§ 11.56 a.m.
§ Bill read 3a, with the amendments.
§ Clause 1 [Secure tenants' right to purchase]:
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 1.
Page 5, line 10, after ("dwelling-house") insert—
("( ) where a dwelling-house is designed or specially adapted to make it suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age and which, since completion or adaption, has always been let for occupation by persons of pensionable age.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is to give your Lordships' House a chance to think again about its treatment of Scotland and England. It has been suggested to me that this amendment is exactly the same amendment as that which we debated the other day—and by the "other day" I mean the other day, the Report stage. It is not the same amendment. Indeed, I have before me the Official Report, from which it is perfectly clear that time after time the noble Earl the Minister took exception to the amendment, on grounds of technical defects and the drafting. He went to very considerable length to prove that the drafting was so loose that you could drive a coach and horses through the whole Bill and its purpose. He implied that somehow or other I had conspired with others to wreck the Bill; hundreds of thousands of one-apartment and two-apartment flats were going to be handled and the tenants of them would be denied the right.
§ So I looked at the amendment to see whether I could tighten it up to suit the noble Earl. I have found that very difficult. The amendment refers to a 1195 dwelling-house which is designed or specially adapted to make it suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age, and which, since the design was carried out and the house was completed, or, if it had been adapted, since the adaptation, has always been let for occupation by persons of pensionable age. The noble Earl will remember that in regard to the other amendment he suggested that it must be unambiguously drafted. This is unambiguous. It is to cover the point about houses that have been designed or specially adapted and which have been let for the occupation of pensioners. It is the type of house in respect of which there is a tremendous demand; and the balance of the ages is such that as people live longer and this age group grows larger, more and more shall we need this type of house. This could not possibly mean every one-apartment and two-apartment house in the public sector. This could not mean hundreds and thousands of houses unless they had been designed or specially adapted for old people. I do not think the noble Earl can rule this amendment out because it is ambiguous in any way; I am perfectly sure it is clear.
§ The noble Earl said, first of all, that it would include houses which are only minimally adapted. I deny that. The phrase "designed or specially adapted" cannot be construed as minimally adapted. His last point on the previous amendment was that it would apply to houses not actually let to elderly people if a house currently let to another type of householder had previously been let for a considerable time to elderly people. Under this amendment, this house has got to be let, from the start right through to the point of would-be purchase, to pensionable people. So there is no question of his first argument, his second argument or even his third argument applying. I would suggest to the noble Earl that when he comes with tears in his eyes to tell us we would be denying a great section of people the right to purchase their house, he should remember that if they are of pensionable age then, in the case of a man, he is at least 65. Pensionable age is definable. How many building societies in this country would make a loan to a person of the age of 65, payable over, what?—25 years?1196
§ Your Lordships will remember that in one of his earlier statements the noble Earl himself spoke about wanting to make it possible for people to be able to purchase their houses while they are earning. We are dealing now with tenants, as well as houses. At least 40 per cent. of these tenants are on supplementary pension; so when he talks about denying to a certain category the right to buy, he is deceiving himself. You have got to balance the rights of this particular group against the needs of other members of the same group who are not properly housed and who need these houses that are specially designed and adapted.
§ This is a different amendment. It is much more tightly drawn. I know that the Government are sensitive about this; they have got to face a row in another place, because the words to which they objected before were words which your Lordships' House accepted for the English Bill. To my mind, these words (I do not say this simply because I drafted them myself) meet and clear the hurdles of the arguments which the noble Earl put forward. I did not think they were very good arguments at the time, but I thought I would at least try my best to get over them and tighten the wording up. This is an important amendment, and I beg to move.
§ 12.4 p.m.
§ Viscount HANWORTH
My Lords, I think we really ought to see what are the effects of the Bill as it stands at the moment. I believe there are hardly any pensioners who want to purchase their house themselves. They know that they will have to move out sooner or later; they may have to move to an old people's home. No, it is not them at all. The people who will purchase it are, of course, the relatives. They will put up the money. They may see it as a good investment. But it really is of no benefit at all to almost any pensioners to purchase their house, except to have something to leave, possibly, to their family.
That is not what the Bill is trying to do. What is going to happen, of course, is that in many cases the houses will be purchased; and if they are owned privately, when three or four out of ten, perhaps, have been so purchased, the whole of that provision 1197 for the old people will be wound up. Why is it that the Government are doing this? I suspect that they do not like making exceptions, and that they think that if this amendment is accepted some local councils may misuse these powers and designate houses as old people's houses to prevent them from being purchased. If that is the case, why do they not say so? As it is, the position is highly unsatisfactory. It is doing great damage for no apparent good reason whatsoever.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, was at some pains to try and make out that what we had decided at the Report stage—decided by a majority—should not be applicable. Of course, you can always make small changes in an amendment that is defeated at Report stage, but if, on that basis, you arc going to bring it back here, you are surely at variance with the Standing Orders of this House. The noble Lord makes a grimace, as if he thinks this is trivial, but it is not. It is not by any means so. Our Standing Orders are expressed in very mild terms, but they are nevertheless binding as the practice of the House, and are generally regarded so. I share this experience with the noble Lord because shortly after I first came to this House—a year after—I was on the Opposition Benches, and I, too, was taken to task for trying to use Third Reading to reverse a decision that had been taken on Report.
Your Lordships will be very familiar, I am sure, with the provision in the Companion to the Standing Orders. On page 127 it says:It is considered undesirable that an issue "—not an amendment, but an issue—which has been fully debated and decided upon a previous stage of a Bill should be re-opened on Third Reading".The noble Lord may have thought that my noble friend was concentrating on the wording, which was said to be ambiguous. This very often is an element in resisting amendments, but it was certainly not understood by me, and I doubt whether it was understood by other Members of your Lordships' House, that that was what we were being asked to vote upon. We were voting on the issue.
