§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(The Earl of Caithness.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Clause 115 [Repairing obligations in short leases]:
The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 204:
Page 86, line 3, leave out ("this Act comes into force") and insert ("the commencement of this Act").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 205:
Page 86, line 4, leave out ("this Act comes into force") and insert ("the commencement of this Act").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.1726
The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 206:
After Clause 116, insert the following new clause:
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 206 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 208, 236, 245, 249 and 250. The Landlord and Tenant Act 1987, which is amended by this new clause and schedule, enacted the recommendations of the Nugee Committee on the management of privately owned blocks of flats. It contains a battery of new rights for tenants of private flats and also strengthens the rights of tenants of other dwellings. These amendments, which result from discussions my department has had with the Law Society and, in part, from suggestions made by my noble friend Lord Coleraine who raised this issue at Committee stage and to whom I should like to express my gratitude, make some improvements to that Act.
§ These improvements are of two kinds. First, the definition of the tenants who can use certain of the rights in the Act is widened and simplified. In our efforts to exclude intermediate landlords from using the rights of first refusal and compulsory purchase and being able to vary defective leases we had adopted a definition of qualifying tenants which, as my noble friend Lord Coleraine subsequently pointed out, left out many tenants whose leases happened to include not only a flat but also the roof, walls, foundations or common parts of the building. The new schedule corrects that.
§ Secondly, the schedule clarifies the definition of disposals which are exempt from the right of first refusal in Part I of the Act. We had always intended that the mere grant by the landlord of a mortgage should not be a disposal attracting the right of first refusal but that a disposal by a mortgagee in possession should be. Doubt has been cast on whether the Act actually achieves this and we therefore propose to make these points clear. These are worthwhile amendments.
§ Lord Coleraine
My Lords, subject to two questions in relation to Part IV of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 and an amendment contained in the package, I should like to thank the Minister for these useful amendments to the Act. They deal with a point that I raised in Committee and with other points which appeared to be causing problems.
The reservation I have relates to the way in which Part IV of the 1987 Act is dealt with, concerning defective long leases so drafted that, as between landlord and tenant, they make the management of the building more difficult than it need otherwise be. Although there are similarities in the treatment of Parts I, II and IV of the Bill in that leases with common parts were excluded, there are basic differences between the first and the third parts and the fourth.
The first and third parts of the Bill are intended to provide benefit for tenants. That applies to landlords when they come to sell their interests and when they persistently refuse to carry out repairs. Part IV 1727 operates somewhat differently. It provides that applications to vary long leases may be made by landlords against tenants, by tenants against landlords and, in effect, by tenants against tenants. My noble friend will know that my opinion of the provisions in the lease about variation of defective leases is that the Act contains sections which are ill thought out and likely to prove arbitrary in operation. They also operate to an unacceptable extent in favour of landlords.
I am not arguing that matter today, but I should like to ask my noble friend two questions. First, if it is desirable for leases to be varied, why is it necessary that any leases should be excluded on the grounds that, under the lease, the tenant owns more than two flats? It appears that there is no reason in principle or practice why a landlord should not be able to apply to vary the leases or why the tenant should not be entitled to apply to vary them.
The second question deals specifically with what is intended to be the new subsection (7) of Section 35 of the 1987 Act. That subsection will provide that if a tenant of a flat with a long lease contained in a particular building is, by virtue of that lease and one or other more long leases of flats, also a tenant of two other flats contained in the same building, he will not be able to take advantage of Part IV and apply to have those leases varied if he feels that they are not effective.
That is all very well. However, if I read the Bill as amended by the schedule correctly, that leaves that tenant in a very vulnerable position because he cannot apply to vary his leases but the landlord and indeed other tenants may apply against him to have his lease varied. It seems to me that there are points that should be further considered. If my noble friend is not able to answer me now perhaps he may be able to reply to me before the next stage of the Bill is reached.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Caithness has been so splendid in dealing with the hundreds of amendments to this Bill in Committee and on Report that I am very reluctant to make the points which I am about to make; more especially as the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, with all his professional expertise has revealed that he more or less understands this new schedule.
The new schedule contains a mass of textual amendments of previous legislation; that is to say, of an Act of Parliament passed only last year. They are brought in at this late stage when it is difficult to understand them without several hours of cross-referencing. Indeed, I do not know how long it took my noble friend Lord Coleraine to do so. There is no explanatory memorandum. That passed out of our ken long since. Notes on Clauses would not help because by then it had not been embodied in Notes on Clauses. I believe that it would have been of great assistance to your Lordships and would be of assistance to those who have to consider scores of amendments in another place if a simple explanatory memorandum had been circulated with this amendment and perhaps with other amendments of great complexity.
1728 I concentrated as hard as my mind would enable me to on the rapid explanation which my noble friend Lord Caithness gave, but I have to confess—and it is no doubt my failure—that he speaks faster than my mind registers. I believe that this is a classic example. We are trying to legislate in such a vast amount of detail. Much of it could be done by clearly stating the intention of Parliament and leaving the details of fulfilment to be carried out by statutory instruments—or even, let us dare, sometimes to leave it to the wisdom of the courts.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, pursuant to what the noble Lord, Lord Renton said, perhaps I may ask the noble Earl if an approach has been made to the editors of the statues in force to ensure that the principal Act as amended here is rapidly reprinted as amended. Indeed, that goes for all the other many amendments made by this Bill.
§ 4.45 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Renton was absolutely right when he said that my noble friend Lord Coleraine understands this part of the Landlord and Tenant Act. It is a complicated area. Perhaps my noble friend will permit me to study his points with care and discuss the matter with him between now and another stage.
I fully sympathise with what my noble friend Lord Renton said. If any of your Lordships require further elucidation of amendments, my department will always be able to help. When tabling an amendment the difficulty is how to get the explanatory note across. I have tried to keep both the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and Lord Ross of Newport, informed of the purport of government amendments that have been tabled. I believe that it would be very difficult to do that for all your Lordships. However, perhaps if a way could be devised it would certainly help me to have that explanation in your Lordships' hands. I know that my noble friend appreciates that if such a system could be devised, I should be happy to take it further.
I think that I have heard this from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale before as regards the Criminal Justice Bill. He taunted me then and said that we must reprint the existing Acts as quickly as possible. Of course I shall draw the noble and learned Lord's concern to those responsible for the printing. I am sure that they would wish to do that as expeditiously as possible.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 207:
After Clause 116, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Certain tenancies excluded from debtor's estate Scotland.
§ .—(1) In section 31 of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985 (vesting of debtor's estate at date of sequestration) in subsection (8) after the word "means" there shall be inserted the words", subject to subsection (9) below,".
(2) After the said subsection (8) there shall be added the following subsections—
(9) Subject to subsection (10) below, the "whole of the debtor" does not include any interest of the debtor as tenant under any of the following tenancies—
§ (10) On the date on which the permanent trustee serves notice to that effect on the debtor, the interest of this debtor as tenant under any of the tenancies referred to in subsection (9) above shall form part of his estate and vest in the permanent trustee as if it had vested in him under section 32(6) of this Act.".").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, at an earlier stage I moved amendments intended to exclude tenancies from the estates of those who were bankrupt or in debt. With the assistance of the Government, those amendments found favour with the Committee. This amendment and Amendments Nos. 235, 238, 239, 240 and 253 extend the principle, to which the Committee agreed to the law of Scotland. I believe that they are strictly consequential on the amendments already agreed to. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for moving these amendments to which I am happy to give the Government's support. As the noble Lord said, they have the same effect in Scotland as amendments moved at Committee stage for England by the noble Lord, namely, to ensure that a tenant who becomes bankrupt does not lose his tenancy because of that unfortunate circumstance where the tenancy is of no value to the trustee.
Perhaps I could also speak to government Amendment No. 253 which simply amends the extent provisions in Clause 135 so as to ensure that these amendments moved by the noble Lord actually apply to Scotland.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 208:
Before Schedule 13, insert the following new schedule:
§ 1. In Part I of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 (tenants' rights of first refusal), in section 2 (landlords for the purposes of Part I), in subsection (1) after "(2)" there shall be inserted "and section 4(1A)".
2.—(1) In section 3 of that Act (qualifying tenants), in subsection (1) (paragraphs (a) to (c) of which exclude certain tenants) the word "or" immediately preceding paragraph (c) shall be omitted and at the end of that paragraph there shall be added "or
(d) an assured tenancy or assured agricultural occupancy within the meaning of Part I of the Housing Act 1988".
§ (2) In subsection (2) of that section (which excludes persons having interests going beyond a particular flat), for paragraphs (a) and (b) there shall be substituted the words "by virtue of one or more tenancies none of which falls within paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection (1), he is the tenant not only of the flat in question but also of at least two other flats contained in those premises"; and in subsection (3) of that section for "(2)(b)" there shall be substituted "(2)".
3.—(1) In section 4 of that Act (relevant disposals) after subsection (1) there shall be inserted the following subsection
(1A) Where an estate or interest of the landlord has been mortgaged, the reference in subsection (1) above to the disposal of an estate or interest by the landlord includes a reference to its disposal by the mortgagee in exercise of a power of sale or leasing, whether or not the disposal is made in the name of the landlord; and, in relation to such a proposed disposal by the
mortgagee, any reference in the following provisions of this Part to the landlord shall be construed as a reference to the mortgagee.
(2) In subsection (2) of that section, in paragraph (a), at the end of sub-paragraph (i) there shall be inserted "or", sub-paragraph (ii) shall be omitted and at the end of that paragraph there shall be inserted—
(aa) a disposal consisting of the creation of an estate or interest by way of security for a loan".
