Lords amendment: No. 4, in page 2, line 14, at beginning insert
Subsection (5) of section 2 of the 1980 Act (exceptions to the right to buy) shall be omitted and
§ Mr. Speaker
With this we shall discuss Lords amendments Nos. 5 to 7, 10, 15, 65 to 71, 87, 201 and 215.
§ Mr. Gow
When the Bill left this House, it contained a number of provisions to extend security of tenure and the right to buy to certain county council tenants, and to make certain associated changes to the rules currently governing the status of tenancies held by district councils under other than general housing powers.
In introducing the amendments on Report, I said that we would discuss the details of the proposals with the local authority associations. These amendments were all proposed in response to points raised by the associations. The effect of these amendments is to restrict the right to buy in some circumstances as compared with the original proposals to which the House agreed on Report.
I wish briefly to explain the changes that have been made in another place. First, the associations brought to our attention the fact that a few dwellings were sited within cemeteries and were not necessarily let to staff on terms that excluded the tenancy from security of tenure under 575 paragraph 2 of schedule 3 of the 1980 Act. We accept that landlords should not lose control over the occupation of such dwellings.
Secondly, the associations explained a number of cases where voluntary aided school staff were housed by the local education authority. Because the landlord is not the employer in these cases, the exclusions originally envisaged do not operate. Amendment No. 10 therefore adds the governors of voluntary aided schools to the definition of employer for the purpose of paragraph 2 of schedule 3 to the 1980 Act. Amendment No. 87 proposes various additions to and refinements of the categories of dwellings which are to be excluded from security of tenure under schedule 3 to the 1980 Act.
I shall briefly mention one aspect of amendment No. 64, part of which is relevant in the context of the right to exchange and is to be taken with that group of amemdments. This provides for a new ground of possession applying where a dwelling is within the curtilage of an operational building and where any person has been guilty of conductsuch that, having regard to the purpose for which the building is used, it would not be right for him to continue in occupation".There will be cases where an employee housed within, for example, social service or educational premises, is guilty of behaviour which could put at risk the safety of children or of social service clients occupying the premises. Cases where a school employee is found guilty of child assault may be rare, but, unfortunately, they happen. In such cases, it is important that the person concerned does not continue to reside on the premises. This ground for possession will enable landlords to take action in such cases. They can regain possession, provided that the court is satisfied that the tenant, or other occupant of the dwelling, has been guilty of relevant misconduct.
Those are small but important amendments to what we had proposed in excluding certain "operational" dwellings from security of tenure and the right to buy. These amendments are made in response to points made by the associations and will be helpful in protecting landlords' interests where dwellings are required for genuine operational purposes.
I remind hon. Members of the dwellings that will continue to be excluded from the right to buy, not only under the effects of the 1980 Act but under the Bill in the form in which we propose it should be enacted. Those dwellings include, first, those let to an employee who is required to live in that dwelling under his contract of employment for the better performance of his duties; secondly, dwellings on land acquired for development and used as temporary housing accommodation pending development; thirdly, dwellings let for up to one year to a person moving to an area for employment reasons; fourthly, dwellings comprising part of an agricultural holding which was occupied by the person responsible for the control of the farming of the holding; fifthly, dwellings provided to members of a police force under the Police Regulations 1979; sixthly, dwellings let to firemen as a consequence of a condition of their contract of employment that states that they live in close proximity to the fire station at which they work; seventhly, other dwellings to which exclusions in categories which I have mentioned—the first, fifth and sixth—would normally 576 apply, but which are let otherwise for up to three years; eighthly, dwellings let to employees that are within the curtilage of operation——
§ Mr. John Fraser
Frankly, I cannot understand paragraph 2C of amendment No. 87 which refers to "three years". Will security of tenure be denied when, say, a fireman's dwelling is let not to a fireman but to somebody else for a period of not more than three years? Is that what lies behind the amendment?
§ Mr. Gow
The hon. Gentleman is correct.
Finally, dwellings within a cemetery which are let to employees are excluded also from the right to buy.
The amendments restrict the extension of the right to buy which we had proposed when the Bill was last before the House on Report in December. I believe that the amendments meet the reasonable representations made to us by the associations.
§ Mr. John Fraser
I shall discuss not the right to buy but the matter of security under amendment No. 87. I know that the House wants to make progress. As the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is not in the Chamber, my inhibitions about raising this matter have slightly lessened.
I refer to housing for firemen, not least because during most of my youth I lived in a house in close proximity to a fire station. I understand why the Minister wants to deny a secure tenancy to someone who lives close to a fire station, because that is an essential requirement of his job. The Minister should remember that people such as firemen may spend 25 to 30 years living in close proximity to their work. Under this amendment, they will have no security of tenure. There may be practical reasons for imposing that condition upon their tenure, but it is wrong that they do not have the opportunity to go to other accommodation if they cease to be employed as firemen or retire.
It might be better to enable them to continue as secure tenants without a right to buy, and the local authorities could obtain possession from them by offering suitable alternative accommodation. That would be a better solution than having tied tenancy accommodation. It is right to provide for them when their period with a fire brigade comes to an end. The same circumstances apply to policemen. Will the Minister, even at this late stage, offer a solution administratively, if in no other way?
What will happen to firemen living in close proximity to a fire station when the GLC and metropolitan counties are abolished? This is an important matter. Who will be their landlord? What will be their accommodation arrangements, if the proposals in "Streamlining the Cities" go through?
§ Mr. Gow
It is not possible at this stage of the consideration, as the hon. Gentleman knows, to propose any further amendments. I shall consider his suggestion about dealing administratively with the point raised about firemen. The GLC is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I shall discuss the hon. Gentleman's proposals with my right hon. Friend and write to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.
Lords amendment: No. 11, in page 3, line 5, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
"(a) the dwelling-house has had those features since it was constructed, or it is a dwelling-house in which one or more of the following alterations have been carried out by the landlord, or the predecessor in title of the landlord, to meet the needs of a disabled person or persons—
§ Mr. Speaker
With this it will be convenient to take the Government amendments in lieu and to words restored, Lords amendment No. 12 and Government amendment to words restored, Lords amendment No. 13 and Government amendments thereto, and Lords amendment No. 16.
§ Mr. Gow
I hasten to say that the Government are accepting the principle of the amendments made in another place, as is clear from the amendments that appear in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I remind the House of the issues underlying this group of amendments. Under paragraph 3 of schedule 1 to the 1980 Act, the right to buy is excluded whereThe dwelling-house has features which are substantially different from those of ordinary dwelling-houses and which are designed to make it suitable for occupation by physically disabled persons.When the Bill left the House, the right to buy for the disabled was extended to houses that had been adapted for the disabled since construction. The disabled were to be excluded from the right to buy in two circumstances only—where the dwelling had been purpose-built, and where the dwelling was one of a group of dwellings which it was the practice of the landlord to let to the disabled and a social service or special facilities were provided in close proximity to the group of dwelling-houses. Those proposals were substantially modified in another place in an amendment moved by Lord Ingleby. The effect of the amendment—Lords amendment No. 11 in the marshalled list—was to provide for the continued exclusion from the right to buy of dwellings that have been the subject of certain specified major adaptations.
The House knows that it is the Government's conviction that as many tenants as possible should have the right to buy, and we would not wish to deny that right to the physically disabled or, indeed, to any other category of tenant without very good reason. The House knows also that we had come to the view that the denial of the right to buy to disabled tenants in adapted properties imposes an additional disadvantage on those who already suffer the disadvantage of disablement and that -it was a denial that could not be justified. In this the Government were 578 influenced by the many letters that we received from disabled tenants complaining of the injustice inherent in the present arrangements.