1198 I submit to the noble Lord that the issue is perfectly clear. The issue has been brought up at the previous two stages of the Bill and concerns dwelling-houses being designed or specially adapted to make them suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age. This has been fully argued. I am not certain that it has yet been appreciated by the House that we are, in this Bill, in a different position from the position in the English Housing Bill, because not a great deal of stress has been laid on Clause 4(4), under which it is open to the landlord,…in the case of a dwelling-house which has facilities which are substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house and which has been designed or adapted for occupation by an elderly or disabled person whose special needs require accommodation of the kind provided by the dwelling-house.Then, the landlord may make a condition in the sale. The condition will obviously be that that particular dwelling-house, if it is thought fit, should be offered back to the landlord on the death of the new owner. I see no great difficulty about this but it makes a very considerable difference as between the Scottish Bill and the English Bill.
Does it really matter if an elderly person purchases the house which has been specially designed and adapted for an elderly person and in which she or he is living, and it is provided that in this case the landlord can make a condition that the house should be offered back to the landlord on the death of the new owner? This may have been a little obscure in the drafting, but it is obvious that it can be done, and if the house then goes back to the landlord on the death of the elderly tenant, surely that covers everything that is required for the protection of houses specifically adapted or designed for the elderly. If it does not cover all, then it certainly goes a long way to do so; so that on the merits I feel certain that this House should stand by the decision it reached on Report.
Nobody could pretend that the changes that are made in the amendment that we now have before us as compared with the previous amendment are very far-reaching. The noble Lord himself said that it made the situation crystal clear. I do not think he used the word "crystal", but that it made it clear. On the facts on 1199 which we reached our decision at Report stage and the fact that we have this Standing Order, that this was an issue that was decided on Report stage, and on the contents of the Bill itself which do offer the chance for a landlord to reenter into possession of such houses, I hope the House will reject the amendment.
§ Lord GALPERN
My Lords, I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has said. He has read the Standing Orders of the House dealing with the question of the amendment submitted by my noble friend Lord Ross. He himself reads the Standing Orders and tells us that it is "undesirable". There are many things I do which my wife says would be undesirable but she does not prohibit me from doing them. The question is whether one is entitled to interpret the word "undesirable" as something which cannot be done.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, I must say to the noble Lord that he will find in many places in our Standing Orders and the Companion to Standing Orders that a certain thing is to be considered undesirable. In my experience, that has usually been enough for your Lordships.
§ Lord GALPERN
My Lords, coming from a different atmosphere into this one and having sat in the Chair in the other place, one could not argue there on a Standing Order. That may be the practice here; but it does not prohibit one. The noble Lord himself went on to argue the case. He ended by arguing that my noble friend Lord Ross was wrong in submitting it. He gave reasons for saying so. He himself was doing something contrary to what he alleges to be the Standing Orders. However, the point is that if it is out of order, then somebody must rule that it is out of order. Somebody should do that, if that is the attitude.
§ Lord GALPERN
My Lords, I said that somebody should rule that it is out of order and that that will finish it.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, surely it is for the House to rule it out of order. The House is the custodian 1200 of its own rules. Generally, we find that once the rule is pointed out and the interpretation that is placed on the rule is explained, then appropriate action is taken. I suggest that it would be wise and reasonable for the noble Lord, Lord Ross, in the light of my explanation now to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I should have been delighted to consider that if the noble Lord had made his point succinctly; but then he proceeded to argue that I was wrong in the general principle. He proceeded to examine another clause altogether, which was a justification given by the Government in respect of that and other amendments. The noble Lord cannot have it both ways. It was very undesirable, I think, of him—and he would have been ruled out of order elsewhere—when he strayed from the actual amendment and proceeded to tell us about something entirely different. It took him far longer to tell me about my undesirability than it took me to move the amendment, and we should probably have been finished with the amendment by this time but for his intervention.
§ Lord GALPERN
My Lords, if the noble Lord the Chief Whip is prepared to rule that it is out of order, I will abide by the rules. If he is prepared to rule that "it is undesirable" means that you cannot discuss it, I will accept that decision. What I am trying to get at is the meaning of the word "undesirable".
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, there is no particular Standing Order on this. The Companion to Standing Orders is a guidance for your Lordships. It is only a guidance. It has been the generally accepted feeling of this House that it is a protection for the House, not a protection for the Government, that these matters should not be raised again at Third Reading when they have already been decided upon. There is no question of ruling people out of order. This House does not have firm rules of order It has guidelines; and these are generally adhered to.
§ Lord UNDERHILL
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Chief Whip to look at columns 771 and 772 of the noble Earl's reply as to why he could not on 1201 behalf of the Government accept the amendment at Report stage? There, he will see that the main reason why he could not accept it has now been changed by the amendment of my noble friend Lord Ross. Surely, therefore, it is permissible now to be put to the House?
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, the Companion to Standing Orders talks about an "issue". It is an issue that your Lordships are being invited to change. There was an occasion earlier, on a previous Bill, when the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, suggested at Report stage that he would allow a particular amendment to he negatived and then would revert to it at Third Reading. I got up at that point and interrupted the noble Lord, who kindly gave way, and I pointed out that if he allowed the amendment to be negatived at Report stage he would not be able to revert to it at Third Reading. So the noble Lord did not allow it to be negatived but withdrew it so that he could refer to it at Third Reading.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I think we are not going to resolve this by merely discussing the rights and wrong of the matter and by noble Lords on both sides giving their points of view. I think the only way we can resolve it, if noble Lords opposite feel very strongly about the rightness or wrongness of the action, is to move accordingly or to let my noble friend conclude without further intervention and dispose of it in the normal way. This could be the quicker procedure.
§ Lord GALPERN
My Lords, all I wanted to say is that, if we consider the circumstances, this amendment is largely as a result of the contribution made by the Minister during the debate. He said that the earlier one was in conflict with Clause 4. It was put to him from several parts of the House that we could easily get rid of Clause 4 if that was his only problem. We think that the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has this afternoon produced an amendment that would be acceptable. In my opinion, that is what the Minister was seeking.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (The Earl of Mansfield)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has moved his amendment and 1202 he has not seen fit to withdraw it. Therefore I must answer it on its merits. If I say a word or two about what I think should happen at the end of my remarks, they will be in a different context. In truth and in fact, this amendment is a slight variation, both in its drafting and in the effects that it would have on the Bill, upon what we discussed three days ago on Report. The only difference to the situation which this amendment would make is that if the amendment were accepted a local authority would not be able to refuse to sell a house to the tenant on the ground that at some time in the past it had been let to a person of pensionable age.