§ 4.—(1) In Part III of that Act (compulsory acquisition by tenants of their landlord's interest), in section 26 (qualifying tenants), in subsection (2) (which excludes persons having interests going beyond a particular flat) for the words following "if' there shall be substituted "by virtue of one or more long leases none of which constitutes a tenancy to which Part II of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 applies, he is the tenant not only of the flat in question but also of at least two other flats contained in those premises".
(2) At the end of the said section 26 there shall be added the following subsection—
(4) For the purposes of subsection (2) any tenant of a flat contained in the premises in question who is a body corporate shall be treated as the tenant of any other flat so contained and let to an associated company, as defined in section 20(1).
5. In Part IV of that Act (variation of leases), for subsections (6) and (7) of section 35 (which make provision about long leases) there shall be substituted the following subsections—
(6) For the purposes of this Part a long lease shall not be regarded as a long lease of a flat if—
(7) Without prejudice to subsection (6), an application under this Part may not be made by a person who is a tenant under a long lease of a flat contained in a particular building if, by virtue of that lease and one or more other long leases of flats, he is also a tenant of at least two other flats contained in the same building.
(7A) For the purposes of subsection (7), any tenant of a flat contained in the building in question who is a body corporate shall be treated as the tenant of any other flat so contained and let under a long lease to an associated company, as defined in section 20(1).
6. In section 40 (application for variation of insurance provisions of lease of dwelling other than a flat) for subsection (4) (which makes provision about long leases) there shall be substituted the following subsections—
(4) For the purpose of this section, a long lease shall not be regarded as a long lease of a dwelling if—
(4A) Without prejudice to subsection (4), an application under subsection (1) may not be made by a person who is a tenant under a long lease of a dwelling if, by virtue of that lease and one or more other long leases of dwellings, he is also a tenant from the same landlord of at least two other dwellings.
(4B) For the purposes of subsection (4A), any tenant of a dwelling who is a body corporate shall be treated as a tenant of any other dwelling held from the same landlord which is let under a long lease to an associated company, as defined in section 20(1).
7. In Part VII of that Act (general) in section 58 (exempt landlords), in subsection (I) after paragraph (c) there shall be inserted the following paragraph—
(ca) a housing action trust established under Part III of the Housing Act 1988." ").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 118 [Rent officers: additional functions relating to housing benefit etc.]:
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 208A:
Page 87, line 28, leave out from ("to") to end of line 29 and insert
("criteria drawn up after consultation with such organisations as appear to the Secretary of State to be concerned").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with this amendment we return to controversy. Here we are dealing with Clause 118 which purports to be concerned with the additional functions of rent officers relating to housing benefit. In fact, Clause 118 is concerned with the credibility of the Government's undertaking to up-grade housing benefit in line with the inevitable increases in rents which those who at present are in receipt of housing benefit will be paying after the passage of the Bill.
§ When we dealt with this matter in Committee and indeed in the debate at Second Reading, we asked for a more flexible system of setting maximum rent levels and we severely criticised the proposals in Clause 118 whereby the appropriate maximum housing benefit might be limited by reference to determinations made by rent officers in exercise of functions conferred on them under this section of this Act.
§ In replying, the Minister made a number of points of which I wish to refer particularly to two because one is our justification for returning to this matter at this stage, quite apart from the fact that this is a very different amendment from that which we tabled in Committee.
§ The Minister paid great attention in his reply in Committee to the problem of what he called the Mayfair case—someone living in a penthouse flat in Mayfair for which the rent obviously would be far above that normally considered to be the proper rent for someone on housing benefit. He suggested that such a case would be so serious as to make it necessary to have the proposals at present in the Bill. We said to the Minister that surely the Bill could be drafted in such a way as to deal with the Mayfair case without abandoning the principle that those who have to pay higher rent because of the passage of the Bill, and who are receiving housing benefit, ought to have that benefit recovered and that the local authority who pays the benefit should be compensated for the extra expenditure involved, but we did not receive an adequate answer.
§ Therefore, we should like to have an answer from the Minister on that point. Is there not a way of dealing with the Mayfair case without the more general proposals contained in the Bill?
The second observation made by the Minister on a number of occasions during the Committee Sitting on 11 th October—I quote from col. 742—was that it was all right because,
they are being fully examined at present in the detailed discussions which are taking place between the Department of Social Security and the local authority associations.
I have seen the note of the rent officers' sub-group of the housing benefit standing committee which was set up between the Department of Social Security, with a representative from the Department of the Environment, and all the local authority associations; including the Association of District Councils which is under Conservative control.
I understand that the next meeting of the committee is on 3rd November and the current situation is that the local authority associations are expressing very grave opposition, in principle, to the proposals in the Bill. They are asking for a number of
ministerial decisions which must be made before the administration of this part of the Bill can reasonably be determined. The note states:
The local authority associations … had fundamental reservations about the Government's proposed new role for rent officers … The proposal that local authorities should have discretion to pay benefit above the level set for subsidy purposes by rent officers could leave local authorities in the moral and financial dilemma of having to choose between meeting the extra benefit cost or having to accommodate a homeless family both of which would be at community charge or ratepayers' expense. The LAAs considered it was unreasonable to expect local authorities to have to act as a safety valve under the proposed arrangements without receiving any financial assistance.
The LAAs also objected in principle to the proposal that subsidy and benefit should be restricted where the rent officer assessed accommodation as being unreasonably large or expensive without reference to the claimant's particular needs … However, without prejudice to their objections in principle and on the basis that these would be put to Ministers, the LAAs agreed to discuss the proposed operational procedures for unreasonably large accommodation.
If the note is to be believed, this matter presumably has been put to Ministers and it should be possible for the Minister to reply to the key issues identified in the report on which no final decisions have yet been taken and which Ministers will need to consider. These are:
a. the LAA's suggestion that rent officer's assessments should relate to benefit rather than subsidy;
b. the LAA's suggestion that the rent officers should take into account claimants' circumstances when considering whether accommodation is unreasonably large.
By that obviously we mean specifically the case of elderly claimants who live in a house in which they have probably lived all their lives but where the children have left home. It would be unreasonable to expect them to move unless there was really suitable alternative accommodation—not a squeezed suitability—and they were willing and able to move to that alternative accommodation.
c.the LAA's suggestion that subsidy should be paid in full where a rent cannot be restricted under the terms of regulation 11.
Regulation 11 concerns unreasonably large accommodation.
d.the LAA's suggestion that the proposals to restrict subsidy and benefit where accommodation is unreasonably large or expensive respectively, should not apply to claimants who had lived in the accommodation for many years.
That reinforces the point I made. The local authority associations clearly think that if the matter is to be administered at all and if it is to provide justice for claimants as well as have administrative feasibility, these questions must be answered by Ministers.
§ I understand that the questions are before Ministers and it is the responsibility of this House to obtain the best answers it can. Unless they can be satisfactorily answered, and unless Ministers can at least give an indication of the way in which their minds are working, and the efforts they are making to meet those points raised by the local authorities, it would be irresponsible of us to give the Secretary of State the powers that he seeks and to put the determination of reasonable rent on to the rent officers in the manner proposed in this clause.
§ We are, after all, speaking about taking back to central government powers which have been available to local authorities only since 1st April this year. They are not an old and failed provision. These are powers which the Government themselves 1733 introduced hardly six months ago and there is no evidence that the existing provisions are unsatisfactory. Is there not a contradiction between the Government's desire to stimulate the private rented market by allowing higher rents and what is in fact a back door method of rent control? The Government are saying that they are attempting to keep rents down by ensuring that housing benefit will not be paid for the actual rents.
§ Our amendment does not go anything like so far as Amendment No. 144 which was tabled in Committee. All we say here is that the Secretary of State should be enabled to specify the criteria which should be drawn up to deal with the problem after consultation with the relevant bodies. We are not saying that the rent stop should be completely outlawed. If, after consultation, it appeared to the Secretary of State that the proper figure was the market rent, he could, under this amendment, say so. We are being much more accommodating to the Government than we were able to be in Committee.
§ However, the problem behind this amendment and Amendment No. 208C, in particular, still remains. The Bill will raise rents for those people most in need—the elderly, disabled, the out-of-work and those on housing benefit. The Bill as drafted does not secure that housing benefit will rise to meet the actual rent which people have to pay. It does not maintain an adequate balance between the needs of payment and the proper needs of controlled public expenditure, which we have recognised all along. It does not deal with the problem that local authorities who seek to carry out their social obligations to people living in their areas may find themselves financially disadvantaged because Government grant will be taken away from them. It is for those reasons that we feel it necessary to have these amendments and to urge them, with all the power at our command, on the Government and on the House. I beg to move.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, I must support everything that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I too have seen this document. It is a lengthy one, and honestly I fell asleep reading it, but it certainly caused me concern. There is a great deal of concern among local government officers and rent officers as to just how this is going to pan out.
This Act, as it will become, will succeed only if housing benefit is seen to be generous. If there are great problems over who is to make up the shortfall beyond what housing benefit is decreed to be fair by the rent officer, or if it is left a total blank whether it is to be made up by the local authorities and that is not satisfactorily resolved, I can see real trouble ahead.
