§ 3 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on the Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Extension to cases where landlord does not own freehold]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
I would ask for clarification from the Minister as to whether this clause would cover the people of Dulwich who are so keen to buy their homes—there are 2,000 there whose freehold is owned by a charity—or whether they would come under Clause 2. To clarify the position, the property is owned by Southwark Council, and these people would have a right to buy under the 1980 Housing Act but for the fact that the ground is owned by a charity. I understand that the charity would have been willing to negotiate but Southwark Council does not wish people to have the right. I wonder whether their position would be covered by Clause 1 or Clause 2.
§ Lord Bellwin
As we shall see when we come to Clause 2, if the land is owned by a charity and was acquired by that charity with its own funds, then that will exclude them from the right to buy. To be able to answer my noble friend one would need to know the circumstances of the particular dwellings to which she refers.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Schedule 1 [Extension of right to buy to cases where landlord does not own freehold.]:
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 47, line 23, at end insert—
("(2A) Where the landlord's interest in the dwelling-house is a lease, a certificate under subsection (1)(b) above shall also state particulars of that lease and, with respect to each superior title, the following particulars, namely—
§ The noble Lord said: With this amendment I would also, with permission, wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 82. These four amendments are all technical amendments to Schedule 1 to the Bill, which lays down the terms on which tenants of leasehold property will be able to buy long leases of their homes under Clause 1. I do not think these amendments need detain your Lordships for long; I will try to be as brief as I can in explaining their effect.
§ The first amendment deals with a point about land registration. Where the landlord's interest is leasehold and his title is not registered at Her Majesty's Land Registry, the new Section 20(1)(b) of the 1980 Act (introduced by paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 to the Bill) will require the landlord to give the tenant a certificate of title in respect of the sub-lease he will acquire by exercising the right to buy. This follows the simplified proof of title procedure by way of certificates of title adopted for the right to buy in Section 20(2) of the 1980 Act. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the certificate of title in leasehold cases gives particulars of all superior titles, including the title out of which the landlord's own leasehold interest was created. The particulars relate to whether the title is registered, and, if not, whether it was investigated in the usual way. The amendment will help to enable the Land Registry to register a purchase with absolute title wherever possible.
§ The second amendment deals with two points which have recently come to our notice about the possibility of conflict between the terms of a landlord's head-lease and the terms of a right to buy sub-lease. Where a tenant of leasehold property exercises the right to buy, he will get a sub-lease, which must conform with Schedule 2 to the 1980 Act as amended by Schedule 1 to this Bill. Schedule 2 already provides that certain of the landlord's rights and obligations under his head-lease must be reflected in the tenant's sub-lease. However, we have concluded that there are one or two areas in which there could be uncertainty about the relationship between head-lease and sub-lease.808
§ First, a breach by the landlord of covenants in his head-lease coud lead to forfeiture of the lease. In those circumstances, the right to buy sub-lease would generally fall as well (subject to the important protection for the sub-lease contained in Section 146(4) of the Law of Property Act 1925 enabling him to apply for relief from forfeiture). We therefore think that the Bill should provide that, in all cases, there is an implied covenant on the part of the landlord to observe the terms of his head-lease unless these fall to be discharged by the tenant. This is provided for in sub-paragraph (2) of the new paragraph 13A.
§ Secondly, there may possibly be cases where a landlord will not be able to discharge his normal responsibilities to the right to buy purchaser for repairs because of the terms of the landlord's own head-lease. The head-lease may, for instance, provide that the landlord shall not undertake any work on the structure or exterior of the building, to ensure that such work is wholly within the freeholder's or a superior landlord's control. In these circumstances we think that the landlord should be relieved from those obligations which he is precluded from carrying out, and sub-paragraph (3) of the new paragraph 13A so provides. We have also concluded that it is necessary to provide that where the right to buy landlord is not himself in a position to carry out repairs, he is under an obligation to enforce any covenants in the head-lease which place an obligation on the superior landlord to carry out repairs or remedy structural defects. This is provided for in sub-paragraph (4) of paragraph 13A.
§ As for Amendment No. 3 on the Marshalled List this simply applies to the new provisions which I have just described—the existing provisions governing payment for repairs in respect of flats which are already embodied in paragraphs 15 and 16 of Schedule 2 to the 1980 Act. Their effect, broadly, is that the sub-lessee can be required to bear only a reasonable part of the costs of carrying out repairs, and that special rules apply to the costs of making-good structural defects. I will gladly explain these provisions in more detail if your Lordships so wish. But, as I say, this amendment is really no more than a technical change to an existing provision, to take account of the second group of amendments I described just now.
§ Finally, I come to Amendment No. 82. As your Lordships will recognise, this is merely a consequential amendment to Amendment No. 3, which requires no explanation from me. I trust that your Lordships will agree these four technical amendments to Schedule 1 to the Bill. I beg to move.
§ Lord Leatherland
While I fully understand every word the noble Lord has said, I wonder whether the ordinary tenant will understand quite so clearly. As this measure is from start to finish a fairly complicated one, will the Government, when ultimately this measure is passed, arrange for a simple guide to be available to tenants through their council offices?
§ Lord Bellwin
First of all, we are talking here not specifically of local authority housing as such, so it really does not apply. On the other hand, I entirely take the point the noble Lord makes, that these are complex technical matters. I could have moved the amendments by saying less about them, but I think it 809 is important that we have on the record not just what the proposals are but the reasons for them, so that those interested and concerned will have a chance to read them in Hansard. If the noble Lord would like more explanation he knows I would be glad to give it, although, as he says, he personally has fully followed the details.
§ Lord Gisborough
I feel concerned with regard to the justice of this provision. I wonder whether my noble friend could at this stage give some reassurance with regard to values from the point of view of the head lessor of the ground lease. The ground lessor originally let the land to the person who built, the lessee, at a low rate because he would have his value back at the end of 100 years, or whatever. Having entered into a perfectly reasonable agreement from all sides, then halfway through this period, just like in the Leasehold Reform Act, the Government say "You have given this land cheap but we are now going to remove it from you with inadequate value." If this is to happen I am not happy that the original lessor will get his proper value for the land.
§ Lord Bellwin
I understand the point that my noble friend makes, but the actual amount that the original head lease owner will obtain is surely a matter for negotiation when the time applies. I would not have thought that the legislation now being proposed would in any way disadvantage him. Perhaps my noble friend would like to take this up with me and discuss it in more detail. I shall be glad to arrange for him to do so; but I think that his concern need not be as bad as he thinks.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 48, leave out lines 46 to 48 and insert—
("(3) In paragraph 13 of that Schedule (convenants by landlord)—
(3A) After paragraph 13 of that Schedule there shall be inserted the following paragraph—
13A.—(1) This paragraph applies where the landlord's interest in the dwelling-house is leasehold.
§ (2) There shall be implied, by virtue of this Schedule, a covenant by the landlord to pay the rent reserved by the landlord's lease and, except in so far as they fall to be dischared by the tenant, to discharge its obligations under the covenants contained in that lease.
§ (3) There shall not be implied by virtue of paragraph 13(1A) above any covenant the obligations under which the landlord is precluded from discharging by a provision contained in the landlord's lease or a superior lease.
§ (4) Where the landlord's lease or a superior lease contains a covenant by a superior landlord to the like effect as a covenant which, but for sub-paragraph (3) above, would be implied by virtue of paragraph 13(1A) above, there shall be implied, by virtue of this Schedule, a covenant by the landlord to use its best endeavours to secure that the superior landlord's obligations under the first mentioned covenant are discharged.")810
§ The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 49, line 7, at end insert—
("(5) Paragraph 15 of that Schedule (avoidance of certain agreements) shall be renumbered as sub-paragraph (1) of that paragraph, in that provision as so renumbered paragraph (b) and the words "and paragraph 16 below" shall be omitted and after that provision as so renumbered there shall be inserted the following sub-paragraph—
(2) Where the dwelling-house is a flat, any provision of the lease or of any agreement collateral to it shall be void in so far as it purports to enable the landlord or a superior landlord to recover from the tenant any part of—
§ The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [Extension to cases where landlord is a charity]:
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 4:
§ Page 2, leave out lines 18 to 32 and insert—
("2.—(1) After paragraph 2 of Part I of schedule 1 to the 1980 Act (circumstances in which right to buy does not arise) there shall be inserted the following paragraph—
2A.—(1) The landlord is a housing association or housing trust which (in either case) is a charity within the meaning of the Charities Act 1960 and—
§ (2) A certificate given by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this paragraph shall be evidence of the matters stated in it".
(1A) For subsections (1) and (2) of section 2 of the 1980 Act (exceptions to right to buy) there shall be substituted the following subsections—
(1) The right to buy does not arise if the landlord is—
§ (2) The right to buy does not arise if the landlord is a housing association which falls within paragraph (d) of section 15(3) of the 1977 Act (certain societies registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965).".811
§ (1B) In sections 1(1)(c), 12(1), 19(1) and (4) and 22(3) of the 1980 Act after the words "housing association" there shall be inserted the words "or housing trust" and in the said section 22(3) after the word "association", in the second and third places where it occurs, there shall be inserted the words "or trust".").
§ The noble Lord said: With this amendment I propose to speak also to Amendments Nos. 16, 23 and 79 which are all relevant to, or consequential on, Amendment No. 4. This group of amendments is not as daunting as it may look. The aim is largely to improve the drafting of Clause 2(1) and there is only one substantive change which noble Lords will, I am sure, find acceptable. I shall describe this first and then describe briefly the drafting changes which we wish to make with these amendments.
§ As Clause 2 stands, a dwelling owned by a charitable housing association or housing trust which had originally been provided with housing association grant would attract the right to buy even if the grant had been repaid. It is unlikely that these circumstances would arise, but it is possible. Therefore, we have thought it right to remove this potential anomaly from the Bill. This is achieved by the new subparagraph 2A(1)(b) of Schedule 1 to the 1980 Act. It is not our policy that tenants of charitable housing associations living in dwellings which are no longer publicly funded should have the right to buy. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this is a reasonable and welcome change.