Before I discuss the amendment in detail I must repeat, I am afraid, some of what I said three days ago about the background to our deliberations. I stressed the importance of ensuring that the legislation will, in operation, reflect the wishes of Parliament, and I reminded the House that we are dealing here with legislation that a number of local authorities which, between them, act as landlords to more than half of the public sector tenants in Scotland, have pledged themselves to frustrate and distort at every opportunity. I drew the House's attention to the fact that those authorities have gone to the lengths of meeting together to plan the means by which they will defy the law, a state of affairs which I think I remarked to the noble Baroness, Lady David, is peculiar to Scotland so far as I know. I perhaps did not emphasise as fully as I might have done that these authorities have not been talking about straightforward defiance of the law but about searching the Bill for loop-holes and for ambiguities which can be exploited to deprive more people of the right to buy than Parliament intended. I ask the House to bear in mind the avowed intent of those authorities to trample over the spirit of this Bill and to stretch the letter of the law to the limits of credible interpretation in their doctrinaire opposition to the will of Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, referred to the words "specially adapted", and he disagrees with the meaning and ambiguity which I put upon them on Report. I have to say that there is nothing, for instance, about his definition which would exclude the one-bedroomed 1203 house. The Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities expressed the view to the Government during consultations that the definition which the noble Lord put into his amendment might well cover minimal adaptations and link them to the elderly. On the last occasion we talked about grab rails, and so on.
My Lords, continuing with my theme, I also ask the House to bear in mind that those authorities have made it clear that, where they cannot succeed in denying a tenant the right which Parliament has conferred, they will delay its exercise for as long as possible in the hope that they can demoralise and discourage those whose legal rights they cannot take from them altogether. I mention this because I believe that we must recognise that these authorities are seeking confrontation and will seek to deny the right to buy in many cases where there is no justification for doing so purely for the sake of daunting tenants from exercising their rights.
This sets the scene. There are one or two other points to which I should like to return to reinforce what I said on Report. Dealing with the amendment, first, it does not require that a house should be substantially adapted for occupation by the elderly. So far, as I explained in Committee, a house could be excluded from the right to buy because of insignificant and comparatively minor features such as a grab rail or hand rail. Such features will not only occur in houses which do not genuinely fall into the category of special needs housing but could well be installed in any house at minimal cost by authorities bent on frustrating the purposes of this legislation.
Secondly, the statement that houses are designed for the elderly will still, as I said at Report stage, apply potentially to all one-bedroom houses which make up 15 per cent. of the public sector housing stock but also, to some of the 460,000 two-bedroom houses in the stock. It is, as I explained, a matter of fact that many local authorities do reserve their smaller houses and flats for the elderly, and it would be very easy for those who do not already do so to change their allocation policies in order to take advantage of this provision. Once again I stress that these are not special needs 1204 houses, they are quite ordinary houses which happen to be let to the elderly.
What I said, I believe to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, was that the effect of the last amendment would be to provide a gateway through which a recalcitrant local authority could drive a coach and horses to destroy the provisions and the principles of this Bill. The effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be to narrow the gateway slightly. It would not stop a well-directed coach from being driven through the gap.
This amendment would be much more candid if it said that persons of pensionable age are not to have the right to buy. That is really what we are talking about—the exclusion of the elderly, not of houses for the elderly—and that is the crux of our difference of opinion with the Opposition. The noble Lord seeks to deny everyone the right to buy; but because they cannot do that he makes a pretence of accepting the principle of the Bill and, from the cover of that pretence, seeks to take the right to buy away from a group that comprises about 30 per cent. of public sector tenants.
The Government's view, as I have said all along, is that the elderly have as much right to the benefits of this policy as anyone. We accept that there will be some who do not wish to buy their home, and we believe that it is those elderly people who are most likely to be sufficiently infirm to be occupying genuine special needs housing. However, we believe that the rest of the elderly should be allowed to decide for themselves whether home ownership is a sensible step at their time of life.
Throughout this Bill, noble Lords opposite have made it clear that they simply do not understand the desire for home ownership and they cannot conceive of choice about housing tenure except in terms of money. We believe that most people see the benefits of home ownership in quite different terms. They see it as a source of security, of independence and of freedom from interference; and I ask your Lordships whether you would accept for a moment that elderly people do not value these things as much if not more than other people. I certainly do not accept that, and I think that it would be unconscionable to deprive elderly tenants 1205 of the chance to spend their retirement years in a house which they can call their own.
My Lords, may I, possibly for the benefit of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth—and I do not say this offensively—and any other noble Lords who may not have been present at our previous deliberations and may not realise how much this Bill differs from the English Bill (and has differed ever since it came to your Lordships' House), say this? The Bill provides, we think, a balance between the rights of individuals and the needs of the public. It excludes from the right to buy all sheltered housing for the elderly and disabled, because we believe that the sale of such houses could cut across the interests of other people in the same group of houses who did not wish to buy; and in looking at the interests of other tenants the restriction to grouped housing is clearly essential. The sale of houses which are not grouped cannot affect the immediate interests of other tenants as long as the elderly people who rent them continue to live in them. However, we fully recognise that once these elderly people cease to live in a house, the community does have an interest in what happens to it, if it is genuine special needs housing, which may be in short supply. Consequently, we have taken the logical step and put in a safeguard of the community interest which operates when the elderly tenants have ceased to live here. That is contained in Clause 4(4) of the Bill which gives landlords the right of preemption—which has no time limit—and this comes in where houses are significantly adapted for the elderly or the disabled. We have heard much of the comparisons with the Housing Bill, but I must remind your Lordships that the Housing Bill as at this moment does not contain the right of pre-emption which I have mentioned and which is a well-known feature of the Scottish law of real property.
It has been suggested, I think, by noble Lords opposite that this Bill does not protect the special needs housing for the elderly, but I must dispute that. It simply is not the case. It gives ample protection to the community's interest where that interest is genuine. What it does not do is to deprive the elderly of the same rights that the Bill gives to every other tenant, where the community does not have a 1206 genuine overriding interest. The elderly are those who have suffered most in Scotland's past and they are the ones who have suffered most over the lack of choice for decent housing in their youth and middle age. They are the people who need and deserve a choice now.