I shall quote from a letter which was received from a tenant living in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). About two years after the 1980 act had come into operation, he wrote:we are the parents of a severely handicapped … daughter, who is now aged 32. We occupy a bungalow which we have rented from Macclesfield Borough Council since it was built in 1975, and I have made two applications over the past two years to buy this property. On both occasions I have received a very formal reply refusing this application on the grounds that 'this dwelling has features which are substantially different from those of ordinary dwelling-houses and which are designed to make it suitable for occupation by physically disabled persons.' … I agree, of course it has—that is why we applied for a. It was necessary.Without going into any lengthy details, it has 2 bedrooms, a shower-bath … and wider doors to enable the use of a wheelchair—the Council considers this to be 'substantial' ! What would be the minimum number of bedrooms required for a man and wife with a handicapped daughter? The shower was installed simply because it is far easier for my wife to bath her in the shower as she cannot lift herself into and out of the bath unless she has physical assistance … my daughter cannot negotiate stairs or steps, so consequently a bungalow is a must!I wish especially to draw the next section of the letter to the attention of the House. The letter continues:The biggest 'substantial' addition was an extension I personally had built on to our kitchen which overlooks a small garden, and the reason for this is because my daughter can sit there to see people passing by … this extension cost me £600 … and the Council have approved same providing I paid for it in full".In a later paragraph the author writes:It is grossly unfair, as everyone should have the same rights legally afforded and given them by Parliament. I feel this is a case of obstruction, delay and furthermore ever-increasing personal anxiety. Purchase would provide some financial security for my daughter when the time comes when my wife and I are no longer around.It was in order to respond to representations of the sort which I have recounted and to others that we submitted our proposals. I still believe that a tenant in the situation that I have described should have the right to buy, and whether he has that right should not depend on the nature of the adaptation carried out to his home, especially when disabled owner-occupiers can receive improvement grants of £10,000 and sometimes even more——
§ Mr. Gow
That is an unworthy remark from the hon. Gentleman. He will know that in the year ended 31 March 1983 the total spent on improvement grants was £430 million. In the year ended 31 March 1984 we estimate that total spending on improvement grants will be double that for the previous year. The hon. Gentleman sees fit to criticise the Government's level of spending on improvement grants when in the last year of the previous Labour Government's term of office the spending was £90 million.
§ Mr. Gow
I allowed myself to be diverted by the intervention of the hon. Member for Norwood. I have explained what my views are but I must recognise that strong views have been expressed by those in another place. These are views that I know are shared by Opposition Members and, possibly, by some of my hon. Friends. I respect the views expressed by Lord Ingleby in another place; I respect the views of another place; I respect the views of Opposition Members who disagree with me on this issue and I respect also the views of my hon. Friends who disagree with me. The Government believe that it is right to take into account the views that are expressed in another place. The Government have therefore decided to accept the substance of the amendment moved by Lord Ingleby. Amendment (b) simplifies the list of adaptations which will result in exclusion from the right to buy, but the result is essentially the same as that approved in another place.
I welcome the Opposition's agreement to our new definition of sheltered housing for the elderly and the mentally disordered. Such housing will, of course, continue to be excluded from the right to buy. Since the new definition was added to the Bill we have decided that we should clarify whether the social services or special facilities referred to in the definition are to be exclusively or primarily for the benefit of a particular sheltered housing scheme.
We think that in the case of housing for the elderly that should be so. Access to a general community centre would not be sufficient, hence amendment (c) to Lords amendment No. 13. In the case of sheltered housing for the physically disabled and the mentally handicapped, however, we accept that facilities which serve others in the community—for instance a day centre for the disabled or a psychiatric unit—could also support a nearby sheltered housing scheme for the physically disabled or the mentally disordered. Hence the insertion of the phrase "wholly or partly" at line 9 of the amendment and at page 3, line 11.
Finally, to meet a further point raised by Lord Ingleby, we are providing at page 3, line 6 that the exemption from the right to buy which applies to purpose-built accommodation for the disabled should extend to cases where new dwellings have been created by the conversion of existing premises.
I hope that the House will think that we have taken proper account of the views expressed in another place. Some of my hon. Friends may think that we have gone too far in recognising the strength of feeling which was expressed by their Lordships. It is only after the most careful consideration that the Government have decided to proceed in the way that I have outlined.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Christopher Hawkins (High Peak)
I am sad that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction is recommending the acceptance of the Lords amendment. I welcomed my hon. Friend's decision in the original version of the Bill to extend the right to buy to the disabled.
What has been done in another place is much more serious than appears at first sight. The original Bill gave the disabled the right to buy unless the council house had been purpose-built for the disabled. But another place has removed the right to buy if that house has been extensively modified for disabled people, even if the local council 580 would have carried out those modifications for a disabled person who had already exercised the right to buy. It removes the right even if those modifications would have been carried out had the tenant lived in a private house. That is wrong. It turns disabled people into second-class citizens in the sense that they are being penalised for being disabled.
I welcome the amendment, however, as it gives the right to buy to disabled people in several important cases. I raised with the Minister a case concerning a man who is genuinely called Mr. Smith. The council had installed a chair lift in his house because he is disabled. Later he asked to exercise his right to buy, but was told that he could not do so because his house had been modified for the disabled. He offered to buy the chair lift, to pay the full cost of fitting it or to pay for the chair lift to be taken out, if he could have the right to buy. The council turned down his application. My constituent was penalised solely because he is disabled. In my opinion, that was a case of a council trying to deprive someone of the right to buy on far from genuine grounds.
§ Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)
My hon. Friend may be interested to know that I had an identical case in my constituency. As that practice occurs in London as well as in the High Peak, it seems to be universal among some local authorities which wish to deny people the right to buy at every opportunity.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I should have preferred the original provisions but my second choice would be that modifications should not be made to homes by the council, whether or not the right to buy had been exercised, or whether the disabled person was living in private accommodation.
I am delighted—I think—by the fact that my constituent Mr. Smith will have the right to buy under the amended clause. Can the Minister confirm my understanding of amendment (b) which says that the right to buy will be denied if a vertical lift has been fitted? I should like to know whether "vertical lift" means a purpose-built lift of the passenger type. Will that provision deny the right to buy to those disabled people who have merely a fitted chair lift that goes up the side of the stairs and is relatively cheap to install? That is the sort of lift in my constituent's case. Provided that the Minister confirms that, I shall at least partially welcome what is left of the original clause.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
Earlier in the debate it was suggested that quotations from the Lords should be paraphrased. That seems to be a better temporary alternative to abolition in view of the speeches heard so far. The House and the country owe a debt of gratitude to the other place for preventing a dangerous step.
About three years ago I presented a petition to the House asking the Government not to proceed with the sale of disabled persons' dwellings and elderly persons' bungalows and flats. The petition was circulated in Rotherham, where it attracted much support across the political spectrum. It was recognised that if old persons' dwellings were sold some of them would soon be occupied by young people. In my area, as in many others, the aged are in the most desperate need of homes. If special dwellings were sold, fewer homes would be available for occupation by the elderly.
581 My local authority is not dogmatic, as I think the Minister will agree now that he has had had time to consider the records and attitudes of English housing authorities. All the authorities in my area were Labour-controlled before local Government reorganisation and several of them were selling council houses. Those sales ceased in 1974 because we recognised that in some parts of Rotherham there was a severe housing need. It was felt that we could not sell any more houses until we had broken the back of the housing problem, clearance was completed, and waiting lists were generally, instead of partially, reduced. That policy was perhaps the result of the experience of Rotherham's housing chairman. The Minister may have met him. He is the most senior housing chairman in Britain. He has enormous experience and pioneered the provision of sheltered housing for the elderly. His assessment of the matter was based on experience rather than dogma. He believed that the Government's original course was extremely dangerous.
The majority of people in Rotherham, certainly those in the Wentworth constituency, believe that the Government have concentrated on entirely the wrong housing targets in the past three years. It is gratifying to know that the Government will not pursue their original insistence, but they have not gone far enough in reflecting as generously as they could the commonsense shown by another place.
I tabled a question last week that was more significant than many questions, but which was, sadly, ignored by the media. I asked the Minister what proportion of Britain's housing stock had been cleared, demolished and replaced last year. His answer was "a one-thousandth". If we consider that answer carefully it means that the average property in Britain today will, based on present rates of housing investment, still be standing in more than 500 years time. The properties were not built to last that long. The Government should be attending to that sort of problem instead of ignoring the country's absolute needs.
I welcome the modest improvement that was effected in the other place. I recognise that local authorities will face a severe problem in ensuring, as Rotherham borough councillors have always done, that they comply with the law. They will have to scratch their heads to work out whether an elderly person's home is one that can be sold, given the complexities of the relevant rules.