I hope that we shall hear from the Minister an update of the situation. We need a great deal more assurance before we should pass these clauses on the nod. It is a minor amendment asking for criteria to be agreed with various bodies beforehand. That is what it says, although I think perhaps there is a bit more to come. The kernel of the Bill, if it is to work, is that 1734 there has to be some latitude between the role of the local government and the rent officers; otherwise I see trouble ahead.
y Lords, I shall be as brief as I can. I should like to support these amendments, and particularly Amendment No. 208C. We have all read the excellent, well-argued and reasoned analysis by the organisations closest to the problems on the ground. There can be no doubt in anybody's mind that the outcome of this Bill as it stands will he massive increases for the tenants, especially the old and people on lower incomes, despite assurances given by the noble Earl. I recall mentioning this at Second Reading.
Assurances have been given right the way through that these things would not happen, but I was convinced then and am even more convinced now that the powers they have taken under Clauses 6 and 117 will in fact result in huge increases. Already I have met hundreds of people in these circumstances who are worried sick about the possibilities and probabilities of what will happen to them in the event of huge increases.
One example that came to me was from a lady in Bristol. She had taken over her parents' home when the parents died. She is now on an assured tenancy. She has a complex and densely-worded legal contract with a property company which has recently taken over the house. She is virtually in the circumstances that we are discussing. Embedded in this contract is a sub-clause that is a mechanism for increasing the rent on a yearly basis.
The rent has been increased from the parents' old registered rent of £22.50 to a new rent of £65, and already she is finding it difficult to cope. She managed to get a part-time job in a local shop, having been unsuccessful in trying to get a job in her own line of secretarial work. She could not get that work because of her age. She could not stop the rent going up so she applied for housing benefit. Her claim has been referred to the rent officer. As I understand it, all claims will be referred to the rent officer under the new procedure. He assessed a reasonable rent for the house as £65.
He also decided however that she lived in a house which was too big for a single person, although she has no alternative and no reasonable alternative has been, or will be, made available. She is stuck in this house that he now says is too large for her. For all the reasons that we know, that can happen, and people can be trapped in those circumstances. Consequently the maximum subsidy allowed to the local authority is £35, and she is then left to find £30 out of her own pocket to make it up to the £65. We do not have to be geniuses to work out that that is almost impossible. That is the kind of circumstance that could, and will, happen to thousands of people.
It is already worrying people. General practitioners are worried about the effect on their patients because patients are becoming distressed over what can happen to their rents, and even to the roof over their head. We can all see an increase in psychiatric problems if tendencies that we notice now continue along these lines.
1735 I am speaking particularly to Amendment No. 208C, where the reasonable rent fixed by the rent officer should be taken as the available rent for housing subsidy. I hope that the noble Earl will reconsider what he has said, or what has been said in Committee and hitherto, and have another look at the problem that will confront thousands of people faced with the outcome of the Government's overzealous attempt to free the market and to allow landlords to increase rents willy-nilly.
I think it was the Housing Institute that said that at the moment the Bill tips the balance too far in the direction of reducing expenditure and away from meeting the legitimate needs of those people we have mentioned and who are covered by these amendments. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something constructive on Amendment No. 208C.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, I should like to support the amendment moved by my noble friend on the Front Bench. We also have to consider how it reflects upon the local authority. Already local authorities are having new claimants put on housing benefit for when boarders are being transferred from next April. That is another category of people they have to start dealing with.
Then from September and October those local authorities that have polytechnics and universities in their areas will have their students also coming onto housing benefit. We do not yet know what the Government are going to do regarding transfers from hostels. That decision has not yet been made. In view of all those extra burdens being placed on local authorities when the rent officer is not going to pay the full amount, the concessionary benefits that a local authority will have to decide on will be more numerous than they are at the present moment.
We have to recognise as well that under the new assured-tenancy regime there will be only a limited right to have a rent looked at by applying to the rent assessment committee. That will only be when the landlord proposes a rent increase. When the rent officer fixes the rent, that is the rent. At the present moment there is no appeal mechanism in the Bill under which the tenant can say that it is an unfair rent. At the present moment you can appeal to the rent officer for a fair rent. That is a right that will be lost to the tenant. There is no appeal to the rent assessment committee, which would look at each individual case separately.
We have given this great power to the rent officer. We have given him the power to increase the rent. The Government have given him that power, but they have also restricted the power to allocate enough money to the local authorities to pay the rent that the rent officer is going to fix. That will be a serious problem for local authorities. At the present moment a local authority has certain discretions that it can exercise, but those discretions might have to be limited if more people make application.
As my noble friend said from the Front Bench, if a local authority has to make a decision as to whether to pay the extra over and above what is eligible under 1736 housing benefit, does that prevent the local authority having to rehouse him? That is a difficult decision that the local authority has to make. If the landlord decides to evict the tenant after three months' arrears, which is made easier in the Bill, is it for the local authority to say that it must protect the tenant from eviction because he cannot pay the rent as a consequence of not earning enough? This would be a serious situation for the local authority to face.
I wish to ask the Minister about properties in which war widows and war pensioners live in the case where the property is too large for personal use or the housing benefit is not sufficient to pay the higher rent. War widows and war pensioners, I am given to understand, are in a separate category from other tenants as regards allowable discretionary payments. I hope that the Minister can comment. I have received several heartrending letters from war widows asking whether they will suffer under the Bill. The writers assure me they are in a separate category from other tenants.
The real concern is that, by exercising their considerable powers, rent officers will be able to ensure that the local authority does not pay the benefits. Rent officers will put up the rent, as the Government want, but will ensure that insufficient housing benefit is granted to cover it. It will be for the local authority to say to the tenant, "We are very sorry, there is nothing else that we can do for you". Thus the tenant will feel aggrieved with the local authority. Provision should be made in the Bill—I hope that the Minister will consider this seriously—for an independent appeal body that could reconsider the case of any tenant who feels aggrieved about the rent officer's decision.
§ 5.15 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, as we have consistently made clear, housing benefit will continue to be available to those who need help with their reasonable housing costs. That will of course include private tenants in need of assistance in paying rents at the level determined by the free market. I understand noble Lords' concern on the matter, and I wish to make abundantly clear that the Government are fully committed to paying housing benefit up to the level of rents determined by the free market. The essential purpose of the rent officer's function is to ensure that housing benefit subsidy is not used to support rents that are above market level.
I am sure that the House will agree that it is no part of the housing benefit system to allow claimants to occupy at public expense housing of a standard that the majority of people could not reasonably expect to afford out of their own pockets. The Government are committed to preventing such abuses. We have therefore said that we shall in due course impose limits on housing benefit—that means benefit itself, not just the subsidy we pay to local authorities—in any case where a claimant is living in property which is unreasonably large or at the top end of the market in the area concerned. We intend that such a restriction should come into effect once adequate evidence on open market rents is available. We have also said that we shall introduce further limits on housing benefit should the circumstances warrant it.
1737 Accordingly, Clause 118(4) provides for the making of regulations under the Social Security Act 1986 limiting benefit by reference to the determinations made by rent officers. The amendment would replace this with a far more open-ended provision that refers merely to criteria drawn up in consultation with such organisations as appear to be concerned. That, I am afraid, would be quite inconsistent with what we seek to achieve.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, alleged that local authorities acquired the power to restrict benefit only in April. That is not so. The Secretary of State already has power under the Social Security Act 1986 to place limits on housing benefit. All that Clause 118(4) does is to enable him to set such limits by reference to the determinations of rent officers. There is no great issue of principle at stake here, as the noble Lord suggested when speaking to Amendment No. 208A.
The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, raised some important points which with respect I think refer mainly to Amendment No. 208C. Perhaps they could be dealt with later in the discussion on Amendment No. 208C.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, stated that there was to be no appeal against the rent officer's decision on market rents for housing benefit subsidy purposes. As I explained in Committee, in the regulations to be made under Clause 118 we propose to provide for a right of appeal to an independent group of senior rent officers that the local authority can use. The claimant will of course have a right of appeal to the existing housing benefit review procedures established by the local authority, which can in turn invoke the appeal mechanism that I described just now.
The noble Baroness raised a very important point about war widows and pensioners. There is a special rent allowance payable for war widows under the war pensions legislation. We have no plans to change this. I think that I am right in saying—this is much more a matter for my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale—that the first £15 of income is disregarded for housing benefit purposes for war pensioners and war widows.
There will of course be consultations with interested parties before any restrictions on benefit are brought into effect. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security is under a statutory obligation to consult the local authority associations on any proposed regulations under the Social Security Act. Both the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, said that they had seen some minutes of a recent meeting. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said that certain demands had been made by various parties on Ministers. We take that very seriously. I assure the House that we shall fully consider and examine in considerable detail the requests and demands made upon us by those taking part in the consultations.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, raised specifically the question of the elderly. This will come up under Amendment No. 208B. It is of course important, and we shall therefore give it the detailed 1738 consideration that it deserves. We are firmly committed to the enabling provision included here that will allow us to relate the benefit restrictions to the decisions of rent officers. Therefore, we cannot agree the alternative formula that the noble Lord proposes.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, I did not understand what the Minister said in regard to appeals. He seemed to say—I may be wrong—that the local authority will be able to appeal to some senior rent officers. I want to know what the tenant can do. One has to accept that the tenant has a certain responsibility and should be able to appeal. I do not mind if this goes to a second higher place for appeal.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, that was an interesting speech by the Minister which we shall have to study carefully. I was especially interested to hear him say that benefit would be set at the level determined by the free market and that the only restriction would be that it would not be paid on rents above the market level. Is the noble Earl proposing to table amendments at Third Reading to put that on the face of the Bill, because that is not what the Bill says at the moment?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, first, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher. I misled her and I shall correct the position as soon as possble.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, no, I was making the position absolutely clear. We do not believe that it needs an amendment on the face of the Bill.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, there is a profound conflict between those words, which if I thought they were going to be law rather than a ministerial statement I would welcome very much, and what the Bill actually says. I concede that these discretionary powers have existed for some time. We already have powers for local authorities to restrict the amount of rent that counts for housing benefit purposes when it is unreasonable. Local authorities have those powers, and it has not been suggested that their extension in April 1988 has worked in any way inadequately.
