§ 3.37 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee. —(The Earl of Caithness.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 60 [Housing action trust areas]:
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 116A:
Page 46, line 19, after ("order") insert (", and with the consent of the local housing authority,").
§ The noble Lord said: The Committee now comes to Part III of the Bill which is concerned with housing action trusts. The issue on which the Committee must take a decision first of all concerns the circumstances under which housing action trusts are to be declared.
§ Amendment No 116A provides that the declaration of a housing action trust area should not be made without the consent of a local housing authority. I want in moving this amendment to put to the Minister a very simple question. He has three alternatives. Will he agree to this amendment, which states that the local authority —I think he will admit that the local authority is in greater contact with the people of the area than the Department of the Environment —shall have the right to decide whether an order should be made? Alternatively, will the Minister decide that the tenants themselves should have the opportunity to say whether they wish a housing action trust to be declared? That is provided in the Opposition Amendments Nos. 116AB and 116C. Or will the Minister force a housing action 390 trust down the throats of the people and the authorities concerned? That is the stark choice which faces him. I look forward to his response. I beg to move.
The Earl of Caithness
As the noble Lord knows, I listen to all the arguments before I decide what to do with each amendment. I look forward to discussing Amendment No. 116AB with him in due course.
The amendment we are now discussing is Amendment No. 116A. This would have the effect of introducing an extra requirement for consent by local housing authorities into the procedures laid down in the Bill for the designation of HAT areas. Naturally we hope to proceeed with the co-operation of the local housing authority wherever possible in seeking the designation of a particular area as a housing action trust area.
I fear that at this stage I shall have to use the acronym HAT. I am sure that the Committee will get used to that term by late this evening when we finish. It stands for housing action trust.
Clause 61 already clearly lays a duty on the Secretary of State to consult any local housing authority, any part of whose area is to be included in the designated area, before making a designation order. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has written to the leaders of all the councils in the areas where he is proposing to set up housing action trusts inviting them, with representatives of tenants, to meet Ministers to discuss his proposals. This invitation is the first step towards the formal consultation process required under Clause 61 of the Bill. My right honourable friend is also seeking to appoint consultants to examine the areas proposed for designation and he will consider their reports.
Final decisions on the areas to be designated will then be taken in the light of the consultants' studies and of local views. If we decide to go ahead with individual proposals for HATs, the designation orders will be subject to affirmative resolution proceedings; so there will be an opportunity for these matters to be debated in detail before both Houses.
Obviously we want to take account of local views. But we do not rule out seeking designation even if, when it is consulted, the local housing authority is opposed to the idea. Our primary concern must be to help tenants in areas where they need help. If we conclude that help is needed, we cannot accept that the Secretary of State's decision should be subject to a veto by the local housing authority.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I fear that that is the answer I expected. It is clear that the Government are not prepared to take the step which seems to us to be entirely appropriate and give to the local authority, which is elected by the people in the housing action trust area, the opportunity to make a judgment on whether or not the designation is appropriate. We are forced to consider the second alternative, which is the consultation of tenants. As the noble Earl has said, that is a separate issue. In order to debate that matter without further delay, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdawn.391
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 116AB:
Page 46, line 19, after ("order") insert ("after the conduct of a ballot as specified in section 61(2) below, (and subject to the provisions of that subsection)").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 116AB, perhaps I may also speak to Amendment No. 116C, which is the meat of the argument as we see it. We have established the Government's position. The Government say that they wish to establish housing action trust areas. They are not prepared to consult local authorities in any meaningful way by giving them the opportunity to decide whether that is appropriate. They are not prepared, so far as we can tell from what the Minister said in response to the previous amendment, to provide a meaningful opportunity for tenants in the area concerned to express a view and for their views to be taken into account or followed.
§ I stress that the amendments we are proposing do not prevent the creation of housing action trusts. Indeed, we do not oppose them in principle. When we heard the list which the Minister proposed at Second Reading, we listened with some amazement because some of us know the areas concerned. However, we do not say that it is wrong in principle for central government to step in and help with the most difficult housing situations in our nation. Indeed the whole programme of Estate Action, which has been in existence for some time, is evidence of the value of co-operation between local authorities, local tenants and central government in seeking to solve some of those problems.
§ We are proposing that there should be a proper basis of consent established for taking over any particular estate in order that the long-term policy can be safeguarded. That is entirely in accordance with the Government's own wishes. Mr. William Waldegrave, at the press conference to launch the first housing action trust area, said that they could not work without the hearts and minds of the tenants behind them. That is the principle which we seek to establish in the amendments.
The Government have justified the Bill, if one takes the 1987 Conservative manifesto as evidence, in these terms:
The next Conservative government will give people greater choice and responsibility over their own lives … They would take the decision as tenants rather than having it taken for them".
I believe that that principle has considerable force. It is a lesson to many authoritarian local authorities of both the Left and the Right who have neglected the principle. I applaud what the Conservative Party has said in that respect.
§ And yet, the Bill as we have it before us does not even pay lip service —let alone give any real effect—to that laudable principle. The ultimate choice should lie with tenants when it comes to deciding what will happen to their homes. It cannot be denied that the setting up of a housing action trust is of great significance to the tenants concerned, just as it is to all council tenants. As presently drafted the Bill does not give any choice to tenants in the matter. It says that the local authority must be consulted. That does not mean that its views must be taken into account. The 392 Bill says that tenants have to be informed that their home is to become part of a housing action trust. They are not even given the right to consultation, which is a weak enough proviso as it is.
The Secretary of State has confirmed that view in his letter to prospective tenants in housing action trust areas. The letter, written after the announcement of the proposal on 11th July, states:
I am writing to tell you about our plans and how you can get more information about them … I will consult the Council and I will make sure that you are kept informed".
Therefore, no right to consultation and no ultimate choice lies with tenants when it comes to deciding what is to happen to their homes. That does not give tenants greater choice and responsibility; it takes decisions on their behalf rather than allowing them to take those themselves. It is seeking tenant acquiescence after the event. In other words, the Bill goes directly counter to the manifesto of the Conservative Party in 1987 and to everything that the Government have said in any previous statement about the establishment of housing action trusts.
§ Let us not be in any doubt that the establishment of housing action trusts is of great importance to the tenants concerned. Tenants whose homes are taken over by trusts lose the veto over transfer to another landlord when they leave the trust. They are virtually certain, when they leave the trust, to become assured rather than protected tenants: that is, they become private tenants rather than local authority tenants. They lose the ability to elect and remove their landlords which is provided for in Part IV of the Bill. We shall come to that matter after the Summer Recess. But it is notable that a different regime is proposed for the housing action trust areas than that which is proposed for other public sector tenants in another part of the Bill. They lose the ability to enforce the provisions of the Access to Information Act to find out exactly what a landlord is doing.
§ Tenants will have their scope to transfer to another part of a local authority area heavily restricted. Local authorities have been able to operate transfer schemes which have perhaps not led to the degree of flexibility that noble Lords would wish to see. However, to a considerable extent tenants have been able to transfer from one part of the country to another by mutual agreement when that has been necessary and desirable. Tenants will lose almost entirely the prospect of setting up any tenant management co-operative, which is an increasing feature of local authority housing. They will find themselves with a different person setting their rent and deciding on the quality of management and maintenance and the allocation and letting policy on the estate as well as the scope of matters such as harassment and rent arrears and the approachability and responsiveness of estate staff. Those are all the things that make the quality of life for tenants on estates either bearable or unbearable.
§ In the past, tenants have been able to complain to their landlords. I have served as a local councillor in London. I know that tenants complain forcefully about the quality of management on estates. They have been able to complain to elected members whom they could dismiss at a subsequent local election. It is now proposed that they should lose all of those 393 rights. The housing action trusts will not be responsible in any way to tenants. The trusts will have no democratic responsibilities and their policies and programmes as regards the rents they charge and the degree of security they offer will be totally unknown to tenants. Is it any wonder that those tenants who are aware of these provisions have already registered the most ringing protest against them? I can assure the Committee that the three petitions that have been presented this afternoon are only the first of many petitions which will come from virtually every single estate which has already been nominated as a housing action trust area.
§ On 25th July the tenants of estates in Lambeth—in particular the Angell Town estate—went to see the Secretary of State for the Environment. They asked the question: would the Minister be prepared to have a joint meeting of all the local authorities in whose areas it was proposed to place a housing action trust? The Minister replied that he would be unwilling to do so because he thought that the individual consultation was adequate. They asked secondly: would the Minister be prepared to ballot all the tenants on the proposed housing action trust estates as to whether or not they wanted a HAT? The Minister clearly stated that he would not be prepared to hold a ballot.
§ Finally, they asked whether the Minister would be prepared to take account of the tenants' views at all. The Minister replied that he would be prepared to take into account the views of both tenants' associations and local authorities which wished to improve or alter the HAT scheme. However, the question of whether or not the estate was to have a housing action trust was not negotiable.
§ I put it to the Committee that a housing action trust area—and in this I agree with Mr. Waldegrave —cannot succeed unless the tenants have the opportunity to make a decision at the outset as to whether or not it should take place. That is not just a proposal to meet the requirements of common sense and common justice; it is essential if the HATs are to work. It is common ground that they cannot succeed without the support and co-operation of the tenants.
The Government consultation paper says in paragraph 18:
A HAT will only be able to do its job properly with the involvement and co-operation of the people who live in the area".
How can a housing action trust area start its life in an atmosphere of uncertainty, acrimony and controversy? It is no good saying that tenants will be involved right from the beginning if they are able to say, "We asked if we could have a say in this matter and we were told very clearly that we cannot". How can the Secretary of State place credible appointees on any particular housing action trust if the immediate response they will receive from tenants is to be, "This was imposed upon us; we were not given an opportunity to say what the housing action trust should be and whether we should be included in it, and we were not given an opportunity to have a say in who should be members of the housing action trust"?
§ I think it would be common ground among noble Lords that we want to give someone real power to improve our worst housing conditions. Our worst housing conditions are of course in the private sector but many of the bad housing conditions are in the public sector. If we want to give the Secretary of State that power, then surely we have to be able to say that we know that problems exist but that with the tenants' co-operation and with the co-operation of the local authorities which have been running the estates and know the estates we can see it through together. If the Secretary of State was able to say that it was done with co-operation and with consent and that the people had voted for it together, then I can well imagine how a housing action trust could bring a breath of fresh air into the housing mangement of some of our difficult areas.
§ It is not as though there were not an adequate precedent. The transfer of the former Greater London Council estate at Thamesmead, which had to have a new home when the GLC was abolished, is a very good example. The Government developed the idea of passing the estate to a trust, rather like the housing action trusts. What they did on that occasion was to hold a vote as to whether the tenants and other residents wanted a transfer to a trust. A fair ballot was organised in a way which was acceptable to all sides and the government-supported option won the ballot.
§ What are the Government afraid of here? Why are they denying this ballot? Are they afraid that all of the areas concerned will refuse to be part of a housing action trust? The evidence of Thamesmead shows that that fear is not justified. There may indeed be tenants, as there were at Thamesmead, who want to transfer to a housing action trust and who may be disillusioned by the defects of the housing management of the local authorities. In those circumstances the tenants can say that a vote was held, people supported the trust and therefore they have to live with it for better or for worse. In that way, although one may not get wholehearted co-operation, at least one would get an understanding that it is a worthwhile venture supported by a majority of people.
§ Holding a ballot was a good thing to do. When the Government did it at Thamesmead in 1985 it was the right thing to do. Why should they not agree to it now and why should they not agree to this amendment? It was because a vote was held and tenants were involved from the very beginning that there was the prospect of a housing action trust with some clout, some meaning and some possibility of co-operation from the people concerned.
§ This is a very simple amendment. It says that people should have the right to say what happens in their own homes. That is what the Government say. Now let the Government give some meaning to that statement. Is there anyone in this Chamber who would not be concerned if the Secretary of State suddenly said that he was taking over our homes without consultation and without giving us the right to say anything about it? That is precisely how tenants feel now. The petitions from three areas are evidence of that. I promise the Committee that the 395 feeling is the same all over the proposed housing trust areas. The Secretary of State knows that because he has met some of the tenants. The Committee will know it because the tenants concerned will certainly make it their business to ensure that we know it.
§ It would be very easy for this Chamber to agree to these amendments without in any way damaging the principle of the housing action trusts. That would allay the fears of the tenants and establish housing action trusts in a way in which trust between tenant, government and local authorities actually means something. I beg to move.
§ Lord Somers
I very often agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh has to say. However, on this occasion he referred to the local housing authority as being the elected body. I should like to point out to him that the Secretary of State has also been elected. I doubt whether any high-handed action such as he fears is any worse coming from the Secretary of State than it would be if it came from the local housing authority. Such things can happen, as I well know from local organisations.
Incidentally, what he complains about is already provided for in the next section of the Bill. I can see the force of his argument but I do not believe that the action he proposes is called for in this part of the Bill.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
I very much support the amendment. I should like to remind the noble Lord, Lord Somers, that the Secretary of State lives in Cirencester and not in the next street, which is probably the situation in most areas which have been designated housing action trust areas. Councillors usually live locally and the tenants of those estates are able to see their local representatives. Some may even live in the next street, possibly even next door to them. Tenants can go to the council chamber; they can see the housing officer, their complaints can be dealt with. If their councillors are not satisfactory they can kick them out. I note that the other day the Secretary of State refused to meet a delegation of people from Berkshire who had gone to Cirencester: he sent his agent to see them. They were concerned about a different matter.