§ The incorporation of the repaid grant condition in Clause 2(1) would have made Section 2 of the 1980 Act, which Clause 2(1) amends, rather unwieldy. We are therefore proposing in Amendment No. 4 to recast Clause 2(1). The changes are purely drafting changes. Unless your Lordships wish me to go into further detail I will resist the temptation to do so. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Birk
I thank the Minister for explaining this amendment. As he says, it makes very little difference to the Bill, and even the point which he says was a more substantial one is not the aspect that is worrying us all. There are a number of amendments which follow which seek, with the best possible intentions, to modify this clause. Personally—and this is no discourtesy to the movers of these amendments—I shall not be speaking to them and I believe that some of my noble friends may take the same view. We feel—and this view is shared by many across the Committee —that the whole clause is really the problem in this Bill. At this stage of the proceedings there does not seem to be a great deal of point in trying to prune the branches of what is an extremely unhealthy tree.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
May I briefly say that in dealing with this amendment one must, I suppose, be thankful for small mercies. This is an extremely small mercy. I shall be glad if the noble Lord the Minister will speculate as to how much housing association land or how many buildings this provision will apply to. I should think it would be very small indeed. Having said that, I follow the noble Baroness in that we on these Benches—and, I believe, those of my friends in the Social Democratic Party—take the view that the whole nub of the Bill lies in Clause 2 and that is where the main debate should take place.
§ Lord Bellwin
I should not like to speculate on the number of dwellings affected although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, that it is likely to be small. Nevertheless, if something is right then it is right. This is the theme of what we will be discussing. May I say to my noble friends who will be speaking on the next amendments—and not in any way to preempt what they will say—that the Government are not without sympathy to the points that they make. However, I shall reserve my observations on those matters until we come to those amendments.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
May I return to the point that I raised on Clause 1 and ask the Minister whether anything in this amendment or this clause helps these people? I return to this point because there are over 2,000 people involved. I refer to where the charity which owns the land is willing to enter into negotiations but the council which owns the lease—not, I emphasise, the charity or housing association—refuses to negotiate deliberately to thwart those who wish to buy their own council homes. Is there anything in this clause that will help those people? I am not speaking about a case where a charity is unwilling but about a case where it is willing to part with the land and where the intervening landlord, the council, refuses to honour the wishes of the people.
§ Lord Bellwin
Again, it is very difficult without knowing the specific circumstances in detail to answer; but in principle, so far as the councils are concerned, under the 1980 Act the tenants have a right to buy. If there is the difficulty that my noble friend mentions and she would like me to look at it in detail, I shall be happy to do so. It is very hard to say specifically and categorically, without knowing the details, why there is the problem to which she refers when the 1980 Act is so clear. However, I shall gladly look into it.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 2, line 32, at end insert—
("Provided that those parts of buildings or groups of buildings occupied by able bodied persons in a development having features which are substantially different from those of ordinary dwelling-houses and which are designed to make it suitable for occupation by physically or mentally handicapped persons or the elderly infirm are excluded from the right to buy provisions of this section.").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment is an attempt to ameliorate some of the provisions of Clause 2 giving the right to buy to tenants of charitable housing associations. In particular, it deals with rather special and relatively new methods of looking after people who are physically or mentally handicapped, or the aged or infirm. It is an attempt to make certain that they are not confined to ghettoes on their own, but live in a normal community with younger, more able-bodied people around them who are in a position to help.
§ In a number of these groups of dwellings those able-bodied people who live in perfectly ordinary dwellings, whether flats or bungalows, are not necessarily employed by the housing association but often are employed by the disabled people themselves. So it is 813 essential that accommodation close at hand be provided for them.
§ The position may alter as the type of disability in these specially designed dwellings changes. There may be a person who at the moment needs two people to look after him during any one week on a shared hours basis who, for one reason or another, moves away from the complex and the dwelling is taken over by someone who needs a greater number of people to care for him.
§ In my view it is essential that the accommodation for the able-bodied helpers be available. It is also necessary that the charitable housing association should have the ability to alter the balance between those who are handicapped for one reason or another and the able-bodied people who are there to look after them. To sell off those dwellings which are reserved at this stage for the able-bodied helpers, and in some instances end up with no help available for those people who are handicapped, would be like removing an artificial limb and saying, "There you are. It does not matter. Your limb is more useful to someone else. Carry on with only one leg". I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
As I indicated a few moments ago, we are not unsympathetic at all to this amendment. My noble friend Lord Swinfen has indicated that he has connections with a charitable housing association which has a scheme, or schemes, where arrangements of the kind that he described exist. I think that he might be prepared to agree that they are not common by any means. We for our part know of only a few schemes where they operate. However, I can understand that disabled tenants who are dependent on help from their co-tenants and who might not otherwise be able to manage to live in self-contained accommodation, might be concerned at the possibility of the withdrawal of that help.
The amendment before us is not acceptable in its present form for a number of reasons on which I shall not elaborate unless my noble friend presses me to do so. I think that what he really wants to know is what the Government's feelings are about this. We are sympathetic to the point that he makes. If he is prepared to withdraw his amendment, we shall certainly undertake to consider the issue that he has raised to see what we can bring back to dispense with the matter.
§ Lord Swinfen
I thank my noble friend for that reply which gives me much encouragement. I do not know what will happen to this clause in the course of this evening, but if it remains in the Bill it certainly needs to be amended. I hope that between now and the next stage I can discuss the matter further with my noble friend or with his officials with a view to coming back, if necessary, at a later stage with an amendment that is very much more suitably drafted. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal moved Amendment No. 6:814
Page 2, line 32, at end insert—
("( ) In part 1 of Schedule 1 to the 1980 Act there shall be inserted after paragraph 5 the following paragraph—
6. The landlord is a housing trust which is a charity within the meaning of the Charities Act 1960 or the landlord is a housing association which either—
For the purposes of this paragraph "special needs" shall be taken to mean persons whose circumstances (other than merely financial circumstances) make it especially difficult for them to satisfy their need for housing.".").
§ The noble Lord said: This is by way of being what I might describe as a damage limitation amendment. If the Government are determined to press ahead with Clause 2, then this amendment seeks to exempt some of the areas where many of us believe that it would do the most harm. The amendment is designed to protect those in special needs dwellings, which may be let as secure tenancies, but which are as vital to the rehabilitative process as the hostels and shared accommodation which are an early part of the process. The Government's exemptions which cover just the elderly and the disabled, we believe, do not go far enough; nor does the exemption for hostels and shared housing. I think it is equally impractical to expect charities to be able to go to court to evict tenants seeking to exercise the right to buy on the basis that they no longer fall within the objectives of the charity. When I say that it is impractical, to put it mildly, it would go against the grain of those who are running these charities.
§ I am well aware that many noble Lords are going to get down to the real in-fighting on Clause 2 itself as a whole. I think that it would be fair to say that Clause 2 has not so far flushed out very many friends in this House. Even supporters of the concept of the right to buy, like myself, feel that perhaps more harm than good is being done by this attempt at what I might describe as shifting the frontiers of the anomaly which has been created by the right to buy. Indeed, it seems to me that this is the only advantage which has been claimed for the clause. On the other hand, the clause has been much criticised, and I do not doubt that it will be more criticised—and rightly. I do not intend to go into all the objections in principle. I have no doubt that later on many noble Lords, both more eloquent and better versed in the problems than I, will express these matters much more effectively than I can.
§ What I am concerned about in this amendment is the practical effects. Let me at the outset admit that opinions differ on this as well. There are those who claim that the critics of Clause 2 exaggerate the potential damage. What I think I can say to the House without fear of contradiction is that, from all that I can discover and from all the letters that I have received—and I have received a good few—it is the almost unanimous feeling of those who work in the small charitable associations that they believe passionately that the provisions in Clause 2 will irreparably damage their activities and, indeed, will undermine the whole concept of voluntary involvement in the relief of housing stress. I believe 815 that that is an unchallengeable statement at the present time.
§ Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Voluntary participation is very dear to the hearts of many of us in this country. Perhaps it is best exemplified by that charming but nevertheless cost-effective anomaly, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Nobody could begin to justify an organisation of that kind but it does happen to work.
What we believe is needed is a clear exemption for flats or dwelling-houses which form part of meeting a particular need or a particular philosophy. In the amendment we have used the definition of "special needs" that has already been used in the Housing Act 1980 because it gives a measure of flexibility in defining special needs, which a list of today's problems with people such as drug abusers, alcoholics and ex-offenders would not. Where charitable associations are providing special needs projects, it is important not to overlook the fact that this is an area where voluntary effort by community members and volunteers is most evident and most valuable. If this clause were to go through as it stands, we believe that it would have a devastating effect on this voluntary commitment.
I hope that other noble Lords who are involved in this field—and it is some years since I was—will be able to flesh out the bones of the case I am making, but I think that I should just very briefly mention some of the reasons which lie behind this feeling that is so passionately felt by the voluntary workers. There is the additional administrative complication of trying to manage a block of flats or a group of houses where the ownership is split. In particular, in cases where special needs are being met, there will be a breaching of the protective wall which some of the societies place around those who occupy their housing. It is difficult not to sound over-patronising when speaking about some of these issues, but we must be realistic and recognise that some of the people who occupy the houses, and about whom we are speaking, are not the most adequate when it comes to managing their own lives. One of the worries that one has is that such people may succumb to the temptation to make a quick profit by buying their house. Possibly they will be put up to it by somebody whose motives may not be wholly as admirable as the people who run the society, or indeed the person who occupies the house. The possibility of the wrong kind of outsider intruding into some of the sheltered housing organisations is regarded with great seriousness by those who run the organisations.
There is a further plain nuts and bolts issue: that it will be difficult and expensive for those who administer houses of this kind to organise the right to buy, with all the valuations, the agents' fees, and all the obvious complications which that will entail.
I think that I have already spoken about the simple exacerbation of the inevitable management problems which housing associations of the kind that we are considering experience. I have said that there is the more general danger that what is being proposed will switch off the flow of volunteer effort. It may also—and I have many letters to indicate this—have 816 the effect of turning off the tap of donations to charitable societies or associations of this kind. Within the last few days we have had a letter from a housing association which opened only on Saturday, and the chairman said quite simply,If Clause 2 goes through in its present form, I shall resign".I do not believe that that is an isolated instance.
So I am saying to the Government that I hope that they will look sympathetically at an amendment of this kind. If the particular amendment is not acceptable, I shall of course be happy to talk with my noble friend, whose sagacity on the whole matter I do not question for one moment; indeed, I respect it enormously. Nevertheless, I hope that the Government will be able to say that they are at least sympathetic to an amendment on these lines, and I hope, too, that in saying so they will make it rather easier for some of us who would wish to support them possibly later in the evening, when otherwise I think they will have a fairly rough time. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
I wish briefly to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal. I do not know what is going to happen to the Bill, but the amendment at least meets some of the points that have been put to me and to many other people. Since for many years I was chairman of a housing committee and was connected with both charitable housing and local authority housing, I would say that it is most important that in a housing community there should be not only those people for whom special housing is provided—such as the elderly and the crippled—but also ordinary people, too. We do not want a community that is divided. After all, we live in a world in which there are people who are well, as well as others who are ill, or disabled. We do not segregate them; we try to bring them into the community, so that as much as possible of their lives can be led in normal conditions.