What is now happening is that the powers are being taken away from the local authorities and put in the hands of rent officers—in effect, in the hands of central government—in accordance with the functions conferred under this clause of the Bill. There is no reference in the Bill to market rents or rent levels determined by the market. It does not say that. What we need from the Government is not just a statement of the kind made by the Minister this afternoon but for the Bill to say clearly and category- 1739 cally that, just because rents are going up as a result of the Bill, no single person at present on housing benefit, will be worse off as a result of his housing benefit not rising enough to compensate him for the higher rent, and no single local authority paying benefit should be forced to charge its ratepayers or community charge payers more because the Government are not giving enough money to compensate it. That is the issue. If the Minister will give me those two assurances I shall with pleasure withdraw the amendment.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to read very carefully what the noble Lord said. He asked for two assurances on words that he has just put to me. I think it would be fair of him to allow me to read what he said in the Official Report.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I respect what the Minister says. It does not go very well with what he said a moment ago about not proposing to put down amendments at Third Reading, but he said, first, something new about market rents which has never been said before so far as I know during the passage of the Bill, either here or in another place. He also said that he will listen to our demand that nobody in need should suffer as a result of the Bill. If he can come back at Third Reading with a provision to enshrine that, noble Lords on this side of the House, those who are responsible for administering housing benefit and above all those who are in need of housing benefit will be profoundly grateful. On the basis of what the Minister said, the proper course is for me to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, for the reasons I have given, I shall not move Amendment No. 208B.
§ [Amendment No. 208B not moved.]
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 208C:
Page 87, line 42, at end insert—
("(8) At the end of section 21(6) of the Social Security Act 1986 (regulations prescribing maximum family credit and maximum housing benefit) there shall be added—
and regulations shall prescribe that in determining the rent for housing benefit purposes the authority shall treat the rent officer's decision as to reasonable rent under section 118 of the Housing Act 1988 as the eligible rent less any deductions specified elsewhere in regulations." ").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall move Amendment No. 208C, which was moved and withdrawn at Committee stage, because I should like to give the Minister an opportunity to give further consideration to something that he said in Committee on 11th October. The amendment is concerned with the local authority's discretion to pay housing benefit at below the rent settled by the rent officer. If local authorities for whatever reason pay housing benefit at a rent lower than that settled by the rent officer, some people on housing benefit will be worse off as a result of the Bill. Therefore my original 1740 questions, which the Minister has just agreed to consider, would be even more forceful than they are now.
On that occasion the Minister said:
special consideration will arise in a case where the claimant is occupying accommodation which is at the top end of the market even though the rent for that property may be perfectly reasonable."—[Official Report, 11/10/88; col. 755.]
I assume the example would be the widow in a family home. He said that the matter was under further consideration. Although he did not propose a solution, I thought it was worth moving the amendment in order to give the Minister an opportunity to report any progress in the consideration of the matter. I beg to move.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, before I answer the noble Lord, I hope the House will allow me to put clearly on the record the answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal. I was half right. The claimant has a right of appeal, but not to the body to which I thought he had a right of appeal. He has a right of appeal to the housing benefit review procedure established by the local authority under social security legislation. It is the local authority that can invoke an appeal, if it chooses, to the independent group of rent officers which I mentioned. I hope that that makes the position absolutely clear.
The noble Lord's amendment would provide that, where the rent officer has assessed a reasonable rent under the new procedure, the local authority would be required to treat that rent as the minimum eligible rent for housing benefit purposes. As I explained when a similar amendment was moved at Committee stage, so far as the great majority of cases are concerned, there is no need for such a provision. Once the rent officer has made an assessment of rent, the local authority will be free to pay housing benefit up to the level of that assessment in the knowledge that the award will attract full subsidy from central government. A local authority will therefore not normally have any grounds for basing the benefit calculation on a lower level of rent than that assessed by the rent officer.
However, we need to take account of the case in which a benefit claimant is living in accommodation which is at the top end of the market, even though the rent he is paying may be perfectly reasonable. As I have already explained, the Government's view is that people ought not to be living in such accommodation at public expense and we therefore propose, as soon as adequate market evidence is available, to introduce formal controls on benefit in such cases. Until that is done we intend to institute an informal arrangement under which the rent officer will notify the local authority of any case where a tenant claiming housing benefit is living in a property at the top of the market. The local authority will then consider whether to use its discretion to restrict benefit below the level of rent which the claimant is paying or which the rent officer has himself determined as reasonable for the property.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. In so far as he 1741 is repeating what he said in Committee, he is not going as far as he did a few minutes ago in relation to Amendment No. 208A. He uses the words "normally" and "in rare circumstances". We are looking for a firm assurance that local authorities will not be allowed to make poor people poorer by paying housing benefit at a rate lower than that set by the rent officer. Will the Minister be good enough to go back to what he said on Amendment No. 208A? Will he assure us that, except in the sense of discretion which is already available to local authorities under existing legislation—I accept that there must be some discretion for local authorites—there will be no further discretion than already exists for tenants to receive housing benefit which is less than the rent which they must pay?
§ Lord Trafford
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him a question for clarification purposes. As I understand it, he has really asked three questions in one. First, he is asking what happens in an average circumstance in an average house—not at the top end of the housing market, or anything like that—where a market rent is set by the rent officer which is the guideline for the issue of housing benefit by the local authority. I think that he made the point in regard to the previous amendment. I believe that the Minister stated in reply that one of the reasons for making the guideline was so that it would be quite impossible for an astronomical rent to be set and for astronomical housing benefit automatically to follow. I take it that in this particular instance he is not referring to that issue and that he appreciates the point.
When he talks about people being made poorer as a result of the discretion, this would not arise where the market rent was a guideline except in one circumstance; but that would not be at the poorest end of the market. It could arise, as I understand it under subsequent regulations, in a very high rent area way outside the normal level of the people who might apply to him. I shall give a ridiculous example: a rent of £500 a week for someone who is on £200 a week. It would appear that under such a situation huge amounts of housing benefit could be paid which would be totally out of proportion. Is he asking all three questions?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord is going back to the debate and the sidetracking of the central issues which, I am sorry to say, took place in Committee. None of us is saying that penthouses in Mayfair should be fully paid for by housing benefit; that is not the issue. But there are already adequate safeguards for local authorities to exercise their discretion in such cases. Some of them existed before April 1988 and some of them were strengthened in April 1988. With respect, I do not think that that is the essence of the argument.
What we are looking for are assurances that go further than the "normally", which the Minister used in his reply to the amendment, which assure us that local authorities will always pay—except in those peculiar circumstances—the rent set by the rent officer to housing benefit claimants, and that they will be reimbursed in full by the Government for what 1742 they pay. If we have such assurances, then we can withdraw the amendment.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has accused me of bringing something new before your Lordships and of changing my position since the Committee stage. I must repeat that there is nothing new in what I have said about paying benefit at market rates. Housing benefit subsidy will be payable up to market rent but certainly not beyond. There will of course be a subsidy order under the Social Security Act 1986 which will determine that provision. That is the reason why it cannot be put on the face of the Bill which is what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, wishes me to agree to
As regards the discretion of the local authority, that was clearly spelt out in the full answer which I have just given to the noble Lord.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, on Amendment No. 208A, I invited the Minister to give the House an assurance that no one in need would be poorer. He did not say that he could not give that assurance for this or that reason; he said that he would think about it. On that basis, I withdrew the amendment. He has given no such comfort in relation to this amendment. Amendment No. 208C is absolutely vital if we are to avoid a greater degree of poverty resulting from the Bill's provisions that local authorities should not be able to pay less than the rent set by the rent officer. We have not received the assurances we need and therefore it is necessary to take the opinion of the House.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 208C) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 65; Not-Contents, 102.1743
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Addington, L.||Grimond, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Ardwick, L.||Hooson, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Irvine of Lairg, L.|
|Birk, B.||Jeger, B.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Jenkins of Hillhead, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Leatherland, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Carter, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Longford, E.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|David, B.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Mais, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Mulley, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Nicol, B. [Teller.]|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Northfield, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Galpern, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Grey, E.||Ross of Newport, L.|
|Russell, E.||Tordoff, L.|
|Seear, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Shaughnessy, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Stallard, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Stewart of Fulham, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Stoddart of Swindon, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Aldington, L.||Iddlesleigh, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Killearn, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Kitchener, E.|
|Arran, E.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Auckland, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Lytton, E.|
|Bessborough, E.||McAlpine of West Green,|
|Blatch, B.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Marley, L.|
|Brookes, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Butterworth, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Morris, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Munster, E.|
|Carnock, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Norrie, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Orkney, E.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Pender, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Portland, D.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Rankeillour, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Redesdale, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Renton, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Rochdale, V.|
|Elton, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||St. Davids, V.|
|Ferrers, E.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Selkirk, E.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Somers, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Gisborough, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Gorell, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Hardinge of Penshurst, L.||Trafford, L.|
|Havers, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Henley, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Weir, V.|
|Hives, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Hooper, B.||Young of Graffham, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.44 p.m.
Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 209:
After Clause 119, insert the following new clause:
§ (2) Paragraphs 6 and 8 shall be omitted.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 209 perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 233A, 233B and 243B in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness, and Amendment No. 244 which follows on from Amendment No. 209.