I am an avid watcher of gardening programmes on television; my wife is a good gardener. Some noble Lords may have seen a gardening programme the other day about a street in Peckham. It was quite magnificent; all the gardens were so well tended. That could not have come about without co-operation between the occupiers of those houses, whether they were owner-occupiers or tenants, and the local authority. It did not need a housing action area to bring that about.
I admire the work of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Marvels have been done by successive governments who have put money into Northern Ireland's housing situation which has been transformed since responsibility was taken away from the local authorities. It was taken away for very different reasons, about which we all know. Here in London and in other cities, surely before such draconian measures are taken and people are 396 brought in to take over whole housing estates the tenants should not only be informed but won over and certainly given a chance to vote on the matter.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, gave the example of Thamesmead. I cannot understand why the Government are so worried that they might lose out. Surely it is up to the Department of the Environment and its representatives to sell to the tenants the idea that if there is to be a housing action area and £125 million or whatever sum put into such schemes—with improvements being made and architects being brought in to see how the properties can be improved —it is essential to have the goodwill of the local authority for it to have any chance of succeeding. However, when the Government deal with these matters in the arbitrary way in which they have done—and I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, that it is typical of the present Secretary of State —then such schemes are doomed to failure. This amendment is a vote for democracy. I beg the Committee to support it.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
I hate to intrude on an amendment moved by my noble friend and colleague, Lord McIntosh, but I am sure that he will understand. This section of the Bill and the question of HATs was introduced into this Chamber and another place at a very late stage. The Minister will recall that only a couple of weeks ago I questioned him on the procedure that had been adopted in the proposed removal of 450 families in Tower Hamlets in order to make way for a roadway into Canary Wharf. I made the point then to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that when conducting negotiations, finding out the views of the local authority is not necessarily commensurate with finding out the views of the tenants. The noble Lord said that the world was not perfect and he hoped that I would remember that at the Committee stage of the forthcoming Housing Bill. That is the point we have now reached.
I should like to remind him that we are concerned about the tenants and their right to determine their own future. This Government are of a party which continually talks of the individual. Surely people who have entered into a contract with a local authority and who have taken up residence in a local authority property are entitled to cast their votes when changes are proposed.
I should like to draw attention to one matter following discussion with a wide-ranging delegation that a cross-section of noble Lords met at lunchtime. To some of the group who were representing large blocks of flats in the London area —a HATs area —I put the question: what is in fact involved? I was told that there were four blocks which housed 300 family units. When I asked about the object of the exercise and whether it would mean that improvements that were being carried out could be undertaken with the people in situ, they replied that that was not the case and tint it would mean decanting the four blocks of flats.
Fifteen years ago I was chairman of housing in a local authority that started a large-scale modernisation programme on pre-war houses—not 397 flats. Decanting those people from their houses was a task of immense proportions. To return to my essential point, if one says to any London authority, "We shall put a HATs organisation in charge of your area and it means decanting 400,000 families", to where in London will they be decanted? There are no surplus houses available to local authorities in London.
Are the Government accepting that those people can just be decanted and form part of the ever-growing queue of homeless people whose number is rising quite dramatically in London week by week? I do not for one moment believe that this exercise, sprung so late in the Bill, has been even remotely thought through to its ultimate conclusion. There is no—I repeat, no—local authority in the United Kingdom that is also a housing authority, so far as I am aware, which has a surplus of houses to which it could decant people while a HATs organisation is undertaking improvements.
The amendment moved by my noble friend Lord McIntosh represents a minimum demand in asking for tenants to be given the right to determine their future. I do not know whether the question of decanting was covered in another place, but if the Minister thinks that this exercise of HATs can proceed on the basis of not taking into account that very important facet of house improvement, then obviously he has never dealt with housing problems in the past. In my opinion the scheme is doomed to failure when it is introduced over the heads of local authority tenants who overwhelmingly do not want it. I believe the Minister would do well to take very seriously this amendment moved by my noble friend and colleague alongside me on the Front Bench.
§ Lord Moyne
I was inclined to support this amendment. especially in the light of the recent statement by the Minister of Housing about the need to have the support of the people if the schemes are to work. However, when speaking today to a group of council tenants who were bringing the petitions which we know have been handed in, I found that some of them thought that their rents would increase under a Housing Action Trust and that therefore they were opposed to it.
As the true position, I learned, can only be explained individually and thoroughly after the establishment of a Housing Action Trust for an area, I feel that I cannot support the amendment. There is a chicken and egg situation here. Housing action trusts cannot present themselves until they are established. And they cannot be established until they have been agreed by a ballot. It is a difficult situation.
I hope that the noble Earl who is to reply, will give his attention to that aspect of consultation. I hope that he can at least give an assurance that "fair rents" will still apply under a HATs regime. That seems to me to be fundamental. I should wish that HATs would be established first experimentally in areas of the greatest need where local authorities for one reason or another have failed to pull up their socks, but not imposed in areas where local authorities may already be beginning to do so. In fact, if I may make a stupid pun: hats off to high socks.
§ Lord Somers
I am sorry to rise again, but even though a great number of noble Lords on this side of the Committee have said it is true —and I am sure that it is —is this not already provided for in Clause 61(1) in which it is stated:Before making a designation order, the Secretary of State shall consult every local housing authority any part of whose district is to be included in the proposed designated area".
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
The noble Lord makes the mistake of saying "local housing authority". We have tried to differentiate between the local housing authority and the tenants. Our main priority is the tenant, not the local authority. Very often the differences between the tenants and their local authority are quite profound. I submit that that factor is not covered in the Bill.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
I have not been following the Bill, but I have been listening very carefully to this debate. If the Labour Party's point is that it is the tenants who should be consulted and not the local authority, why did the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, move Amendment No. 116A first? If that was their intention, they would not have done so. The Committee might have accepted Amendment No. 116A. The local authority would then have been consulted and not the tenant. We all know what that would have implied.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
Perhaps I may turn to Clause 60 which defines the way in which one has to designate an area. In Clause 60(5)(b), (c) and (d) we see quite clearly the physical considerations: the way in which the local authority manage the housing, and the living conditions of those who live in the area. I do not know very much about London local authorities, or many local authorities, apart from the West Midlands. I know a lot about the Sandwell local authority because it is adjacent to the city of Birmingham. I hope that the Minister knows that part of the Sandwell local authority is in the Black Country re-development scheme. It is an area that has suffered a great deal through the closure of the steel and iron works in the Black Country. However, in spite of that, it has a well run local authority and one that is very well thought of by the residents in that area.
I was in the area about five hours after residents had received a letter from the Secretary of State. Having seen a newsflash on the television and heard it on the radio, and 10 minutes later to have a letter of that description pushed through one's letterbox, was the cause of a great deal of heartache and anxiety. The tenants were so concerned that the next day the Sandwell local authority had to hire a portable mobile office in one of the action areas to cope with literally hundreds of people who were coming to ask what was going to happen to their properties. If that is what the Government mean by consultation, there is no hope in this respect.
Sandwell is a very moderate local authority. All along it has been working with the inner city partnerships, with urban grant aid, and with civil servants. It was using the money that the Government were giving them—because it was a deprived area —usually to the satisfaction of the civil 399 servants. It is an authority which has a large ethnic minority in its midst. It is interesting that of the three local authorities —Leeds, Sunderland and Sandwell—in those areas that have come under the HATs, the leader of the council represents one of the wards inside the HAT. Of course they are all Labour-controlled. I do not draw any strong conclusions from that, although there are some conclusions that one ought to draw.
I have visited Sandwell. I know that it does not come within the category of the "physical state and design" of the dwellings, nor with the definition of the way in which the local authority is managing it. Nor does it come under the definition of the living conditions. I cannot show pictures of the local authority houses very easily but this is the comment about them:Most of the chosen housing action trust areas consist of good quality, well maintained properties which are amongst the most popular in the horough".I do not know whether the Minister can see these pictures. They are housing action areas, with green trees and grass. It is good local authority housing.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Swinfen
Will the noble Baroness give way? I am not sure that she is in order in showing pictures in the Chamber. Perhaps she can leave them in the Library so that we can see them easily.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I am sure that if I ask Sandwell local authority, it will send copies. Perhaps I may send a copy to the noble Lord himself. if I have done wrong in showing the pictures—
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I think that the Minister looked at them with interest. In this action area there is a part II sheltered accommodation for the elderly which contains three well-designed warden service flats. It also has another 94 bungalows for the elderly. In the autumn a hostel is being erected which is funded by MENCAP. Further warden service housing is being carried out by a housing association. It completely refurbished a large block of 90 flats for homeless young people which will have a full-time warden and a closed entry. That is being tenanted at the present moment. The whole of the ground floor is being given over to services for advice which the young people will require.
The development is under the probation service, the social services and the local authority. It would have been finished and fully tenanted at the present time except that the homeless people unfortunately were unable to obtain their grants from the DHSS for essential furnishings. They are homeless. The Government have stopped that grant since April. The furniture that is to be provided now has to be found from another source.
For those Members of the Committee who are interested in the disabled, this hostel for young people who are homeless has a special ramp for those with handicaps. This is a scheme in an area that I know well—Sandwell—which should never have 400 been included. I know that the Minister will say that there is not a variety of mix. However, there is a variety of mix because they are six multi-storey blocks of flats. They are all empty now. It has taken two years for the local authority to rehouse all the. people who were in these flats. At the moment they are on offer to private builders, and the large contractors will demolish them and build houses for sale. One has therefore a complete mix in the area beside the houses that have been sold by the local authority. The only thing that is delaying those blocks of flats is that the Government are not paying out the city action money to the private developer, otherwise those schemes would have been started at least six months ago. It is therefore important for us to ask this question: how did the Secretary of State decide upon these housing action areas? I quote from a letter from the Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council to the Secretary of State:When Housing Act Trusts were first being canvassed, the Council made it quite clear to your Department that they would not welcome the scheme in our area, and they wish to place on record their total opposition to the proposed creation of a Housing Action Trust in Sandwell".Why have they, when the local authority made that quite clear to the Minister in February this year when it was being canvassed, sprung a HAT on Sandwell without any notification? The tenants, the radio and the television had notice of it being declared a HAT area before the local authority received the correspondence.
When the Minister receives the delegations I believe it is important for him to make quite sure that not only the local authority's wishes are taken seriously into consideration —especially as I know the Sandwell area —because the elected council is representing the tenants and the tenants are backing the local authority.
§ Lord Trafford
I am afraid that I cannot follow the noble Baroness with her detailed knowledge of Sandwell, but if she gives her attention to Clause 61 she will discover that a resolution of the House has to be taken on this matter, and that would be the appropriate occasion to hear in detail about the interesting area to which she referred and described verbally. I understand she will leave pictures of that area in the Library and elsewhere.
There is a significant problem which in one way or another we have to face. That is that there are estates and areas dotted about the country in various places, but obviously more concentrated in larger cities than elsewhere, where the housing is definitely substandard and the estate gives the impression of being in great difficulty. Unfortunately, for years this has been under the control of local authorities and nothing much has been done.
It may not be the fault of the local authority. In many areas a great deal has been done, but in others it has not for various reasons. It perhaps has not been able to be done because either they cannot, they will not and have not for one reason or another achieved the objectives of improving the quality of the housing stock. It is monumental in its implications as far as concerns the inner cities. I do not believe that on either side of the Chamber there is any great 401 argument about particular areas. There is a need for action.
We have just heard from the noble Baroness that one area has just been designated where she argues that there is no need for action. This would seem to me to be a case for further argument and possibly for the procedures under Clause 61.
I wish to put one or two points to the noble Lord. Lord McIntosh, who introduced the amendment. If there is this need for action and it has not happened, it is occasionally necessary that governments should step in. Governments are elected; Secretaries of State are elected; the other House is elected. There are resolutions of the House on the HATs proposals before they can come into effect and there is also, under Clause 64, a considerable amount of consultation to be undertaken on the proposal put forward by the HATs, before they take effect or before the Secretary of State can agree.
It seems to me that there are considerable protections. There is also the problem about enough publicity having been carried out. Under both clauses there are certain protections. The noble Lord asks how we would like our homes to be suddenly acquired. Our homes are nowadays suddenly acquired by the use of a somewhat arbitrary power under issues such as CPOs, which we may or may not like. We heard an example of how a road opening programme resulted in a large number of people being moved.
I am not arguing that here we are in the same kind of situation, but there are difficulties that arise in areas where something should be done, has not been done, and ought to be done in the interests of the city. That includes the tenants who live there as well. Something can and should be done. Although the noble Lord, Lord Ross, supported the amendment, he also pointed out that the intervention of central government in Northern Ireland has made a significant difference to the housing situation. I believe that to be true. That is a further example of where such selective interventions can be of great assistance.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made a great deal of this problem of tenants. If one tells tenants in the first place that a HATs proposal will inevitably result in their being rendered either homeless or forced to pay vastly increased rents it is obvious that any tenant would be inclined to vote against such a proposal. I understand that that is part of the argument (I shall not use the term "propaganda") that has been put across. If this was shown not to be true when the HATs proposal comes out or if there were improvements for the tenants in the HATs proposal, many may then say that perhaps they were wrong in trying to oppose the proposals in the first instance. They perhaps should have waited to see what would be achieved because a great many of the people in these places would say the same thing over and over again; that is: "This is not a very nice place to live. I do wish somebody would do something about it". When somebody does, of course, there are inevitably anxieties. Everybody understands that, but perhaps the action that is needed can in this way be achieved.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
May I draw the noble Lord's memory back to the early 1960s? Why does he think that we have all the high rise flats and high density housing that we have in the inner city areas? It was forced upon the local authorities by the Department of the Environment. I remember going to a seminar addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Joseph. It was an RICS seminar in Cambridge at which we were asked to support this very kind of design.