Finally, may I remind the House of the immense care which has been taken as this Bill has wended its long passage through both Houses. In Committee in another place—I have already referred to this—there was a most constructive debate on the part of both Government and Opposition speakers, and amendments were inserted into the Bill without any need for Divisions. The Opposition reserved its right to come back to the matter on Report if it should so wish, but in fact no amendments were debated in a long Report stage, by the standards of the other place with a time-table which is even more crowded than ours. In two full days and part of the night, there was no return to this question of housing for the elderly. On Third Reading, which was a very brief stage, no mention of the matter was made by either of the two Liberal spokesmen who put their point of view and concerned themselves quite genuinely with housing in rural areas; so the House received this Bill, I suggest, in a way which has paid attention to the various principles which we have tried to set into the Bill.
We had two debates on this subject in Committee: one initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Ross, who withdrew his amendment; and the other on a very similar amendment which was introduced by the Liberals. That was debated and rejected on a Division. We then had another very full debate three days ago on this issue and, if noble Lords will bear with me, I should like to concentrate on the word "issue". That finally received the House's decisive verdict only on Tuesday, and now we come back to the matter again on an amendment which I know is slightly different in form, but which raises no different issue—and that is the word I stress—which has not been ventilated before. Matters have already been brought to your Lordships' attention about our Standing Orders and the fact that we do not have a Speaker or anybody who can rule anything out of order in this House.
1207 May I say this in conclusion. I have not been in this House as long as many other noble Lords, but I have been here now for a few years—long enough to gain very considerable respect and, indeed, affection for the way in which the House conducts its business by a habit of self-regulation and self-discipline. If we are going to revive issues on Third Reading which have been as well-ventilated as this one has and which have been decided on only three days before, it will open a door really to a quite radical departure. It will in fact mean that in future the door will be open for your Lordships' House to consider matters on a totally different basis; in other words, issues which have been decided on Report being revived on Third Reading. Speaking purely personally, I think that it would be a pity if this departure came about without very full consultation by those who, as it were, look after our procedures behind the scenes.
My only task is to persuade the House if I can—and I address myself particularly to the Liberals and the Cross-Benchers, and indeed to everybody who loves the procedures of this House as I do—on the merits of the case that we have gone as far as we possibly can in this Bill to provide balanced provisions for the interests of the individual and for the public interest. If the noble Lord, Lord Ross, on reflection, is not prepared to withdraw his amendment—and I do really, for so many reasons, beseech him to—then I must ask the House to vote it down.
The Earl of SELKIRK
My Lords, may I ask the Government whether the star which is placed against this amendment means that it only appeared before the House for the first time this morning? Is that really the position?
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
No, my Lords; it appeared yesterday after luncheon. I do not criticise the noble Lord so far as timing is concerned.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his last remarks, and in relation to the last point, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, of course follows our proceedings very well. I do not know whether he tried to get a 1208 copy of the Bill reprinted after Report yesterday—he probably got it today; so did I. It was not available yesterday, and when one waits until one gets the up-to-date information on the Bill which one seeks to amend and discovers the Bill is not there, he should be the last person to complain about the lateness of amendments. We finished the Report stage on Tuesday, and the Hansard was available on Wednesday. I put in these amendments as soon as I could, having waited and hoped to get an up-to-date copy of the Bill. Usually one waits until the Bill is reprinted before putting forward amendments. I do not blame anyone for that, except the rush there has been to get this through. It is very seldom, I believe, that a Third Reading in this House follows within two days of the Report stage.
I am very glad that the noble Earl admitted that this amendment was different; he said it was not very much different. But when one bears in mind—and the Report is here in front of me—that column after column of the speech that he made was related to the drafting difficulties and what would happen in respect of these drafting difficulties, I thought it was incumbent of me to tighten up the thing and present what was a different amendment.
Of course, it still deals with the same group of people, but the noble Earl should appreciate that Parliament, including this House, has laid responsibility upon local authorities to meet the needs of those people. One of the biggest problems that a local authority has is to meet the real needs of the pensioners and the elderly; and, with all due respect, after they have stopped earning pensioners are not the people who will enter most readily into the purchase of a house. I think my noble friend Lord Galpern mentioned that the people who will reap the benefits—if benefits there be in this—are the youngsters that are left behind.
The fact is that there is a long waiting list everywhere, in cities, in towns and in the countryside, of old people who are waiting to get into these houses and if they are sold to the pensioners what will happen? They are the places where there will be the biggest amount of change, because they will die quickest. That is a natural fact. The people who will sell the houses are their executors, and I hope that the noble Earl will look at the clause 1209 in relation to executors and the freedom they have in relation to sales, which is different. They do not need to wait for five years and to pay back any of the sale price in respect of these houses. That is covered in other clauses, but I just want to keep to the amendment. It has always been my parliamentary practice to try to keep in order.
The fact is that there are far more old age pensioners waiting to get into this type of house, than there are old age pensioners in them. What should dominate: a right that is not likely to be exercised by a great many of them who arc actually in the houses, or the rights and needs of those who do not have that type of house? That is all we have been trying to get across to the Government and I make no apology for continuing to do that.
I had no intention of forcing another vote, and I shall not force another vote, but I want the Government to appreciate that not all local authorities should be met with this suspicion and fear. If we are blinkered by fear as well as by prejudice, then we shall get a very bad Act of Parliament. It is because I consider, from my own knowledge as Secretary of State and from my own knowledge oflocal authorities, that the Government are doing wrong, that I certainly will not apologise for having brought the amendment before the House. But I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 2:
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, at the Report stage my noble friend Lord Selkirk introduced a fairly long and very welcome amendment, as I said at the time, on Case 17. Under that, there was a definition of the "regular armed forces of the Crown". I pointed out at that time that there was already a definition of the "regular armed forces of the Crown" in Clause 1(12) of the Bill, and suggested that the Case 17 amendment should be brought into line with what was already in the Bill.1210
§ It has been suggested to me—obviously, there was not time to consider it then—that it would be better to do it the other way round and to bring the definition in line 36 of page 5 into line with the definition that my noble friend Lord Selkirk included in his amendment, and that is what this amendment does. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for putting down this drafting amendment, which certainly makes the different parts of the Bill more consistent than they were before. I am pleased to accept it.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 13 [Succession to secure tenancy.]:
§ 12.46 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 18, line 25, leave out from ("below") to end of line 27.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 3 goes with Amendments Nos. 4 and 5, so as to make sense of the business, and it seeks to give to people in public sector housing the same privilege as exists in private sector housing. A new security of tenure has been given to tenants in public sector housing, but the rights of succession allow only one change. After that one change, the house reverts to the landlord for allocation. In private sector housing, there are two changes.