The amendments deal with the right to buy for disabled people. My amendments are designed to
remove the current discrimination against physically disabled people who occupy local authority housing. If your Lordships had before you the record of our proceedings in Committee you would see that my noble friend the Minister said:
The Government remain anxious … that as many tenants as possible in the public sector should have the right to buy. People with disabilities are no exception to this".—[Official Report, 11/10/88: col. 780.]
§ Later in Committee my noble friend generously went on to say that he would bring in his own amendment, which he has with Amendment No. 243B, to remove paragraph 8 of Schedule 5 to the Housing Act 1985. My amendment removes paragraph 6 as well. I thank my noble friend for taking that action, and I take the opportunity to thank him for his courtesy in meeting me between the Committee stage and now and discussing the whole matter. As he can see, we are still not together on the matter.
§ If agreed to by the House, my noble friend's amendment would give the right to buy to disabled tenants who live in council housing that has been specially adapted for disabled people, either by giving an additional 11.5 square metres of space, which might be just a sun porch, which is common to many houses, or a downstairs lavatory combined with a bath or shower. Again, many old properties are improved, whether occupied by disabled people or able-bodied people, by having a downstairs bath and lavatory added. In most cases it is the only practical place to do it. One goes through the kitchen into the new extension where there are the modern amenities. The only important point is the final one, the addition of the lift for dwellings of more than one storey. That means that if one is living in a house, is involved in a motor accident and ends up in a wheel-chair, and one's house is adapted after one has been living there the relevant length of time, one will have the right to buy.
§ Paragraph 6 of Schedule 5 to the 1985 Act deals with property that was designed and built specifically for disabled people, or converted from some other building, such as a barn—I do not know of many councils that have converted barns into council houses—to form a specially designed dwelling. If one had moved into one of those specially built dwellings some 20 years ago, after a similar accident with similar results and exactly the same disabilities, because the dwelling was purpose built the Government say that such a person will not have the right to buy. Those who have been possibly disabled the longest and who have lived in the same place for many years will not be allowed to buy. Those who become disabled through injury or disease and need their dwelling adapted for them will be allowed to buy. The Government have always prided themselves on being non-discriminatory. That is discrimination between disabled people and disabled people.
§ I want to take away the discrimination between disabled people and able-bodied people. There is an argument that the sale of specially designed or adapted accommodation reduces the amount of special accommodation available. Yes, it will, but to a very small extent. There are numerous instances of families with a disabled member where that member 1745 marries and moves away or dies and the family continues to live in the property. I have correspondence with me; I shall not read out all of it because we shall be here for hours. I have a letter talking about a flat specially designed for disabled people, occupied by the widow of a man who was in a wheelchair. She has been there for the last eight years; she will not move out. The local authority cannot get her out. That property has been lost to the disabled community temporarily until she dies.
§ There is also the fact that property specially designed for disabled people does not come up for letting very often because disabled people get used to a neighbourhood. They know where the shops are; they know where the dropped kerbs are; and the shopkeepers are helpful towards them. Those disabled people tend not to move. So property does not come up for letting as often as property that is available to able-bodied people.
§ In addition, the criteria for special dwellings can be very odd. I gave instances at the Committee stage but I shall not refer to the same letters. I have other examples. There are instances of disabled people in wheelchairs who are not allowed to buy their flat or bungalow which is exactly the same as, or similar to, that next door where the person is not disabled and where the property is sold to that tenant.
§ Modern standards of housing—local authority housing required by the Housing Corporation — insist on wider doorways, wider ground floors where there is one floor only, a flat floor in passageways or hallways and a downstairs lavatory with a shower or bath. The same applies to housing association properties. The NHBC recommends the same for private developers, but so far they are not complying. I hope that the building regulations will be altered to enforce such requirements.
A tenant living in Bristol writes:
In 1976 I did a straightforward council exchange. And the lady I swapped with was neither disabled nor a pensioner. She was a lonely widow who felt isolated and lonely up here, quite away from the shops and other facilities. My husband wanted a garden which the flat we were in did not have. In the early days of living here, I asked the council three times for a little help and was told that they could not do anything because it was not as if it is a special bungalow, or words to that effect. When we applied to buy, lo and behold it was a disabled person's bungalow. Local authorities are using the 1985 Act purely as an excuse not to sell.
Another letter is from a disabled couple, this time with the husband being severely disabled. The wife writes:
In our case, the only practical advantage is level access and an integral garage to store our outdoor electric wheelchairs. Many houses have level access and a very large number have integral garages; they are nothing special. The council, on refusing to sell, had attributed many features to this bungalow that do not exist. For instance, the bathroom is stated to be larger than non-purpose bungalows surrounding ours, while in actual fact it has exactly the same dimensions, being just 67 inches wide, wall to wall, with a floor space of 37 inches from bath to the wall. The average wheelchair is 49 inches long, making it impossible for tenants to turn their wheelchairs around in the bathroom".
This means that if they go in forwards, they have to come out backwards, or vice versa. The letter talks about the kitchen and the larger floor areas. It states:
The kitchen is 6 feet 11 inches wide, wall to wall, with a floor space of 40 inches wide, while in the so-called able-bodied persons' bungalows nearby, the kitchens are 8 feet 4 inches wide"—
that is 1 foot 5 inches wider—
and in the disabled bungalow it is not possible to turn the wheelchair round. The kitchen units are standard, so the disabled person has to park a wheelchair sideways to do any cooking—very awkward for husband and wife.
She goes on to say that the windows can only be opened from the standing position. Her husband who is unable to reach above his shoulders cannot turn on the lights and she has to stand up to do so from her wheelchair.
§ I could go on for a long time, but I think I have given sufficient examples of the need for disabled people to be able to buy their own properties. They are being discriminated against unreasonably, in my view. Local authorities are taking every excuse they can not to sell. I think that the argument that such specialised property is going out of the market is fallacious, as I have already said. I would agree that there is a need to build more. I do not deny that. But it does not mean that disabled people should not have the right to buy their properties. I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, perhaps I may make a suggestion on procedure. I think this is one of those occasions where it would be very helpful if the Minister who has his own amendments were not only to speak earlier in the debate but were to have the leave of the House to reply before the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, if that is the wish of your Lordships then I shall be very happy to comply. The case for some change in the legislation relating to the right to buy dwellings which have been purpose-built or adapted by the landlord has been put most eloquently at Committee stage and again this afternoon by my noble friend Lord Swinfen. All of us are concerned to see that those with disabilities enjoy the same rights and privileges as the able-bodied. The provisions we are discussing are not designed to exclude disabled people from the right to buy but rather to enable landlords to retain a stock of special housing suitable for disabled people. That was the basis on which the noble Viscount defeated the Government a few years ago.
Paragraphs 6 and 8 of Schedule 5 to the Housing Act are about special housing, not special tenants. The tenant may not be a disabled person. The property may, for instance, have been let to a couple with a disabled child or other relative living with them. Equally, a disabled person may live in a house which does not fall within the criteria for exclusion from the right to buy. Nevertheless I fully understand the feeling of disabled tenants that the practical effect of the legislation is to deny them the opportunity, which other tenants of local authorities and housing associations have, to buy their homes.
Amendments Nos. 209 and 244 would remove the exclusion from the right to buy of dwellings which were built with features substantially different to ordinary dwellings covered by paragraph 6 of Schedule 5 to the Housing Act 1985, and dwellings which have been adapted by the landlord in certain specified ways covered by paragraph 8 of the same schedule. As I made clear in Committee, the Government see no case for the continuation of the 1747 exclusion of dwellings which have merely been adapted. That is why I have tabled Amendments Nos. 233A and 243B to repeal paragraph 8.
Amendment No. 233B is a transitional provision to provide that the repeal shall have effect in relation to applications made before it comes into force where the landlord has not formally responded to the application by admitting or denying the right to buy.
I have great sympathy with what has been said about paragraph 6. I know from my postbag, and from letters sent to me by several noble Lords, that there are indeed problems with its operation. I do not however think that it would be right to deal with this difficulty by rushing into a repeal of paragraph 6, I said in Committee that I thought it was right to consult with those concerned—the local authorities, the housing association movement, people with disabilities and their organisations and others with relevant knowledge or experience—before taking such a step. I remain convinced that that is the right way forward. Let me make it absolutely clear that this is not because it is necessarily wrong to repeal paragraph 6. I should be delighted if in the light of the consultations we were able to conclude that purpose-built housing for the disabled could safely be brought within the right to buy. But we need to consider very carefully what the effects would be on the waiting lists for rented housing suitable for disabled people.
I shall go into some detail about how I propose that consultation should be carried out when we come on to the next amendment, Amendment No. 210. In view of the acceptance that I have been able to give, the tabling of amendments on the deletion of paragraph 8 and the reasons I have given why I think it would be wrong to delete paragraph 6 until at least we have time for consultation, I hope the House will think that is the right way to proceed.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, when we look back on Hitler's regime in the war we can see that a group of people were singled out as different. They had to wear a star: they were Jews. They were discriminated against with disastrous results.
There is now a small section of people who are being discriminated against. They are the physically disabled people who live in council houses and wish to buy their houses. I wish to quote from one of the letters I have received. It is from a disabled lady who lives in Harrogate. It states:I live in a block of flats which were specially built for elderly and disabled people. As I qualify on both grounds I have tried, but without success, for the past three years to buy my flat, yet an identical flat above me has been sold by the council to a young, able-bodied, single parent with a son and a live-in male friend—all of them not disabled".The letter continues:Is it fair that a disabled person like myself, having worked hard and saved sufficient money to buy my little home, despite having worn an artificial leg for 50 years, am denied the same right to buy as the able-bodied people who live above me?This lady earns her living and pays her taxes. I ask your Lordships where is the justice. All the people who have written to me are trying hard to live integrated, responsible lives in the community. They 1748 have worked and they have saved. They are seeking security in retirement, without having increasing rents hung round their necks. Should they not be given the same incentive as other council tenants?