It is not the older type of housing that is now in distress; it is this stuff; and it was put upon the local authorities by this Government. Does the Minister believe now that a government setting up housing action trusts will be any better? I doubt it. All we are asking for in the amendments is that the tenants should at least have the case put to them and explained to them thoroughly and then be given a chance to vote on it. We have been given examples of road schemes and matters such as that. There are planning appeals, appeals to the Minister appeals to this House. They go through infinite matters. One concerning Lyndhurst was thrown out only last week by this House. So people do have their rights. In this case they will have issues imposed upon them with very little chance for them to say anything against it.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Trafford
On the noble Lords' last point, there is an appeal both to the Secretary of State and to this House on the establishment of HATs, as there is on the establishment of the proposal. To take his first point, I believe that there is much in what he said about high rise flats causing many of the problems. I presume that the argument at that time would have gone something like this: "We do not have enough land to invade the green belt and we shall go upwards instead of' outwards". I always felt that that was a daft argument.
I do not believe that any of us is in the business of defending a government of whatever complexion—I believe it was Tory then, though I am not sure —over what happened in 1960. I have never been able to understand why people could not admit that they were wrong, and I believe they were wrong. Local authorities, private landlords, the developers and new towns have all been right and should he congratulated on the outcome—but sometimes they have been wrong. In the example that the noble Lord gave —and as he supports the amendment it would be the example that he gives —I could not agree with him more.
§ Lord Stallard
I support the amendment moved by my noble friend. I am always very interested to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Trafford. We have listened to each other for a number of years now and he always puts some interesting points. When he reads what he has just said and his comparison of a compulsory purchase order with HATs, I think he will find that on reflection it is one of the most interesting ideas yet in the field of housing. I imagine it will create a great deal of interest among those who are about to be involved in these circumstances. The fact that HATs being compared with compulsory purchase orders might raise another few questions.
403 The noble Lord also said that there was a need for action. I could not agree more. The Government have laid great stress on this. Indeed one of the planks of their arguments for all the measures that they are putting through is this question of accountability. We have had that right from the beginning of the Session in one order or another. It was to get rid of the so-called Left-wing councils or the ultra Left-wing councils. Councils had to be made more accountable. They then became the guardians of accountability and had to be accountable to the people. The HATs argument appears to turn that completely on its head.
If one reads some of the representations which were made in the consultative document one can see that all the local authority associations, including the ADC and AMA, had grave doubts about the question of accountability. They said that the HAT procedure would not work because it was not accountable to the local people; that HATs would not be accountable to the electorate in the same way as local authorities. Therefore there was a need for action to provide the resources for local authorities to do what we are saying ought to be done, if it has to be done. The need was to give local authorities adequate resources to do the job which we are discussing and which HATs may conceivably do in some selected areas.
A great deal of scepticism is involved, particularly when one notes that all the activity emerges from the few remarks made by the Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street after the result of the general election when she pledged to obtain the support of the inner cities. She was after the inner cities and she was determined to obtain their support. This links up with that and it is a weapon which the Government intend to use. They will smash any opposition if it gets in the way of' their desire, attempt and need to obtain the support of the inner cities. That is what the Housing Bill is all about and it is what the HATs are all about. They are not about accountability; they are about the opposite. The Government take away the body which is accountable to local authorities. They take away the representatives of local citizens and erect the structure of' HATs which we are now discussing.
In its response to the White Paper and since, the ADC considers that it is vital for HATs to be set up only with the agreement of the local authority. It is with agreement and not merely after consultation. I must confess that when I listen to the Minister and other Members of the Front Bench speaking about consultation I am reminded of my time as a trade union representative many years ago. Joint consultation and consultation always meant, and in many cases still mean—and that is certainly so in this case—that management came forward with a set of proposals. It presented them to the trade union representatives and said, "Take them away and come back when you have them agreed". There was no consultation; they were informed about what was to be done and they opposed the proposals at their peril.
The same has been said in this respect. This is not consultation. My noble friend said that tenants will be told what will happen in their area. They will not 404 be asked whether they think it is right or whether they have any ideas about it. What is being said is, "We are telling you what will happen in your area on the setting up of a HAT". That is not consultation; that is information. We are seeking real consultation.
The noble Lord, Lord Moyne, pointed to some of the tenants' concerns about rents. Of course they are concerned about rents, which will increase. I listened carefully to what my noble friend said. He pointed out that tenants included in the HAT area will have a different person setting their rents. It is obvious that a completely different group will set the rent, decide on the quality of management and the maintenance of the estates. That will be different from the present situation. The allocation and lettings policy on the estate will be different. The quality of policy on harassment and rent arrears will be different, as will the approachability and responsiveness of staff. All those differences must have an effect on rents. When the HAT disappears and the tenants are handed over to a private landlord, they will become assured tenants and their rents will increase in any event. Therefore they are bound to be worried about the effect of the HAT proposal. The tenants will be worried about their rents in the immediate future and for some time beyond that.
§ Lord Moyne
I hope that the Minister will be able to set the noble Lord's mind at rest on these matters. As I understand it, the "fair rent" regime will apply for all time to sitting tenants. However, if I am wrong about that the Minister will correct me.
§ Lord Stallard
It can apply only for a limited time. No doubt we shall have this argument later when dealing with the alleged tenants' choice procedures. The tenants who will live in the area of a HAT will have real fears of becoming assured tenants. When the HAT disappears they will become tenants of other landlords, as I understand the Bill. They will then lose the security of tenancy which they had with the local authority. That automatically means increased rents, and there is no doubt about that. The Minister may say that that is not true and tell me that I am wrong, but I know that I am right. Someone once told me that he had a notice in his office which stated, "I know that I am always right"—
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
If my noble friend will permit me, it is, "I have many faults but being wrong is not one of them".
§ Lord Broxbourne
In this year of the tercentenary, does not the noble Lord recall the Cromwellian injunction to the Rump Parliament? It was:By the bowels of Christ, gentlemen, I beseech ye, conceive it possible ye may be wrong".
§ Lord Stallard
I do not want to go into the tercentenary because we may well have differences of opinion about what we are celebrating and whether we should celebrate the tercentenary from where I stand. I do not want to be drawn into that argument yet. Perhaps one day I may be. I was concerned 405 mainly with the tenants in HATs and with more mundane issues connected with life as it is today.
It is not consultation, but it is information. As regards consultation I should like to refer to Clause 61(2), which provides that:Before making a designation order, the Secretary of State shall take such steps as appear to him best designed to secure that the proposal…is brought to the notice of persons appearing to him to be likely to be affected by the proposal-.I do not know what the Minister has in mind, but I have yet to hear what is meant by "persons likely to be affected".
Everyone talks about local authorities, and that is quite right. Some people mention tenants—we do so —and that is even more right. However, many more people are affected by such a change in any area, as I know from my local authority experience. One must consult local authority employers who have a voice and will be affected. The local enterprise agency, where one exists, will be affected and should be consulted. The health and social services in the area must be consulted, more so because of the care in the community provisions about which we have spoken. They must be a part, and people will certainly be affected.
The police must be consulted because they are affected by every major change in any local authority area. Before making any changes most of us usually consult the police, either personally or in a group. There is no mention that the police will be involved in the consultative process. The statutory undertakers, such as water, are involved in the major changes. One cannot merely say that they are on the edge and nothing to do with the huge chunk of 3,000 or 4,000 houses which it is intended to take over and put into HATs. The voluntary organisations must be consulted because they, probably more than some arms of local authorities, are affected by changes in any district. I should like to hear the Minister say that, if the Government mean all the people who are affected, that is the list and that others can probably be added. I should like him to confirm that all those people are on his list to be consulted and that their opinions will he taken into consideration.
We know what we are talking about: we are talking about rushing through a Bill which will make it easier for the Government to do all kinds of things. However, here we are concerned to improve the Bill rather than merely watch the Minister digging his heels in. We say that the simple housing centred approach—this approach of the Minister and his noble and right honourable friends —based upon changing tenures, which is what this Bill is about, means that regeneration will not happen because the population will simply be moved from one part of the area into another.
I believe that that has been recognised in other areas where experiments like this have taken place based only on housing. The scheme has to be based on much more than that; It has to be based on all the services that I have mentioned. Unless they are consulted and their opinions and views noted in the way in which my noble friend outlined in his opening remarks, I believe that the whole scheme is doomed to failure.
406 I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the amendments as a genuine attempt to improve the situation rather than simply to accept the status quo.
The Earl of Caithness
; We are discussing Amendments Nos. 116AB and 116C but many of my remarks in response to our most useful and interesting debate will cover Amendment No. 117 which I have no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, will move shortly.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, refers to the flowering beauty of North Peckham. Perhaps I may suggest that he pays a visit to the North Peckham and Gloucester Grove estates. Perhaps I may also suggest that he sees for himself the appalling physical and environmental conditions—the rubbish, the graffiti, the empty flats and the boarded-up ground-floor housing where people live terrified behind the boarding because of the high rates of crime and vandalism. That is what HATs are being set up to change.
Perhaps I may draw the Committee's attention to the booklet which my department has issued which is called Housing Action Trusts. It sets out very simply what HATs will be and how they affect those in the locality. I shall deal with some of the specific points in answer to the debate. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that I have listened with great care and interest to the debate, and perhaps with more care and interest than I might have done had I not taken on my new responsibilities. As I shall be taking a more active role in this area, it has been very useful to hear what Members of the Committee have to say.
I well understand the concerns which lie behind these amendments. The introduction of housing action trusts are a new approach to the renovation and improvement of major concentrations of local authority housing. It is inevitable that people feel uncertain and a little confused about what this might mean for them. But I do not think that the way to deal with these concerns is by arranging ballots to decide whether HATs should be designated.
However much information the Government might provide in advance of the establishment of a HAT, the changes of a balanced and informative local campaign taking place are negligible. HATs will not exist and will not therefore show tenants what they could expect, the very point made by my noble friend Lord Moyne. Meanwhile those opposed to HATs will simply play on the concerns of people living in poor housing conditions and frighten them into believing that HATs will make their lives worse. There is plenty of evidence now of misleading information being generated in this way and it simply misrepresents the facts. Some parts of the speeches we have heard this afternoon are misrepresenting the situation and I shall come on in detail to that. Our objective is to set up short-life organisations which can channel resources into an area in a way which will make people's lives much better, not worse.
I therefore think it is more sensible to go through the consultative and parliamentary procedures for which the Bill provides; let tenants see what benefits HATs will bring; and then let them make informed choices about their futures.
407 Let us look at what the Government are doing to achieve these objectives. First, we said that we would ensure that all those likely to be affected by a proposal to set up a HAT would be informed about what this might mean for them. We have fulfilled that commitment. My right honourable friend wrote to every occupier in the six potential HAT areas on 11th July, the date of the announcement about the HAT areas. Attached to that letter was a sheet of paper asking those affected if they would like more information. That was set out in English, Urdu, Gujarati, Vietnamese, Punjabi and Bengali. That is a sign of the effort that we are prepared to make to ensure that everybody understands what we are trying to do.
Secondly, we said that we would consult local councils about our proposals. That commitment is being honoured too. My right honourable friend wrote to the six leaders of the councils concerned on 11th July inviting them, with tenants' representatives, to discuss the HATs' proposals with Ministers. Some of these meetings have already been held; I hope that the remaining ones will be held very soon.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I was interested to hear the Minister give a list of the languages which were made available. How did the people who were distributing them know which language the people would want?
The Earl of Caithness
Because the part to which I referred is all on one page in the six different languages so that only one sheet of paper was needed.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
With due respect to the noble Earl, the copy which I have is the English copy and there is nothing on the back of it in any other language.
§ 4.45 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
I am sorry about that. The last sentence of the letter says:In the meantime, if you would like more information about how Housing Action Trusts will work, please send off the slip enclosed and contact my department's regional office".Attached to that is the further information and in order to understand that, it is set out in the six languages to which I have referred.
Thirdly, we have said that final decisions on the areas to be designated as HATs will be taken in the light of consultants' studies and of local views. This means, as the letters to all local people said, that if we still think later this year that the six authorities named would benefit from a HAT, my right honourable friend will consult them further and make sure that local people know what is entailed. If we then decide to go ahead with the proposed HATs, Parliament will consider them under affirmative resolution order procedures.
This all happens before a HAT can be set up. The noble Lords, Lord Dean of Beswick and Lord Stallard, reminded the Committee of the importance of tenants in this. Once it has been established, there would be tenant representation on HAT boards; there would be tenants' advisory fora to provide a 408 way of channelling local peoples' views to HATs beyond representation on the Boards.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
I thank the Minister for giving way. Is the Minister aware that the tenants' representatives who met the Secretary of State yesterday indicated quite clearly that they wanted nothing whatever to do with the exercise? What is the alternative, if that is the outcome?
The Earl of Caithness
I want to write down exactly what the noble Lord said as I shall return to that matter later.
Full consultation will take place with tenants HATs about their plans for the area. HATs will have to report on this consultation exercise to the Secretary of State. It will be clear to noble Lords that the Government believe that HAT will only be able to do its job properly with the involvement and cooperation of people living in the ara. That is why we have repeatedly said that HATs will put great stress on consulting tenants, asking them for their own ideas and keeping them informed about plans and progress.