Our problem in Rotherham is that we are not allowed or encouraged to build as many homes as we need, especially homes for the elderly. If only one bungalow for the elderly is lost under the proposals, even though they have been improved in the other place, we shall be effecting a serious disturbance. I want people to be encouraged to own their homes. I could have been moved by the Minister's example, which was reflected to some extent in the intervention by his hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins). It would be nice to allow disabled people to live in their own homes. No one could object to the disabled person to whom the Minister referred owning his own home.
I hope that the Minister and his hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) will concede that the second, third or fourth tenant of a home—built perhaps at great public cost for a disabled person—will not be disabled. That could mean that other disabled persons will not have the chance to be a tenant, let alone an owner-occupier. Therefore, the second, third and fourth disabled person must be taken into account as well as the first.
§ Mr. Christopher Hawkins
I happily accept the position on purpose-built accommodation. That has also been my position for a long time. I also accept the removal of the right to buy if expensive modifications have been made to cater for several generations of disabled tenants. However, I do not accept the removal of the right to buy when the modifications are relatively minor and would have been made for a disabled person even if he had been a home owner.
§ Mr. Hardy
I shall not pursue that point, except to say that since the original proposals were introduced I have been concerned to ensure that some of the very expensive houses built by local authorities to accommodate the severely disabled should remain in public ownership so that the severely disabled can continue to live in them. The investment in such properties is too large to waste, nor should others who are not disabled be allowed to enjoy it.
I am delighted that these amendments have come forward, just as I am delighted that the Minister does not intend to go so far as some of his more reactionary hon. Friends. The modest concessions that have been won by efforts in the other place will be welcomed by Rotherham, but I do not think that anyone in Rotherham, certainly not the hon. Member for Wentworth, feels that they go far enough.
§ Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)
I hope that I will not be thought of as one of the Minister's reactionary hon. Friends, but I am pleased that I have been called to speak at this juncture in our proceedings.
For many years I have worked hard for charities connected with the disabled, and I have the disabled in particular in my mind. I am afraid that we may have gone too far in the further amendments that we are now making as a result of the amendments made in another place, because we may well have put the disabled at a considerable disadvantage.
The wording approved by the Standing Committee, on which I had the honour to serve, closely followed the wording that existed in the Scottish Act. The Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 states in section 1(11)(c):where a dwelling-house is one of a group which has been provided with facilities (including a call system and the services of a warden) specially designed or adapted for the needs of elderly or disabled persons.The Scottish Act has worked very well, and there has been little or no complaint about its operation. However, we are now proposing to put disabled tenants in England and Wales at a disadvantage compared with disabled tenants in Scotland, and I fail to see why they should be put at such a disadvantage.
We must look carefully at the proposed new amendments arising from representations in another place. Amendment (a) follows precisely schedule 1 to the 1980 Act—an Act that has been comprehensively abused by local authorities which have been determined to deny the right to buy to disabled people. Amendment (b), in offering further protection, states: 583The landlord or a predecessor of the landlord has carried out, for the purpose of making the dwelling-house suitable for occupation by physically disabled persons, one or more of the following alterations, namely—7.15 pm
- (a) the provision of not less than 7.5 square metres of additional floor space".
As a chartered surveyor, I am very familiar with what 7.5 sq m is. Other hon. Members may like to know that it comprises approximately 80.7 sq ft, or a room approximately 10 ft x 8 ft external measurement and probably 9 ft x 7 ft internal measurement. It is not a very big room.
The amendment also refers to:the provision of an additional bathroom or shower-room.I suggest that the 9 ft x7 ft room probably is an additional bathroom or shower-room. The amendment also refers to:the installation of a vertical lift.How will those local authorities that may wish to thwart the purposes of the Bill interpret that? The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) will probably agree that in his constituency it is possible to find houses with an external bath house and where, to suit the disabled, and extra bathroom may have been added, usually on the ground floor and off the back of the kitchen. Effectively we are saying that if we add a bathroom off the back of the kitchen to an old property with an external bath house, that tenant will be denied the right to buy. That is extraordinary, but it is a consequence of what we are proposing.
§ Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend who has touched on the precise point that concerns me. It does not have to be an old house with an outside khazi, but merely a prewar council house that is planned for modernisation. Deliberately, the design of that modification will include an extension at the back, and consequently, such houses will not be available for purchase because the council will say, "Ah, they are suitable for the disabled." I am particularly concerned at that back-door method of getting around the Bill, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that precise point so ably.
§ Mr. Butterfill
We may well have gone too far. On balance I welcome what we are doing, but we may not be doing the disabled a service. We should not impose a further disability on those who are already disabled.
§ Mr. Peter Hubbard-Miles (Bridgend)
I thank the Chair for allowing me to make a brief contribution.
I am somewhat surprised that Opposition Members are supporting the amendment, which increases still further the number of disabled families who will be prevented from exercising the right to buy. It is not long since the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) was ardently supported on the Labour Benches when he attempted to bring in legislation to outlaw discrimination against the disabled, yet discrimination against the disabled would be increased by the Opposition amendment.
A number of so-called disabled persons' dwellings were built with what today would be considered minimal additional facilities. They have been further adapted by the families of the disabled people concerned to meet their individual needs. The greatest worry of parents of 584 handicapped children is what will happen to their children when the parents are no longer alive. If the parents of disabled children are able to purchase their homes for them, it will be much more likely that, when the parents die, other members of the family will take on the responsibility and move in to the disabled person's home. That would apply if it was the disabled person who was the owner of the dwelling. If, however, the disabled person is living in a council-owned property and other members of his family move in to look after him, those family members will be required to vacate that house when he dies because it is a special dwelling.
There have been three cases in my constituency almost identical to those described by my hon. Friend. The parents are desperately anxious to ensure that their disabled children will have security after they die. They are anxious that the house should be in the ownership of the disabled person, so that other family members will be able to move in and support him. The alternative might be that the disabled person would have to go into a disabled persons' home and be looked after by the local authority.
As my hon. Friend pointed out, many owner-occupiers have received considerable grants for adapting a property to suit the individual needs of a disabled person, without any restriction on resale being imposed. The owner can have a Government grant one year and choose to sell the house the next.
This is a clear case of discrimination against the disabled. Thousands of people enjoy the right to buy under the present legislation. To stop those who have a disabled person in their family from buying is discrimination. I am surprised that Opposition Members support such an amendment.
I was to some extent comforted when my hon. Friend pointed out that the Government would seek to give the right to buy to as many people as possible and would not wish to discriminate against the disabled.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Would it be better to discriminate against those disabled people who have no property adapted to their needs—there are many who are on the waiting lists for such property, from whatever source it may come—or to discriminate against the already more advantaged who live in adapted property? The hon. Gentleman must accept that the other place and a majority of right hon. and hon. Members of this House take the view that we must keep that balance in mind when deciding between those two forms of discrimination.
§ Mr. Hubbard-Miles
That is a misunderstanding. The adapted house remains in existence. There is a restricted market for such houses, and if the disabled person died, the owners might have to find another family with a disabled member who wished to buy it. If they are prepared to take that risk and buy the house, they should be encouraged to do so. We should not forbid the families of disabled people to sell their homes to the families of other disabled people.
I regret that the Government have decided to increase the restrictions to be placed on the right to buy of disabled people. If the hon. Member for West Derby achieves his loudly proclaimed ambition and sees his legislation placed on the statute book, I wonder where this amendment will stand then. It is not with any great enthusiasm that I shall go into the Lobby to support the Government.
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
I understand that my hon. Friend found it necessary to make some concession to the views expressed in another place, but I regret that necessity. When I hear some of the expressions of opinions from the Opposition Benches, I do so with a feeling of irony. Only a month or so ago, Opposition Members were marching through the Lobby in support of a Bill which was supposed to remove discrimination against disabled people. Indeed, they have done so twice in about 12 months. Yet now they are expressing views which are pure, patent discrimination against the disabled. Where are those Labour Members who a few weeks ago were such great champions of the disabled and supported the private Member's Bill? Today they are prepared to support their Lordships in discriminating against the disabled.