In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, spoke so clearly about other special groups who may have houses which cost a little more. In fact a four-bedroom house would cost far more than a small house suitable for a disabled person, yet the former houses can be sold. Again I ask where is the justice.
My noble kinsman the Minister has tried to do his best, but I think that is just not good enough. It might mean even more discrimination and even more muddle. Surely one wants a family that has so many extra expenses in its daily living, as disabled people have, to keep out of the courts. How can those people take on a local authority in a court? These people are not the affluent rich; they are council tenants trying to live independent, responsible lives on small incomes.
It seems that any incentive is being squashed, just because a disability is involved. That has caused and is causing unhappiness and frustration to the individuals involved. My noble kinsman said at a meeting we had with him that he would put out this matter for consultation. I see little point in that as the department has received letters from disabled people who wish to buy their homes. Local authorities can sell now if they wish. But they do not wish to sell to disabled people. They prefer the choice of discrimination and a static housing stock.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I am sure there is not a Member of this House who does not agree with the principle of this amendment. But your Lordships will know that on this side of the House we have some difficulties with these amendments. In principle it is absolutely right that disabled people should not be discriminated against. We have all received many heartrending letters to that effect from disabled people who wish to buy their adapted or specially built houses. But the point has to be made that if an adapted house is sold and is not replaced, the stock of such houses is reduced. That then works to the disadvantage of the very large group of disabled people who can only afford to rent such housing. That group is much larger than those who wish to buy.
In Committee the Minister pointed out that there are some 40,000 such houses. There is a waiting list for them of 18,000 people. Forty thousand is only 10 per cent. of the requirement for such houses as calculated by the Department of the Environment in the 1970s. The department said then that there was a requirement for 460,000 such houses. Only 40,000 are available. The stock of houses to let would be reduced if the right to buy existed. And in any case the stock is only 10 per cent. of the requirement.
When the Minister replies, will he tell the House what plans the Government have to ensure that if the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, Amendment No. 209, or the amendments standing in the Minister's name are passed, the stock of special housing to let will not be reduced. If he could give us such an assurance, we would have no problem with these amendments at all.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
My Lords, I wish to support Amendments Nos. 209 and 244 most strongly. I am delighted to do so, as I was not able to he present in Committee. Like the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, I have changed my mind since the passage of the 1985 Act through this House. Then I felt that the way to encourage local authorities to build more suitable accommodation for disabled people was by not allowing the existing stock to be bought and thereby diminished. However, I realised at the time that that discriminated against those people who wanted to buy their houses.
But councils do not seem to have been encouraged to build more suitable housing, and disabled people are being discriminated against to an extent that I never envisaged. There is great confusion about what makes a dwelling substantially different from an ordinary dwelling house, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, demonstrated so graphically both in Committee and again today.
I welcome very much indeed what the Minister has said. First of all, I welcome the amendments standing in his name, Amendments Nos. 243A and 243B, as a first step, but I believe that the adaptations in paragraph 8 are pretty minimal. If Amendment No. 209, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, is not agreed to, I feel that Amendment No. 210 is absolutely essential, so that at least we can ensure that decisions on what constitutes a substantially different dwelling will not vary from place to place. But it would still mean that those disabled people whose houses fall the wrong side of the dividing line would be denied the right to buy. Can we really deny or allow the right to buy for the sake of a few square metres or a piece of equipment?
Disabled families, as the noble Lord said do not move house very often or very easily as there is so much hassle involved. If they are near accessible shops and an accessible job, they are much more likely to stay put than is the able-bodied family. Their houses are therefore not very rapidly available to new tenants. Furthermore, very few of these families will be in a position to afford to buy their houses, so we are talking about a very small number of people.
I welcome very much indeed what the Minister said in connection with Amendments Nos. 209 and 244. That gives me hope. However, in the meantime house prices will rise and some people who could afford to buy their houses now may well not be in a position to do so in a year or two when the Minister has held his consultations and the whole thing has been sorted out. We may deprive yet more people of the right to buy their own homes.
While I welcome what the Minister said, I would rather that we could agree the amendment now. I am now convinced that the only equitable solution for people with disabilities who want and can afford to buy their own homes is an unequivocal, unfettered right to buy.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, I found it difficult to come to a decision about this amendment. It is one of those very few amendments which cut across party lines. I do not believe that this is a party issue. However, I find the government stance exceedingly 1750 difficult to understand. That is even more so in the light of my noble friend's statistics about waiting lists and houses available. That information might be compared with the position in relation to the able-bodied.
I believe the boast is that 1 million council flats have already been sold. There are well in excess of 1 million people waiting for flats and hundreds of thousands of homeless people. There are no qualms and there is no suggestion that because there are so many people waiting for flats and there is a shortage of homes that one ought to reconsider the policy of selling flats. That would have been a consistent stance, but having accepted that position for the able-bodied the Government cannot now say that a flat which has been adapted for the disabled—either marginally or more substantially—should not be sold because it would take one home out of the existing stock. That is not a consistent argument. It is discrimination and will be seen to be blatant discrimination.
It is for that reason, and because I am slightly biased as a result of my long-standing association with organisations for the disabled and because I understand the problems and the thinking behind the amendment, that I think the government stance will be seen as discrimination. I welcome the move towards ending at least some part of that discrimination as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. I think it is a welcome sign when noble Lords on the Government Benches are prepared to come out against discrimination in whatever form. On that basis I am happy to support the noble Lord, and I hope that the Minister will have further thoughts about the amendment.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
My Lords, I shall not delay the House long. I feel passionately about this issue. Both as chairman of a housing committee and in conjunction with voluntary organisations I have had a great deal of experience of trying to ensure that the disabled are treated in exactly the same way as able-bodied people. They are often very clever and extremely good at doing things but are simply hampered by some disablement. There are three or four noble Lords in this House who are disabled. They are very clever and do a marvellous job.
The idea that one can discriminate against disabled people who have lived in the same house for a number of years is unacceptable. Like the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, I have received many letters from disabled people who have lived in their houses for many years and want to buy their homes.
There was a period before this present Government when local authorities were not encouraged to sell houses. It was thought that they should keep them. This Government, rightly I believe, have encouraged people to buy their homes. Why on earth should disabled people not be able to buy their houses too? I believe that is utterly wrong. It is a disgrace. I hope the Government will see that this particular wrong should be done away with in this Bill.
It can be done. I have done it myself as chairman of a housing committee in my own area. In those days 1751 we were not encouraged to sell houses, but we converted houses. Now that council tenants are able to buy their houses the disabled also want to buy because they have lived there for many years. I hope the Government will see that this amendment is accepted and that that disadvantage is removed.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, I respect what the Minister said about this amendment and his attitude towards it, because he is a politician and I am not. But I should like to ask why it is that one has to wait and consult local authorities before doing something which is so eminently right. The local authorities' opinions may be right or they may be wrong, but surely we have the conviction to recognise that an amendment of this kind is eminently right.
I should also like to point out that there have been complaints that the proposal would take houses out of the general housing market. It would not do so. A house which has been converted for disabled people can perfectly well be used by able-bodied people subsequently if they wish. The proposal would not diminish the number of houses available.
I hope the Government will see that this is right and that they do not have to wait and consult local authorities before taking the necessary steps.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I fully appreciate the point that we must not diminish the stock of houses which have been specially equipped, very expensively, for disabled people. Is there any way whereby a disabled person could buy a house and the local authority would have the right to buy it back when that person died, rather than it passing to his heirs who may be fully able-bodied? The local authority would therefore be able to take full advantage of the house.
There is no objection and there is every advantage in the existing disabled tenant continuing to live in the house, having bought it himself. We do not want to diminish the stock of houses and therefore if the local authority still has a waiting list of disabled people wanting houses which are specially equipped why should it not have the right to buy back the property when the disabled occupier dies?
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, the Minister will recall that during Committee stage I raised this very point. I see no reason why machinery could not be brought in to give the local authority the right to pre-emption. If that were the case I would support these amendments. However, if it is not even to receive consideration I have heard no arguments to change my mind about the 1985 Act. There is no doubt that the next generation of disabled people will find there are no houses available for them.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, the Government are often accused of being uncaring and unthinking, particularly about the disadvantaged. I feel quite sure noble Lords opposite will believe that many of the allegations are quite unfair and unjustified. However, it is this kind of resistance to a 1752 perfectly reasonable suggestion which makes them eligible for criticism. They have the opportunity this afternoon to try to put that right by not opposing this amendment.
I perfectly understand the arguments of the Minister against the amendment. He wants to consult. With respect to the Minister, there has been ample time already for consultation. The time for talking is over and now is the time for action on behalf of disabled people. We have already heard from a number of speakers this afternoon about the small difference that would be made to the total housing stock for the disabled. In fact, the argument is about what reasonable people—ordinary people the street—believe to be fair. I have asked some ordinary people in the street whether they believe that it is fair that in a society in which council tenants have the right to buy their property one should say to one and only one section of those tenants, "You may not buy because you are disabled". Invariably, in every case, the reply has been, "Of course it is wrong that one should discriminate". Indeed, before I left my house this morning I spoke to my wife, who is not a political animal as I am. She is an ordinary person and I often consult her and take great heed of what she says. I put the same question to her. Her immediate reply was "Of course, it is absurd that disabled people should be discriminated against. You get up to the House of Lords today and vote for Lord Swinfen's amendment!" That is precisely what I intend to do. Moreover, not only will I have voted for it if, as I hope, he presses it, but I shall also have spoken for it.