§ I said in Committee when we discussed this matter—we did not vote upon it—that it would be very unfair indeed if the daughter or unmarried son of an elderly couple had to get out, because, first, the father had died and then, after the house had passed to the mother, she had died. To my mind, that is not the kind of security that is required. I think it was the Scottish Council for the Single Homeless who, in a letter to some of us, drew attention to the fact that they had quite a number of distressing cases of single, middle-aged people who, for the first time, have had to leave home and seek hostel or institutional accommodation. I do not think this is right. It would be 1211 offensive to most people and, I am quite sure, to your Lordships.
§ I know what the answer will be. The answer will be: Trust the local authorities; the local authorities will not throw them out. But after the noble Earl's explanation of the kind of local authorities we have in Scotland, conspiring to frustrate the law, hating every line in this Bill and doing everything to destroy it, he cannot adopt the attitude that they are all-caring, all-wise and that we can leave it to them. If he is really giving security of tenure, and matching the security of people who are under a private landlord —thanks to the statutory protections that are given to a tenant—then he should make this change.
§ I have been hoping for better things, and this is about the noble Earl's last chance. If he seeks to do something really good in this Bill, for which I could applaud him, then he should make this change. That is the only effect of the amendment. I have not been conspiring with anyone to see how we could undermine the whole Bill. I am seeking to give that additional protection and I have tried to follow through the consequences of the idea. Hence, the three amendments. My Lords, beg to move.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, the effect of Amendments Nos. 3 and 5 would be to grant a right of succession, without end, for any family allocated a house.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
No, my Lords, the effect of the amendments would be just that. In other words, a house, once allocated, could be passed down through the family for generation after generation, regardless of need. There cannot be any objection to a house passing through several generations of a family, where appropriate. Indeed, it is common practice for local authorities to allow this to happen. But we believe that every once in a while the landlord should have an opportunity to review the allocation of houses against the background of its responsibility to manage the housing stock 1212 in the interests of the community as a whole. It is rather extreme to provide a statutory right in effect to perpetual succession.
The Bill at present seeks only to provide a minimum safeguard of one succession, but public landlords arc usually more generous than this, and I do not think that they really need compulsion to be so. Even when they do ask someone to move, following the death of a tenant, they almost invariably rehouse them elsewhere —perhaps in a house of a size more appropriate to their needs where a single person is left in a large house. I think that this answers the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, about the single daughter who has devotedly looked after her elderly parents until their death and is perhaps then left in a public sector house which would be much more suitable for family occupation. In this respect, public sector tenants are at much less risk than private sector tenants whose landlords may wish to sell and who are unlikely to be offering alternative accommodation. That is one of the reasons why we have provided a right to one succession in the public sector rather than the two, to which private tenants are entitled.
These amendments would give public tenants far greater rights than the two successions which are allowed to private tenants. The only representations which we have had from local authorities about this clause have been to seek reassurance that it will not stop them from allowing a member of a tenant's family to stay on in the house after his or her death if there has already been one succession. After it was explained to them that they would remain quite free to grant the tenancy of the house to such a person in such circumstances, they were content. Their concern on this point underlines the fact that they are very unlikely to refuse to let a member of a tenant's family stay on without good reason for refusing.
Nevertheless, in cases where the authority's wider management responsibilities give ground for a move, they ought to have scope for requiring such a move. Where this happens, subsection (6) grants the person involved a temporary tenancy of up to six months. I appreciate that an amendment has been tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, which relates to this period, but that is the period contained in the Bill. Its 1213 purpose is for the landlord to consider rehousing the tenant and for there to be time for discussion between them. So people will not be put out in the street after the first succession. Whatever the noble Lord may say, I think that most people are of the opinion that local authorities behave reasonably. At the same time, we say that it would be wrong to deprive the landlord of all say in the allocation of houses over several generations. On the basis that deep down I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, trusts the local authorities, as I do, he may see fit to withdraw these amendments.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I have certainly highlighted the fact. The noble Earl suggests that this would open up the way for an endless succession of tenants. For the purposes of this subsection, a "qualified person" is defined. The person who is left and who is part of the family is a qualified person. If it had been a mother and a son, the automatic translation of the first succession would be from the mother to the son—or to a daughter. There is a definition of "qualified person" which itself provides a limitation.
I am sorry indeed that the noble Earl has not had second thoughts about this matter but I shall not press it to a Division. I sincerely hope that the new-found faith in local authorities being reasonable people will persist in the noble Earl. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 12.56 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 18, line 36, leave out ("paragraph (a) or (b)") and insert ("subsection (1)")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a very simple amendment. In the case of a qualified person being denied the right by the local authority to stay on in the house, they are certainly not thrown out on the street. They are given six months before any change is made in their position. I suggest that they should be allowed to continue in the house for one year. If, as the noble Earl says, local authorities are so reasonable, the need—1214
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I apologise. I thought we were doing what is done in another place where amendments are taken together and discussed together, and if an amendment is not moved then it is not moved. In those circumstances, Amendment No. 4 and Amendment No. 5 are not moved by me.
§ [Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.]