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
I have already expressed my regrets about the necessity for my hon. Friend to do so.
I ask Opposition Members to consider their own arguments. They have been saying that the disabled should not have the right to buy the accommodation in which they live because it has been adapted at considerable public expense. That argument could be carried to extremes. We could say that public transport should not be adapted to meet the needs of the disabled because that would incur considerable public expense. The only argument that has been advanced is that a council tenant who is disabled and who is living in a house that has been adapted at considerable public expense should not be able to buy that house.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The hon. Gentleman's analogy is false. There is no question of transport being sold off. There is a need for the disabled to be treated like other people but there is no compensating provision of accommodation for those who would not otherwise have it, and the local authorities have a statutory duty to meet. The purchase of dwellings by the disabled would deprive others who have no guarantee that they would be able to have that sort of opportunity.
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
No two disabled people are alike in their disabilities. Adaptations to property made for one person would not necessarily match—indeed they are unlikely to match—the needs of another. If the hon. Gentleman envisages that the property would become available for other disabled people on the death of the disabled tenant, he is misleading himself. The property might have to undergo considerable further adaptation before a second disabled person could be accommodated. That argument will not run. The only argument that runs is that additional public money has been spent on adapting a particular house and that therefore its occupant should be denied the right to buy it.
If expense is the basis of the argument, we must be extremely careful, because the moment we introduce that element we are going down a logical path that ultimately precludes our helping disabled people in all other regards. We shall ultimately be saying that we must question how expensive everything will be. That is why I reject the Opposition's argument that we must not give disabled people the right to buy their council houses—and must therefore discriminate against them—because, at the bottom of it all, lies the item of expense.
586 I recognise why my hon. Friend the Minister has tried to accommodate the wishes of the other place but I regret that he has done so. He has given great strength to local authorities whose only objective is to deny the right to buy to as many people as possible for whatever reason or excuse. They are taking it out on disabled people to further that philosophy.
§ Mr. John Fraser
I resent the attack and slur that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) has cast on local authorities.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am not being exactly immoderate. The Opposition are supporting the other place and an amendment which was tabled by the Secretary of State for the Environment. The Opposition are hardly being dogmatic. I resent the hon. Gentleman's slur as I think that he will find that the authorities which make the greatest provision for disabled people in their housing programmes are also those whose proper judgment is that they would be doing the disabled a disservice by encouraging the sale of those houses.
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
The hon. Gentleman has already heard of the example of the chair lift and the tenant being prepared to pay the full cost of it on buying the house. Perhaps I might mention another case which involved the refusal of a local authority to sell when merely the plumbing was adapted to take a kidney machine.
§ Mr. Fraser
All we can do is discuss the amendments before us. We have before us a refined definition of a house that has been substantially adapted for the disabled. The other place's proposal excludes the disabled person's flat which has a chair lift. It must be a flat or house that has had a substantial adaptation. Many local authorities have put a great deal of money and effort into providing homes and I think that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green will find that they tend to be Labour-controlled. This is not a case of discriminating against the disabled but of ensuring that provision for the less fortunate in the community is not lost. There is no doubt that when a house which has been designed or adapted substantially for the disabled is sold, it is lost to the community, the disabled and their successors.
Behind the amendment that was passed in another place lies the desire to ensure that the pool of accommodation that has been provided—admittedly at great expense—and involves major adaptation is preserved. The only possible motive for supporting the amendment is the desire to ensure that we protect the interests of present and future generations of disabled people. Nobody will be much disadvantaged by being denied the right to buy. The accommodation is not being taken away. We are preserving accommodation for future generations. That seems to be to the general advantage to society and to the disabled. That is why we support the other place. That is why—I have never done it before and I might never do it again—I even support the Secretary of State for the Environment.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I think that my hon. Friend the Minister has got the balance right. We must consider the total number of residences to let that are suitable for the disabled and are available and their distribution. If we are to try to keep old people in the same environment as their children and grandchildren, it is necessary to have a small stock of residences suitable for disabled people and the elderly in each village. That is a sensible and humane thing to do. If that housing stock is lost, such people must be moved into the towns where they need far more warden attention as their families do not live nearby.
There is no perfect solution. I acknowledge that any decision which the House reaches will have its disadvantages for some people, but we should remember the people who are not fortunate enough to get any accomodation which is suitable for disabled people and are therefore needlessly condemned to living in hospital. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister has come to this balanced compromise and I shall certainly support him.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Does the Minister have the leave of the House to speak again?
§ Mr. Gow
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) for his support—he was the only one of my hon. Friends who has supported the Government's decision. As I said earlier, my views on this matter have not changed since the House debated it at the end of 1983. It is a matter of judgment as to whether the exclusion of disabled people from the right to buy should go beyond purpose-built houses. It was the Government's view when the matter was last considered in this House that, apart from purpose-built and sheltered accommodation for the disabled, adapted homes should be subject to the right to buy. On balance, I believe that that view was right, but it is because we respect the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and the views of another place that we have decided to make this modification.
My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) asked whether the installation of a chair lift would bring a home within the provisions of amendment (b). That amendment refers to the installation of a vertical lift. If the home has a vertical lift, the right to buy would be excluded, but if it has only a lift that goes up a stairway, such as my hon. Friend described, the right to buy will not be excluded.
I listened with great care to the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy). He directed part of his speech to the right to buy for the elderly. We shall deal with that soon. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) reminded the House that he is a chartered surveyor and said that a room of the size which is described in paragraph (a) of amendment (b) is likely to be an additional bathroom or shower room. It is possible to argue that the suggested definition is wrong, but if we are to have such a definition we have got it right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Hubbard-Miles) made a powerful speech. He will have gathered that my inclination and preference would have been not to make a further discrimination against the disabled who have suffered from a disadvantage already. 588 My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) spoke with the deep knowledge of a former Minister with responsibility for the disabled. He will understand that the balance of his judgment and of mine is the same.
Nevertheless, for those reasons, I commend to the House what I readily concede is a compromise. Opposition Front Bench spokesmen sometimes accuse the Government of being inflexible, but we have shown flexibility and have been willing to listen to the other place, upon which great praise has been heaped by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). Although it is the object of his party to abolish the other place, he paid tribute to it this afternoon. I hope that the House will agree to the course I have recommended.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Lords amendment No. 11 disagreed to.
§ Amendments made to the Bill in lieu thereof:
In page 3, line 3, leave out from beginning to 'and' in line 4 and insert—
'For paragraphs 3 and 4 of that Part of that Schedule there shall be substituted the following paragraphs—
3. The dwelling-house has features which are substantially different from those of ordinary dwelling-houses and which are designed to make it suitable for occupation by physically disabled persons.'.
In page 3, line 12, at end insert—
'3A. The landlord or a predecessor of the landlord has carried out, for the purpose of making the dwelling-house suitable for occupation by physically disabled persons, one or more of the following alterations, namely—
Amendment made to the words so restored to the Bill, in page 3, line 6, after 'constructed', insert
'or, where it was provided by means of the conversion of a building, since it was so provided".—[Mr. Gow.]
§ Lords amendment No. 12 disagreed to.
Amendment made to the words so restored to the Bill, in page 3, line 11, leave out 'for the only or main' and insert
'wholly or partly for the'.—[Mr. Gow.]
Lords amendment: No. 13, in page 3, line 12, at end insert—
(2A) For paragraph 4 of that Part of that Schedule there shall be substituted the following paragraphs—
3A. The dwelling-house is one of a group of dwelling-houses which it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupation by persons who are suffering or have suffered from a mental disorder (within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983) and a social service or special facilities are provided in order to assist those persons.
4. The dwelling-house is one of a group of dwelling-houses which are particularly suitable, having regard to their location, size, design, heating systems and other features, for occupation by persons of pensionable age and which it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupation by such persons, or for occupation by such persons and physically disabled persons, and special facilities are provided in order to assist those persons which consist of or include either—
§ Read a Second time.
§ Amendments made to the Lords amendment: In line 2, leave out from beginning to 'The' in line 4 and insert '3B.'.589
In line 9, leave out 'in order to assist' and insert
'wholly or partly for the purpose of assisting'.