But many tenants will say that this is all very well. What they are particularly concerned about is their long-term future when HATs have completed their work and come to dispose of property. And it is right that they should have a clear reassurance about that.
HATs are temporary bodies. Their aim is to give tenants decent housing, good management and maintenance services and more choice. That choice will become a reality when HATs have finished their improvement work. We hope that many tenants will want to buy their own homes but for those who prefer to continue to rent the Bill requires that HATs will only be able to transfer secure tenants and their properties to landlords approved by the Housing Corporation. These might be housing associations, tenants' co-operatives or private sector landlords. In all cases, this will mean transfers can only take place to responsible, financially stable landlords whose interests lie in maintaining stock acquired from HATs for letting at rents affordable by those in low paid employment. The tenants' guarantees we have already discussed in Part 11 will, of course, apply here.
Some tenants may not like any of these options. That was one point where the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, perhaps unintentionally, seemed to indicate that the only choice for tenants after the HAT ceases is to go to a private landlord. What they may really want is to remain as council tenants. I can give the committee an absolute guarantee that that choice will be available to tenants when HATs have finished their improvement work. The Bill requires HATs to give tenants an opportunity to say whether they want to return to the council. If the council is willing, the tenants' wishes will be honoured.
I hope the Committee will agree that this represents an excellent deal for tenants. They will have their housing improved at government expense and a real choice in their futures. The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, was slightly scaremongering, if I may say so, about decanting in London. He spoke about housing to deal with 400,000 families.
The Earl of Caithness
If the noble Lord reads the Official Report he will find that he referred to 400,000 people or families.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
I want to correct that. I am talking about 300 families in four blocks. I want to get the record right.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
The figures I gave were 300 families in four blocks of flats. We should get the record right.
The Earl of Caithness
I am grateful to the noble Lord for clarifying that. We will look at the Official Report and I hereby totally apologise to the noble Lord if I have misheard him at any stage. However, my recollection is that he referred to 400,000 and that is what I have written down in front of me.
The noble Lord is nevertheless right to raise the principle of decanting. However, we are talking about three HATs in London. We are proposing to transfer altogether some 7,000 dwellings in those three HATs. Most importantly, the vacant local authority outstanding stock in the three London authorities, which has been standing empty for more than six months, as at 1st April 1987 stood at 4,000 units. I think that that puts what the noble Lord said —it was a genuine concern—into its proper perspective.
My noble friend Lord Moyne referred to concerns about rents. The truth is that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's letter makes clear to tenants that their rents will not increase before the HATs have carried our improvements. Even after the improvements, their rents would not rise out of line with council rents. Tenants will therefore be in a very much more secure and stable position than my noble friend was led to believe at a meeting earlier today or, indeed, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, raised an important point. Of course, we are at a consultation stage. I will study with interest the information that the noble Baroness has on Sandwell. The consultation process that we are having, and hope to continue not only with the local authorities but, more importantly, also with the tenants will, I hope, solve some of the problems raised.
The noble Lords, Lord McIntosh of Haringey and Lord Dean of Beswick, referred to the recent meeting between the Secretary of State and Lambeth councillors and tenants' representatives. Following my right honourable friend's letter inviting the leader and tenants' representatives to discuss the proposals for a Lambeth HAT with him, a meeting was arranged in the department's offices yesterday morning. The object of the meeting was to explain our proposals and to begin the process of hearing what tenants had to say about them. However, the tenants' representatives were not prepared to have 410 any kind of dialogue. Regrettably, they did not want to know, nor did they seem to care, about whether proposals designed to improve conditions in some very poor parts of Lambeth were worth talking about. Their primary concern was that there should be a ballot. Without that, they wanted nothing further to do with HATs. They therefore walked out of the meeting after 15 minutes.
Discussion is a two-way process. For the Government, that means making our best efforts to explain our proposals and hearing what people have to say before making final decisions. We are committed to doing precisely that. It also means that tenants' representatives must be willing to examine our proposals, to listen to what we have to say about them and pass that information fairly and squarely back to those they represent. If they are not prepared to act in that responsible manner (as the Lambeth tenants' representatives showed they were not) how can the people who live in the poor housing conditions that we want to put right make informed judgments?
The answer is that they cannot. They will be fed more and more misleading information about rents doubling, evictions, yuppies taking over their housing, and so on. In those circumstances, I repeat that the chances of a balanced and informative local campaign taking place before a ballot are nil. We intend to continue with our efforts to explain to the local people what HATs mean for them, but we remain of the view that ballots arc not the way to deal with decisions on whether or not HATs should he established in particular areas.
I was particularly interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, say that he did not object to HATs in principle. Clearly, the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, objected in principle because he saw no need for them. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, said Sandwell was clearly against the principle. The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, was also not convinced that HATs were needed. The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, said that the tenants he had spoken to wanted nothing whatever to do with the exercise. Obviously the information that has been given to some of the tenants is misleading. I have in front of me a leaflet sent out by the Angell Labour Party. Much of that information is misleading. That is the real point of what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh is seeking —not a better deal for the tenants but to prevent having HATs at all.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
Before the noble Earl sits down, can he clarify a point concerning the letter that he has which was sent to the tenants and the letter I have which was sent to the tenants? The letter I have has on the top of it the address,2 Marsham Street, London, July 1988".It has the Department of the Environment stamp and at the bottom of the letter is an illegible signature, but it also has the name of Nicholas Ridley, Secretary of State for the Environment. Is that the same letter as the noble Earl has in front of him?
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
There is nothing in my copy of the letter, which was delivered to all the people in Sandwell, about any other language. I could not raise this matter when the noble Earl replied to me earlier because I had given my copy of the letter to Hansard. There is nothing in the letter about any other language.
The Earl of Caithness
I am concerned to hear what the noble Baroness said. I should like to discuss that with her. Attached to the copy of the letter in my possession is something different.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
The Minister's response has a certain bland plausibility. Unfortunately, it bears very little relationship to the situation as seen by the tenants in these estates. This arises not so much from the distorted publicity which the Minister alleges has come from other groups but from the publicity from which he himself proudly quotes. The noble Earl cannot deny that the Government's case has been put to the tenants because he has himself quoted it.
Only this morning I met tenants from five of the six local authorities concerned. I shall tell the Committee a little of what they said as regards the nature of the designation and what is felt about it. There are 300 dwellings on the Ocean estate, Tower Hamlets, comprising four different blocks. I am told that many of the tenants receive housing benefit. There is one good block upon which a great deal of money has been spent and there are three bad blocks for which the GLC, when it existed, had allocated £14 million for radical improvements to be made. The tenants told me that that proposal was stopped by the Government and that the improvement could have taken place before the GLC was abolished, but for government intervention. They now say that the blocks should be demolished. I should like to see what a housing action trust will do in those circumstances.
The Boundary estate is also in Tower Hamlets and the tenants are ecstatic about their housing. It is one of the earliest LCC estates and it was renovated by that body after the war in such a way that two flats were made into one flat of a decent size. The tenants say that apart from the condition of the brickwork on the outside, which should be cleaned, they love living there and do not want the estate changed. They have central heating and other modern amenities—everything they want. They believe that they are in a housing action trust area because they live right on the edge of the City and within easy walking distance of the City and the Barbican. The tenants believe that the intention is for the estate to be sold off for yuppie housing. The Minister used the words.The tenants believe that is what will happen because they cannot think of any conceivable reason, from the condition of their properties, why they should be included in this scheme.
The Minister quoted north Peckham. There is already joint action between the Department of the Environment and the local Southwark council. There is an estate action programme which has already started work, but in anticipation of the housing 412 action trust proposal the government money for the improvements has been frozen and work is not going ahead. The work that could have been done by agreement between the tenants, the council and central government is no longer taking place. These tenants feel very aggrieved—I am putting it mildly—now that they have learnt that they are to be handed over to a housing action trust instead of having the improvements continued which have already been agreed.
I now deal with Angell town and the Loughborough estates in Lambeth. The noble Earl referred to publicity from the Angell town Labour Party. The tenants of Angell town and Loughborough estates met the Secretary of State yesterday morning. as we were told. The Secretary of State turned his back on the leader of the Lambeth Council, saying "I do not want to hear from you; I only wish to hear from the tenants. The tenants are important". When the tenants asked, as an opening question, whether they were to have any say in being transferred, the Secretary of State brushed them off and he would not listen. He would not have anything to do with them. It was at that stage that they walked out of the meeting because their first question was treated with contempt by the Secretary of State and their elected representative, who was with them and who is, according to the Bill, supposed to be consulted was ignored by the Secretary of State.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
They too have had an estate action programme but it has been frozen because of the proposal for the housing action trust.
As regards the Windmill Lane estate in Sandwell, it has had £2 million spent on it for improvements by the local authority. The sum of £125 million is proposed for the whole programme, which may be in the region of £3,000 to £4,000 for each property. That is what is proposed for the housing action trust area, but that sum will not put some of these estates to rights. The amount of money allocated by local authorities, the Greater London Council, the estate action programme and the various other programmes that exist is far more than this token gesture of central government money which is supposed to make everyone grateful.
In all these matters the Minister is speaking against the facts and against proposals which have already been implemented and which are being frozen because of the housing action trusts. I presented a petition from 4,655 tenants in Sheffield who protest against the Housing Bill. Is the Minister telling me that none of those tenants has read the elegant little leaflet produced by the department and the letter from the Secretary of State? I simply do not believe it. Is the Minister telling me that the department's publicity is so ineffective that it turns everyone in the opposite direction?
The Earl of Caithness
Can the noble Lord clarify that? I thought that when he read out the petition it concerned only the voting structure in Part IV of the Bill
Lord McIntosh of Haringey
It did indeed, and it included tenants from estates which are affected by the housing action trusts. These are people who do not make the distinction between Part IV and Part III of the Bill and I believe they can be excused for that. The truth of the matter is that the Government are determined to go ahead with these housing action trusts regardless of the past history of the estates and of any action which is being taken by local authorities—often in conjunction with central government—to improve these estates. They are doing so for a political reason and in order to diminish and humiliate local government. That is the purpose behind these measures. The amount of money proposed for the housing action trusts is derisory compared with the amount of money provided for housing improvement programmes and which has been taken away from local authorities all over the country and not simply from the six local authorities mentioned.
The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, who was not long in her place, accused me of wanting local authority control. I raised that matter only in order to ask the Minister the question which he has not answered but to which the answer is only too obvious. I asked the Minister whether he was prepared to impose housing action trust areas and to thrust them down the throats of local people regardless of the views of the local authorities and the tenants. The answer is all too clear. That is exactly the intention of the Government. For that reason, and if only for that reason (there are many more that I could give that reflect the views of the tenants in those areas) it is necessary to take the opinion of the Committee.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 116AB) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 102; Not-Contents, 95.414
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Addington, L.||Falkland, V.|
|Airedale, L.||Fisher of Rednal, B.|
|Ardwick, L.||Foot, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Gallacher, L.|
|Banks, L.||Galpern, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Gladwyn, L.|
|Blease, L.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Grey, E.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.|
|Carter, L.||Henderson of Brompton, L|
|Chitnis, L||Henniker, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Hooson, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|David, B.||Hughes, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Hunt, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Ingleby, V.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Jacques, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Jay, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Ennals, L.||Jenkins of Hillhead, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Ezra, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Kagan, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Rathcreecdan, L.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Rea, L|
|Kirkhill, L.||Reilly, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Rochester, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Ross of Newport, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Rugby, L.|
|McGregor of Durris, L.||Russell, E.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L.||Seebohm, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|McNair, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Mayhew, L.||Somers, L.|
|Meston, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Milford, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Molloy, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Monson, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Morton of Shuna, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Mulley, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Nathan, L.||Tordoff, L. [Teller.]|
|Nicol, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Ogmore, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Oram, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Perry of Walton, L.||Whaddon, L|
|Peston, L.||White, B.|
|Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Willis, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Goschen, V.|
|Ampthill, L.||Halsbury, E.|
|Arran, E.||Hesketh, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Hooper, B.|
|Beloff, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Belstead,L.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Joseph, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Layton, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Long, V.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Broxbourne, L.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Butterworth, L.||Marley, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Morris, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Moyne, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Munster, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Coleraine, L.||Newall, L.|
|Colnbrook, L.||O'Brien of Lothbury, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Cox, B.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Craigavon, V.||Pender, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Platt of Writtle, B.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]|
|De Freyne, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Denham, L.[Teller]||Renton, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Dundley, E.||St. Davids, V.|
|Dundee, E.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Sharples, B.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Skelmersdale, L|
|Elles, B.||Strathspey, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Sudeley, L.|
|Elton, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Erroll of Hale, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Fisher, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Trafford, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Gainford, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Wise, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Yarborough, E.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.415
§ 5.15 p.m.
Lord Dean of Beswick moved Amendment No. 116B:
Page 46, line 22, at end insert—
("(1A) The functions referred to in subsection (1) above shall include functions with respect to the housing of homeless people as specified in sections 65(2A) and 65(2B) below").
§ The noble Lord said: May I commence by offering an apology to the Minister. I understand that by a slip of the tongue during the debate on the last amendment I used the word "thousands". I unreservedly withdraw what I said. It was a complete slip of the tongue. If there has been any offence caused I naturally withdraw the word because that was the least of my intentions towards the Minister.
§ While one could talk for a long time on this amendment it is not the time of the year, nor I think within the mood of the Committee, to spend a particularly long time on it. The purpose of the amendment is to indicate that housing action trusts will take their share of responsibility regarding the question of homelessness in local authority areas where they are being formed by the Secretary of State.