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 19, line 30, leave out ("6 months") and insert ("one year")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already given the explanation of this amendment, and I do not want to add a single word to it. If local authorities are as reasonable as the noble Lord says, we shall not need to operate this, but where there are some unreasonable local authorities who might enforce it, I suggest that instead of six months we should give the tenant a year. We must remember that "not exceeding" does not mean that they will be there for a year. It may be for six months and six days or six months and seven days. This latitude is desirable, and I beg to move.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has said, the effect of subsection (6) is that where a tenant dies and leaves either a spouse or another member of the family living in the house in circumstances where they are not entitled to succeed to the tenancy, because the tenant himself had inherited by succession, the Bill grants the person left in the house a non-secure tenancy—that is, a tenancy which does not attract any of the rights set out in the Bill. This is for a period of up to six months. The period is to allow a reasonable time for both the public sector landlord and the tenant to decide about the future. As I said when speaking about Amendment No. 2 and the others, the present practice, some suggest, is that in almost all cases the landlord will be quite happy to grant the survivor the tenancy of the house. In virtually all other cases, if, for reasons of space, which I illustrated, the landlord wants the house 1215 for a larger family, he would offer rehousing elsewhere, perhaps in a smaller house.
In these circumstances, which are totally dissimilar to those in the private sector, I believe that six months is long enough for such decisions to be made. I do not think it is in the tenant's interests that it should be possible to provide him with the rights which this Bill provides for secure tenants for a further six months. If the period were extended to 12 months—or any other period, for that matter—it would expose tenants to delay and uncertainty and I really do not think that would be desirable.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I have no desire to prolong the agony. I never expected that at this late stage there would be a change of heart on the part of the Government. I think my toll of accepted amendments is one or one and a half, but I am not complaining about that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 1 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 7:
Insert the following new clause:
("Grants for provision of fire escapes
After section 10A of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1974 there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(10B) Subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State may by order make the local authority shall make a grant in respect of work for the provisions of a means of escape from fire from a building which, or part of which, is let in lodgings".")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment concerns grants for the provision of fire escapes. I tabled this at the behest of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who felt very strongly about it—feelings which I share. At the Report stage I asked the noble Earl whether it was true that there was provision in the English Housing Bill to make it possible for grants of up to £5,000 to be expended on such houses which are in multiple occupation, but I did not get an answer. This is his last chance to answer publicly as to whether that was right or wrong. There is a keen sensitivity about mentioning what is in an English Bill and what is in this particular Bill, and perhaps 1216 that is something of which we have not heard the last.
§ I think everyone knows the reason for this amendment. These institutions have been the subject of very considerable attention following disastrous fires. They are prone to fire, and elderly and sometimes infirm residents are particularly susceptible, and of course they cannot readily escape. The nature of these places is such that I think we should leave nothing undone that can be done to provide adequate fire protection and means of escape.
§ I believe there are no definitions in Scotland in regard to multiple occupation, but there are definitions in respect of hostels and lodging houses and that is why the amendment is so worded. I hope the noble Earl will look at this amendment sympathetically. I know it raises a terrible thing—it raises the subject of money. When I see the noble Baroness, Lady Young, sitting there, I can never think of her saying "No" to everything because money is involved. That is the sacred principle at the present time: if money is involved, the answer is "No". Let the noble Earl shake himself loose. Here is a chance for him to so something for Scotland. I do not know whether the Prime Minister is in London today or not, but let the noble Earl strike a blow for freedom in Scotland and accept this particular amendment, even though it means a certain measure of Government expenditure. I beg to move.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
My Lords, I have sat here for an hour and a half and listened with fascination but in silence to this very interesting debate, but in view of the fact that this is an amendment for which my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie has great enthusiasm I really must say a few words. In case your Lordships feel that I am about to embark upon a long speech on this matter, I must express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, for the way he introduced this amendment. He said that he agreed with and supported the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, for this amendment and therefore, in view of his great support and his emotional appeal, that at last, at the end of the day, the Government should accept an important amendment of this kind, I 1217 will not go into details, but merely ask the Government to support and accept this amendment on this occasion.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, one reason why I cannot accept this amendment is due to a sin of omission by the noble Lord, Lord Ross, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. During the year 1974 there were in fact two Housing Acts—one for England and one for Scotland. The English Housing Act introduced a grants scheme for houses in multiple occupation in England, but the Housing (Scotland) Act of 1974, as I have said, during a period when the noble Lord, Lord Ross, was the distinguished tenant of old St. Andrews House, did not include the same provision. Therefore we in Scotland have no equivalent to the English special grants system which applies to houses in multiple occupation. I am afraid that remains the position.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, as a constitutional lawyer, would not want to be a party to any constitutional impropriety, even in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. The House authorities, both in your Lordships' House and in another place, have advised that this clause is outside the terms of the Money Resolution, therefore I cannot recommend it for acceptance. Even if, over my head, the House was determined to do just that, I have to advise your Lordships that I think the other place might sink back on their insistence that they deal with questions of finance.
But being positive, if I may say so, about this matter, there are considerable powers in Part VI of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1966 to deal with such houses. Section 107 of that Act enables local authorities to require the provision of a means of escape from fire and they can do that, where appropriate, in consultation with the fire authority. Although I have said that there is no specific grant aid available for such work, we are of the opinion that local authorities could use their general powers under Section 69 of the Local Government Act 1973 to give assistance where they consider it appropriate. Then, under Section 109 of the 1966 Act they might also do the work themselves and exercise their discretion in relation to recovery of the cost, so that in effect there could be a grant there.
1218 More generally, as I said on Report, the whole question of control over houses in multiple occupation is being reviewed within the Scottish Development Department and our present powers, which are based closely on those in England, may well not be the best way of dealing with the very different type of house used for this purpose in Scotland.