In line 16, leave out in order to assist' and insert
'wholly or mainly for the purpose of assisting'.—[Mr. Gow.]
§ Lords amendment, as amended, agreed to.
Lords amendment: No. 14, in page 3, line 13, leave out subsection (3) and insert—
(3) For paragraph 5 of Part 1 of Schedule I to the 1980 Act (circumstances in which the right to buy does not arise) there shall be substituted the following paragraph
5. The dwelling-house is designed or specially adapted to make it suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age, and it has always been the practice of the landlord to let the dwelling-house for occupation by persons of pensionable age;
and in this paragraph "designed or specially adapted" means accommodation built or adapted in accordance with the principles of advice and guidance on the design of elderly persons' accommodations issued by the Secretary of State and available to landlords at the time of construction or adaptation."
§ Read a Second time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this we may take Government amendments in lieu and to words restored, Lords amendments Nos. 35 to 46, Lords amendment No. 190, and Government amendments thereto, Lords amendment No. 216 and Government amendments thereto, and the two Government manuscript amendments.
§ Mr. Gow
I am happy to tell the House that those are minor technical amendments. The first is to correct a numbering oversight and the second is a drafting change only.
The Government sought to exclude from the right-to-buy provisions dwellings which met two criteria: first, if a dwelling had been designed or specially adapted for those of pensionable age; and, secondly, if it had been the practice to let only to those of pensionable age. Amendment No. 14 seeks to do away with the requirement to obtain the consent of my right hon. Friend if it were sought to exclude an elderly person's dwelling from the right to buy. Under the amendment such dwellings would be excluded from the right to buy at the sole option of the landlord, and not following the determination of my right hon. Friend.
The Government cannot accept that amendment, for two reasons. First, the difficulty with the present procedures has been the application of the design and letting test in paragraph 5 to particular cases. As I said on Report, we have found great difficulty in making sensible and consistent distinctions between those dwellings which are designed or specially adapted for the elderly and other small dwellings provided for other categories of tenant. Amendment No. 14 would not remove the difficulty of making that distinction. It would result in widely differing interpretations about what constitutes an elderly person's dwelling, and great uncertainty for elderly tenants about whether they could expect to get the right to buy. At least under the present procedures, where they are followed, decisions are taken in a way which offers hope of consistency.
The second reason why the procedures laid down in the 1980 legislation are unsatisfactory is that there is clear evidence that some elderly tenants are at present denied the 590 rights conferred on them by Parliament, both because of a widespread misconception that they do not have the right to buy and because authorities that are hostile to the right to buy are deliberately misleading their tenants and even refusing applications without reference to my right hon. Friend.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton, (Mr. Heffer) recognised that on Report when he said:most local authority tenants have understood that their aged person's dwellings are not available to be bought. Most tenants have therefore not applied to purchase and have not pressed their case with the Secretary of State. There has been what one could call an administrative deterrent".—[Official Report, 21 December 1983; Vol. 51, c. 458.]That is a damaging admission. It implies that we should acquiesce when tenants are cheated of rights specifically conferred on them by the House If that is the position at present when there is, at least in theory, the safeguard of my right hon. Friend's determination, what would happen if the matter were left in the hands of landlords? The amendment would result in many elderly tenants losing their right to buy.
The amendment excludes the wholly understandable wish of elderly people to own their homes. I understand that aspiration and so should the hon. Member for Walton.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Does the Minister recognise that there is a desperate shortage of such accommodation, especially in my borough? The housing directorate confirmed that a large number of people are on waiting lists, most of whom cannot be accommodated in such accommodation, although they would like to be, and that no houses were being built. No contracts for council housing have been entered into in my borough since 1979. That is largely the result of the Government's housing investment policy. What possible justification can there be to diminish further the amount of available rented accommodation? At least when an elderly person dies, his accommodation would remain in the rented stock.
§ Mr. Gow
I shall have something to say about that point later. I shall correct the perennial misapprehension which pervades the Opposition Benches and the mind of the official spokesman for the Liberal party that when a house has been sold by the public sector it ceases to be available as housing accommodation. When an elderly person buys his house, it changes ownership. That is all. The local authority concerned has a capital receipt.
We discussed whether it was right to discriminate against the disabled. The House must now consider the extent to which, if at all, it is proper to discriminate against those who happen to be of pensionable age. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) wishes to make a contribution he should try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, rather than seek to address the House from a sedentary position.
I understand the aspirations of those who are of pensionable age and wish to become home owners. I understand people of pensionable age who question why Parliament has conferred the right to buy on local authority tenants, yet discriminates against them. If I understand that, the hon. Member for Walton should also understand it. He is now in his 63rd year and not so far away from being of pensionable age himself.
We often consider people who have paid rent dutifully for 20 or 30 years and see the Government's commitment to extending the right to buy as the opportunity to realise 591 the hope of their lifetime. I repeat that I respect their aspirations and I do not wish to deny to pensioners the opportunity of becoming owner-occupiers simply because they are in the late afternoon or early evening of their lives. That is why the Government put down amendments reinstating our original proposals: first, that elderly tenants of non-sheltered housing who qualify under the normal rules should have the right to buy; but, secondly, that landlords should have the power to impose a pre-emption covenant requiring the house to be offered back to them if it is resold within 21 years of the right-to-buy sale.
However, I understand the anxiety that has been expressed by some landlords about the value of the preemption right that we proposed originally, and I also understand the special problems in rural areas. In another place my noble Friend the Minister of State promised that we would consider both points. Since the Bill left another place we have done so, and have decided to make two changes to our original proposals in the light of that reconsideration.
Under our original proposals the pre-emption right for landlords would have arisen only on the resale of the dwelling within 21 years of its purchase, but the right of pre-emption would not have arisen in cases of inheritance. It has been pointed out that when an elderly resident dies the home might pass to relatives not yet of pensionable age who were not living with the tenant and who might use it occasionally rather than sell it. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) referred to that possibility on Report. Anxiety was also expressed to me by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner). These would be rare cases, since most people would sell such a property and pre-emption would arise. Nevertheless, we accept that landlords should have the option to repurchase in all cases of inheritance other than in the case of a surviving spouse, unless the property passes to a member of the family of the deceased who had been living with the deceased for 12 months before his or her death.
Concern was also expressed in another place and by some of my hon. Friends—notably by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop)—about the possible effect of our original proposals on housing for the elderly in rural areas. It was suggested that there is a special need to retain non-sheltered accommodation for the elderly for rent in those areas, because sheltered accommodation is not usually found in small villages and because of the need to house agricultural workers retiring from tied accommodation. I recognise the strength of feeling on the issue among those responsible for local authority housing in rural areas.
Amendment No. 9 provides that in certain defined rural areas we shall retain the procedure whereby a landlord may apply to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to have individual dwellings excluded from the right to buy. We shall retain effectively the present paragraph 5 procedure in those areas, but the criteria to be applied will be the new criteria set out in the pre-emption provision in clause 7, which will be simpler to operate than were the old ones. It will be open to authorities in those areas to sell, subject to a right of pre-emption if they wish, rather than to apply to my right hon. Friend for exclusion.
The areas to which that amendment will apply are the national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and 592 areas designated by my right hon. Friend as rural areas for the purposes of section 19 of the 1980 Act. My right hon. Friend has designated 21 areas under that provision, and he will, of course, consider making further designations if local authorities wish to apply in the light of this new provision.
Our proposals will enable more pensioners, especially those who already have the right to buy but who are facing the administrative obstruction described by the hon. Member for Walton, to become home owners. At the same time we are introducing safeguards for landlords which will be more effective in practice than those which have operated since 1980. Our proposals represent a reasonable balance between the legitimate interests of landlords and tenants, and I commend them to the House.
§ Mr. Heffer
I listened with great interest to the Minister. I did not entirely agree with everything that he said, but I must agree with him that I am in my 63rd year and, clearly, in a few years' time I will receive my pension. I do not look forward to the prospect with great enthusiasm. I should also tell the House that in four years' time I shall receive my 50 years' badge from my trade union, and I shall be very proud to do so. That union has been much involved in constructing houses for working people, so to that extent it has some, although not much, affinity with this discussion.