§ Housing action trusts are obviously being formed in the main pressure areas, although I can think of some worse areas which have not been selected. I think it is fair to say that in some cases there are parts of the same local authority area where homelessness is perhaps the most profound problem. When the housing action trust is formed it is only fair to ask that it takes its fair share, and in conjunction with the local authority in whose area it is, accepts its responsibility on an agreed basis for a proportion of the homeless registered there. I beg to move.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
I support the amendment as the progenitor in the other place of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act as it now is. If housing action trusts do not accept their share of responsibility for housing homeless people, then that Act will be in even more disarray than it is already. As has been repeated many times in this House there are now over 100,000 homeless people in London alone, and the numbers are growing. The amendment would create a legal right for local authorities to nominate new tenants to vacancies occurring in property they formerly owned which has been taken over by a housing action trust.
I congratulate the Minister on his increased role, although I am sorry to hear that he has not received an increase in salary. I hope that the Minister will take this on board, and that he will be able to give us an assurance. If we are to have housing action trusts—and let me make this clear because of a slight misquotation —and if there is no co-operation from local authorities and the situation has become disastrous, I accept that there are some areas in the country where the Government may have to intercede. However, I think that every effort should be made first to bring the tenants onside. I fully support the amendment that has just been carried: they should at least be given the chance to vote and have the case put properly to them. There are certain rundown areas in this country, and if some local 416 authorities are so bloody-minded that they are not prepared to co-operate, then I accept that in that situation the Government have a right to intercede. I just want to put that on record, if I may.
I hope at the same time that we shall get this point over about the homeless. We are now down to a derisory 20,000-plus starts of local authority housing in housing associations. One looks forward to an increasing role for them in the future, but we have the third lowest number of starts in housing associations since 1974; it is only the late 20,000s. There is an awful lot to he done. If we are serious about trying to tackle homelessness, everybody must accept their fair share. That is why I support this amendment.
The Earl of Caithness
I have listened with care to what the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, and the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, have said about how HATs should work alongside local authorities in helping to deal with the homeless. A very similar debate took place in another place where we responded to Opposition concerns by bringing forward Clause 70. Amendments Nos. 116B and 121A now seek to impose a further statutory requirement on HATs which we do not believe to be necessary
. The key contribution that we can make to alleviate homelessness with HATs in Part III of this Bill will be to bring back into use stock which is lying void at present. As the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, intimated, perhaps we would intervene if local authorities are too bloody-minded. On several of the estates where the Secretary of State may decide to seek parliamentary approval to designate HAT areas, there are a large number of empty properties.
Local authorities will retain their overall responsibilities under Part III of the 1985 Act towards homeless people. In most cases HATs will be taking over a comparatively small proportion of a local authority's stock. However, because they will become landlords of stock, HATs should be well placed to help local authorities to find accommodation for the homeless.
Under Clause 70, we have imposed a duty on HATs which is exactly the same as that which applies under Section 72 of the 1985 Act to local housing authorities, new town corporations, the Commission for the New Towns, registered housing associations and the Scottish Special Housing Association. This is a duty which requires that where a local housing authority requests assistance in the discharge of various of its functions under Part III of the 1985 Act, the other bodies specified in Section 72 are required to co-operate in rendering such assistance in the discharge of these functions as is reasonable in the circumstances.
We know that it is common for local authorities to agree nomination arrangements with, for example, housing associations —even where the authorities are not directly involved in grant-aiding schemes funded by Housing Association grant—without any further specific statutory requirement beyond Section 72. We see no reason why there should not be a similar cooperation between HATs and local authorities, with Clause 70 as the back-up.
417 However, there are further safeguards. First, we shall make clear to HATs in the management guidance which the Secretary of State will issue to them, and which will be published, that they will be expected to enter into agreement with local authorities —possibly by means of formal contracts —giving local authorities access to stock held by HATs. Secondly, the Secretary of State could use his direction-making power if he considered that HATs were not co-operating with local authorities sensibly. Against this background I believe that the Government's response to the concerns of the Opposition is helpful and reasonable.
Perhaps I may take this opportunity to respond to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal. During the vote on the last amendment, I checked with the officials that the piece of paper to which I referred was sent out with letters. That is confirmed by a number of points that have been raised on the form that I mentioned. The West Midlands regional office has received the tear-off slips attached to the Secretary of State's letters requesting leaflets in Bengali, Urdu and Punjabi. This proves that the attachment was enclosed with the letter sent to the Sandwell residents.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I entirely accept what the Minister has said. There is a note at the bottom of the Secretary of State's letter which tells them where to apply for further information. The letter is not, as the noble Earl said, distributed in the various languages. The letter says at the bottom that if you want further information, you should write to the address given. They then send you the little leaflet. I wrote myself and said that I wanted the leaflet, which they sent me. However, that is not distributed unless it is asked for. The letter that the occupier has is only in English. It says in the Notes on Clauses that the Secretary of State will, as a first step, send "Dear Occupier" letters to all those living in the area. This letter offers a leaflet explaining the proposals, which will be in the five languages.
The Earl of Caithness
I am glad that the noble Baroness received the letter. There was nothing between us. I never said that the letter was in any language other than English. I was referring to the form attached to it.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
I appreciate the very detailed reply that the Minister has given on the basis that he thinks that the Government have gone far enough. I and my colleagues on this side of the Chamber do not think that he has gone far enough. The Minister seemed to be making great play of the fact that there was a reservoir of empty houses in the local authority pools in the area that could cater for homeless people. If those houses are unlettable now, I do not see why people who have had the misfortune to be made homeless should be expected to populate these houses without improvements taking place. On that basis, I think I ought to test the opinion of the Committee.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 116B) shall be agreed to?418
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 85; Not-Contents, 95.419
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Addington, L.||Kagan, L.|
|Airedale, L||Kennet, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Blackstone, B.||Kirkhill, L|
|Blease, L||Listowel, E.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Longford, E.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Carter, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||McNair, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Meston, L.|
|David, B.||Milford, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Morton of Shuna, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Ogmore, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Peston, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Pitt of Flampstead, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Gallacher, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Rea, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Ross of Newport, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Grey, E.||Russell, E.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Henniker, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Tordoff, L. [Teller.]|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Ingleby, V.||Whaddon, L.|
|Jacques, L||White, B.|
|Jay, L.||Willis, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Davidson, V. [Teller.]|
|Arran, E.||De Freyne, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Dilhorne, V.|
|Beloff, L.||Dudley, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Dundee, E.|
|Blyth, L.||Eden of Winton, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Elles, B.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L||Elliott of Morpeth, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Elton, L.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Erne, E.|
|Butterworth, L.||Erroll of Hale, L|
|Caithness, E.||Fisher, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Fortescue, E.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Gisborough, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Goschen, V.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Greenway, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Halsbury, E.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Hesketh, L.|
|Cox, B.||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Hooper, B.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Joseph, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Layton, L.||Renton, L.|
|Long, V.||Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Marley, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Merrivale, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Strathspey, L.|
|Morris, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Moyne, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Munster, E.||Teviot, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Nelson, E.||Torrington, V.|
|Newall, L.||Trafford, L.|
|O'Brien of Lothbury, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Orkney, E.||Westbury, L.|
|Orr-Ewing, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Oxfuird, V.||Wise, L.|
|Pender, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Platt of Writtle, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Clause 60, as amended agreed to
§ Clause 61 [Consultation and publicity]:
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 116C:
Page 47, line 10, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
("(2) The Secretary of State shall, in each estate in any area in respect of which he proposes to make a designation order, make arrangements for the conduct of a ballot of tenants in the estate, and no order may be made under section 60(1) above in respect of that estate unless a majority of tenants eligible to vote have approved the proposal.
(2A) For the purposes of subsection (2) above, the Secretary of State may make regulations to provide for the definition of `tenant' ").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 117 not moved.]
§ Clause 61, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 62 agreed to.
§ Schedule 7 [Housing action trusts: constitution]:
Lord Stallard moved Amendment No. 118:
Page 117, line 41, leave out from beginning to ("shall") in line 44 and insert ("The majority of members of a trust shall be persons who live in the designated area and before appointing any such person as a member the Secretary of State").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to amend Schedule 7 to ensure that local residents form the majority of the board members of a housing action trust appointed by the Secretary of State. When the first draft of the Bill was introduced, the Secretary of State was required to have regard in making such appointments to the desirability of appointing people with special knowledge of the HAT area. However, in the Standing Committee in another place, and following many respresentations from people outside Parliament, the Government responded by amending the constitution on Report in another place by adding the current requirement about the desirability of appointing people who live in a designated HAT area as well as those with special knowledge of it.420
§ At that point the Minister also agreed to consult local authorities about board appointments and announced that the Government intended to ask HATs to organise consultation with local people by creating a non-statutory tenants' advisory forum to provide a focus for generating tenants' views beyond representation on the HATs boards, and to make other consultative arrangements.
§ As I said before, the whole issue of local control, or tenants' control, is a crucial one because the Government's main attempt to sell the Housing Bill, especially this part of it, relies on a set of measures to encourage and promote tenants' choice. In my view many aspects of the HAT proposals are inconsistent with that approach, especially the lack of a tenants' veto on the establishment of a trust in the first place and the lack of a guaranteed voice for tenants on the hoard which this amendment seeks to redress.
§ The proposals also run counter to recent thinking on tenant involvement and participation in the estates which the Deparment of the Environment and most local authorites promote. Decisions made by HATs will have a major impact on residents' lives. They will manage rented property on a day-to-day basis; they will plan and implement improvement work and undertake repairs; they will fix rents and effectively decide on the future ownership of the property and deal with a whole list of other matters which I have already mentioned. In effect they replace local elected councillors to whom residents can now complain. Do the Government really expect us to believe that that is what they are now saying, after what they have been saying in parts of recent legislation? Are they prepared to defend the lack of representation, the lack of local democracy or accountability in the running of these HATs?
§ Having said that, the concessions that the Government made are most welcome. The Government clearly recognise that this is an important issue. They have publicly stressed the desirability of securing the services on HAT boards of people who know the areas in question. However, the concessions do not meet the basic concern that HATs should be run by, and for, local people. They allow the Minister to appoint one or two local people, but leave the control of the organisation in the hands of specialists or local dignitaries who will undoubtedly favour the Government's line. I should like to ask the Government what effective power a minority of local tenants will have as part of an 11-member board, the majority of whom are likely to be, in the Minister's words, people with management skills, housing expertise and experience.
§ The amendment is a compromise. We seek to compromise because the Minister has suggested that a majority of local residents on the board would be too restrictive. He also said that HATs will be under pressure to succeed in the shortest possible time and that the Secretary of State will need to find the best people with the most relevant expertise. However, this amendment recognises his concern by proposing that only the majority, not necessarily all members of the board, should be local residents. This leaves scope for the appointment of specialists if they are necessary, although it is difficult to believe that 421 outsiders know better than local residents about the needs and long-term development of their area.
§ The board will, after all, appoint the officers with the necessary skills and experience to run the area under its guidance. The lack of majority resident representation will undermine the credibility of HATs even before they are formally created. Local people will naturally be more suspicious of the proposal if their representatives are not to be given a guaranteed voice. A board which comprises people who share little of the day-to-day experience of living in the area is unlikely to command respect, and establishing the right structures at the start is again important if good relations are to be developed with the community in the future.
§ As a non-statutory advisory body the forum that has been suggested by the Minister will have no power to overturn HAT decisions. It will have no access to written information and it will have no guarantee of having its questions answered. We do not have that kind of guarantee even in this Chamber. Such a forum cannot be seen as a realistic alternative to proper tenant representation. The only way to ensure that proper representation is available is by accepting this amendment. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I should like to expand on one or two of the points made by my noble friend Lord Stallard. Schedule 7 outlines the constitution of the housing action trusts. These will be like mini local authorities but without democracy built into them. They will have a chairman and a deputy chairman and those who serve on them will be paid. They will be almost like new town development corporations. They will be able to act without consulting the tenants, as the constitution of the trusts does not say that they must consult.
In the past, groups of tenants who had complaints or worries had direct contact with their local representatives. Local tenants' associations are quite common on local authority housing estates. They have been trying to set up tenants' co-operatives in an effort to keep some local control. They want to ensure that their voice will be heard as representative bodies of tenants. It is important that the tenants should be able to advise the trusts on the pitfalls that may arise. Some tenants will be on lower incomes, which sometimes leads to difficulties on how one arranges the buildings. It is sometimes difficult for people who live in small properties to understand how the people who live in larger properties work out the designs. It is therefore important to have a relationship between the tenants and the trust.
This amendment seeks a partnership. One can only solve the problems of the tenants in the community itself. This means talking to tenants who know the social reasons why changes should take place and who understand the physical designs of the area in which they live. It is the tenants who will recreate in the housing action areas the community spirit, which I think even the noble Lord will agree is an important factor.
We do not seek total tenants' control of the housing action trusts. We realise that the trusts must have competent officers, although I am not so sure 422 that one always needs high-powered business tycoons. I should like to feel that the Secretary of State will cast his net a little further than he normally does and will recognise, as the Housing Corporation recognises, that there is a need for equality. Equality in a trust of this description would encompass the Race Relations Act and equal opportunities for women.
§ Lord Somers
I should like to support the amendment. I do so perhaps for a very personal reason and therefore I shall declare an interest. I happen to live in a part of Epsom where an opportunist builder has put forward plans to build very near to where I live. It will change the whole nature of that part of Epsom. It seems to me that the people who should be consulted are the people who live in the area and who will be affected by any change. The efforts to have our case considered by the local council have, I regret to say, been met with a very half-hearted response. Something of this kind would be very opportune, and I shall therefore support the amendment.