For the reasons that I have given, this amendment would not be a very proper or satisfactory basis for dealing with a problem which rightly causes grave concern. I hope that I am the first to acknowledge the good intention of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and the other sponsors of this amendment, but I am simply not allowed to recommend your Lordships to accept it.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, that is the best reason I have had yet for the turning down of any amendment of mine, that it conflicts with a Money Resolution. If the noble Earl is interested in the proceedings in another place and he seeks to get a volume devoted entirely to Money Resolutions, he will find many a speech of mine on the subject of the Money Resolution, which was always taken after a Second Reading and which we always insisted upon having available to us before we started the Committee stage. If it is outside the Money Resolution then nobody can do anything about it—except blame the Government for drawing the Money Resolution so tightly that such a desirable amendment would not be in order to be put forward and accepted in another place and, of course, here. Irrespective of how the other place occasionally treats this House and the disrespect which it showed the other day, we treat them with due respect so far as Money Resolutions are concerned and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. In moving this Motion I am entitled to say a few words, and they are going to be very few. I had a splendid speech drafted and typed out. The noble Lord says he heard a bit of it; that was another one. But I am not going to give vent to it, because this Bill has been most thoroughly 1219 scrutinised in your Lordships' House. We have debated it for many hours and I make no complaint about that. We have gone to the heart of the Bills' principles time and again. I do not think it would be profitable to go over some of the provisions which are written into the Bill, nor indeed some of the amendments which have been made in your Lordships' House, which go to improve the Bill.
I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ross, for providing still more opportunities for the Government to consider this Bill. I am grateful to him because it has demonstrated, at least for me, that whatever anybody may say about devolution and assemblies and anything like that, the fact of the matter is that the Scottish Office is able to frame, draw up, draft its own legislation, consider it with its own Law Officers and its own Ministers, can produce a Bill which goes through the other place and arrives in your Lordships' House markedly different from the English version, can continue to debate it in this House and give Government consideration to all its stages. I can assure your Lordships. that my honourable friend who is functionally responsible for housing in Scotland and I have had many conversations on the subject of this Bill and the representations which noble Lords opposite and noble Lords on the Cross-Benches have made to us. In the end it still, as it passes, I hope, finally through your Lordships' House, remains a Scottish Bill and quite different from the English Bill which has already gone forth. To that extent my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Ross, is quite sincere.
I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, who, as I said at an earlier stage, we were so pleased to see had made such an excellent and quick recovery, he also played his part. I should like to thank in their absence the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, who, lucky people, have got to Scotland a good deal earlier than the rest of us who have to take the low road. I should also like to thank noble Lords on these Benches who from time to time have made their contributions. I think for my part that the Bill has been an experience and an education, and it leaves your Lordships' House better than when it came into it.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.— (The Earl of Mansfield.)
§ Lord GALPERN
My Lords, may I first of all thank the Minister for his kind reference to my health. I hope I have not, by virtue of regaining some of it, unduly disturbed the activities of the House in what is happening this afternoon, saying that probably somebody should rule me and my noble friend Lord Ross out of order because of something which is contrary to the Standing Orders. I must say I have enjoyed very much indeed my first participation in a Bill of this kind at all the various stages.
May I very briefly say this. The Minister will recall that we had a debate on Tuesday and at column 749 I asked him:Am I right in concluding that what he has just told the House is that the main attraction for the sitting tenant of a public sector house to buy the house which he occupies, which he rents, is in order (and I hope I have the words right) to bear a greater share of his housing costs?The Minister said:My Lords, with the leave of the House perhaps I may say that of course that is not the main gain to the individual tenant, and I did not say it was. What I suggest the noble Lord does is to read the Official Report tomorrow …I read the Official Report the next day, and at column 747 I find that what he said was:What we are doing is to encourage tenants to bear a greater share of their housing costs …
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord wishes to be fair, and if he is going to quote me in column 749 perhaps he would continue to the end of the intervention.
§ Lord GALPERN
Yes, my Lords, certainly:…then he will see what is the gain to the tenant about which I pontificated at length—that he will have something to call his own and something to pass on.I was not referring to that. The noble Earl said that after I had made my comment. At column 747—I can read the whole column if he wishes, and I do not find anything that he said subsequently in his later intervention—he said:What we are doing is to encourage tenants to bear a greater share of their housing costs than they do by renting and, by buying their home, to relieve the taxpayer and ratepayer of the burden which they presently bear.1221 I studied the Conservative Party manifesto which was put before the Scottish people at the last general election and it says:…to give council, new town and SSHA tenants the legal right to buy their homes.There is no mention there of the fact that they will be doing their duty by relieving taxpayers and ratepayers of a burden byencouraging tenants to bear a greater share of their housing costs".I hope when the Minister comes to discuss the consequences of the passing of this Bill he will have a word with the local authorities to suggest that when they receive an application from a sitting tenant of his desire to purchase the house they will send, together with the application form, the Minister's remarks upon what he will be doing for his fellow taxpayers and ratepayers.
Buying a home, as the noble Earl knows, is one thing; meeting the expenses out of income is quite another. Many of us sometimes fail to budget for the cost of maintenance. The cost of repairs can be very heavy indeed. I have already dealt with that and I am not going to go into it in detail this afternoon. But repairs will have to be carried out. I think it is only right that together with the application form there should be a booklet sent to the possible purchaser with a list—not of the things that my noble friend Lord Ross said the tenant should indicate he knows he is entering into, but a list should be sent, together with the application form, by the local authority, which would illustrate exactly what sort of responsibilities he undertakes. There is nothing novel in that because smokers when they buy a packet of cigarettes are told on every packetHer Majesty's Government Health Department warning. Cigarettes can seriously damage your health".A pamphlet that would illustrate what could happen to the prospective purchaser's financial stability could easily be incorporated in a booklet of that kind.
There is one factor which has not been mentioned. What is the difference between the renting of a house and the purchase of that house? In Glasgow, the figures are that for a three apartment modernised semi-detached home in Knightswood, the selling price of which 1222 would be about £14,000 and the net price £8,400, the present monthly rent is £29.28. The monthly mortgage repayment would become £60.90. There is a difference of almost £31 that a tenant, who is perhaps not so well aware of the factors involved, will have to be sure that he can budget for and maintain.
At present we have steep unemployment figures, and a survey was published the other day by the Frazer Institute, associated with Strathclyde University, indicating that by the end of the year the number of unemployed in Scotland will be 250,000 rising in 1981 to a much higher figure. Therefore, if at all possible we should try to assist someone, who is not accustomed to dealing with these matters and who does not have much knowledge of the situation in which he can land himself, with the serious matter of purchasing a house.
