§ Mr. Willis
I beg to move, in page 6, to leave out lines 31 and 32.
After that notable moral victory, even if it was not an actual victory, I move this Amendment, which refers to the wordsby the Scottish Special Housing Association acting with the approval of the Secretary of State,During the Committee stage of the Bill several points were raised about the inclusion of the Scottish Special Housing Association in this context. None of them was answered satisfactorily by the Joint Under-Secretary. In spite of the fact that he claims to have answered thousands of questions very satisfactorily, he will find, if he looks at cols. 789 and 790 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Scottish Standing Committee of 7th May, that he failed to do so on that occasion.
The matter was raised first by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), then by myself, and also, of course, by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). We all raised points about this and did not get an answer. The subsection with which the Amendment is concerned defines the exporting authority as one which proposesto make or have made arrangements for the meeting of that need,"—for overspill—in whole or in part, by the provision of housing accommodation outside their district—Exactly how does the Scottish Special Housing Association come into this? It seems that the Association would be employed at the request either of the receiving authority or the exporting authority seeking to fulfil its job under Clause 8 (1, a) or (1, c). If the Association comes in under those paragraphs, why do we need to have (1, b)? In replying to that 948 question the hon. Gentleman made a rather significant statement. He said:
- (a) by another local authority, or a development corporation, in pursuance of an overspill agreement, or
- (b) by the Scottish Special Housing Association acting with the approval of the Secretary of State, or
- (c) by themselves in exercise of powers conferred by the principal Act."The Association is put in directly by the Secretary of State to do part of the overspill job. …"—[OFFICAL, REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 7th May. 1957; c. 789.]Surely the Secretary of State can do that only if he is requested to do so? He has to be requested either by the exporting authority, which would then bring in the Association within Clause 8 (1, c), or by the receiving authority, which would bring it in under (1, a).
Surely there is no independent manner in which the Scottish Special Housing Association can come in and do the job? The hon. Gentleman was rather contradictory about that. In the extract which I have read he appeared to suggest that the Association could be put in without anyone asking for it. I am sure that that is not what we want.
He later suggested that the Association could be used to help to solve the overspill problem, which is a better interpretation than that which he had given earlier. If that is the interpretation—and the hon. Gentleman nods his head in agreement—why has it to be included in the Clause? Surely it is covered by Clause 8 (1, a) or 8 (1, c). If not, that raises a number of questions such as those asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton about the exact status of the Association, those which I raised about disputes, and those which my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock raised. If the provision which the Amendment seeks to delete is left in the Bill in this fashion it seems to be rather involved. I believe that the Government's purpose could have been quite well served by omitting it from this subsection.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I beg to second the Amendment.
The Joint Under-Secretary must yield some information on this Amendment. When we discussed Clause 23 in Committee—I concede that it was some time in the middle of the night nearly a fortnight ago—he told us that the capacity of the Scottish Special Housing Association to build houses was about 3,500 houses a year. We discovered that the Association 949 had in fact been building, four years ago, rather more than 5,000 a year and that it had gradually been running down from a little over 5,000 to 3,500. The Joint Under-Secretary described as the capacity of the Association the smallest number of houses which the Association had built in one year for several years.
The hon. Member has told us that the Association is to be employed for the purpose of dealing with Glasgow's overspill. We assume that that is the purpose of putting the Association into the Clause. Nevertheless, we fail to see how the Association will make any marked contribution to a solution of Glasgow's overspill problem unless it greatly increases the total number of houses that it builds; unless, of course, the Government have in mind that the Association will cease doing its present job of building houses for transferred miners and others in a similar category.
The Association is put into the Clause dealing with overspill populations from Glasgow, but Clause 23 says that the Association will only be authorised to build houses provided that the Secretary of State is satisfied that the local authority could not build the houses without charging an unreasonably high rent. The Secretary of State obviously does not think that a rent of £2 15s. a week for temporary prefabricated houses is unreasonably high. Everybody else in Scotland thinks that it is unreasonably high, but he does not.