§ Lord Hesketh
In seeking to provide that the majority of members of HATs' boards must be residents, Amendment No. 118 is too restrictive. HATs will be temporary bodies charged with carrying out difficult tasks in a short space of time. The Secretary of State must he able to appoint to the board the best people he can find.
We intend that there should be tenant representation on HAT boards. Indeed my right honourable friend brought forward an amendment at Report stage in another place laying a requirement on the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of securing the services of people who live in the housing action trust area as well as those who have a special knowledge of it. However, we cannot require the Secretary of State to appoint in every case a majority of residents. Other qualities such as management skills and housing expertise will be relevant.
Moreover, there will be other ways in which residents will be involved in HATs. For example, we intend to ask HATs to create, in consultation with local people, non-statutory tenants' advisory fora. This will provide a focus for channelling tenants' views beyond representation on the HAT board and beyond other consultative arrangements. The forum would have a remit to advise the board on any issue of concern to tenants. We also hope that some tenants will take over the running of their property through the establishment of tenant co-operatives. HATs will of course be under a statutory duty to consult local people about their proposals for the area.
The variety of arrangements I have described demonstrates our genuine commitment to involving tenants fully in the running of HATs. I hope therefore that noble Lords will agree to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I wonder whether the noble Lord's speech was written before the Committee took the decision to ensure that there 423 should be a ballot of tenants before a HAT was established. The brief that the noble Lord has read is surely quite irrelevant. Now that the Committee has decided that we shall have a ballot of residents before a HAT is declared, it is surely entirely appropriate that the majority opinion should be given effect by the tenants taking an active and effective part in the administration of the housing action trust.
§ Lord Hesketh
The point which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, makes is, I believe, not in any way relevant, for a very simple reason. In the light of the decision taken earlier by the Committee, a ballot would take place on the basis of what will be in existence at that time. As a result, what I have just said is relevant, whether it was written before or after the decision. There is no point in the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, shaking his head; it is a fact. This will be part of the decision-making process. People will look at it and decide whether they like it or not in the light of the previous decision.
§ Lord Stallard
I shall not come between the two Front Bench spokesmen, except to say that I support my noble friend. He said exactly what I would have suggested in reply to the noble Lord's original remarks.
The noble Lord says that the amendment is too restrictive. I should think that exactly the opposite is the truth. What we are trying to do is broaden the activity, to take it away from the so-called specialist. We have had a surfeit of specialists in local authority areas; we dread specialists coming into any local authority area with their specialist knowledge. That is why we have these awful estates with their hidey-holes, cubby-holes and alleyways built for criminals and crooks, and designed to harbour all sorts of people—because specialists were responsible. We need people who understand the area, the needs, what ordinary people want and what would suit them. That is what we are trying to do—to broaden it to include those kinds of people, in order to make their voice a majority voice. Then the specialist can advise them.
Of course, there are officers on HATs. The noble Lord mentioned the forum. I dealt with that. The forum will not have any statutory powers. It cannot overturn any HAT decisions. It will not be directly involved or have access to the paperwork. It is a non-event, paying lip service to local representation. I am not satisfied with the replies which I have received and I think the only thing left for me is to test the opinion of the Committee.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 118) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 80; Not-Contents, 85.425
|DIVISION NO. 3|
|Airedale, L.||Barnett, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Blackstone, B.|
|Aylestone, L.||Boston of Faversham, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Longford, E.|
|Carter, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||McNair, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Meston, L.|
|David, B.||Monson, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Morton of Shuna, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Ennals, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Peston, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B. [Teller.]||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Foot, L.||Rea, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Ross of Newport, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Russell, E.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Seebohm, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Grey, E.||Somers, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Stallard, L. [Teller.]|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Ingleby, V.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Jay, L.||White, B.|
|Jeger, B.||Willis, L.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Henderson of Brompton, L.|
|Arran, E.||Hesketh, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Hooper, B.|
|Borthwick, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Joseph, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Layton, L.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Long, V.|
|Caithness, E.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Marley, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Coleraine, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Morris, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Cox, B.||Munster, E.|
|Craigavon, V.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Newall, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller]||Orkney, E.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Dundee, E.||Pender, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Platt of Writtle, B.|
|Elles, B.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Renton, L.|
|Elton, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Erne, E.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Fisher, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Fortescue, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Torrington, V.|
|Greenway, L.||Trafford, L.|
|Trumpington, B.||Wise, L.|
|Westbury, L.||Yarborough, E.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Viscount Ingleby moved Amendment No. 119:
Page 117, line 45, at end insert—
("() The Secretary of State shall ensure that at least one member of the trust has experience of the special needs of chronically sick or disabled persons and shall have regard to the desirability of the person or persons with that experience being or including a disabled person or persons.").
§ The noble Viscount said: I beg to move Amendment No. 119 and, with the leave of the Committee, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 120 and 121 at the same time.
Logically, Amendment No. 121 comes first. That amendment puts a duty on a housing action trust and states that it shall:
have regard to the special needs of chronically sick or disabled persons and shall ensure that its activities do not discriminate against such persons.".
§ The first part of the amendment is taken from Section 3 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. That section places a similar duty on local authorities. As housing action trusts will have greater powers than local authorities, it is even more important that they should have regard to the needs of the chronically sick and disabled, particularly because there is a great shortage of suitable accommodation for such people. Therefore, it is important that housing action trusts should not discriminate against the chronically sick and disabled by failing to provide accommodation for them. As regards cost, I wonder whether some of the vast sums arising from the sale of council houses, which local authorities are not allowed to use, could not be allowed to be spent for this particular purpose.
I turn to Amendment No. 119 which provides:
that at least one member of the trust has experience of the special needs of chronically sick or disabled persons and shall have regard to the desirability of the person or persons with that experience being or including a disabled person or persons.".
§ It is very difficult for an able bodied person to understand the problems that a disabled person has to face. It was for that reason that in the International Year for the Disabled I asked the Government whether they would encourage all Ministers to spend one day in a wheelchair. There was not a very great response to that suggestion. As far as I know only one Minister, the then Minister of State for Social Security and the Disabled, Sir Hugh Rossi, accepted my invitation. I only mention that because I think it is difficult for people to know just what the problems of a disabled person are unless they are disabled or have worked closely with disabled people.
I now turn to Amendment No. 120. This amendment requires a housing action trust in its annual report to include a statement of what it has done:
to improve the living conditions of chronically sick or disabled persons within its area
The housing action trust must also state in its annual report:
its policy in relation to the employment of such persons.".
§ This would give an opportunity for a housing action trust to say what it has been able to do to improve the housing conditions of disabled people. I think that that would be a valuable consequence if the first amendment I mentioned were accepted. I beg to move Amendment No. 119.
§ Lord Carter
I was very pleased to put my name to this group of amendments. As the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, has said, they are intended to ensure that the special housing needs of the chronically sick and disabled are properly looked after by housing action trusts. HATs are being given wide powers to improve the housing and social conditions in their areas. They will fail if they do not succeed in doing that. As the noble Viscount said, Amendments Nos. 119 and 121 concern respectively the appointment of a disabled member to a housing action trust and the need for a housing action trust to look after the needs of the chronically sick and disabled. Those amendments have exactly the same wording as the relevant sections in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.
The amendments repeat the wording of the duty as regards special housing need which was placed on local authorities by the 1970 Act. We cannot imagine that the Government intend to place any lesser duty on HATs, which will exercise most of the functions of a housing authority and the planning control and public health functions of a local authority.
Amendment No. 119 will ensure that each housing action trust will include one member with knowledge of special housing needs. Preferably that person will have such knowledge through being a disabled person. On the subject of membership of housing action trusts, it would be relevant, although we do not have an amendment down about it, to refer to Schedule 7, page 118, line 17. That concerns the disqualification of members of housing action trusts. It includes the words:incapacitated by physical or mental illness".The same words occur in Schedule 5—the Housing for Wales schedule. We feel that that is careless and offensive wording. Perhaps the parliamentary draftsmen have a standard form of words for which they reach when they are drafting these schedules. We put down amendments on the Education Reform Bill to remove those words from the schedules to that Bill. The Government accepted those amendments. When the Minister replies to the amendment, I hope that he can tell us that the Government will do the same thing on Report to the schedules in this Bill.
§ Lord Carter
Amendment No. 121 states that HATs must have regard to special housing need. We believe that it is extremely important that that is stated on the face of the Bill so that representations can be made and HATs can be kept up to the mark as regards special housing need.
427 Amendment No. 120 ensures that a HAT's annual report, as required by Schedule 8, will include a statement of its action —that is the things actually done:to improve the living conditions of chronically sick or disabled persons within its area".That report must also state the policy of the housing action trust as regards the employment of disabled people.
All these amendments have the common theme of a duty not to discriminate against people with disabilities and to adopt a positive policy regarding access for the disabled, the conversion of buildings and the consideration of proper adaptations to that end.
On the question of access for disabled people, I shall give an example of the practical problems that they face. I was recently involved in arranging access for wheelchairs to a building. The Committee may know that the maximum height that a lip may be and still allow access for a wheelchair is a quarter of an inch. I discovered that the builder had left a quarter of an inch lip at one end of the building and a lip of three inches at the other. I telephoned the local authority. Staff of the local authority arrived extremely quickly in order to put the matter right. As a result the building was left with a standard lip of three inches all the way round. Consequently wheelchairs could not get in at all. That is an example of a failure to understand the problems of people in wheelchairs which was referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby.
I shall give an indication of the size of the problem. In the late 1970s the Department of the Environment estimated that at that time 61,420 homes needed to be adapted for wheelchairs. It further estimated that 460,650 homes needed to be adapted to make them suitable for people with other disabilities. Since the time that that estimate was issued, only 8,519 homes have been adapted for wheelchairs and 44,125 homes have been adapted for people with other mobility problems. Those adaptations were carried out by local authorities and housing associations. That means that only 14 per cent. of the homes that needed to be adapted for wheelchairs, as stated by the Department of the Environment, were adapted. Only 10 per cent. of the estimated number of homes that needed to be adapted for people with other mobility problems were adapted.
The excellent study by Shelter called Freedom to Lose, from which those figures were taken, also reveals that homelessness has risen much faster among the disabled than in the general population. This means that the special housing needs of people with disabilities are not being met. The amendments are designed to ensure that the housing action trusts take those needs fully into account.
§ Lord Swinfen
I support the group of amendments. I had intended to put my name to them but I was too slow. The most important amendment of the group is Amendment No. 121. That amendment would ensure that housing action trusts keep constantly in mind the work they are doing as regards people with 428 disabilities. We must remember that an increasing number of people in this country have disabilities. Medical science is improving all the time. People with disabilities who would have died in the past are now living. They need help and proper housing. The disabled include people who have suffered accidents, people who have had illnesses and children born with congenital disabilities who, some years ago, would have died in infancy or childhood. Many of those children are now living to become adults and to marry and move into their own housing units.
I can see no reason for my noble friend not to accept Amendment No. 121, and there are definite advantages to the other amendments. Amendment No. 119 provides for a representative on the trust who has experience of disability—not necessarily someone who is disabled, but someone who has experience in the way disabled people get around and the kind of equipment they need.
Amendment No. 120 would produce an annual reminder to housing action trusts of their responsibilities to physically and mentally disabled people. I consider that to be a fallback position. I would rather see a provision which made such considerations a general duty to be borne in mind on a daily basis. My noble friend Lord Hesketh, replying to Amendment No. 118, gave the impression that the housing action trust boards would be temporary and that the housing action trusts would be in place for a short time and disappear when they had done their job. It is therefore essential to agree Amendment No. 121 or a similar amendment. Once a HAT has gone, it is too late. The time for the provision is while the work is being done. The needs of disabled people must be borne in mind.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
I warmly welcome the idea of HATs. As we all know from visits to various cities, there are far too many rundown areas which need to be made habitable. They are an eyesore, often unhygienic and dirty, and lead to unhappiness. I ask my noble friend to take note of what those of us who have knowledge of people with disabilities have to say about the amendments.
Perhaps I may menton a recent experience. I was asked to put up two people for two days and nights in connection with a family wedding. They are psychiatrists who are highly thought of. Both said when they left that if they had had any idea of the problems that disabled people have in looking after themselves, their homes and other people, they would have treated disabled people in a different way. They thanked me for giving them hospitality and also because they had learned so much from what I had managed to do for them. I support the amendments and I hope that the Secretary of State, although he does not like representatives on any trust, will take note of the fact that disabled people need special representation in such cases.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
I also support the amendments. My experience is not as great as that of noble Lords who have already spoken. However, I have had the experience of starting a day centre for the disabled in my home town and also a college for 429 handicapped people in Birmingham. They have been a tremendous success. There should be a mixture of handicapped and non-handicapped people running organisations and serving on boards. As my noble friend Lady Macleod has said, many people do not understand how difficult life can be for the disabled. Anything which brings the disabled into the general community is to be welcomed. I hope that the Government will accept the amendments.