If the amendment is accepted, it will be a step towards trying to make housing more of a community effort, and no one will be able to come along and say, "My house belongs to the local authority, but I am in it, and I want to buy it", probably only to sell it a few years later at a very much higher price. I think that such a situation would wreck the whole community idea relating to house building. I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, has said. I think that it represents the views of a great many charitable organisations and housing authorities, too.
§ Lord Bellwin
My noble friend said that one of the statements that he made was unchallengeable. I know that he will appreciate that I shall want to challenge it later, but I should not wish at this stage to enter the Clause 2 stand part debate. I shall reserve until later what I want to say about that. But I assure the noble Lord that faced though I am with opposition, I nevertheless believe that the Government's case is a very powerful one. Certainly I know that my noble friend of all people will listen to it very carefully and judge it on its merits.
However, so far as the present amendment is concerned, the Government are not unsympathetic to the points that have been made. We think that there 817 are problems with the amendment in the way that it is drafted, but the whole question of groups of this kind is one that we should want to look at where there are special needs and so on. I gladly give my noble friend the assurance that if he will withdraw the amendment, we shall want to look into the matter very carefully. My noble friend knows that I cannot tell him what will be the outcome, and I think that he also knows what I mean when I say that we are not unsympathetic and we shall see what we can do with it. I think that there is a point here and we want to take care of it.
However, in case your Lordships wish to return to the charge when we consider Clause 2 in general, on the split management point I would remind your Lordships' Committee that non-charitable housing associations have had no problem with this in the last two-and-three-quarter years, nor have local authorities had problems with it in regard to the accommodation of that kind with which they deal. However, at the moment we are talking about the amendment, and I hope that in the light of the assurance that I have given my noble friend, he will feel able to withdraw it.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
The noble Lord looked around to gain some more support, and I should like to say that I support his amendment, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. It is terribly difficult for the movers of the amendments to know what to do until we know what is to happen to the whole clause. That is why I think that it is perhaps better to wait.
§ Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
In face of the soft answer from the Minister which turneth away wrath, clearly I have no alternative but to withdraw the amendment; he is being so helpful. However, I must say that what slightly surprises me is the timing of this kind of a reaction. It is not as though this is a wholly new concept, and the noble Lord the Minister knows very well that he is in for a big battle on the whole question of the clause. He leaves us in a slightly unsatisfactory state of affairs. He says, "I am going to do something to try to help those of you who feel as you do", and I suspect that there are many other noble Lords, who have more experience of the matter than I do, who would wish to be satisfied on it. I believe that the Minister is now going to place them in an extremely awkward situation where they will have to rely on something that he is to bring forward at Report stage, on the assumption that Clause 2 is still in the Bill.
I think that in constitutional terms I have no alternative but to thank the noble Lord for what he has said to me, but I must say that I am not terribly happy about the way in which the argument is developing. I am sorry to be less than totally grateful to him for what he has done. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 3, line 10, at end insert—
("(4) Where a secure tenant gives notice of intention of exercising the right to buy under the terms of subsection (1) above and the landlord considers that such action could lead to a situation contrary to the underlying purpose of the charitable trust
or association, the landlord shall have the right of appeal to the Secretary of State.
(5) In considering appeals under subsection (4) above, the Secretary of State shall give due consideration to the long term effect of population balance in the County and District concerned as well as to the underlying purpose of the charitable trust or association of the appellant.").
§ The noble Lord said: I gave the main background to this amendment at Second Reading on 11th April, at cols. 53 and 54. I do not propose to repeat all that, because I gave my reasons rather fully. The point at issue is that, unlike some noble Lords who have spoken and unlike, I am sure, many noble Lords when we come to discuss Clause 2 generally, I welcome the clause in general terms and accept the various points that the Government have made in saying that it is nothing like so ferocious a clause as might be expected. However, there is no doubt that circumstances can arise in which the charities, if called upon to comply with the clause as it stands, when all the safeguards about the sick, the ailing and that sort of thing have been swept away, will find that the purpose for which the charity was set up is undermined.
§ The purpose of my amendment is to give the landlords, who are the charity trust people, the chance to appeal to the Secretary of State in what will inevitably be a grey area, and to explain that in their opinion not only is the sale of the house against the purpose for which the charity was set up but also that in certain parts of the country—your Lordships will know that I am speaking of the Isle of Wight—it could have an adverse effect on the population balance in the long term. This is an important point in a relatively small and cohesive community such as the Isle of Wight.
§ I have taken a good look at the 1980 Act and at this Bill to see whether there is already in existence any means for the Secretary of State to listen to appeals from the landlord. I find that the situation is really the other way round. Clause 23 of the 1980 Act, which looked hopeful to me, deals with the power of the Secretary of State to intervene. That is true, but he is only really intervening on behalf of the prospective buyer. That is, of course, absolutely fair. The prospective buyer needs to know that the Secretary of State is capable of intervening on his behalf in doubtful areas or in circumstances where the landlord is not complying with what will ultimately be the law.
§ I do not, however, believe that it is unreasonable to say to the Government, for the reasons that I have given, that there will be occasions when it is only right that the charitable landlord himself should be able to appeal, in roughly the terms of my amendment. I accept, as always, that the amendment itself may not be perfect and that it could be improved. I hope, however, that, in the same way that my noble friend the Minister has made encouraging remarks in response to my noble friend Lord Swinfen and to my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, he will be able to make them to me, too. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
I do not know whether my noble friend will find my remarks encouraging, although I hope he will. As he says, the purpose of the amendment is that charitable housing associations and housing trusts whose tenants claim the right to buy under Clause 2 should have, in certain circumstances, a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. The right of 819 appeal would be exercisable where the charity took the view that the sale of the dwelling would be contrary to the underlying purpose of the charity. By this, my noble friend Lord Mottistone presumably means that the sale would conflict with the primary objects of the charity.
The Secretary of State, in considering an appeal, is to take into account,the long term effect of population balance in the County and District concerned".I presume that by this wording my noble friend means that the Secretary of State must consider the supply of rented accommodation in the area, and the demand for it. My noble friend is, I know, concerned about the availability of rented accommodation in rural areas, and, as he has stated, not for the first time, particularly in the Isle of Wight. The people of the Isle of Wight are fortunate to have such an assiduous advocate of all their affairs.
It is clear that my noble friend has some sympathy with the aim of Clause 2—thankfully. His amendment would place the decision whether the right to buy would arise in any given case in the hands of the Secretary of State rather than those of the trustees of the charity, which would have been the effect of a number of amendments to the clause tabled in another place. I am afraid, however, that the amendment is not acceptable. As your Lordships are aware, we take the view that tenants of charitable housing associations living in dwellings provided by public money in the form of housing association grants, should have the right to buy in the same way as tenants of non-charitable associations. Our main justification for this extension of the right to buy is that these tenants deserve equality of treatment. Since the purpose of most, if not all, charitable housing associations is to provide rented accommodation, it is likely that many associations would lodge appeals. The effect could be largely to undermine the aim of Clause 2.
As to the requirement for the Secretary of State to take account of local circumstances, this seems to me an illogical condition to attach to Clause 2. If the tenants of local authority and non-charitable housing associations have the right to buy regardless of the supply of rented accommodation in their locality, why should the tenants of charitable associations be treated differently? I understand the reasons why my noble friend has put down the amendment. I doubt, however, that Clause 2 will have the adverse effect that he fears. All the evidence from the way in which the 1980 Act has worked suggests that the number of sales will be greatly exceeded by the number of new dwellings provided.
So far as the Isle of Wight is concerned, I would point out to my noble friend that a large proportion of the island—I think that this is really the answer to his particular fear—is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. The effect of this is that the housing association, when selling a property, may impose a covenant under Section 19 of the Housing Act 1980 limiting its resale without consent to someone who has lived or worked in the area in question for three years or, subject to the Housing Corporation's consent, a ten-year right of pre-emption requiring an offer of resale to the former landlord. These restrictions on 820 resale are designed to protect the availability of accommodation for local people in rural areas where there are particular problems of supply. I hope that this point, in so far as the Isle of Wight is concerned, will satisfy my noble friend, at least sufficiently to enable him to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Mottistone
I thank my noble friend for a lot of what he said. I take note of what he said about an area of outstanding natural beauty, which, of course, the Isle of Wight is. I am not, however, entirely happy. I shall not press the amendment at this stage. I shall seek to find another means of producing a circumstance which provides some way of appealing without all the expense of going to court. It will always be possible to go to court in doubtful situations. As my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal has already stated, that is all very well, but the people who run these organisations do not like to do that sort of thing to tenants. Nor do voluntarily-run charitable organisations wish to risk the great expenditure that is always involved in taking a matter to court. It is always a dilemma that there is nothing to which one can appeal where there are grey areas.
All the Bills that we carefully produce have grey areas within them. It is a shame that these small people do not have the chance to get things put right without going to court. I hope that my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate, who I saw scratching his head, is not hurt by the thought that the lawyers always seem to win out on these occasions, and that the small organisations suffer. With those remarks, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 3, line 10, at end insert—
("(4) Where a housing association or housing trust which (in either case) is a charity within the meaning of the Charities Act 1960 has granted a secure tenancy of a dwelling-house and the tenancy is not for the time being such a tenancy as the association or trust might lawfully have granted when the tenancy was granted, then and for so long as the tenancy shall not be such a tenancy the dwelling-house shall be deemed to be held by the association or trust as an investment of charitable funds.").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move amendment No. 8. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will accept that the amendment I am moving is not in the strictest and purest sense a mere pruning of the branches of the tree of Clause 2. I seek by this amendment to clarify the law as it applies to charitable housing associations or trusts in cases where tenants have prospered and ought, it may be said, either to become purchasers or to move into non-charitable housing. The view of the housing associations, supported by the Charity Commission, is that although it would be lawful for charities to evict such tenants, it is really not practicable for them to do so.
On the other hand, the Government's view expressed on 18th January this year by the Minister in Standing Committee F in another place at cols. 306 and 307 was that:
the test of necessity is one which I am advised that in law should be applied not only on initial letting but in relation to continued occupation. Charities therefore need to keep the circumstances of their tenants under review so as to verify that they remain in need and therefore proper beneficiaries of the charity.
The Minister went on to temper his advice to charities by adding that it does not mean that an eviction action
is necessary whenever a tenant's condition changes. But he implied that a charity must seriously consider action whenever:
any substantial changes with long-term effects take place.
§ I ask the Committee to take the view that a charity should not be under a legal compulsion of any sort to evict its tenants if they prosper. That is what the amendment seeks to accomplish. It does so by declaring the law to be that where a charitable tenant prospers, the charity may treat his house or flat as an investment rather than as a home to be kept occupied by a person in necessitous circumstances.