In those circumstances, the Association could be used to build houses to take Glasgow's overspill population only if the receiving authority were already charging rents in excess of those being charged by the Dumfries County Council. That is logical. The Secretary of State has accepted as reasonable the Dumfries rents of £2 15s. a week for any house, irrespective of size and location. He has provided in the Bill that he will not employ the Association unless the local authority would otherwise require to charge an unreasonably high rent. To obtain the services of the Association, therefore, a local authority would need to charge rents in excess of £2 15s. a week. We do not know how much in excess, but the figure would certainly need to be higher than 950 that of the rents charged by the Dumfries County Council.
We think it monstrous to include in a Clause dealing with Glasgow's overspill a provision that the Association will come to the aid of the receiving authority—it might be Kilmarnock Town Council or Hamilton Town Council—in providing houses to take Glasgow's overspill only if Kilmarnock or Hamilton Town Council charges a rent in excess of £2 15s. a week for its own people in respect of existing houses. Of course we shall not do that.
I think that in all the circumstances there is no point in keeping the Association within the Clause at all. By all means keep it in if the Government will amend Clause 23, but if they will not amend Clause 23 and give themselves power to send in the Association without the Secretary of State interesting himself so much in the level of rents, there is no point in retaining the Association in this Clause.
For several weeks the Secretary of State has been telling hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), that he has nothing to do with local authority rents. We are questioning the desirability of including the power to use the Scottish Special Housing Association, because by keeping this provision in the Bill we are asking the Secretary of State to determine whether the rents in a local authority area, where the authority is likely to use the Association, are unreasonably high. We have no confidence whatever in the Secretary of State's appreciation of what is an unreasonably high rent.
In the circumstances, I hope that the Government will see how illogical the position is, and agree to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. J. N. Browne
The position is that if the Scottish Special Housing Association were to be brought in under Clause 8 (1, a) or 8 (1, c) it could be only as an agent of the importing authority or the receiving authority. It would therefore be wholly or partly at the expense of one or other of the authorities. By including it under paragraph (b) the Association could be put in by my right hon. Friend. Of course, it would be by administrative arrangement with both the exporting and 951 receiving authority that the houses would be provided. The Association could be put in by my right hon. Friend and could act on its own account and without payment from either the exporting or receiving authority.
The reason why this reference must be made is that Clause 23 (1, b) authorises the type of building for which my right hon. Friend may make payments to the Scottish Special Housing Association. I assure the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) that the two provisions do not hang together and that there is no rent qualifications, such as that which he mentioned, which is referred to in Clause 23 (1, a). It is simply that my right hon. Friendmay, with the consent of the Treasury, make to the Scottish Special Housing Association payments in respect of such number of houses provided by the Association as he may determine, being—(b) houses provided in pursuance of arrangements such as are mentioned in subsection (1) of section eight of this Act.I am sure the House does not want to omit that important reference, which authorises payments by my right hon. Friend to the Association without any contra payment being made for that service by the exporting or the receiving authority. The Amendment seeks to omit that reference.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) previously asked me a question, which he did not raise today, about what would happen in the event of dispute. There is no statutory provision for disputes. It is simply a matter for administrative action.
The hon. Member for Hamilton raised a point which we discussed fairly fully in Committee, which was whether this meant an increase in the total number of houses and if so what was going to happen? I would ask the hon. Gentleman not to press me too far about the future. In theory, the existing duties of the Scottish Special Housing Association will go down gradually while the requirements of overspill building will increase. I should not like to commit myself exactly about what will happen in the years to come.
§ Mr. Ross
We are not very much advanced in clarity by the statement of the Joint Under-Secretary of State. The Clause defines exporting and importing 952 authorities. The exporting authority is defined as an authority that cannot meet its housing-accommodation need wholly or partly and has to make arrangements with another local authority.