§ Lord Fraser of Kilmorack
I support the amendments strongly. I declare an interest as a trustee of Queen Elizabeth's Foundation for the Disabled Development Trust. I have not been a trustee for very long and my knowledge is only recently acquired. However, as a result of that experience I have a reasonable amount of knowledge of the subject. I therefore strongly support the amendments.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
I support the amendments which offer very necessary protection for people with disabilities in view of the wide-ranging powers which HATs will have. The practical problems have been discussed; therefore, I shall ask only two questions. First, as regards Amendment No. 119, which I strongly support, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on finding a reference relating to the removal of a board member on grounds of incapacitation by reason of physical or mental illness. As the noble Lord said, we removed four such references from the Education Reform Bill, two of which were discovered by the Government. Perhaps we can track down the source of that objectionable and confusing wording. is it in an earlier Act? Can it be found and eradicated at source so that we shall not have to keep on deleting it every time it crops up in a new Bill?
My second question relates mainly to Amendment No. 121. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has said, it is the most important amendment in the group. It seeks to protect disabled people not only by accentuating the positive but also by eliminating the negative aspect. That is sadly necessary in the absence of anti-discriminatory legislation. If the Government cannot respond positively to the amendments by accepting them or by coming back at Report stage with an amendment which meets our points, will the Minister say what safeguards are contained in the Bill to protect disabled people in relation to HATs? The trusts have wide powers. Will they have the same duties as local authorities as regards people with disabilities?
§ Lord Milverton
I wish to support the amendments. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will feel able to accept them. I feel sure that they are deserving amendments and that it is right and proper that they should be accepted. I say that as a result of attending meetings of the All-Party Disablement Group and being able to hear and absorb information from many others who know far more about this subject than I do. As one learns about the needs of the disabled one realises how important it is for those with expertise to do all, they can to see that those needs are catered for. I sincerely hope that Her 430 Majesty's Government will be able to lend a hand and support these amendments.
§ Lord Hesketh
Perhaps I could deal, first, with literary matters. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, drew the Committee's attention to certain imperfections in the drafting of the Bill. In the light of the noble Lord's comments I can assure him that we shall reconsider the wording.
I fully appreciate that the reason for moving these amendments is genuine concern for chronically sick and disabled people. Of course we share that concern. A major point is raised by the noble Lords' Amendment No. 121, which seeks to apply a provision similar to Section 3 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 which applies to local housing authorities. Local housing authorities are required, under Section 3 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, to have regard to the special needs of the chronically sick and disabled in discharging their duty under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1985.
Section 8 requires local housing authorities to consider housing conditions in their district and the needs of the district with respect to the provision of further housing accommodation. Like the rest of Part II of the 1985 Act, it may be applied to HATs by order of the Secretary of State under Clause 65. As it may be that the Secretary of State would wish to apply Section 8, I agree with Members of the Committee that there is a good case for considering Amendment No. 121. Members of the Committee will also, I hope, welcome other steps we are taking.
Clause 63 includes as one of HATs' objects improving accommodation, and that will obviously also apply to any accommodation occupied by the sick or disabled. In the management guidance issued to HATs we shall be drawing their attention to the publications on housing for the elderly and disabled, including the recent departmental publication House adaptations for people with physical disabilities.
The management guidance will also lay down guidelines on their conduct in matters such as employing staff. They will be encouraged to adopt recruitment and personnel management practices which meet the standards expected of public service employees and in particular we shall be drawing HATs' attention to the Cabinet Office Code of Good Practice on the Employment of Disabled People. HATs will be expected to recruit staff through fair and open competition (subject to the assurance that Ministers have given that local authority staff currently employed in connection with the housing taken on by HATs will be given first consideration). As NDPBs, HATs will not be subject to the regulations under the Companies Act 1980 which requires companies to detail in their annual reports the steps taken to promote the employment of disabled people. However, I am willing and indeed happy to agree that we should ask HATs to adopt a similar procedure in their annual report.
On the question of appointment of board members, as I have already said in relation to Amendment No. 118, it is not considered appropriate to place any further constraints on the Secretary of 431 State. It is important that he is able to appoint to HAT board members with the most appropriate range of skills. It may well be that one or more members may have the expertise that the noble Lord is seeking in this amendment. But even if that does not happen, the other provisions which we propose to make should ensure that the needs of disabled and chronically sick people are fully recognised: and I have no doubt that the tenants' advisory fora which we propose HATs should establish will make these needs clear to HAT boards.
I hope that, in the light of my undertaking to consider applying Section 3 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, and my explanation of our intention to guide HATs on these matters, the noble Lords will be prepared to withdraw these amendments.
§ Viscount Ingleby
I am very grateful indeed to the Minister for his encouraging words. In the light of his remarks I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 7 agreed to.
§ Schedule 8 [Housing action trusts: finance etc.]:
§ [Amendment No. 120 not moved.]
§ Schedule 8 agreed to.
§ Clause 63 [Objects and general powers of housing action trusts]:
§ Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe moved Amendment No. 120A:
Page 48, line 14, at end insert—
("(bb) to encourage landlords to make their properties available for short-term renting to homeless families, in particular properties which are empty at certain regular times of the year because the tenants occupying them have contracted with the landlord to occupy the property only at fixed periods during the year,-).
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment is a follow-up to an idea which I floated in this Chamber on 20th January when we had a substantial debate on homelessness which was initiated by my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick. On that occasion I drew attention to the very high proportion of students in higher education who leave their parental or marital home to study. I said that if only some 50 per cent. of those took a course near to their home and lived at home we could solve the problem of homelessness in three years.
§ I understand that that is a fairly far-reaching proposal. I do not intend to pursue it here tonight except to say that the Minister in his winding up speech in that debate was kind enough to say that it was a very radical proposal. Radical proposals such as this take a long time to become accepted.
§ The purpose of the amendment I am putting to the Committee tonight is simply to encourage people with properties which are empty at regular times during the year to let out those properties to homeless people and to ask the housing action trusts to coordinate and encourage that work.432
§ Obviously the principal source of such accommodation is the halls of residence of universities and polytechnics, and also university housing which stands empty for two or three months during the summer vacation. It is true that as a fund-raising exercise over the years universities have begun a drive to let that accommodation for conferences seminars and even for holidays. Therefore much of it is already being used. However, I know that the take-up is by no means 100 per cent. and there must be substantial amounts of accommodation which is free during that period.
§ That accommodation would be available for only a short period of time and obviously the homeless could not stay there when students are due to return. However, for at least six weeks or two months those families who are living in appalling conditions could have the comfort of civilised surroundings and a regular regime. The universities and higher education generally would be making a contribution to the problem we face.
§ Those in higher education have received a great deal of attention during the course of the education debate. Indeed, I think that this Chamber might well have dwelt rather more on the large majority of children who never get a chance to go into higher education. Here is an opportunity for universities to make a contribution. I believe that it would be a very good thing if the housing action trusts were to coordinate and encourage such work which would also initiate a very useful cross-fertilisation between some of the ablest people in society and some of the most deprived. I beg to move.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
I believe that the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe is certainly deserving of examination. I recall some years ago paying a visit to Denmark on a 10-day housing trust study. We were based at the University of Copenhagen during the vacation. The buildings were put into use during that period to house a variety of people and their scheme was successful.
I believe that there are difficulties but, as my noble friend has said, the scheme is worthy of consideration as a means of alleviating one of the worst features of our present housing problem at certain times of the year.
§ Lord Trafford
I take the point and support the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks. He has a point. I remember his floating the idea earlier in the year, and there is much to be said for it. My difficulty would be the position that he has chosen to try to move this amendment; namely, in terms of Clause 63, at line 14 on page 48.
First of all it seems to me that the term "landlord" may be incorrect. In the circumstances of this Bill the landlord would be the HAT and not a specific person. If the noble Lord meant tenants letting rooms that were previously let to students, I think perhaps that would have been appropriate. In other words, I am not sure that the drafting fits this point. However, I think that the objective which he has put forward is certainly most interesting. The noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, is known as a fount of radical 433 and new ideas with which he occasionally delights this Chamber. I am delighted to say that it is a splendid idea, but it seems to me that the amendment is drafted in a way that would make the clause as it stands somewhat unintelligible.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
I find this an interesting amendment and I am happy to support it in the form in which it is drafted. There is an opportunity with this amendment which could be used. It is possible that one or two words of caution may be worth uttering also.
I think that there is some advantage in university students going away from home to complete their education. That in itself is an educational benefit. I must say that I feel that as strongly as a parent as I once felt it as a child.
Another point which one needs to bear in mind is that university students are not always absent from university during vacation. At the moment a number of my own pupils have to read a series of set texts during the long vacation and some of them absolutely must be in London because those texts are not available anywhere else. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that this is a proposal which would need a little room for flexibility in drafting.
However, with that proviso, universities are aware of their social responsibilities in the world and care considerably about them. I believe that this is an opportunity and I hope something will be done with it.
§ Lord Swinfen
I too think that this is an interesting suggestion. However, I wonder whether residential buildings for higher education should not be used during the holiday period of current students for residential courses for other students, so that the buildings are used throughout the year for purposes of education.
My main problem with this amendment is that the people whom it is proposed to house in this accommodation during the vacations are by definition homeless. They have nowhere to go when the students are due to return. I think that many universities and polytechnics, as well as housing action trusts, would have the greatest difficulty in obtaining the accommodation again so that it would be available for the students when term started.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
I should like to say a few brief words. I too support the spirit of the amendment. I apologise to my noble friend because I was not able to be in the Chamber for the beginning of his speech. However, the use of university buildings for courses of one kind or another has been mentioned, and as one who has benefited greatly from summer courses at universities I believe that that is something that should be borne in mind.
Universities in general have now become conference centres which are widely used for assemblies of various kinds: commercial conferences and not just educational meetings in the narrow sense of the words. Yet a third aspect of this subject relates 434 to the fact that university campuses—some of which are very beautiful—are now used as holiday centres.
When the Minister replies perhaps he would like to say something about the financial arrangements. Obviously many noble Lords would like to see homeless families housed in such accommodation, which by definition would be for a limited period, but it seems to me that since universities are well established on the conference circuit and for holidays there might be some rather complicated financial arrangements to be made should my noble friend's amendment be accepted by the Committee.
§ Lord Trafford
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may suggest that he is speaking on a slightly different point from that of this amendment, which does not necessarily apply to university accommodation. Only approximately one-third of students at a university are accommodated on campus and that is the part that is used for conferences, and so on.
As I understand it, when moving the amendment his noble friend referred to people who would use accommodation which housed students and not just the outlying buildings off campus, so to speak. I doubt very much whether a university would be subject to a HAT.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
The question was put to me, and I apologised for not being able to hear the beginning of my noble friend's speech where perhaps he dealt with that matter. Having said that, it is not the first time that this idea has been suggested. As I interpret the amendment, the proposal is that the on-campus accommodation of the university be used for this and similar purposes.
§ Lord Swinfen
Perhaps I may raise another practical point with regard to this problem of housing homeless people. At the moment a large number are housed in hotel accommodation which specialises in letting to homeless people. Some of the hotels make a large profit. If homeless people are to be housed during the vacations in accommodation that was used by students, it means that those hotels will probably go bust and go out of business. Therefore there will not be hotel accommodation available for the homeless to use during term time. I think that this proposal could exacerbate the situation.
§ Lord Hesketh
While I sympathise with the noble Lord's concern about the problems of homeless people, I do not feel that the particular vehicle that he has chosen in his amendment to try to help them is a very good idea. The main purpose of HATs is to deal with areas of rundown local authority housing of which they will temporarily be taking over the ownership. It is unlikely that there is much if any property of the sort he describes in the areas so far announced as potential HAT areas, though it is theoretically possible that there may be some in the future. However, we feel that to place the encouragement of landlords to make student accommodation available to homeless families among the HAT's primary objects in Clause 63 rather unbalances what we have set out for them to do.
435 I am not quite sure how we managed to get on to universities because the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, does not make any mention of universities in his amendment. So far as we are aware, there is no university accommodation in any of the proposed HATs areas.
§ Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe
I am grateful for the response there has been to my modest little effort, which I may say has been much warmer than the response I had from Bristol University in the early 1970s when I first began to promulgate this idea. In addition to being a fount of radical proposals as the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, said, I am also fairly obsessional when I get a bee in my bonnet. That is why I thought that the HATs might be a peg on which to hang it.
I apologise for the infelicities in the drafting, but I am encouraged by the response that this little kite has received. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 121 not moved.]
§ Clause 63 agreed to.
§ Clause 64 agreed to.
§ Clause 65 [Housing action trust as housing authority etc.]:
§ [Amendment No. 121A not moved.]
§ Clause 65 agreed to.
§ Clauses 66 to 73 agreed to.
§ Clause 74 [Transfer of land and other property to housing action trusts]:
Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 121B:
Page 55, line 36, after ("area") insert (", except dwelling-houses excluded from the provisions of Part V of the Housing Act 1985 (Right to Buy),").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment that stands in the name of my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 125A. These are amendments on a comparable theme with the immediately preceding debates. In effect, this amendment would exclude from the property taken over by a HAT any special needs housing already excluded from the right to buy.
§ It has been done for a very good purpose. The genesis of this amendment arose in this Chamber. At present there are certain exemptions to the right to buy. The main ones are homes provided or adapted for use by people with physical disabilities or for people who have or have had mental disorders or who are elderly. Those homes shall not be subject to the right to buy.
§ Such exemptions exist largely due to the insistence of this Chamber in earlier legislation. I remind noble Lords who took part in the debate of the reason why this Chamber accepted the position. The local authority has a primary role in providing special needs housing. It was unacceptable that it should be lost to the public rented sector. The Government have shown that they still accept that argument by 436 excluding those properties from the provisions of Part IV of the Bill. The amendment seeks to exclude the provision from Part III of the Bill.
