is correct. To have 80,000 houses infefted is a considerable task and I appreciate that the difficulties may mean a short-circuiting. However, I am grateful for what the noble Lord has said.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clauses 5 to 11 agreed to.

The Earl of Dundee

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes before eleven o'clock.