No one can build in an area covered by a local authority without the permission of that local authority. The Secretary of State has no right to say that anyone can build within the area of another local authority without the permission of that authority. What is actually happening is that we are defining an exporting authority as one that meets its overspill needs by the use of the Scottish Special Housing Association. How does it? It is not the exporting authority that comes to an agreement with the Scottish Special Housing Association, but, obviously, the importing authority, the local authority in the area of which the houses are to be built.
I must ask again what we asked in Committee and did not get any clear indication on at all: how is this thing to be worked out? We understand that this may well be done in an overspill agreement, but the overspill agreement does not cover the Scottish Special Housing Association, which is not in it at all. The Joint Under-Secretary says that it is not in it, at least he tried to say it about three times. Eventually, he said he might have misled the Committee and might have to apologise next morning. He appeared next morning and did not apologise, but he certainly misled the Committee.
There has to be an agreement between Glasgow and another local authority. The people who are bound by that agreement are the other local authority. We are now told that the local authority can transfer its responsibility in respect of building the actual houses, with the consent of the Secretary of State, to the Scottish Special Housing Association. If it does that, it is a considerable advance for Glasgow, which will be relieved from the obligation to pay £14 a year for at least ten years. Glasgow will have no say whether or not the Scottish Special Housing Association builds any of the houses. The receiving authority is held responsible for the carrying out of the agreement in respect of houses.
It is not good enough for the Joint Under-Secretary of State to say, "There is nothing statutorily laid down about 953 what will happen in case of dispute". There are obviously three sides to the agreement. There are the two local authorities originally concerned and now the Scottish Special Housing Association is drawn in, to be practically responsible for the building, for the rent and for the occupancy of the houses. It is not good enough to say, "Everything is all right. Please let us have the Clause." How is this arrangement to work?
The Scottish Special Housing Association is responsible for the rents, the tenants and the maintenance of the houses. We believe that that should be covered by an agreement, bin it is not covered by an agreement. Any shortcomings on the part of the Scottish Special Housing Association will be visited on the head of the receiving authority who made the agreement originally with Glasgow. The position is far from satisfactory.
Let not the Joint Under-Secretary of State imagine that we do not want the Scottish Special Housing Association to participate in this work; we do. We would be far better satisfied if there were an imaginative part of the Clause which showed that the Government intend to enlarge the work and the whole scope and idea of the Scottish Special Housing Association. The burdens will be placed upon the local authorities, who will not be able to do anything at all. An agency such as the Scottish Special Housing Association is required, but I do not think that it is satisfactorily dealt with by putting it in here in connection with the definition of an exporting authority.
I say quite seriously that we are as anxious as the Government are to ensure the success of these matters, but that they bristle with difficulty. The position has not been made clear by the Joint Under-Secretary's statement that the Government have not covered the possibility of dispute. Disputes will inevitably arise. We are told that the possibility is covered by an overspill agreement, but that is one of the vague things we have to battle with. The Clause does not cover the overspill agreement and we do not know how it is covered.
At one time I tried to argue that Clause 23 should be covered by an overspill agreement and then referred to the definition Clause, by which we might hope to get the matter cleared up. At long 954 last, we are told, "We do not know what is to happen. We have made no arrangements at all in relation to disputes." That was the Government speaking. The Government are taking power to usurp the authority of a local authority and to do its work. At all stages they hold up the Scottish Special Housing Association as something which will play a very important part. If that is so, and if it is so necessary to cover local authorities that default, it is equally necessary to cover disputes that will arise in respect of the Scottish Special Housing Association.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State is being less than fair to his own Bill and to the practicability of his own Bill if he does not fairly and squarely meet the position. I sincerely hope that in the time that remains to us for consideration of the Bill and its administrative difficulties the hon. Gentleman will look into these matters. I cannot be satisfied with the explanation that has been given. I hope that the Solicitor-General for Scotland, who was such a help to us occasionally in the Committee, will have addressed his mind to the very important legal aspects of bringing the Scottish Special Housing Association into the Clause.