I should just like to say this to my Front Bench who had difficulties—now resolved, I believe—about the matter at Committee stage. I hope that my noble friend will be able to say what in fact I am sure he said at Committee stage; namely, that the Labour Party is not block-headed about this matter, that there is genuine feeling on both sides of the argument and that noble Lords on this side of the House will vote according to their conscience rather than in accordance with the party line. I feel sure that there will be no party Whip on this issue.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, I hope that the Government will stick to their views on an issue that is absolutely plain and has been clearly stated by various speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, wants to remove what he calls discrimination—I think that that was the word he used—against the current tenant of a specific property. The method that he proposes is to impose discrimination on all those unknown future disabled people who might want and need to rent that very same property. It is as simple as that. I am wholly in support of the Government's attitude.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, a great deal of hot air has been generated on this issue. I wonder how many noble Lords who have spoken have ever seen any converted or specially-built houses. What does such a property have in it that makes it so difficult for an able-bodied person to use should he wish to do so? Why were those houses put in a special category in the first place, in other words? They are just houses or 1753 flats belonging to the local authority which are for rent and ought to be purchasable.
I speak as one who is temporarily disabled. I must say that the gear that we have put into our property will not be of any disadvantage to an able-bodied person. Why has it ever been decided that there is a group of dwellings that have to be put into a special category? Whatever has been said, both our Front Bench and the Government will appear very hardhearted if they do not accede to the pleas of other noble Lords who have spoken on this issue.
As regards the argument about depleting the stock of housing, as my noble friend has said, why do we single out this particular group? The stock will certainly be depleted in all ways. The homeless will certainly be at risk. The noble Baroness is worried about the heirs and successors to those houses, but I cannot see that it will be very difficult for them to re-convert the property for their use if they wish to do so. This is so trivial and so fiddling. After all, the matter concerns a group of people who have to suffer all sorts of disadvantages that the rest of us do not.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I have listened to a number of very persuasive speeches and there is now some confusion in my mind as to who in fact is being discriminated against. For example, a distinction has been drawn between a disabled person who lives in a house that is not adapted and a disabled person who lives in a house that has quite clearly been adapted. I take issue a little with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. Some houses have had considerable amounts of money spent on them by way of adaptations: in others there is special equipment and very minor adaptation has been required. Some local authorities have spent considerable sums of money.
I am concerned about some of the examples mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, in his excellent speech. It appears that when a disabled person applies to buy his home, the local authority labels that piece of property as specially built or adapted, for disabled people. In fact, on making sensible comparisons with neighbouring houses it is clear that the property is being used for its own sake and the case is not substantiated. I believe that there needs to be some reference made to the different situations of the disabled person who is living in a clearly adapted house and the disabled person in a normal house.
The issue of stock is very important. If I may be so bold, perhaps I may say to the Minister that I think he is in a very real dilemma. The issue of stock is very important. Disabled people who live in adapted or non-adapted houses will pass on and some of those houses will be lost to the disabled sector. That is a very real difficulty for the Minister.
I have some sympathy with the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, but I do not believe that it will answer the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, or other speakers who have sponsored the amendment. By purchasing their house, disabled people buy independence not only for themselves but also for their families. However, a problem arises in that when the disabled person who has bought the house passes on, his family still need to live in that 1754 house; it is their inheritance from that person. To have a condition that on the death of that person the property must be purchased back by the authority seems to leave that family with a special problem. That is one of my concerns.
I am not sure what my noble friend the Minister will do. I think that we can buy some time between now and the final stages of the Bill. There is definitely a will on all sides of the House not to discriminate against disabled people. In fact, I do not think that the Government feel that they are discriminating against disabled people. I believe that they have no wish to discriminate against the disabled but want to discriminate against the property that has been converted in order that it may remain in the domain of provision for the disabled. That is the case whether the person is disabled or, if not yet disabled, potentially disabled. The housing stock issue is a very real one.
It seems to me that the Government must honour their commitment both to the disabled who are now in their homes and potentially disabled people who will require homes in the future. I do not know whether one can do the almost impossible and find a suitable alternative. I believe, however, that the proposed amendment would cause discrimination in another area against the very people for whom we are all concerned. I have to admit to my noble friend the Minister that I find it almost impossible to know which way to vote on this amendment; I understand the arguments from all sides.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stoddart is quite right about one thing: it will be obvious from speeches made from the Opposition Benches that there are differing views about this matter and that noble Lords who take the Labour Whip are entirely free to speak and vote as they wish upon it. I want to put my view. I seek to persuade my noble friends—and indeed any other of your Lordships that the Government's approach is the right one and that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, should not be accepted.
So far as I am concerned, the most significant consideration is the question of who is being discriminated against. The point has been put with great eloquence and effect that those disabled people who live in council accommodation and who would like and presumably have the means to buy their own homes are being discriminated against. They are certainly a significant and important group of disabled people who ought not to be ignored. But there are two other groups of disabled people who ought to be taken into account as well. The first group are those who live in adapted, specially built, council accommodation who are not able to buy. I suppose that one could say the case there is neutral. They are not affected, for or against, by the proposals now being made.
However, the third and most important group, in my view—it has been referred to by my noble friend Lord Carter; and nobody could accuse him of lack of sympathy for the disabled—are those who need adapted accommodation from the council who are 1755 living in unsuitable accommodation and cannot get into council accommodation unless vacancies occur. Those are the people for whom I feel most sorry. They are not only suffering financially—because those people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, is referring are suffering financially but not physically—but suffering physically because they cannot get the accommodation which is so important to them, and that is suitable for their needs. In regard to those three groups of disabled people, my sympathies fall mostly with the largest group. For that reason I am opposed to the extension of the right to buy proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen.
It is not enough to say that the Government are simply delaying matters by looking for consultation. As I understood the Minister, he said that he was prepared to carry out this consultation because he was prepared to listen to arguments that there would be no loss or suffering on the waiting list for housing for disabled people. That is a very important consideration. It is not that he is carrying out formal consultation for the sake of it. He wants to listen to the arguments that there would be no loss of accommodation for those on the waiting lists. I do not believe that the Minister will be convinced, as a result of anything that has been said in the House today or from what may be said to him by any of the groups proposing this change, that there could be no loss.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made the suggestion—which my noble friend Lord Dean put forward at Committee—that there should be a preemption right: that is, a right for the local authorities to buy when the disabled person who had bought no longer needed the accommodation, or died. That is not a question for the Minister, if I may say so with respect. It is a question for the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. If he thinks the point has any validity he ought to withdraw his amendment now and come back at Third Reading with an amendment which incorporates that. He might find more sympathy for his point of view if he did so.
At the risk of being called hardhearted by my noble friend Lady Phillips, and uncaring and unfeeling by my noble friend Lord Stoddart, I believe that we ought to take into account the feelings and needs of those disabled people most in need. They are the ones who will continue to need local authority adapted accommodation.
§ Viscount Ingleby
My Lords, as the mover of the original amendment in 1984 perhaps I may make a suggestion at this point. It is that disabled people be given a right to buy but with an obligation on the local authority to replace all such houses and to be allowed to use some of the money frozen from the sale of council houses for this purpose. In this way an injustice would be righted but the stock of suitable houses would be maintained. I would support the amendment on this basis.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, of course there ought to be more money spent by local 1756 authorities on housing for the disabled. However, one has to have greater expenditure on the highest number of existing properties. I urge that on the Government. The only way to achieve that aim is by keeping the properties for disabled people. That must be the case. The noble Viscount is perfectly right on that point, but it is not an argument for the amendment.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Blatch said it is a difficult decision. Perhaps I may take up some of the points that have been made by your Lordships. On the last point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, I cannot accept the proposition that he has put to us. The whole thrust of government policy on housing is in a very different direction from that which he has put forward.
My noble kinswoman said that the incentive on the disabled will be squashed. That is inaccurate because I have already accepted that we should delete paragraph 8. I fear that my noble kinswoman did not listen with her normal care to what I put before your Lordships.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilion
My Lords, I listened very carefully. However, I thought that if one takes away paragraph 8 and leaves paragraph 6 one will leave a greater muddle. There will be even more problems because local authorities will jump at any chance to stop disabled people buying their houses.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I also said that we would consult not only the local authorities but those concerned with the disabled. I must repeat this. I should not mind if paragraph 6 was omitted after the consultation. As I explained at my meeting with my noble kinswoman, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and my noble friend Lord Swinfen, the whole point of consultation would be that one would either leave paragraph 6 as it was; one could repeal paragraph 6; one could have regulations to cover paragraph 6; or one could amend paragraph 6 and have regulations to cover the amendment to paragraph 6. My mind was totally free. I went in with a completely open mind on that. However, I am sorry that my noble kinswoman has not accepted that offer.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter raised the very important point that we are talking about 40,000 houses with 18,000 on the waiting list. The point of the consultation was to determine exactly what effect that would have on the stock. I do not know whether it will diminish it or not at this stage. But I have already taken the step which I promised my noble friend Lord Swinfen at Committee stage of talking to the department about building regulations. The next opportunity will be raising with the housebuilders what they are doing with private residential dwellings so that they can be used either by the elderly disabled or those who are fully active. My noble friend Lord Swinfen is right. Of course in certain cases one might be able to increase the size of doors and have slightly wider passages on the ground floor. I promised that I would look into that matter, and I have already begun the process.