§ Mr. Terry Fields (Liverpool, Broadgreen)
It is a good job that my hon. Friend does not work at GCHQ.
§ Mr. Heffer
Yes, it is a jolly good job, but I think that I would have been one of those who stayed in the union.
The Government disagree with this Lords amendment. I admit that there was some confusion in the other place, because it passed the amendment but left the Government's proposal as it was. However, the Government could have clarified that confusion simply by accepting the amendment from the other place. They are ignoring the views of the other place, which on this occasion should be taken carefully into consideration. The Minister tried to suggest that, because I and my hon. Friends occasionally support what comes from the other place, we automatically believe that it should be continued. I shall not become involved in that argument now, but I can say that, whenever the House of Lords brings forward amendments and policies that are in line with what we believe, we are enthusiastically in favour of them. When the other place does not, we are enthusiastically against it. If, from time to time, the other place amends bad Bills, we shall happily accept their amendments; in our view, this was a very good amendment.
The Minister failed to answer the important points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who asked, "What about the elderly people on waiting lists?" The Minister went over that without dealing with it.
It is interesting to note that, in the second half of 1980, 7,772 dwellings specially designed for the elderly were completed. In the first half of this year the figure was 3,497, less than half of what was built in the latter half of 1980. The waiting lists are still there; 16 councils in the Association of Metropolitan Authorities have 58,200 on the waiting and transfer lists for the elderly. The Minister avoided discussing this.
593 What about those who are elderly and who need proper accommodation for themselves? The Minister said that I should understand this problem very well. My father and mother lived in a rented house in Hertford. At the end of the second world war they were offered the opportunity as the sitting tenants of buying it for a nominal amount, a ridiculous figure in today's terms, something like £300, but they had not got 300 pennies. They could not even think of buying that house. Why? My father had been working hard all his life, but when he died he had only sixpence in the Post Office Savings Bank, yet he had been a sergeant in the army and had got the military medal. He could never think of buying such accommodation.
Thousands and thousands of our citizens are in the same relative situation today. They could not even dream of buying their accommodation. If that accommodation is taken off the market the Government will make things worse for those who are——
§ Mr. Heffer
I am not giving way. It is not that I do not want to give way, but in these debates I sometimes feel like a policeman acting on behalf of the Government. These debates always seem to take place on the day before the House goes into recess. It is funny that this should happen. All my hon. Friends and Conservative Members, though not those in the Chamber, want to know if the debate will finish quickly. We should not go on too long. I want to be helpful to everybody. We should bring this discussion to a close fairly quickly.
The Minister has gone part of the way on inheritance. However, the Government have not dealt properly with the issue. I do not intend to go into detail on the amendment that has come from the other place, but I must say that it would be sensible for the House to accept that amendment. It is better than the proposal of the Government.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
In many parts of the country, though not all, it is not the case that if the right to buy is exercised the same roof remains over the same head or another family is housed. There is an alternative which unfortunately can and does happen—that is, at one remove the house or the bungalow concerned becomes a holiday home, in which case it is indeed removed from the housing stock.
If we are to have a healthy community in the rural villages we do not want to export the old people to towns away from the families who will look after them increasingly in their old age. It is only in the towns that there is a sufficient agglomeration of old people's accommodation to justify a warden and then the exclusion comes into force. In many villages there is not a large enough stock of council houses which are let only to old people to justify having a warden. It is ridiculous if people artificially need a warden because they are removed from the environs of their own family.
I am afraid that in many villages the children of elderly people are asking them to exercise the right to buy—they say that they will lend them the money—so that after the old people have died the house can be sold at an immense profit as a holiday home. The provision is wide open to that abuse. It cannot be checked by pre-emption but only by denying the right to buy.
Pre-emption means that the house is bought back only if the council has the money to buy it. That may be a self-evident truth, but it is not universally recognised. Only last 594 year the proportion of capital receipts from the sale of council houses that can be used for the purchase of new housing has been reduced in terms of percentage at a stroke. There is also the effect of targets on local authority expenditure. These different factors have reduced the practical value of the power to pre-empt.
§ Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)
Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that he has put his finger on an important point, the possibility of third party purchase? He has narrowed it to areas where the houses could become holiday homes. Will he take it from me that the same thing could and would happen in urban areas such as I represent?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Yes, but there I do not speak from personal knowledge. I would rather confine my comments to that of which I have personal knowledge.
If we are to have balanced communities in villages we need each age group. We need the young people of childbearing age, otherwise the village schools will die. They need grandparents, too, just as grandparents need their grandchildren. The problem is that so much of the housing that is let only to pensioners by the housing authority makes attractive holiday homes. I repeat that pre-emption is an inadequate guard against that when the resources are not there for the housing authority to exercise its right. That is why we need to have the absolute bar which can be applied.
I do not wish to see the test of structural adaptation for the very reason that my hon. Friend the Minister has given, that it becomes nitpicking—are there handles on the wall beside the lavatory pan; is there this or that? It is not the essential ingredient. The essential characteristic for recognising this housing is a consistent pattern of letting it only to retired people. That is the essential characteristic, not arguing what structural characteristics it embraced in the first place and whether those were in accordance with Government guidelines or what alterations have subsequently been made. Consistency in housing policy and letting that property is demonstrable and real.
The evil with which we seek to deal is the same as that by which it can be recognised. The evil is ceasing to have this stock of accommodation for elderly people who would otherwise have to move out of the locality. The only way to deal with that is to use as one's touchstone the consistency of letting policy. I know that even that is not a perfect criterion—none ever is—but I am convinced that the balance of advantage to society and to preserving a viable community in many rural areas cannot be made in any other way.
§ Mr. Dicks
I am not sure that I accept my hon. Friend's point. The Minister's point about adaptation is a good one, and the consistency of letting is not. In my authority of Hillingdon we let one in two of the properties to young people and elderly people. The properties are identical, but the old people will say that they are adequate for their needs. If one had the general lettings policy, the argument would fall down on those grounds.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
That is the point that I had thought I had tried to make—it is not physical characteristics of the property that need to be the touchstone, for the reason that my hon. Friend has given. It is the consistency of letting policy that needs to be the touchstone. I have seen a private housing estate in what 595 was part of my constituency, which the planners said would be bought only by retired people. Therefore, the authority made no provision for expanding primary schools. Sure enough, at least half of the properties were bought by young marrieds and the education authority was caught wrong-footed to a disastrous degree.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for not having a closed mind on this subject and for seeing the real difficulties that exist in certain parts of the country — difficulties that are enhanced by the very low incomes and the very high prices that properties command because of the holiday aspect and because of the rolling over from sales during the working life elsewhere in the country and the sum of money, capital gains tax free, that can be put into the retirement residence. I am grateful for the Minister's effective sympathy in this matter, but the characteristic has to be—if there is to be a real remedy — the consistency of letting policy rather than the physical attributes of the building concerned.
§ Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)
I shall take the lead from the Front Bench and be brief. The debate should be about meeting the needs of the majority, but it seems to me that the majority will suffer from the Tory legislation, which will help only to alleviate the needs of the minority. I represent an inner city area, with a high proportion of elderly people. They cannot afford to purchase, or to get a mortgage on, property, whether in the private or the public sector, and are reliant on council housing. The Minister is about to visit Manchester and I hope that he will come along to see what the private sector can afford to give the elderly. I hope that he will come along to 8 Polygon avenue in Hardwick and see the deplorable conditions in which the elderly are living under private landlords.
People are now living to a greater age, with the medical refinements that we now have, and there is a greater demand for housing facilities for the elderly. Like every other sector, the elderly are being hit by cuts in public expenditure. Housing has figured high in the list of cuts, and the massive cut in housing has brought a decline in building. It is a condemnation of society when we have millions of stockpiled bricks, thousands on the waiting lists and thousands of construction workers on the dole. The sale of council housing has also brought a diminished pool of lettable accommodation. The economics of the madhouse mean that one has to sell about five houses to get the capital to build one.
Manchester has an increasing demand for elderly persons' accommodation, because, as in many poor cities, the young and strong in wind and limb have tended to go out to the suburbs and the new towns and have left in the inner city those who require the welfare services, the greatest of which is housing. Our local authority has endeavoured to provide for the elderly, but some have to wait years for property that they can then only enjoy for a short time. There is a high turnover of elderly persons' properties in Manchester, and the policy is to keep such housing that does not necessarily fit into sheltered and elderly persons' home categories.