It would have been far better to leave the Clause as it was, so that the local authority could invite the Scottish Special Housing Association in to build in its area. Then it would be a matter between one authority and another, and not all mixed up. It would have been better than an overspill agreement to have made an arrangement of that kind. The Clause is now vague and loose, and with its tripartite form of working disputes will inevitaby arise and will lead to delays, even if work ever gets started.
We now have the Lord Advocate with us. He was really helpful in Committee and quick to seize our points. When we discussed things from half past ten on one day till nearly half past twelve on the next day the Lord Advocate was so seized of one of our Amendments that after about twenty-four hours he met one of our points by putting down a Government Amendment. That is the kind of attention we like, respecting the Opposition and realising the importance of the work we are doing.
I am sorry that he has only just come in. If he had been here at the start he would have realised the importance of 955 this Amendment, its legal aspects and the complexities that will arise to frustrate the hopes of the Government in regard to overspill and the Scottish Special Housing Association. I hope that either he or the Solicitor-General for Scotland will indicate that the Government are prepared to think about this matter again.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General for Scotland
I appreciate that this is a point of importance, but the position is this. There may be an overspill agreement between the receiving and the exporting authorities, or there may be not an overspill agreement but an agreement under which the Scottish Special Housing Association builds the houses. As the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said, that must be a tripartite agreement because both the exporting and the receiving authorities must agree and the Scottish Special Housing Association must come in with the approval of the Secretary of State.
As the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, the advantage there from the exporting authority's point of view is that it is the Secretary of State who in effect meets the additional cost, and the exporting authority has not got to make its contribution of £14 or whatever it may be. The Scottish Special Housing Association comes in as a sort of standby. It does not take part in an overspill agreement. That is made clear in the following Clause, and there is no reason why it should take part in such an agreement. There is no reason why a reasonable agreement cannot be arranged between the two authorities and the Scottish Special Housing Association, and if they come to an arrangement—I think that is the word used in Clause 23—there is again no reason why in the case of a dispute they should not arrange for the dispute to be arbitrated upon as happens with a normal commercial contract.
§ Mr. Ross
Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates that on the wording of the Clause the arrangements which are mentioned there are arrangements initiated in the first place by the exporting authority. The Scottish Special Housing Association can only come into it not in relation to the exporting authority but in relation to the receiving authority.
The Solicitor General for Scotland
I cannot go the whole way with the hon. Member on that. It is a tripartite arrangement. The exporting authority can go to the Scottish Special Housing Association and say, "We are proposing, if we can arrange with a particular receiving authority, to overspill part of our population into that area." The Scottish Special Housing Association is prepared to build houses in that area with the approval of the Secretary of State; the receiving authority is prepared to allow houses to be built there, and then they come to not an overspill agreement, but an arrangement, and they can agree on the terms on which these houses should be built. The main term, however, is that an exporting authority is saved its contribution. It is only by keeping the words which are proposed to be deleted that the contribution can be made by the Secretary of State to the Association under a later Clause.
§ Mr. Lawson
The houses will continue to belong to the Scottish Special Housing Association. The rents will be determined by the Association. The Association will be expected also to pool the rents for its entire ownership of houses. At least, that is how I understand it. If that is not the case, I should be glad to be corrected. My understanding is that the Scottish Special Housing Association would have its income assessed as a whole and it would be judged on the basis of a deficit on its entire income. If the Scottish Special Housing Association were undertaking the building of expensive houses for an authority, would the Association spread the increased rent over its existing houses? If so, it would seem strange to me.
I can understand the local authority being expected to spread the increased rent over all of its tenants, but I should hardly expect this to be the case with the Scottish Special Housing Association. Would each of the schemes undertaken by the Association be treated separately and would the rents be based on the cost of these houses and not on the income from the existing houses?
§ Mr. J. N. Browne
The question of rents is not really relevant to this Clause. As I said in Committee, the rent policy of the Scottish Special Housing Association is under active consideration, and I 957 am not able to tell the hon. Gentleman what the final decision will be.
§ Amendment negatived.