1757 The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, talked about adapted stock where we were preventing the disabled and the elderly from having the right to buy. I disagree. They are exactly the people we are allowing the right to buy with the removal of paragraph 8. It is paragraph 6 with which we have the severe difficulty.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, asked the question: why not give the local authority the right to buy on the death of the disabled person? But why should not the successors to the tenant who has bought receive the benefit of the property? Why should it be put up for sale or the local authority given first option at that stage? As I said when I spoke earlier, this is a situation where the letting might not be to a disabled person but to a couple who have a disabled child. The noble Baroness thwarts the objective by saying that the property is not allowed to be passed on on the death because the successors cannot inherit; that the local authority must have the right of pre-emption.
This is a very difficult situation. The House is completely split. Many of those who imposed their will against the Government three years ago have now converted. As your Lordships know, the zeal and fervour of those converted to a cause has a special power.
The Earl of Caithness
I repeat that I have never been against paragraph 6. All I felt was that we should go to consultation. But now we have from the very bedrock of socialism the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. who says, "No consultation, my Lords. We do not want any of that. Let us get on. Let us have action".
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am obliged to the noble Earl, but I did not say that and I certainly did not say it in that manner. I said that there had been time for consultation but that that time had gone. Now is the time for action. I hope he will agree that that is quite a different matter.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, as the matter was raised only at Committee stage, there has been no time for consultation. That is exactly the point. The noble Lord obviously does not want to have consultation. I am happy that the—
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should remind my noble kinsman that we made very strong speeches on Second Reading, which was quite a long time ago, before the Recess.
The Earl of Caithness
Indeed, my Lords. People make statements at Second Reading that they never follow up with amendments. That is perfectly true. We have many strong statements in this House, but the amendment that was discussed at Committee stage was the important point.
It is right to accept what I think is the majority will of the House. More people spoke in favour of the 1758 amendment than against it. I am sorry that your Lordships do not overwhelmingly think that it is right to go to consultation, but that there should be no consultation. However, I think we ought to bow to the will of your Lordships and accept the amendment.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, did I hear my noble friend correctly that he is going to accept the amendment? If that is the case, I commend it to the House.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 209) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 81; Not-Contents, 34.1759
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Aldington, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Ampthill, L.||Long, V.|
|Arran, E.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Lytton, E.|
|Bessborough, E.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Margadale, L.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Marley, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Masham of Ilton, B. [Teller.]|
|Caithness, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Carlisle of Bucklow, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Morris, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Munster, E.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Newall, L.|
|Croham, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Davidson, V.||Phillips, B.|
|Denham, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Redesdale, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Rochdale, V.|
|Elton, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Somers, L.|
|Hardinge of Penshurst, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Henley, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Hives, L.||Swinfen, L. [Teller]|
|Holderness, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Hooper, B.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Ingleby, V.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Killcarn. L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Henderson of Brompton, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|David, B.||Jenkins of Hillhead, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L. [Teller.]||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Diamond, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Mcintosh of Haringey, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Mais, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Mountevans, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Trafford, L. [Teller.]|
|Prys-Davies, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Ross of Newport, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 210 not moved.]
§ Clause 120 [Right to buy: tenant's sanction for landlord's delays]:
The Earl of Arran moved Amendment No. 210A:
Page 89, line 4, after ("within") insert ("the period or).
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 210A and I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 210B to 210E. Clause 120 provides for a procedure which can operate where a landlord is slow at dealing with right to buy applications. It enables the tenant to serve an initial notice on the landlord complaining of the delay and if the landlord then fails to take the necessary action the tenant may serve an operative notice of delay and the tenant's rent during the continuing period of delay will be deducted from the purchase price of the dwelling on completion.
§ The circumstances where a tenant can serve an initial delay notice on his landlord are if he fails to deliver within certain set periods of time certain statutory notices; for example, admitting or denying the right to buy or the notice of purchase price. The tenant can also serve such a delay notice if he considers his right to buy application is being delayed by the landlord.
§ This further group of amendments which I referred to when I moved the insertion of Clause 120 at Committee stage relates only to the circumstances when the landlord has breached the statutory deadlines for the delivery of notices.
§ The effect of Clause 120 as it stands is that where a landlord fails to meet these deadlines the rent does not begin to count towards the purchase price until the service of an operative notice which can only be served at least one month after the initial notice. This has the effect of extending the statutory deadlines imposed on the landlord. These amendments provide that instead of the rent beginning to count from service of the operative notice it should be reckoned from the date of the statutory deadline. For cases in the pipeline where the statutory deadlines have been breached before the commencement of these provisions the calculation of rent to be deducted will start from the date when Clause 120 comes into force.
§ By linking the rent calculation directly to the date of the statutory deadlines this amendment will make the delay procedure more logical and comprehensible and improve the level of compensation available to tenants.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.1760
§ The Earl of Arran moved Amendments 210B to 210E:
§ Page 89, line 8, after ("within") insert ("the period of").
Page 89, line 13, at end insert—
("and where an initial notice of delay specifies ay of the cases in paragraphs (a) to (d), any reference in this section or section 153B to the default date is a reference to the end of the period referred to in the paragraph in question or, if it is later, the day appointed for the coming into force of section 120 of the Housing Act 1988").
§ Page 90, line 6, at end insert ("the default date or, if the initial notice of delay specified the case in subsection (1)(e)").
§ Page 90, line 17, after ("after") add ("the default date or, as the case may be").
§ On Question amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 121 [Restriction on letting etc. of certain houses in National Parks etc.]:
The Earl of Caithness moved Amendent No. 211:
Page 91, line 42, leave out ("passing") and insert ("commencement").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 122 [Restriction on disposal of dwelling-houses in National Parks etc. acquired under the right to buy]:
The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 212:
Page 92, line 30, leave out ("passing") and insert ("commencement").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 125 [Schemes for payments to assist local housing authority tenants to obtain other accommodation]:
§ Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 212A:
Page 94, line 44, at end insert—
("() A scheme under this section shall not exclude, but may be solely for, tenants of dwelling-houses designed or adapted for occupation by disabled people,").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 125 gives housing authorities the power to set up schemes to make payments to their tenants who buy and/or adapt private housing. The law as it stands allows authorities to give assistance only towards the cost of moving and not the cost of house purchase. The clause is, in effect, a form of the transferable discount which we discussed in Committee. It is expected that the schemes will exist mainly in areas where there is an appreciable quantity of council housing of a type whose tenants will be unlikely to exercise the right to buy even if they could afford to—for example, flats in either large high rise or high density blocks. Such areas are also likely to have a considerable number of homeless people and others in acute housing need.
§ The schemes could include the tenants of housing designed or adapted for disabled people and likely to be limited to inner city areas. Disabled tenants and disabled people who wish to become tenants are to be found in all parts of the country, even if not in large numbers. Fifty per cent. of homeless people are to be found in rural areas and the disabled represent a higher proportion of homeless than in the population as a whole.1761
§ The amendment is designed to ensure that local authorities are able to establish such schemes largely for disabled people. It would be helpful in deciding whether to press the amendment if the Minister could clarify that they will be able to set up such schemes.
§ The payments under the clause would be similar to transferable discounts. There is no suggestion that tenants in adapted housing will not be able to benefit from them. However, the schemes may be local and limited to the local authority area, even to particular estates. The disabled who are in need of appropriate housing or the tenanted housing that is adapted for them are not constricted in that way in narrow groups. The need and the provision is spread throughout the country, although only thinly. Therefore a patchwork of local schemes, each designed to reflect the local and general housing considerations but with no scheme at all in much of the country, would be of little assistance in either assisting existing disabled tenants or those disabled people in desperate need of rehousing.
§ The amendment is intended to deal with that situation. I hope that the Government will accept it. I beg to move.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I have listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has said. The amendment seeks to provide that a local authority must include tenants of housing converted or adapted for the disabled in a cash incentive scheme and that such a scheme may be solely for such tenants. There is certainly no need for a specific provision to say that a scheme may be only for tenants of housing suitable for the disabled. Subsection 2(a) provides that a scheme may include provisions specifying the persons who are qualifying tenants or licensees for the purposes of the scheme; there is nothing to prevent an authority coming forward with a scheme solely for the class of tenant the amendment specifies.
The more substantial point of the amendment is that which would prevent a scheme excluding tenants of property particularly suitable for the disabled. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, says about the advantages of cash incentive payments for tenants of specially constructed or adapted housing. However, I also share some of the doubts which have been expressed about whether many disabled people will wish to move. If they have a home which is suited to their needs: if they are familiar with local shops and other facilities; and if they have any care and support services they need arranged, the upheaval of a move is an unattractive prospect, particularly if a new home would need substantial adaptation.
The fact that relatively few people in this category may wish to move is no reason to exclude them from the scope of eligibility for schemes, and they are not excluded by the clause as it stands. It is, however, a rather different matter to say that they must be included. We have deliberately avoided prescribing details of schemes on the face of the Bill, and, as I have explained, local authorities may make a scheme open to such of their tenants as they wish, subject to my right honourable friend's consent. I do not think that it would be wise to single out tenants of property for the disabled as the only group who must be 1762 included in schemes. It might well be that an authority wished to target a scheme on larger properties suitable for families to reduce the number of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Would it be right to oblige them to include in their scheme small units for the disabled when other tenants in small units not specially constructed or adapted were excluded?
I understand the noble Lord's concern but, in the light of what I have said, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, that assurance does not go as far as I would have hoped, but it is enough to persuade me to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I wonder whether this is a suitable moment at which to adjourn. I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned until 7.45 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.