§ The major government argument may be that since HATs will take over whole estates it could be very difficult in management terms to isolate small numbers of special needs homes. Nothing is impossible: where there is a will there is a way. The Government reconciled to being sympathetic on this point, have also to be consistent.
§ We have always contended that it is the "pepper-pot" argument that the Government have been rejecting on Part IV of the Bill in another place. The properties about which we are talking are usually grouped. It is a large hole in the pepper-pot that we are considering. They are not isolated properties but very often a small group, conveniently placed together to share common services, with a warden service of some kind. They are not usually isolated in that sense.
§ In the vicinity of HATs areas will be many properties which have not been transferred and which the local authority will still be managing. In other words, we think that there is a reasonable case for taking properties for people who already have great difficulties and whom we think should remain as undisturbed as possible out of the ambit of a HAT. I beg to move.
§ Lord Swinfen
I cannot agree with the noble Lord, although, like him, I am interested in and concerned about, proper housing for disabled people. I can see no reason why housing action trusts should not improve accommodation that has been especially adapted for disabled people as well as for those who are not disabled. A number of specially adapted flats are in blocks of flats. It is impractical for a block of flats to be acquired by a housing action trust with one or two flats excluded.
The noble Lord also said that this special accommodation was normally grouped. It may be normally grouped; it is not always grouped. People who become disabled through accident or through illness can have their accommodation specially adapted for their needs. These properties are very often one-off. They may not necessarily be bungalows. They may not be flats. They may be a house of one kind or another with adaptations. It may be one in a complete road. Therefore, from the practical point of view, I disagree with the noble Lord.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Hesketh
I understand and sympathise with the reasoning behind the noble Lord's amendments Nos. 121B and 125A. However, I hope to be able to convince him that they are unnecessary.
HATs will be concerned to deal with all the rundown housing within a designated area. We recognise that these areas might include specialised housing of the type excluded from the right to buy and tenants' choice provisions including those occupied by tenants with particular needs. However, the wellbeing of tenants is central to the HATs policy and while we believe that tenants would benefit from 437 the presence of a single-minded body devoted to improving the area and its housing, particular care will he taken in reaching decisions on boundaries and the transfer of properties to consider what the best option is for tenants in housing specially designed for the old and disabled. We shall listen carefully to the views of local authorities about whether it is a good idea to transfer particular dwellings to a HAT.
If there are cases where such housing is transferred to HATs we shall make sure that they follow the best practice in managing it. I have explained in response I o earlier amendments to Schedule 7 the duty we are considering imposing on HATs to consider the needs of chronically sick and disabled persons and other arrangements we are making to promote their interests. In issuing guidance to HATs we shall draw to their attention the literature produced by the department on housing for the disabled and elderly including the recent publication House adaptations for people with physical disabilities. Where accommodation is let in connection with employment it may well be appropriate to transfer it if, for example, a caretaker is going to transfer to employment within the HAT.
In cases where the transfer of specialised elderly and disabled accommodation has been approved to the HAT, great care will be taken over its subsequent disposal and there will be full consultation with tenants. Some accommodation may be returned to the local authority. Another possibility would be transfer to a specialised housing association with experience in dealing with the specialised needs of such tenants. In 1987 nearly a third of all new lettings were to elderly tenants. Over a quarter of all housing association homes are for the elderly or wheelchair units for the elderly. It is hardly likely that a housing association will change the use of such stock. The tenants' guarantee requires registered housing associations approved by the Housing Corporation to pay special attention to specific housing difficulties experienced by particular groups, including the disabled. Any other post-HAT landlord would have to conform to similar requirements.
In the case of accommodation let in connection with employment it is possible that there is more chance of a change of use being deemed appropriate—if, for example, the redesign of a building meant that it was necessary to move a caretaker into different accommodation, or if the redesign of a block of flats meant that it was no longer necessary to employ such a person.
It is because these sorts of eventualities are possible that I am resisting Amendment No. 125A although I assure the noble Lords that I understand their concerns. As I have said in relation to Amendment No. 121B, at the first stage we shall give extremely careful consideration to whether transfer of such property to a HAT is appropriate and we shall also take extreme care in considering who is an appropriate future landlord for this type of property —someone who, we can be sure, will do the utmost to ensure that the needs of the tenants are met. We also intend to make subsequent disposals by post-HAT landlords subject to the consent of the Secretary of State. This will act as a further check to 438 ensure that this type of accommodation is put to best possible use in meeting needs.
In the light of these assurances I hope the noble Lord will agree that the amendment can be withdrawn.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I say at once that I do not intend to press the amendments in the light of what the Minister has said. We would have wished to have on the face of the Bill words giving, if not an absolute guarantee, then much greater security and peace of mind to the people affected. I am satisfied in two respects with what the noble Lord said. First, at an appropriate stage the local authorities in whose areas HATs are situated will be provided with the opportunity for consultation and discussion on whether these kinds of properties should be included or excluded. The Minister was not able to say that they could be excluded. He was saying that they might very well be excluded if, after discussion, the local authority was of the view that they ought to be excluded for very good social reasons. I am satisfied with the bona fides of what the Minister has said in that regard.
I am heartened by the measuring rods and yardsticks to which the Minister referred—I and others will read tomorrow what he has said with—regard to the intentions and aspirations of those who will be in charge of a HAT. We on this side of the Chamber have little confidence on this aspect. When commercial viability enters into the considerations, altruism towards the disabled, the elderly and the diadvantaged does not normally form a major part of the imperative of those primarly concerned with making money from whatever they are involved in. Although local authorities feel wretched about trying to carry their burden, they are still better placed than many others to try to make provisions of the kind we are discussing. The Minister has gone some way towards reassuring me that it is all up for grabs.
When the Minister's colleagues sit round with local authorities, produce further evidence and put flesh on the bones of an idea, we want to make sure that the elderly and the disabled—two groups, incidentally, that do not figure very largely in tenants' choice and in the scheme of things by the Minister—have a fair crack of the whip.
The Minister has gone some way to satisfy me that he intends to see that that will happen. Whether is happens remains to be seen. I am grateful for the comfort that the Minister has given and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 121C:
Page, 56, line 6, at end insert—
("() Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (4) above, where the financial terms referred to in that subsection include a reference to a sum equal to the market value of the local authority housing or other land or property transferred under this section payable by the housing action trust or by the Secretary of State to the local authority, the said sum shall be paid to the local authority on the date on which the said local authority housing or other land or property is transferred to the housing action trust under this section.").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment is in the name of my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Amendment No. 121C relates to the general theme of caring for special categories in this matter. Clause 74 allows the Secretary of State to transfer housing and other property from the local authority to the HAT on any terms, that he thinks fit, including financial terms. In another place ministerial colleagues of the Minister who is to reply to the debate said that the transfers would be at market value. The amendment proposes that where the terms of the sale refer to market value the amount should be paid in full in a lump sum on the date of the transfer.
§ The amendment requires that the local authority be paid a lump sum as a capital receipt on the date of transfer. We are worried that having taken property away from the local authority, possibly without its consent, the Government will not pay proper compensation for the property. We are worried that the Government will create a mechanism whereby the local authority receives payment for the property only in dribs and drabs.
It would be useful to have the Committee consider what the Minister in another place said when the discussion on Thamesmead in South-East London was taking place. In Committee the Minister said:
this is relevant… in the sense that we have said there might be circumstances where there was no single payment on the transfer, because the position might arise where negotiations with the local authority, the district valuer and so on means that the safest way of valuing future receipts into the HAT through sales, or whatever, is to say that the local authorities should have a share of those future sales. That might be to the advantage of the local authority. For example, if the HAT is very successful, brings in considerable money, raises the value of the property, tenants buy —with a discount—and so on, it may be more valuable than it is easy to predict. Therefore, it may be sensible for the local authority to say that it will hedge its bets and take a share of any future sales because it will then receive a share of the benefit of the capital that the HAT is spending. That may be a route that local authorities may wish to explore, which is why we have kept open the possibility of no single, one-off payment. I assure the honourable Gentlemean that where a single, one-off payment is agreed, there is no (intention) to refuse to pay a local authority properly for whatever has been contracted". —[Official Report, Commons, 18/2/1988: col. 963]
§ We have, as often in these situations, something to look at. We do not need to look into a crystal ball, because there is a page of the book and it is called the Thamesmead precedent. We are worried by what happened in the Thamesmead example because it is central here.
§ After the GLC was abolished the estate was taken over by the London Residuary Body. The task of the LRB was to sell the property to Thamesmead Town Limited, which is now the owner. LRB was acting on behalf of London ratepayers and wanted to get the best price for the estate, particularly as the ratepayers would be left having to pay off a debt of £130 million. Naturally enough the company wanted to pay as little as possible. The Secretary of State had to give his consent before the sale could go through. In other words it was the Secretary of State, in essence, who controlled the financial terms of the transfer. He had to balance the interests of the buyer with the seller. In other words he was in exactly the same position then as he will be when it comes to setting the terms of the 440 transfer from the local authority to the housing action trust.
§ What happened at Thamesmead? The district valuer was called in and valued the estate at £25 million, but there was a problem. The company could not afford to pay £25 million. Instead the Secretary of State imposed a transfer for just £2.5 million; a tenth of the market value—just £400 per house.
§ The Government will say —and this is quite true —that that may not be the end of the payments. Additional payments will be made according to the rate at which the company sold off its property. That is the precedent for the Minister's recent statement. Until 1999 the company will pay nothing more if sales of houses are less than 150 a year, but it will pay 85 per cent. of receipts from sales between 150 and 200 per year and 75 per cent. of receipts over that level.
§ It is all very well for the Government to say that the agreement between the two sides might state that and that the Government want to leave themselves some flexibility. That might be all right if we were operating in a free market as buyers and sellers or were in a situation where the local authority could freely decide whether or not to enter into an agreement. But we on this side of the Committee are asking simply—we are taking advice, of course, from outside the Committee —for the Minister to agree that, in circumstances against their will, if properties are taken out of local authorities' ownership and influence, the price which is agreed should be paid over to them in one fell swoop. I beg to move.
§ Lord Swinfen
I wonder whether the Minister can help me? What is the position of purchasers of stock on the open market offered for sale by a local authority secured on housing that might be taken for housing action trusts?
The Earl of Caithness
I shall deal with that last point first. I should need to look into the details, but as my noble friend is aware we are talking about a very small percentage of the housing stock of a local authority in whose area there might be a HAT. From the very definition of HAT and the type of property that the HAT is designed to try to look after, or improve, for the benefit of the tenants, I know that my noble friend as a valuer will soon spot that that will not be the highest valuation of local authority property.
I repeat our firm intention that transfers of property from local authorities to HATs should take place at market value subject to tenancy. This market value would be determined by the Secretary of State on the advance of the district valuer. Amendment No. 121C would bind the HAT to pay to a local authority the full market value of the property on the day of the transfer. It would prevent the transfer going ahead before the terms of transfer had been settled and would prevent there being any flexibility in the arrangements. I must point out that such flexibility might be to the local authority's advantage. If there are likely to be substantial right-to-buy sales on properties transferred to a HAT, the Secretary of State might agree that the local housing authority should elect to receive the proceeds of such sales, or a proportion of them, in a series of staggered 441 payments —the point that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, just made.
Theoretically there should be no difference between the two methods of payment in terms of the total sums received. However, it might be more convenient for the local authority to receive the money over a period of time rather than all at once.
Market value subject to tenancy will give local authorities what their properties are worth; no more, no less. We intend that market value transfer payments to local authorities from HATs be treated as capital receipts for the purposes of Part VIII of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. We shall shortly be discussing an amendment which we wish to introduce to the Bill to clarify this.
Obviously I should like to read in detail what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. From my experience of negotiating with local authorities I can say that some of the best deals which I did with them were in respect of staggered payments. Local authorities soon saw the benefits of them.
I must say that I should be reluctant to close the door to the noble Lord because the advantage of flexiblility exists. However, I should like to read what he said between now and another stage.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and I intend to withdraw the amendment. I was interested to hear him argue for flexibility. Is that flexibility a two-way street? Or is that flexibility for the Minister of State when he wishes to vary an understanding by saying that he will exercise flexibility and change it? If flexibility is part of an understanding, does that mean that, whatever the Secretary of State has agreed, the local authority has the right to say that it will exercise its flexibility in a different way?
I believe the Minister knows that, at the end of the day, if the local authority wish to do something that he does not wish them to do, he will be the master. To that extent we are in the same position. If the Minister is saying that he is in the ball game of trying to persuade local authorities that it is in their interests to accept their payment, which is fixed at the market value on the date of the transfer, not in a lump sum, I can understand the attitude of the local authorities.
I had a doom-laden feeling when the Minister said that the payments would be treated as capital receipts. In other words, a council sells a house to a private individual and receives £20,000 but is able to use only part of it, which is varied flexibly —in other words, when the Minister says what he wants to do. We are saying that, if a house is transferred at a value of £20,000, that will occur in exactly the same way. I do not make a point of it but the Minister knows that every local authority of every political persuasion intensely dislikes the burden on its back of improving the housing stock. It will have the money yet the Minister and his colleagues, for their macroeconomic reasons, will not allow it to use it.
I am grateful. The Minister will know that during the long Recess those outside will read what has been said. It may be that at a later stage he and I can come back with an amendment which is acceptable to both 442 of us. In the light of what the Minister has said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Hesketh
I should like to suggest that this is a suitable moment to break for dinner. With the agreement of the Committee, I propose to resume the House and return to Committee when the dinner business is complete. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.