§ On Second Reading I referred to the curious situation that a charity might be obliged, on the Government's view of the law, to evict its tenant but might nevertheless be in no position to do so because it cannot show, as it would be required to show, that suitable accommodation will be available for the tenant when the court order is made. After I had tabled my amendment I heard from my noble friend about the point that I had made, and I heard in terms which suggested to me that in practice Section 34 of the 1980 Act has driven a coach and horses through the Government's view of the law as I have described it.
§ I would ask my noble friend one question—namely: would he agree that no charity need be concerned about a possible requirement to dispossess its tenants when they cease to be in necessitous circumstances unless the charity is able, or ought to be able, to demonstrate to a court that suitable alternative accommodation is available for the tenant in question? An assurance to that effect would be a relief to officers of charities and to any tenants who might have been worried about their standing in their homes. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
My noble friend's objective in bringing forward this amendment is to absolve the trustees of charitable housing associations and housing trusts of the need to try to obtain possession of dwellings let to secure tenants who were not in necessitous circumstances, and whose continued occupation of the dwelling might therefore be held to be in conflict with the objects of the charity. The amendment deems that such dwellings should be held as an investment by the charity, rather than as part of its operational land, for so long as the tenant remains in occupation and is not in necessitous circumstances. My noble friend has based the amendment on some advice given some years ago by the Charity Commission to the National Federation of Housing Associations. I think that it is open to doubt whether an amendment of this kind would in fact achieve my noble friend's objective. However, I will confine my remarks to the issue of principle raised by the amendment which is, I am afraid, not acceptable to the Government.
Your Lordships will know that the Government take the view that some charitable housing associations have not conducted their letting activities in accordance with their object of providing relief for those in necessitous circumstances and may therefore have been acting in breach of trust. My honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction 822 explained this matter fully in a statement which he made in Standing Committee F in another place on 18th January, as my noble friend Lord Coleraine has just said. Because these breaches of trust have been inadvertent, the Government have decided that it would be right to protect the position both of the charities and of their tenants by giving a form of "amnesty" which is effected by Clause 2(2) of the Bill. However, this amnesty applies only to tenancies which were granted before the publication date of the Bill—that is 5th November 1982. We have made it clear that as regards future lettings, charities will be expected to let in accordance with their charitable objects.
My noble friend Lord Coleraine is concerned about the difficulties which charitable housing associations might have in ensuring that in the future they do not act in breach of trust. He first raised this issue at Second Reading and, as he has said, I have written to him about it. We take the view that charities should not in practice have difficulty in complying with the requirements of charitable law: the fact that the majority of them have been able to do so in the past is evidence of that.
Furthermore we do not share the concern of my noble friend Lord Coleraine that charities would find it difficult to obtain possession of dwellings under Ground 9 of Schedule 4 to the 1980 Act. The court must be satisfied that the ground has been made out and that suitable alternative accommodation is available to the tenant. If the court refuses to grant possession it will either be because it does not consider the tenant's continued occupation of the dwelling to be in conflict with the charity's objects, in which case the charity is not acting in breach of trust, or becauase alternative accommodation is not available. In the latter case, provided that the charity could show that it has used its best endeavours to obtain possession, its officers would not be at risk. As for the association's charitable status this is primarily a matter for the Charity Commission. Tax relief is given by Inland Revenue to the extent that a charity's income or gains are applied for charitable purposes only and in granting relief the Inland Revenue would take all relevant factors into account.
I should like to refer my noble friend to Section 34 of the 1980 Act, a copy of which I have and which I will gladly make available to him. It applies to charities as it does to any other landlord. It may well be that what we have to do here is to continue the discussions which my noble friend and I have been having both in writing and in person, to clarify this point further. We will gladly do so for the benefit of those who are concerned and indeed for any other of your Lordships who may be equally concerned about this particular point.
§ Lord Coleraine
I have listened very carefully to what my noble friend has said and I must obviously apologise if the wording of my amendment has not made the type of change in the law that I was trying to achieve as clear as I would have liked. I appear to have left the impression with my noble friend that this is a rival clause to the amnesty provided by the Government in Clause 2(2) of the Bill. I have not wished to produce an amendment which would absolve housing 823 associations, charitable or otherwise, or charitable housing trusts who grant tenancies wrongly in the first instance by giving them to people who cannot be said to be in necessitous circumstances. My intention was purely to cover the case where the circumstances of tenants change and what was a lawful tenancy becomes, under any reading of the Government's view of the matter, an unlawful tenancy. However, my noble friend has said a great deal to me and I should like to read what he has said. Therefore, for the time being I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 2, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)
The Motion has to be: that Clause 2, as amended, stand part of the Bill?
The Earl of Selkirk
I beg to move that Clause 2 be omitted. I think it is fairly widely known that Lord Boyd of Merton was extremely anxious to speak on this clause. His very sudden death has robbed us of his long wisdom and experience in high office both at home and abroad. I can only express my most profound sympathy with Lady Boyd.
We have had a fair discussion on this and I think I can be reasonably short. I believe that there is a major issue of principle behind what is included in this clause. It has a long-range influence, and I believe that the methods of the Government in approaching this clause are anything but straightforward, and I think that the ends to be achieved may have an evil effect on both the social and the economic development which may take place. Perhaps I may simply give an example. The Government have been involved in breaking their word in what they gave to the charities. But I notice that recently the Government said that commercial contracts were very sacrosanct, no matter where the products of those contracts might be sent. Could not something similar be extended to charities in dealing with them?
Retrospective legislation is never very popular, but now it goes back a period of 10 years or so, to the 1974 Act, on which a great deal of this is based. This means that people who have been planning for the future over those 10 years have to a large extent had to disrupt what they are doing. There has been a good deal of talk as to whether or not the principles of charities have been invaded by this Bill. I am bound to say that the Solicitor-General's letter on this subject has not been received with universal conviction, and I think that it is rather a pity that he concluded his letter by saying that he might well prosecute quite a number of these charities. It was not what might be called a very friendly welcome.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodman—and I regret that he is not able to be with us today—is very conscious of the view that charities are not being very well treated. He said that in his experience there was a hostility to voluntary work somewhere deep down in the bowels of the Government machinery. That is interesting and 824 very important because, to some extent, it reiterates what I remember the late Lord Beveridge saying a good many years ago. He was concerned that people would not think that the new welfare state made voluntary work unnecessary. He said that voluntary action for social progress had been an outstanding feature of this country. I do not think that it has been treated very well in this instance. Indeed, we have been the progenitor of much of this work, which has been extended to many places overseas.
My noble friend Lord Strathcona said that there has been much opposition. A unanimity of opposition has been very strongly expressed by a large number of people. I have received many letters, but I shall read one from the National Council of Women of Great Britain. It says:Charities providing accommodation should not be compelled to sell properties for substantial discounts to the benefit of the fortunate occupiers today and to the disadvantage of those needing homes to rent for the future. The Council is deeply concerned about the very serious problems with which these charities will be faced".Once a house leaves the rented market, it will never return. I sought as best I could to understand the amendments of my noble friend Lord Bellwin. As he more or less said himself, they were largely drafting amendments and did not make a very great deal of difference.
I should like to look at the other side of this. If the methods of approach of the Government are regret-table, are they justified by the ends? In other words, do the ends justify the means by which they are obtained? Here I would look to the 1974 Act to see what people said then and what their intentions were at that time. This was an interesting and very unusual Act. There had just been a general election and the Labour Government took up the Bill which had been started by the Conservative Government. Mr. Rossi, speaking for the Opposition, said that that was virtually identical to the Tory Bill. Mr. Crosland explained on Second Reading what the Bill was for. He said on 6th May 1974, at col. 43:We felt that far too little was being done to cushion the adverse side effects of the decline in the privately rented sector".Mrs. Thatcher, leading for the Opposition, said that she hoped that the Bill would give the housing association movement a much bigger role. There was one other comment that Mr. Crosland made, to which I should like to draw noble Lords' attention. He said that it would be intolerable to have the choice between owner-occupier or a tenant of a local authority.
I should just like to tell your Lordships what the housing trend has been over the last decade. Local authority houses have increased by 830,000 and they now number about 6½ million. Owner occupation has increased by 2½ million. That is, of course, largely due to the work of building societies, supported by the banks. It is going extremely well. Your Lordships may take it for granted that this day 2,000 people are entering owner occupation. Private rented houses fell by 1 million in 10 years. What does that mean? It means that before the end of this century there will be no private houses at all. That is the problem and that, I believe, was the basis of what Mr. Crosland was saying.
The Earl of Selkirk
I beg your pardon, yes. I do not want to carry this much further, but I want to ask: do we want to see a case where there is no option between owner-occupation or a council house? If you think that this is wise for this country and that we shall benefit by it, then I ask you to vote against the Motion which I have moved. If you think it is a very dangerous situation, both for the social and for the economic evolution of this country, then I ask you to vote with me against the clause.
§ Baroness Birk
We could, in fact, have approached this debate on clause stand part by deleting the first part of Clause 2(1)(1), but we felt that it was only fair to the movers of the other amendments that they should have a fair hearing. Here I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine. I did not quite understand his amendment when I saw it in print; I had a slight idea what it was about, but if he would like to separate his amendment from the other amendments, that is fine. To debate this on clause stand part enables the movers of other amendments to have a fair hearing. It also enables the Minister to give, if I may put it this way, a few winks out of the back of his head about what he might be prepared to accept in the future if this clause stands. But it does not alter the anxiety and disquiet we all feel about the clause.
This clause has caused more anxiety and concern in this House, in another place and outside than almost any issue I can remember during my time in this House. I suppose one could compare it with the debate we had on school transport. It has a universality that transcends party lines; it transcends attitudes on a variety of closely held convictions, on a number of subjects where those joined together on this issue would in fact otherwise be political poles apart. Although I hope we have a mutual affection and respect for one another, I think that there are many issues on which the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and I, would not be in agreement, but we are certainly in total agreement today.
More than 1,000 charities have opposed this clause. Before Second Reading I think we were all deluged with papers and phone calls about this matter, but it is interesting that, after Second Reading, there have been further representations, more urgent, more passionate and more worried. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, read out the emergency resolution of the National Council of Women, which I also received. The Country Landowners' Association was another organisation from which I received a letter today, and I would not say I am in constant correspondence with them. The British Property Federation is also against this clause, and there are really no barriers in relation to attitudes of thought on this. We dissenters are a very mixed bag, and all the better and all the more telling for that.