I should like the Minister to reply on several points. For example, what would be the position of a tower block that had been converted, but was not under warden 596 supervision, with all the amenities such as a community room and of which the letting was for elderly people, although it did not come under the category of sheltered accommodation? What if a relative of the old person purchased one of these flats, probably a small one? When the elderly person dies, one of the younger relatives may be put into the block among all elderly persons. He may be a member of a disco band or a steel band and that could bring resentment, noise and harassment. This could defeat the aims of the local authority, which is trying to provide the right accommodation and the right environment for the elderly.
Many of these properties, such as those for disabled people, have been adapted for the elderly, for example with restrainer bars and other essentials of facilities to assist the elderly. The pool of such accommodation is small, and to make it smaller is an insult to elderly people on the waiting list.
There is also the example of an elderly person with a family that has grown up, got married and gone away and the husband or wife has died, but this person is still living in a five or six-bedroomed house. Would it not be good if a young married couple or relative were to purchase the house and live with granny for one or two years? Are they jumping the list in that example?
As the Government respected the views of the other place in the previous amendment, I expect them to do so on this amendment.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was correct to say that we are always rushed in such debates. I turned up the Hansard for the Third Reading debate, which was on Wednesday 21 December. At 10.23, a Conservative Back Bencher was speaking and was handed a note, which he then read out. He said:I hope that the House will forgive me if I read the note which has just been passed to me. It says: 'The Scots have to catch the sleeper.' I give in."—[Official Report, 21 December 1983; Vol. 51, c. 537.]The debate was foreshortened by a need that was understandable but not helpful to such debates.
There cannot and should not be selective support of the Government by the House of Lords, which amended several matters of substance in this Bill. It said that it thought that housing for the disabled and housing for the elderly should be excluded from the right-to-buy provisions, and a few minutes ago the Minister, very generously, said that in spite of his own view the Government considered—and he urged his colleagues to support them—that the Lord's view that housing for the disabled should be excluded from the right-to-buy provisions should be accepted.
The amendment passed in the other place was very responsible in its wording. It dealt with two criteria—the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) dealt with one of them, which is very important—the criteria of housing designed or specially adapted for the disabled, and housing which it had always been the practice of the landlord to let to persons of pensionable age.
The Government should be consistent and accept that this latter type of housing, too is a category of housing which is enormously in demand, of which there is an enormous shortage and which all of us who have to deal with a large number of pensionable constituents know to be a regular requirement in terms of the needs that have 597 to be met by local authorities. To allow an extremely small category of people to buy and take out of the market housing specially adapted and available for the old, which could not be replaced, because the Government have chosen not to put funds into meeting that need, would be inconsistent, if they are now saying that housing for the disabled may be retained in local authority ownership.
I say this on behalf of the Liberal party. Age Concern has written to many of us, I am sure, and said that the arguments put forward in the other place are arguments to which it subscribes on behalf of all old people—and Age Concern has no party political affiliation. Its main reason is that it is impracticable and unrealistic to think that the Government would be in a position to compensate local authorities, which pay a sum of £30,000, or whatever it might be, per unit on this sort of housing, and have the right to buy it back. Since they have already had to give a substantial discount, this would mean that they would be paying at least one and a half times as much — discounting inflation—for the same property at the end of the day. Therefore the right of pre-emption, the right of the local authority to take back that housing, is not of net zero cost to the local authority. It has to pay again, and it is not being given the funds to do it.
The other substantial objection is that there will be opportunities for people to get round the inheritance provisions which would mean that this sort of property would become part of the pool of windfall property coming to people who are not in the category of the old people in our community for whom it was originally designed.
It is quite clear that this category of property should continue to be excluded from the right-to-buy provisions. If the Government believe—and this was one of the reasons given by the Minister—that the old people who, under the present system, have the right to buy are not aware of it, he knows the remedy—to give them the information and make sure that they know what their rights are. The Secretary of State has the power, even under the present legislation, to make sure that the information comes to him so that they can be given the ability to enforce their rights.
The remedy is not to overturn what was decided in another place only a few weeks ago and to take back into the general barter-for-all category accommodation designed exclusively for the old or which has always been lived in by them and was adapted for their use. There are many people waiting for such accommodation. We cannot afford to diminish that stock, and the proposals are not a responsible way of ensuring the use and enjoyment of housing by our elderly citizens and our elderly communities in the foreseeable future.
I hope that the House will be as bold as it was on the previous occasion, learn from the lessons taught it by the House of Lords and accept that that example of backing and standing up for old people ought to be followed.
§ Mr. Winnick
There should be no doubt about the crucial importance of what we are now debating and the fact that so many elderly people would be adversely affected as a result of the Government's amendment, if it is carried tonight.
The Minister said to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that there seemed to be a contradiction because my hon. Friend was supporting 598 something done in another place. Like my hon. Friend, I do not care where a thing is done; if it is right, we will support it.
I remember that in 1980 there was a demonstration—if that is the right word—by Labour Members when Black Rod was about to come, as a result of which certain concessions were made in the Housing Bill, including the exemption from sale of old people's dwellings.
There is an acute shortage of such accommodation in my own borough, as I said to the Minister in my intervention. There is a long list of people in my constituency and in the two neighbouring constituencies waiting for such accommodation. I am told that most of the people who need this accommodation will not be rehoused, and the reason is quite simple: no such accommodation is now being built. The Minister said that it does not really matter because, if the house is sold, it remains part of the housing stock. Of course it does, that is self-evident, but what the Minister does not seem to realise is that, as a result of such accommodation's being sold, it is quite likely to be permanently lost to the rented sector. That is the crucial point. And one must see this, of course, against the background of the Government's having refused to allow any privately rented accommodation to be sold as of right to sitting tenants. The private sector is quite sacred to this Government, but When it comes to the public sector any type of accommodation can be sold off, with large discounts and all the rest.
I would be opposed to the measure, anyway, and I do not deny it, but it is even worse when we know that as a result of Government policy hardly any such accommodation—the figures were given by my hon. Friend the Member for Walton — is being built. In my own borough — I emphasise this, because it shows the seriousness of the situation — while there is a long waiting list for such accommodation, and certainly most of the people who want such accommodation are not going to be rehoused, no contracts have been entered into for council house building of any kind, including the type of accommodation which is now under discussion, since 1979. That is largely the result of the deliberate Government policy, whereby local authorities can no longer fulfil one of their important functions, which is to ensure that there is sufficient housing stock for people in need.
I believe, with my hon. Friends, that the Lords made the right decision. It would be a tragedy if, as a result of the Government's majority, this amendment which the Government are now putting forward to overturn the Lords amendment were carried tonight.
§ Mr. John Fraser
If the House does not support the Lords amendment it will be doing the gravest possible disservice to the elderly of this country. Anybody who has given any serious consideration to this matter understands and knows that the stock of accommodation which is available to elderly people is going to be lost as a result of extending the right to buy to accommodation specifically designed for the elderly—not least because the discount is going to be nearer the 60 per cent. end of the market than the minimum of 32 per cent. Therefore there can be no doubt that this accommodation will be lost to generation after generation of elderly people and that will do a grave disservice to the elderly in the community, particularly those living in the inner city — Brixton, where I live, Southwark, and so on.
599 Many of these people have had very difficult lives and look forward to going to an elderly person's home in the country or at the seaside, where many estates have been developed by the GLC. That chance is now going to be ended, and what will happen is that the children of the elderly people are going to get a huge windfall. The preemptive provisions in the Bill are absolute nonsense and cant. Local authorities will not have the money to buy back within 21 years at inflated prices and without a discount. That simply will not happen. The Government, who have been cutting public expenditure on housing, know that. If hon. Members have any concern at all for the older generation, they must support the Lords in the said amendment.
§ Mr. Gow
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall reply to the debate.