Finally, the noble Earl has told us during the course of our debates that he read the Sunday Post. It is a great pity that he did not read the Sunday Mail last Sunday. It would have done him the world of good, because I think that it would have softened his attitude to some of the amendments that my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock proposed during our discussions. It says there quite clearly:In Glasgow—where the regional unemployment rate is 12.8 per cent. —12 people per month approach the district council with the intention of selling their homes.Those are not people who are in local council houses: they are people who are in privately-owned houses who know all about housing and who now find themselves unable to meet the cost. They illustrate the situation and have done careful research on the matter. It says:Most shattering result of unemployment is losing the family home. Since mortgage interest rocketed … earlier this year, families have been approaching local housing authorities saying they must sell their property because they can no longer keep up payments.It goes on to refer to the experience of most local authorities in Scotland.
Therefore, my appeal is as follows: If we cannot do anything about the Bill, let us postpone bringing it into operation for five years which will may be give us a more stable period of employment and greater security for the individual who 1223 elects to purchase the house which he is renting at present. If that is not possible, then I think that the local authorities somehow or other, despite the clauses in the Bill, should be allowed to deal with the situation—of which they have firsthand knowledge, far better than any sheriff, lands tribunal and so on—of those who wish to buy their houses and at least protect their interests in the case of unemployment.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, this is more or less the last lap on this Bill and it may well be the last Housing Bill in which I shall participate. I have participated in every Housing Bill since 1945 on the committee, and when I was not on the committee I was the person behind it who took responsibility for it. I do not think that we shall have another one in the lifetime of this Parliament unless things are very bad indeed.
First, I should like to thank noble Lords for their patience in listening to me. I had the impression at one time that well, they had spent a long time on the English Bill, so could we not hurry up with the Scottish Bill. Their Lordships were the people who wanted the affairs of Scotland to be debated here in London—they are the last people to complain. However, everyone showed patience and I am very grateful for the help of my colleagues. At times it was not so much a debate that went on as a dialogue that went on for quite a period. I express appreciation for the fact that the noble Earl was able to sustain himself so well during that period. As they would say in Scotland, "He's paid for it". That is his job.
I am glad the noble Earl said that it has been educational. He did not advance whether he had education as regards the new Opposition or whether education in respect of the Bill. However, I always gave advice to my junior Ministers that the Bill was more important than their speech and they must be careful that in their speech they did not rouse the Opposition to unnecessary oratory. The other thing I felt in Opposition is that if a Minister did not know the Bill at the start of proceedings, then if the Opposition were any good he would know the Bill 1224 by the time it was finished. I think I agree that this has been an educational experience for the Minister and for those who sustained their interest throughout.
It was an educational experience for myself, too. I am glad that we found a Minister who was frank, who told us plainly and clearly not once, not twice but three or four times—and did it within the space of five minutes—the purpose of the Bill. I know that we heard impassioned speeches about owner occupation. I thought of an old lady of 83 living in a council house, how her heart would surge at the thought that now she could buy that council house and get a loan that she could repay over the next 25 years. How out of touch can the Government be to think that even the people of Scotland will fall for this kind of thing! But when I get a Minister coming along and saying:… public sector tenants are a financial burden on the community. What we want to do is to lighten it, and to impose on those tenants … heavier share of the cost of their housing. This is what this is all about."—[Official Report, 29/7/80; col. 748.]Thanks to the Minister for his frankness. It is all about money. He said:What we are doing is to encourage tenants to bear a greater share of their housing costs than they do by renting and, by buying their home, to relieve the taxpayer and ratepayer of the burden which they presently bear … council tenants … were a charge—a burden, if you like—on the taxpayer".—[official Report, 29/7/80; col. 747.]You can give grants to agriculture—that is an investment. You can give grants to industry—that is an investment. You can give relief to owner-occupiers—that is an investment. But people who cannot pay the economic rents are told that the help they get, or the local authority gets to build the houses, to clear the slums, to get rid of overcrowding—that is a burden on the taxpayer. We were not talking here about housing, but about people, about tenants. We were talking recently about old-age pensioners. Now we can proclaim to the old-age pensioners why this is being done—because you are a burden on the taxpayer. I do not know what the Minister is worrying about. That is what he said: "This is what this is all about." He must live with his words.
I am interested in housing. The fact of the matter is that the Government are cutting down the amount of money that would create hew houses. They are 1225 cutting down the amount of grant that should be going to support local authority housing. Here we are giving this gloss in order to pass the burden over to other people. "This is what this is all about says the Minister. So, we shall have fewer houses built, we shall have fewer houses available for the local authorities to rent to meet a still growing need, and we shall have higher rents for local authority houses and higher rents for public sector housing. Oh!, but the Secretary of State is going to intervene, not to phase it out, but just to say what the maximum will be in any one year.
The outlook is bleak, even in terms of controlling inflation, because if we increase the cost of housing, be it rented or be it owner-occupied, then I am afraid that it is contrary to the type of battle that people are fighting elsewhere or which the Government say they are fighting elsewhere. I think that this is a wrecking Bill. It is wrecking decent local authority democracy and it is wrecking the housing plans that have been built up by local authorities of Labour, Conservative and Liberal complexion over the last 70 years. I do not think for a minute that the Government appreciate the consequences that this will have—the change in attitudes that this will lead to in respect of house allocation. Practices that have been in existence for a long time will disappear because now every person who is allocated a house will have the right to buy.
There is no choice. One has the right to buy only the house in which one is living. But I can assure the noble Earl that in local authorities there will be very considerable pushing and shoving to get into the desirable houses. I hope he realises the kind of field that this opens up. As I said the other day, people are not objective about housing; they are very subjective. This will be worse than jury vetting—vetting who got that very good house that they are now buying. It will affect people. It will affect attitudes. It will affect the ability of the local authority to carry out the statutory responsibilities laid upon it by this House.
It is not a simple Bill. It is a slogan that, translated into a Bill, will wreak considerable damage upon the housing outlook in Scotland. We have tried our best to deal with the elderly, to deal with the rural areas and to deal with the question 1226 of the private tenants as well—all to no purpose. The Government have been inflexible. A Government who will not bend will break. That is the lesson that I take from the handling of this Bill. If they carry on in this way, if this Government do not bend—not just in respect of housing but in respect of industry—they will either break or be broken.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.