This is really a compulsion to sell. I believe the Minister objected when this phrase was used by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, on Second Reading; nevertheless, it is. For instance, if somebody has the right to buy my ring, of which I am very fond, despite the fact that I do not want to sell it, and for that reason I had to sell it, I should certainly feel I had been compelled to sell it and should not feel that I was doing so of my own free will. If we really look at the other side of the coin, as we have to on this, the housing 826 associations are being put into a situation of being compelled to sell. Those which are covered by the terms of this Bill are not being given the chance of any option.
This affects somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 houses. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, was absolutely correct when he spoke of the decline of the rented sector in this country. There are 2,700 housing associations, nearly all of which are manned by voluntary workers, and the effect on these is going to be shattering. The effect on the people who live in these houses at present is also going to be very bad. It may be all right for those who have the opportunity, and are able and willing, to buy their houses.
Another point which I will not develop now for it has been mentioned before, and was mentioned on Second Reading, is that there are a tremendous number of opportunities, unfortunately, to exploit and abuse this. I am afraid those opportunities will be taken because, where there is an inch, many people are going to extend it into a mile. So a mechanism is triggered by which the Government will recover the loans and grants originally paid to the charity. I would remind noble Lords that, in an amendment which we shall discuss later and which was put down by the Government, the discount now goes up to 60 per cent. when previously, in the 1980 Act, it was 50 per cent. This means that the associations will be further impoverished and the charity concerned will in most cases have no capital receipts from the sale of the properties. In short, its assets in that property will be entirely, or almost entirely, wiped out.
I am sure that, like other noble Lords, I could read out many really heartbreaking examples of associations, particularly some of the small ones, which have written saying what their plight is going to be, and there have been similar letters even from the non-charitable bodies, the voluntary associations. On Second Reading, the Minister said that these would find things were all right. That certainly does not apply to one in Buckinghamshire, where, because they had had a local govenment loan at a low rate of interest and are also having to sell, the position was such that the secretary wrote saying at the end of the day, "It makes me wonder why after 40 years we bother at all".
We are facing a declining stock in the rented sector which is going to be very difficult or impossible to replenish. On the other side, other factors are involved. There are the trustees themselves. There is also the whole issue of voluntary work and voluntary service in this country. We have always believed and practised that, whatever the Government or the state takes over, there must be, and should always be, ample opportunity for voluntary work and service. This is a devastating attack upon that principle. It means that people who have given not only money but their service will be unable to do so in the future. They will lose heart. They will despair. This is something which has even wider implications. It really makes one wonder why the Government—and here I echo what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk—for something which in governmental terms is really small fry, want to upset so many people over such a large area when all they need to say, as one can so easily say in a democracy, is that they are convinced by the arguments which have been put up not only in this 827 House but in the representations which have been made to them, and the other arguments which will be put this afternoon, and will withdraw what is, after all, only one clause of this Bill. What we would all hope—though I have not much hope at present, otherwise the Government themselves would have put down an amendment—is for the Minister to say at some point during the debate that the Government have had a change of heart and are not going forward on this matter. This would please all of us from every side of the House; but I think that it is too much to expect.
If the Government do not do that, neither I nor my noble friends feel that this is really the type of issue upon which one can add small improvements trying to improve or ameliorate the proposal in some small way or other. It really must be got rid of. We hope that, at the end of the day, noble Lords who are perhaps seeing several sides of the question—and it may be a difficult decision to make—will accept that this clause ought not to be in the Bill and that the only way to deal with it is to throw it out altogether.
§ Viscount Hanworth
I spoke at length on Second Reading and covered most if not all of the points that I should like to make tonight. I believe, and my party believes, that this clause is so wrong that what matters now is to put the question to a Division while so many noble Lords are still present. Therefore, I will say no more.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I shall attempt to approach this amendment with a high degree of sensitivity, in deference to the views that have been so ably expressed by my noble friend Lord Selkirk and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. They contend that the effect of Clause 2 of this Bill as substituted by the amendment today, albeit taking into account the spirit of the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and that of my noble friend Lord Strathcona, will hamper the invaluable work of the voluntary associations, the housing associations and the housing trusts in the provision of cheap rented accommodation. If I truly believed that such were the case I should not oppose this amendment, which is a root and branch excision of Clause 2.
There are two views on this. Surely, one must proceed with a measure of caution. Surely, one must seek to retain some objectivity. As I see it—and I accept that there are two views—the effect of the clause will be to assist these associations and trusts in the provision of cheap rented accommodation. This need, as your Lordships know, often arises as a spin-off from the waiting lists for council accommodation. It is often directly related to the mobility of labour—an important factor in our industrial and economic recovery. This need can only be met by new building, largely financed out of Government funds. The past record of this Administration in that particular regard surely is not too bad.
The importance of these associations and trusts in the administration of these funds cannot be over-emphasised. How it can be said that the Government engender animus or hostility I do not understand. Surely it is plain beyond peradventure that they are 828 part and parcel of the requisite administrative process of the Government funds. I do not understand the charge that has been made.
Of course there have been errors in past letting policy. So be it. No system is perfect. My noble friend Lord Bellwin has already today adverted to this problem and to the question of the amnesty under Clause 2(2), whether the breach of trust be original or continuous. In the light of contemporary housing conditions, letting to persons who cannot secure appropriate council accommodation or afford to buy their own homes is within the test of necessitous circumstance under the objects rule of any charitable housing association. Here it makes my personal approach so much easier if I take into account the spirit put forward by my noble friend Lord Strathcona in the "special needs" exclusion amendment, Amendment No. 6.
In this context is it not relevant to observe that the right to buy only arises in the case of housing projects built since 1974 when both the land and building have been financed by the Government out of Government funds, and that the right to buy may not be exercised as against privately funded charitable trusts which use their own funds for charitable purposes, often making grants in aid to a housing association or a housing trust? These privately funded charities are, as your Lordships know, outside the ambit of Clause 2.
Having regard to the nature of any grant under Section 29 of the Act of 1974, to which my noble friend Lord Selkirk referred, the amount of settled trust moneys, or the amount of housing trust moneys, involved in any particular housing project is unlikely to be substantial. The amount involved will always be small in relation to the percentage of total value. Furthermore, the distinction between these privately settled funds and the funds provided from public sources must be made. Indeed—if I may say so with respect—Lady Birk's beautiful ring was, one assumes, not publicly funded.
Privately settled funds for the provision of housing are not subject to the right to buy. In the case of funds provided from public sources, the Government intend, where necessary, to abate recovery of the housing association grant after right to buy sales by charities, and to ensure that the charity does not make a loss, and to ensure that the charity recovers from the sale the modern value of the investment of charitable funds in the dwelling. In every case the discount will be funded either from the housing association grant or from an appreciation in value of an asset created with the grant.
In the circumstances (I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for using my notes, but it is rather a complex situation) that I have sought to explain, it is not understood how any compulsory reduction in charitable assets arises. Although it might well have been preferable—and certainly easier for me personally—if the intentions of my right honourable friend in this regard had been apparent on the face of the Bill, I, for one, wholly accept the sincerity of his statements to this effect at their face value.
It is contended as an objection to Clause 2—and it was so contended on Second Reading—that capital receipts from sales will be insufficient to replace housing stocks of cheap rented accommodation. 829 Again, if I truly believed that such were the case, I would not oppose this amendment. Here one has to take full account of the exclusions—the elderly, disabled, alms-houses, the spirit of the amendments proposed by my noble friends Lord Swinfen and indeed Lord Strathcona—and of the fact that long-term needs can only be met by new building with new funds supplied by the Government on a massive scale.
In fact, if the letting is on a secure basis then the question of the replacement of stocks is assisted by the right to buy and the injection of new funds for new building. But if the letting is on a temporary, non-secure basis, then the question of replacement of stocks does not arise. This also includes accommodation which is not self-contained and accommodation let on licence. So, in submission, if one seeks as I have sought—whether I convince any of your Lordships or not is entirely a matter for the Committee—to approach these criticisms in a logical way and to meet them, do they stand up?
We now come to the retrospective issue. As the right to buy relates back to grants since 1974, it is said that this is retrospective legislation. But this is not the sort of retrospective legislation as ordinarily understood, having particular regard to the fact that there is no question whatever of forfeiture of trust moneys. Indeed, these are to be repaid at current values, taking, as I understand it—I shall be corrected if I am wrong—full account of inflation. It is true civil rights under the grant are affected retrospectively, but they are affected retrospectively as regards publicly-funded dwellings, and when the Act of 1980 was passed (again I am open to correction from your Lordships) I do not think a single voice of dissent was heard either in your Lordships' House or in another place on this self-same score. On the assumption that trust monies are repaid at current value, it is not understood why charitable status, as such and no more, should afford any valid ground of objection.
I come to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, at Second Reading. As a matter of law, the obligation upon trustees of all charitable trusts, whether privately or publicly funded, is the same, although its incidence may vary according to the facts of the case. Again, it is simply not understood how Clause 2 can be said to give rise to fundamental breaches of, or changes in, charity law. On Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, deployed no submission or argument to support what he said was a possible view. But the noble Lord said—and in this I wholly join him—that he would be content to accept the assurances of my right honourable friend the Solicitor-General that no breaches of charity law were involved.
The last question which arises—it was a point of objection taken on Second Reading by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester—is that some tenants of the Polygon area of the Stonham Housing Association will be able to buy, but others in the Derby Road area will not be able to buy because they cannot afford to buy. If one accepts that disparity of means exists and shall always exist—and in this sense, of course, this is no perfect world—is it not idle to seek to remedy such imperfections by denying all the right to buy? There are no problems arising out of disparity of tenure. The evidence is totally to the 830 contrary. A general excision of the right to buy in the limited area of the application of Clause 2 would, for the reasons I have submitted, only operate to the detriment of the disadvantaged.
In conclusion, may I seek to answer the sort of omnibus contention—that is, in the way in which it has been put, not today in your Lordships' Committee but on Second Reading and on so much paper—that Clause 2 helps the fortunate tenant of today at the expense of the homeless and the disadvantaged of tomorrow. In my submission, this is a somewhat emotive peg on which some seek to hang an assortment of misconceived objections which I have sought to deal with today. Surely the answer is—and I seek to answer, I hope objectively, every ground of objection—that unless we give to this relatively few number of fortunate tenants (whose secure accommodation is otherwise kept in cold storage for the immediate future) the right to buy, the provision of new building with new grounds to provide cheap rented accommodation for the homeless and disadvantaged of tomorrow surely will be impeded.