I must rebuke the official spokesman of the Liberal party, the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, (Mr. Hughes), because he suggested that somehow the House was under some constraint of time when considering this important matter and the amendments from the other place. We can all understand the anxiety of Liberal Members to go to their duties elsewhere, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that a motion not in the name of the Leader of the Opposition or of the Leader of the Liberal party—it may well be procedurally impossible to have that—but in the name of the Prime Minister stands on the Order Paper, to be debated at 10 pm—
§ Mr. Gow
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey objected that there was not enough time. I am entitled to point out to the House, and shall so point out, that the Government have provided that there will be sufficient time to debate these matters.
That said, I shall be brief. The Government have responsibly said that they are taking into account the views that have been expressed on this subject in the other place. We have made two concessions to those views. First, we have extended the opportunity for pre-emption to cases other than those on sale. Secondly, we have included the possibility of exclusion from the right to buy in certain rural areas. I am grateful for the cautious welcome that was given to the Government's decision by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), and I commend the Government's decision to the House.
§ Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 235, Noes 101602
|Division No. 250]||[8.32 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Bendall, Vivian|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Best, Keith|
|Alexander, Richard||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Amess, David||Biggs-Davison, Sir John|
|Ancram, Michael||Body, Richard|
|Arnold, Tom||Bonsor, Sir Nicholas|
|Ashby, David||Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Boyson, Dr Rhodes|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Braine, Sir Bernard|
|Baldry, Anthony||Brandon-Bravo, Martin|
|Batiste, Spencer||Brinton, Tim|
|Bellingham, Henry||Brooke, Hon Peter|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Key, Robert|
|Browne, John||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Bruinvels, Peter||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Knowles, Michael|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Knox, David|
|Budgen, Nick||Lamont, Norman|
|Burt, Alistair||Lang, Ian|
|Butterfill, John||Latham, Michael|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Lester, Jim|
|Churchill, W. S.||Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Lightbown, David|
|Colvin, Michael||Lilley, Peter|
|Coombs, Simon||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Cope, John||Lord, Michael|
|Cormack, Patrick||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Couchman, James||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Critchley, Julian||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Crouch, David||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Maclean, David John|
|Dicks, Terry||McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Madel, David|
|Dunn, Robert||Major, John|
|Durant, Tony||Malins, Humfrey|
|Evennett, David||Malone, Gerald|
|Fallon, Michael||Maples, John|
|Farr, John||Marlow, Antony|
|Favell, Anthony||Mates, Michael|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Mather, Carol|
|Fletcher, Alexander||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Forman, Nigel||Mellor, David|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Fox, Marcus||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Franks, Cecil||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Gale, Roger||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Galley, Roy||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Moate, Roger|
|Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Moore, John|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)|
|Gorst, John||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Gow, Ian||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Murphy, Christopher|
|Gregory, Conal||Neale, Gerrard|
|Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)||Newton, Tony|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Ground, Patrick||Norris, Steven|
|Grylls, Michael||Onslow, Cranley|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Oppenheim, Philip|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Ottaway, Richard|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Page, John (Harrow W)|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Hannam, John||Parris, Matthew|
|Harvey, Robert||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Pawsey, James|
|Hawksley, Warren||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Hayes, J.||Pollock, Alexander|
|Hayward, Robert||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Powley, John|
|Henderson, Barry||Price, Sir David|
|Hickmet, Richard||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Hind, Kenneth||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Hooson, Tom||Rathbone, Tim|
|Howard, Michael||Renton, Tim|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Irving, Charles||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Ryder, Richard|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Trippier, David|
|Shersby, Michael||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Sims, Roger||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Viggers, Peter|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Waddington, David|
|Speller, Tony||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Spencer, Derek||Walden, George|
|Squire, Robin||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Stanley, John||Waller, Gary|
|Steen, Anthony||Ward, John|
|Stern, Michael||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Watson, John|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Watts, John|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Wheeler, John|
|Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)||Whitney, Raymond|
|Stradling Thomas, J.||Wolfson, Mark|
|Sumberg, David||Wood, Timothy|
|Tapsell, Peter||Woodcock, Michael|
|Taylor, John (Solihull)||Yeo, Tim|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Thomas, Rt Hon Peter||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)||Mr. Michael Neubert and|
|Thurnham, Peter||Mr. Douglas Hogg.|
|Anderson, Donald||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Johnston, Russell|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Ashton, Joe||Kirkwood, Archibald|
|Barron, Kevin||Leighton, Ronald|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Litherland, Robert|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Blair, Anthony||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||McGuire, Michael|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Marek, Dr John|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Cohen, Harry||Michie, William|
|Corbett, Robin||Mikardo, Ian|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Crowther, Stan||Nellist, David|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||O'Brien, William|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Parry, Robert|
|Deakins, Eric||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Dixon, Donald||Pendry, Tom|
|Dobson, Frank||Pike, Peter|
|Dormand, Jack||Prescott, John|
|Dubs, Alfred||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Foster, Derek||Ryman, John|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Freud, Clement||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|George, Bruce||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Short, Mrs R. (W'hampt'n NE)|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Gould, Bryan||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Hardy, Peter||Snape, Peter|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Soley, Clive|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Spearing, Nigel|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Tinn, James|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Torney, Tom|
|Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Wareing, Robert|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Winnick, David|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Woodall, Alec|
|Wrigglesworth, Ian||Mr. John Home-Robertson and|
|Mr. Allen McKay.|
|Tellers for the Noes:|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Lords amendment No. 14 disagreed to.
§ Amendments made to the Bill in lieu thereof:—
§ (a), in page 3, line 16, at beginning insert—
'At the end of that Part of that Schedule there shall be inserted the following paragraph—
6.—(1) The dwelling-house is situated in a National Park, or an area designated under section 87 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 as an area of outstanding natural beauty, or an area designated under section 19 of this Act as a rural area, and the Secretary of State has determined, on the application of the landlord, that the right to buy is not to be capable of being exercised with respect to the dwelling-house on the ground that the dwelling-house—
(2) An application for a determination under this paragraph shall be made within four weeks or, in a case falling within section 5(2) of this Act, eight weeks of the service of the notice claiming to exercise the right to buy.
§ (b), in page 3, line 16, leave out 'and the provision made by subsection (3) above.'.
§ (c), in page 3, line 19, leave out 'and'.
(d), in page 3, line 21, at end insert
; and the amendment made by subsection (4) above shall not apply where the tenant's claim to exercise the right to buy was made before that date unless, at that date, the period specified in paragraph 5 of Part I of Schedule 1 to the 1980 Act had not expired or there was outstanding an application for a determination under that paragraph.
(6) Nothing in subsection (3) above shall be taken as reviving any claim to exercise the right to buy made before the commencement date.
>(7) Where the amendment made by subsection (4) above applies in relation to a claim to exercise the right to buy made before the commencement date, that amendment shall have effect as if for the words "the service of the notice claiming to exercise the right to buy" there were substituted the words "the commencement of Part I of the 1984 Act".'.
§ (e), in page 5, line 6, after 'person', insert 'or persons'.
§ (f), in page 8, line 29, after 'age', insert 'or a physically disabled person'.
§ (g), in page 8, line 39, leave out 'section 8(3A) of this Act' and insert 'subsection (2A) below'.
(h), in page 9, line 11, at end insert—
'(2A) A relevant disposal is exempted by this subsection if—
§ (i) in page 9, line 39, leave out 'section 8(3A) of this Act' and insert 'subsection (2A) above'.
(j), in page 9, line 42, at end insert—
'(8) In any case where the landlord made an application for a determination under paragraph 6 of Part I of Schedule 1 to this Act, it shall be conclusively presumed that this section does not apply.'.
§ (k), in page 55, line 1, leave out '5' and insert '6'.603
§ (l), in page 55, line 4, leave out '6' and insert '7'.
§ (m), in page 66, line 18, at end insert 'or persons'.
§ (n), in page 75, line 7, at end insert 'or persons'.
(o), in page 85, line 17, leave out from 'in' to 'of in line 19 and insert
'subsection (2A) for the words "section 8(3A) (a), (c), (d) or (e) of this Act" there were substituted the words "paragraph 6(5) (a), (c), (d) or (e)".'.
§ Amendment made to the words so restored to the Bill: In page 3, leave out lines 14 and 15.
§ Lords amendments Nos. 15 and 16 agreed to.