The existing regime is inadequate to cope with the needs of tomorrow. The new regime proposed by Clause 2 is wholly appropriate. I heard my noble friend Lord Bellwin observe that sales would be greatly exceeded by new projects. I am content to accept that assurance. For these reasons, I shall oppose the proposal to leave out Clause 2.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
I suspect that neither I nor the charitable bodies, nor the voluntary bodies, nor the housing associations, will have been convinced by the honeyed and brave words of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I find that the reasons he gives, although he puts them forward courageously, are not convincing, certainly to me. I should like to say that the reason why Lord Goodman is not here today is not because his conviction and his views expressed on Second Reading are any less, but because he is ill in bed.
Neither I nor members of my party are opposed to the right to buy; and I think that throughout the country the right to buy is accepted as being healthy and appropriate. My concern is that, while everyone is advocating the right to buy at every level, practically, except, possibly, some extremely Left-wing Labour-controlled councils in certain parts of the country, very few Members of your Lordships' Committee, anyway, appear to be considering the most serious problem of the very little accommodation that is now available to those people who cannot afford to buy but can afford only to rent. It is that which is really my first concern about this clause.
My second concern is its retrospective nature. My third concern is that individuals and organisations that have given money to help necessitous people in the belief that their charitable intention was going to last indefinitely are now finding—or their successors are finding, or their great-grandchildren are finding—that such desire is being frustrated by retrospective legislation which, surely, is contrary to all the best practice of the British legal system.
The other thing, which, I think, goes to the very root of British life, is the desire of people to give voluntary 831 help in a variety of ways. There is no doubt that at very many levels—in the Conservative Party, in very close adherents to that party; in the Labour Party; in the Social Democratic Party; in the Liberal Party, and in people with no party at all—this desire to do charitable, eleemosynary work of this nature is being frustrated by the proposals in this clause. There can be no doubt of this, from the evidence all of us have had—those of us who have had the correspondence and who have heard the concern of people who have given a lifetime of voluntary work to helping necessitous people, people who cannot afford their own accommodation, find rented accommodation. Those who have given a lifetime to that service, quite voluntarily, are now finding that that service is likely to be frustrated. It seems to me that the whole intention and purpose of Clause 2 goes against some of the very best qualities of British life. I strongly oppose the clause.
§ The Lord Bishop of Chichester
I regret that I was unable to be present at Second Reading, but I have read the account of it very carefully and have read twice over both speeches of the noble Lord the Minister. I have been trying to compare what he said with my own experience in relation to the two housing associations connected with my diocese and also in relation to the Brighton Housing Trust, of which I am a patron.
It seems to me that the fundamental point on which the Minister is standing was when he said—these are his own words—Tenants of charitable housing associations deserve equality of treatment with tenants of non-charitable housing associations.That seems to me utterly to ignore the difference between the two types of association. The non-charitable associations can sell at below market value, and they have no particular obligation to consider their long-term duties towards the people who may need their accommodation in the future. The charitable associations are formed basically to meet the needs of those who are socially disadvantaged, and they have an obligation to preserve their assets for the benefit of those who, in the future, may need them.
The tenants who are in charitable housing association premises have gone into those premises knowing them to be charitably provided for social need, and that is a broad category. Why should it be right, therefore, that they should convert these premises, at no cost to themselves, into a private possession of considerable market value, taking them out of the stock of what is available to meet social needs? That is what will happen if this clause goes through.
It is all very well for the Minister to say that other property will be provided out of the money, but I am afraid that this will not happen in many areas. It seems to me to discount entirely the fact that there are many areas in which it is extremely difficult to find property. If I may give an example, there is the so-called Brunswick Town area of Hove, which, in spite of its grand, Regency appearance, is a very run-down neighbourhood with a lot of poor, elderly people in it, where there is an urgent and great need for rehousing in decent circumstances. Our diocesan housing associ- 832 ation has been trying for the last two years, with the help of the Hove Borough Council, to find property which we can convert and improve.
I suspect that this is true of the circumstances of a good many of our large towns. There is a lack of money—it may be that grants have been given by the Government, but they just do not seem to come through, in many cases—and there is a lack of property. This undermines the noble Lord's argument about the many dwellings which he says have been provided as a result of the 1980 Act.
Then the Government speak as if the money that they have put in is the only thing that matters. Over the years, they will get it back, anyway. But what about the work that has been put into the projects by those who are doing so precisely because they are charitable? In all this, there has been and is a partnership. I shall not argue about retrospective legislation. But what I see is one of the partners trying to alter the terms in the middle of the operation. In plain terms, that is what it really comes down to.
Then the Minister says again and again that the evidence of the non-charitable housing associations constitutes hard facts which disprove the fears expressed that this clause will be detrimental to effort. Again, I would say that he makes a false equation. We have already had instances quoted in this debate this afternoon. Only this morning, I received a letter from the director of the Church Army Housing Association, in which he referred to this matter and to his own investigations. He said:Only a few days ago, I talked to a member of a small association which has set up one scheme of 14 family units in their local village. He was quite adamant that if the Bill went through his committee would give up, lose interest and resign en masse, simply because, having put years of effort into mounting the scheme, securing finance and seeing the building works through, they would feel absolutely betrayed".I am sure that there are many others like that.
I am afraid that the objections to Clause 2 are not met by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, much as I liked it in many ways, nor by the other amendments, because the category of "social need" is broader than the definitions set out in those amendments. For example, why, in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, should financial need be excluded? Are the poor not socially needy? That is a major element in relation to this whole housing question of providing cheap accommodation which people can afford. Though it may not be the intention of the Government in relation to this clause—and I do not suggest that it is—it is, nevertheless, a fact that it strikes at the poor, the elderly, the disadvantaged and the inadequate, and I believe that that is a consideration of very great weight to be put in the balance against any loyalty that noble Lords may feel to follow the Government.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ The Earl of Perth
First, let me say, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, with whom I spent an hour this morning, that he much regrets that he cannot be here this afternoon. I am happy to say that he is not in bed, but, as he put it to me, he is a smouldering volcano, but immobile. Before I go any further, I should like to take up one point which the noble Lord, 833 Lord Campbell of Alloway, made. I see that he is not here, which is very unfortunate, because I think that he totally misrepresented—and I am sure that he would not want to misrepresent—the remarks made on Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, about the charitable status of the Bill. I have looked most carefully at his speech and what he said was this:However, it would be wrong for me to express a legal opinion in the face of a view apparently expressed by the Law Officers, but I can only say that it is not the view of the Charity Commissioners; and it is certainly not my view". [Official Report, 11/4/83; cols. 40–41.]So it is very important for the record—and, as I said, I am very sorry that the noble Lord is not here—that that mis-statement, because it is a mis-statement, should not be left unchallenged. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, is now here, but I do not think I need to repeat what I have said. He can read in Hansard that his statement about the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, was incorrect.
Let me go on to say that, with many others, I ordinarily agree with the right to buy, but also, like the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, and many of your Lordships, I have been inundated with letters against this Bill as it stands now. Never have I had so many. This is far more representative of opinion, and of informed opinion, than the words put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. Your Lordships may ask: what are my qualifications for speaking? I have no particular qualifications, unless it be, as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said, that I want to carry on a fight which my close friend, my chief in the Colonial Office for so long, Lord Boyd of Merton, was himself going to fight if he had not been killed. It is very significant that he saw the injustice, the wrongness, of this.
Before I make two points myself, may I quote from a long letter which I have had from the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. I know that it would not be in order, and it would take too long, for me to read the whole of the letter, but there are one or two points which it would be of entertainment or advantage for your Lordships to know. He said in his letter to me:The present proposal will create virtual chaos. Estates will be split down the middle when associations are despoiled of particular houses. Many of the estates have been organised on the basis of an estimate of the revenue for repair, maintenance and so forth. This will now be totally disrupted".The noble Lord, Lord Goodman—I am taking only one or two of the points which he made and probably not the ones which he would have chosen had he been here—makes the point which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester has just made:Weeks and months were spent on these negotiations, but apparently the only thing that is to count is the money actually spent, and the effort invested goes for nothing in the minds of the pathetic materialists who have thought up this Bill".On the charity law point the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, (who is not here to answer what, I am afraid, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, misunderstood) said:It is suggested that the Bill conforms with charity law. At best this is an arguable point. Under this new procedure houses can be sold and will be sold at up to 60 per cent. discount. The effect of this is that charities will be making a gift of 60 per cent. of the price of a house …".The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, continued:Finally, the Government have introduced a menacing note in the suggestion … that housing associations must look more carefully at 834 their tenancies for fear of granting tenancies to people who are not 'necessitous'. They"—that is, the Government—are construing necessitous as people on or below the social security level, but this would mean that the discretion exercised by housing associations—and nearly always a wise discretion—… would all be excluded. The effect will be to arouse the deepest anxiety in a great number of tenants in housing estates about the security of their position".That, if I may interpose, is I believe a very serious and important point. Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, says:It will be an undoubted catastrophe for the voluntary housing movement and in the end redound to the discredit of a highly successful Government and deprive the House of Lords of the opportunity of claiming that it has done something of real social benefit if this clause passes in its present form or in any form that continues the mischief".The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, ends:Strength to your elbow".Let me add one more point of my own.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
None of this appears in the speech which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, at Second Reading.
§ The Earl of Perth
I know that. Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, was not here. He misrepresented what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. I quoted exactly what Lord Goodman said at Second Reading. If he had been here he would have heard it. He can read it tomorrow in Hansard. So far as I am concerned, we must remember, first, that charitable housing associations are frequently very different from ordinary housing associations. They choose very rundown areas of city centres. They believe that they have the know-how and everything else which voluntary effort can provide in order to rebuild city centres. They have frequently succeeded in making city centres attractive places where people want to live. This is to the general benefit of the cities concerned. Local councils—this is no criticism of them—have almost always gone to the outskirts. Therefore, one of the risks is that a large number of people will be in a position to buy their houses at a considerable advantage. Although one may say that they cannot afford it, at Second Reading I said that people will knock on the door and say, "We will help you". I was quoted yesterday in the newspapers as saying that this will be a spivs' charter. Perhaps this is what it could represent.
Secondly, turning to retrospection, the charitable housing associations made a bargain with the Government in 1974. It was written in legal terms. Until now those terms have been and will continue to be scrupulously observed. Nowhere, however, was it said that in 10 years' time a new clause would be introduced insisting that if anybody wanted to buy the houses which were then being provided they should be made available. That is very different from the kind of retrospection which has been talked about. I end by saying that two wrongs do not make a right.
§ Lord Somers
I should like to oppose this clause with all the strength that I have. I do so because I feel it to be totally unjust. The Government seem to have a habit of taking a principle which they feel is desirable in some cases—and in many cases it is—and then 835 assuming that it is desirable in all cases. They have done so with the right to buy, or owner occupation. In many cases this is, no doubt, very desirable but in certain cases it is not desirable. This peculiarity is indulged in not only by this Conservative Government. It is common to all Governments which act according to party policy.
Owner occupation is not all honey and nectar. As one who has owned his own house for most of his life I can say that owner-occupation involves a great deal of anxiety about maintenance and so on. A great deal of expense is involved. This is not always realised by those who are anxious to buy their own homes. But in the case which we are considering it would be absolutely wrong to give to the tenants of charitable organisations the right to buy their own homes. During the Second Reading of the Bill I believe that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark—I hope he will forgive me if I misquote him—said that the charities have worked hard and do not want their work to be whittled away. That is very true. This is exactly what would happen. Small charities, similar to one quite near to Epsom where I live which has only 12 flats, will find themselves getting smaller and smaller. In the end it will not be possible for them to continue their work. That is not what they are there for. That is not what we want. Those who recognise the importance of the work that these charities are doing will, I am sure, oppose this clause with all their might.
§ Lord Sandford
I rise to support the Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand Part of the Bill? I apologise to your Lordships for not being present when the Bill was discussed at Second Reading. At that time I was somewhat preoccupied by the Water Bill. Your Lordships will know from those proceedings that I am not reluctant to cast my vote against the Government when I think they are wrong. Equally, I am not reluctant to vote for them when I am sure they are right, as I believe they are in this case.
All of your Lordships are used to being lobbied. Those of us who have been here for some years can categorise the kind of lobbying which we receive. Sometimes it takes the form of a specific letter from a particular body to a selection of noble Lords who are interested in a particular field, making precise proposals for changes to a piece of legislation at Committee stage. I suppose the National Farmers' Union are one of the best at that. During the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill we received messages from all sorts of bodies, like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, about the nocturnal habits of the bartailed godwit—all very precise and precisely directed.
There are other forms of lobbying, which take the nature of an orchestrated campaign of some size directed not at specific points but at general issues which are firmly and strongly held. I do not believe there can be any doubt in your Lordships' mind that this is the kind of lobbying to which we have been subjected. The considerable number of letters I have received from general charities such as the Youth Hostels Association and the National Council for Women, which are not specifically concerned with housing, have been brim-full with misconceptions, 836 false fears and misunderstandings through a very understandable lack of knowledge of the detailed proposals which there are in this Bill and in Clause 2 in particular.
Many of your Lordships will know that I am president of the Association of District Councils. There are 333 of them—all housing authorities. They are all concerned with housing; housing is one of their main commitments. There is not a single council or district council that is not involved in housing to some degree. The district councils went right through this whole business two years ago when their tenants were given the right to buy. They raised then all sorts of fears of the kind which are being aired now. Many of those fears have proved groundless, but I will return to that point in a moment.
The point I want to make is that throughout this whole lobbying campaign, hardly any of the very large number not only of district councils which are housing authorities but also of other bodies concerned with housing from which I receive a continual post-bag asking me to deal with this, that or the other aspect of legislation—or who write to my noble friend the Minister about housing matters—have written objecting to this clause. That arises from their understanding of what the Government are doing. It also arises from two or three years' experience of operating the right to buy. I must say to my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal that fears about it being difficult to administer a block of flats or an estate when some people have exercised the right to buy and some have not are completely groundless. The more people who exercise the right to buy, who stand on their own feet and who are responsible for their own properties, the easier it is to manage the estate for the rest of the tenants.
Those letters in my post-bag which have objected to Clause 2 have done so on the basis of misconceptions. I am not alleging that the campaign has deliberately gone out to deceive; far from it, for I have no evidence of that at all. The fact of the matter is that because this is a complicated issue, and because it is a large campaign orchestrated through a whole range of charities—many of which have nothing to do with housing—an equally huge range of misconceptions has built up. I implore your Lordships to give weight to that.
It is not for me to rehearse the exclusions and the case which my noble friend the Minister has made more than once, to do with precedents in retrospection. The point I now wish to make is in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and her privately-funded ring. I cannot remember whether the noble Baroness was a Member of this House 16 years ago, but it was then that the party opposite were passing leasehold reform legislation. In that role, they were in their more customary position of being in defence of the tenants against the landlords. Their role is reversed on this occasion, but on that previous occasion the right to buy for tenants holding leaseholds from their landlords was being introduced for the first time.
On that occasion, there were no exclusions for charities or for the charitable status of the landlord, no exclusions for national parks, and no exclusions for the elderly. It diminishes somewhat the case which the noble Baroness made very cogently and persuasively 837 when one recalls that it was the party opposite who introduced the right to buy. We are united, at any rate, in seeking a property-owning democracy, but we are not united in the way of achieving it. When the party opposite introduced the right to buy, there was no concern shown for charitable status, for buildings specifically designed for the elderly, for special rural areas, and so on.
All those exclusions are in this clause. Many of them were in the 1980 clause which introduced the right to buy to council tenants. They are all there now, and there are further exclusions to make quite sure that no tenant has the right to buy if the exercise of that right will take land that belongs to charity or money that has been raised for or belongs to charity. It will apply only in the case of publicly-funded properties on publicly-funded land. The case for that is absolutely 100 per cent.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Jacques
I should like to accept the challenge extended by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and state a logical case against this clause. I will also, in part, reply to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford.
Since 1974, charitable housing associations have come to be in possession of assets partly with the aid of Government loans and grants. The Government are now saying, through this Bill, that there is a capital profit involved in those assets because of the rising costs of the past nine years, and that the tenant ought to be given the right to buy the property and take the capital profit. In effect, the Bill recognises that there is a capital profit and wishes to pass this on to the tenant. Obviously, this profit will go only to the better-off tenants, because they are the only tenants who can afford to buy.
The housing associations, on the other hand, say, "This is inconsistent with our objectives. Our objectives are to provide low rent property for the least advantaged of the community. If we have to sell existing properties at these huge discounts and then replace them with new properties at present-day costs, then our costs will rise and our rents will rise. Consequently, this clause of the Bill is entirely inconsistent with our objectives."
Furthermore, these associations are quite different from local authorities, both in law and in practice. A local authority is part of the complex of government. It has obligations to the community as a whole. It is inhibited by the housing waiting list. The charitable housing association is in a different situation altogether. It is a private body, set up specifically for the purpose of giving housing aid to the least advantaged of the community. It does not have the pressures which a local authority has. It is not part of the complex of government but is a private body with which the Government have made a contract, dating back to 1974.
The Government, in effect, are now saying, "We want to put a new term into that contract". None of us can do that. None of us can go back and put new terms into old contracts. This Government, or any other Government, can only do that by using the power of Parliament in a statute. That is what is happening 838 here. I submit to the Committee that this instance is an abuse of parliamentary power. I have always understood that one of the functions of this House was to act as a long stop against abuses. I would have thought that this was one abuse which this House ought to stop. As I said at Second Reading, if this clause goes through, as a Member of this House I shall be thoroughly disillusioned.
§ Baroness Lane-Fox
I wish to oppose this amendment. Does the Committee really want charitable housing associations not to have the benefit already enjoyed by non-charitable associations? After all, they would then become the depressed relative. The non-charitable associations have sold 2,500 houses since 1980, and in the lifetime of this Government they have provided 120,000 more dwellings in flats and houses. Some of that success must appeal to the charitable housing associations. After all, the appeals come in from the charitable housing associations for funds to develop; they are received by many of us.
Surely if there were the selling process somehow, this would plug these difficulties, and there would also be the huge Government grants that are ready and waiting to be used. This money must be used and used quickly to increase the amount of rented housing that is wanted by so many of us, for the homeless and for those in real need. But unless the charitable housing associations are encouraged, as in the Bill, I do not see how that end is going to be encouraged in the present context of grants, et cetera.
Of course, there is always the wish to be paternalistic to the people who are more disadvantaged, but that is something, I believe, that most of us are growing away from. When people suggest that this Bill would mean that there would be a reduction in voluntary work, I cannot agree with that at all; I think the need for voluntary work is greater than ever, but is in a slightly different scene from where it has been in the past. I believe that to pass this amendment would mean we were going to remain stuck in the mud on this; instead of helping people to be independent, it does not encourage them to spread their wings and become self-supporting.
It is really an absurd anomaly that houses similarly funded, funded in exactly the same way through Government grants, shall on the one hand be available for buying, and on the other not. After all, those grants are paid for the good of the people living in the houses, not necessarily for the charitable associations. If this is carried, it is discrimination against those living in charitable housing, and for these reasons I oppose the amendment.
I have no qualifications for speaking about this, or anything else for that matter, but I do not like to see dangerous precedents being created. To legislate retrospectively is to create a dangerous precedent, besides being dishonest. For that reason, as well as for many others which have been mentioned, I am entirely opposed to this clause. It is like rotten meat; a lot of spicy verbal sauce has been poured over it to hide the nasty smell, but it still stinks, because retrospective legislation stinks. For that reason, if for no other—and many other good reasons have been 839 given this afternoon for opposing this clause—if the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, feels obliged to divide the Committee I shall gladly support him.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
On the point of retrospective legislation, in fact the Socialist Government brought in retrospective legislation—about 15 or 16 years ago, I think—in the case of Rooke v.Barnard, a trade union case, and there have been other instances of retrospective legislation.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
I rise to support the opposition to this clause. It has given rise to great issues of social importance, and, as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said, to major issues of principle. The public concern that has resulted and that has manifested itself in communications to us was, I thought, somewhat scornfully taken down by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in describing it as orchestrated. What is wrong, in a democracy, in a campaign of indignation being orchestrated by a mass of communication from different sources, I know not. I do not know who is supposed to have led this orchestra. What is surprising, from what we have heard, is the vast number of sources of different social interest, different commitment, religious, political and purely social, that has come to us in the course of the last few weeks.
The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, stressed the social significance of what we are about; the need of people who require rented accommodation continues to grow and it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet. That need is, I submit, far greater than that of people who have resources to buy their own homes. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford said, those who will suffer from this legislation will be the most needy if housing associations presently looking after them are deprived of resources that they need.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred to the Leasehold Reform Act, as, presumably, a debating point, and I had better dispose of it, as I was partly responsible for it. It was, incidentally, strongly opposed by the Conservative Party. That, I submit, is not a comparable precedent to what, we are dealing with in this Bill. That had impact only on the property of charities held for investment purposes. This Bill affects property held by charities specifically to fulfil their primary objective of meeting housing need.
Secondly, the leasehold provisions in that Act affected all landlords equally, including private landlords. This clause, in contrast, relates exclusively to housing associations and charities, giving their tenants special privileges which tenants of private landlords, who may pay the same rents, will not obtain. Therefore, there is no comparison, in my submission, between the contexts and the impact of the two pieces of legislation.
During the Second Reading debate the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, made what I thought was, in the context, a remarkable statement. His opinions we normally, of course, respect, but this one did surprise me. He said:in framing Clause 2 we have attached fundamental importance to the safeguarding of charitable funds. That is a cornerstone of our policy."—[Official Report, 1/4/83; col. 12.]840 So far from safeguarding the property of the charitable funds of the housing associations created and provided to assist in providing housing for those in need, it is those associations who will, if this takes effect, suffer actual loss as a result of the right to buy which is provided by the clause. It will compel—I do not see how we can escape that language—the trustees of those associations to sell many of their trust assets below market value; because of the discount which tenants exercising the right to buy pursuant to Clause 2 will be able to obtain under Section 7 of the Housing Act 1980, the charity will get only a part of the full value of the asset.
The proposition that this departure from centuries-old rules can be justified because we are dealing with houses for which associations have received Government funds to build or acquire is, I submit, unsustainable. Surely, when those Government funds have been received by the housing associations and the houses have been built with those resources, those houses become part of the property of the charity. The houses acquired with those funds are charitable assets, just as if the houses had been acquired with money from any other source. The trustees, the housing associations, have a duty, legal and moral, I submit, to preserve the assets for the benefit of beneficiaries present and future. A trust is a trust is a trust.
Is it not well settled that if a charity must sell assets entrusted to it, it must do so on the best possible terms and not at a discount? That is quite fundamental to the law of trusts and charities. Without the protection that Clause 2 is intended to provide, the trustees, by selling below the market value the class of houses that we are discussing, would, I submit, be guilty of a breach of trust.
As was said on Second Reading by more than one noble Lord, this clause is an ominous development for all charitable foundations —and we have heard of many in the course of this debate—which have been, or may be, in receipt of grants from central or local government. It raises serious issues for all of us who are concerned with these charitable foundations.
This is not a debate on party lines and I shall conclude in the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, concluded lest there should be doubt as to what his views were. I confess that discussing this matter without Lord Goodman is like discussing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. The noble Lord said:I shall conclude simply by saying that if for once this House has a useful function to exercise—and in the past it has many times exercised a useful function—your Lordships will have no hesitation at all in seeing the end of this appalling Clause 2."—[Official Report, 11/4/83; col. 41.]With that I agree.
§ Baroness Faithfull
This debate is drawing to a close and I shall be brief. During the whole of the debate we have heard of the enormous number of letters from north, south, east and west that we have all received. We have the greatest admiration for the charitable housing trusts and for the work which they do. The one set of people that have not made representations to us are the tenants themselves. It is the tenants' point of view that I wish to put.
841 The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester mentioned the point of view of tenants but I put a different point of view. I have dealt with very many of the vulnerable in housing charitable trust houses and accommodation. They are not all vulnerable, but many of them are. As the years go by, some of them manage to get themselves into a better financial position and they wish to own their own property. They are in a dilemma because, although they can put their names down on the local authority housing list, they get very few points because they are already in accommodation. If they are not to be able to buy their accommodation in the charitable housing trust property they are in a cleft stick and will not be able to make any progress in life.
I give two examples. A charitable housing trust might give accommodation to an unmarried mother and her child. She then, very happily, manages to marry and the charitable housing trust then moves her into two rooms so that she can live happily with her husband. Her husband then does well and they wish to buy. Noble Lords might then say that she can go into the private sector or, alternatively, put her name down on the housing list. However, she does not receive any points of substance if she is already in accommodation.
The second type of case concerns the elderly. An old lady would go into a charitable housing trust near her relatives. In this day and age with unemployment as it is people lose their jobs and move miles away. The old lady wishes to move to accommodation near her relatives where there may not be a charitable housing trust, but because she has nothing to sell she cannot make the move.
There is a point of view that the vulnerable may not always remain vulnerable and they should be given the opportunity to buy their properties if they so wish. Is it so extraordinary to have a mixture in the community? I should have thought that with care and understanding this would be profitable in terms of both relationships and responsibility in our community. I therefore support the clause.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I shall be extremely brief because I want to make only one point which I believe has not yet been made in this debate. The clause affects not only individual properties but also the viability of some whole housing associations. I quote from a letter to me from the Haringey Educational Housing Association. This was established, says my correspondent,in 1973 as a means of providing housing for teachers coming into the borough at a time when we had a turnover of more than 30 per cent. For the past three years, however, the Association has been denied finance for further development both by Haringey and by the Housing Corporation: we are simply managing the hundred units we have and hoping for better times. But if the Housing and Building Regulations Bill at present with the House of Lords becomes law without amendment we … shall be forced to shut up shop. The Bill in its present form extends the 'right to buy' to tenants of charitable housing associations. An Association such as ours simply could not sell any of our flats at discount and still have sufficient income to service the mortgages and maintain the remaining properties in good condition".The noble Lord, Lord Somers, referred to the clause as whittling away the private rented sector, the housing association sector. I suggest that for some housing 842 associations this is not whittling away; it is chopping away at the base of the tree.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I have one small point to make in reply to what my noble friend Lady Faithfull said. If a charitable housing association gives accommodation to an unmarried mother, who then proceeds to marry and her husband does well, why on earth should the charitable association subsidise her husband? I have a second point to make which is in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who said that this is an orchestrated campaign. I received only one letter on this subject, which was from the chairman of one of the big clearing banks whose family have run a small housing association in the village where they live for old people in that village. I do not see that particular gentleman being orchestrated by anybody, least of all by a collection of Left-wing trendy do-gooders.
§ Baroness Denington
I speak from this Bench because I normally sit on this side of the House, but I am really speaking because I am presently a member of three housing associations. Two of them are what I call ordinary housing associations, which house people in the same way as local authorities. However, I have spent many years as a member of two charitable housing associations. One is the Sutton Housing Trust, which I believe is the largest charitable housing association of them all. The other is the St. Pancras Charitable Housing Association, which was founded in 1924 and builds and has its property holdings east of Euston Station, behind St. Pancras Station and just into Finsbury. It is, therefore, a city centre housing association.
I speak because I think it may be helpful to your Lordships. As I have experience of both sorts of housing associations (the charitable and the non-charitable), I am able to say that, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and his friends say, there is a difference between the two types. They are different. Therefore, there is a reason why what is good for one section and has been given to one section is not good for and should not be given to the other, I hope sincerely that we shall not leave this Chamber with Clause 2 still in existence.
It is quite understandable that the 1974 Act gave a great impetus to the charities to build housing, It was a wonderful opportunity. Of course, they never dreamt for a single second that some Government, least of all a Tory Government, would have retrospection and say, "Sell". The fact is that this great impetus was given. The result is that there was such a lot of building that the number of charitable houses built since 1974 is vastly greater than their holdings prior to 1974. So your Lordships will see that we are talking about a very substantial portion of the charitable housing movement's properties.
The Government keep on representing that the number of sales will be small—minimal; not to worry about it—and that the number of properties that are being built in addition is much larger, and therefore, what should anybody worry about? That may be true and the number of tenants who are able to buy may be limited. It will not be vast at this moment. But the housing associations have to take a long view. They are not interested in today and just what happens now.
843 Over time, and probably as people become better off, the sales will increase very greatly.
Now we come to the point that has been raised by several Members this afternoon in your Lordships' Committee: the importance of a great pool—we do not have enough—of rented housing. What we are going to see is a diminution over time, gaining impetus as it goes along, of the rented housing stock of the charitable housing associations. This is most important. We have been given figures. What a fantastic figure for the rented housing stock the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, gave us! The rented housing stock has fallen by 1 million, I think he said, since the 1974 Act was implemented. The situation is exceedingly serious. I say that neither the charitable housing associations nor the nation as a nation can stand the loss of more rented housing association property.
I fully supported the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, on staircasing—shared ownership. If people want to buy, I would recommend that. Here is an excellent way modestly to start to buy and achieve ownership. Let that be aided on all sides. A number of charitable housing associations have already set up non-charitable daughter associations in order to build just in this field. What an excellent thing. Why should they not do it? The ordinary housing associations (the ones I am concerned with) are wholeheartedly involved in building this staircasing. This seems to me a way forward to help ownership, which neither I, nor I think anybody else on this side of the Chamber or anywhere else in the Chamber, can possibly oppose. We do not.
I make the point that the two types of housing association are different. I have been involved for well over 30 years with local authority housing. I have been involved, as I told your Lordships, with ordinary housing associations. They house from the waiting list the families who want accommodation, who want to move from here to there, who want to exchange dwellings, and so on. They are all involved in the same field; not so the charitable housing associations. They keep strictly to the charitable rules. Their concern is to house the necessitous: the poor, the single-parent family, the elderly and the handicapped. They do what they are supposed to do, and that is the criterion for most housing associations. They really are different. They deal with a different strata of society, if I can put it that way, and they work in accordance with charity law.
I admit that some charitable associations are a little different. They house people where there is social need, like the housing in the village that we have all heard about, where six lettings were provided for young married people. If those houses are sold, that village again will only have accommodation that is snapped up by weekenders and there will be nothing for the young marrieds of the place. We had a deputation here from South Wales. To my astonishment, they told me that they had to build ordinary housing for social reasons, because in those valleys there is 85 per cent. owner-occupation, and therefore there is hardly any rented accommodation. So they were doing that social job as a charitable housing association. It may be slightly outside the rules, but it is a very necessary job. Then there is the 844 St. Pancras Housing Association, and others, which have charitable houses to rent in inner city areas where such accommodation is desperately short. If that property is sold, the property spivs will get in by repurchase and it will go to people who have nothing to do with the community and be used as a piéd-à-terre. The whole thing will disintegrate. Goodness knows where the lower paid workers, the night-workers of London, and so on will ever find somewhere to live.
The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said that the people who were housed in this accommodation deserved the right to buy. That was his expression. I think that those who are in the charitable houses are the lucky ones. They are the ones who have been housed from among all the homeless, the people on the waiting list, and so on. I cannot see that those people who are lucky necessarily deserve this. I wonder whether the Government realise that there is bitter resentment against this clause in this Bill and that they will offend far more people than they please. It is not moral to raid the assets of charities.
I end by saying that this House has a reputation for being able to take a view that transcends party politics or party loyalties. Let us see this, as it surely is, as a moral issue, and let us all go through the Lobby in the next few minutes to see that Clause 2 does not exist any more.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
Let me say at once that I am under no illusions as to the degree of your Lordships' concern to ensure that charitable housing associations can continue to carry out their long-standing and immensely valuable role. Let me therefore state right at the outset that the Government attach the greatest importance to the contribution which charitable housing associations have made, and will continue to make, in the field of housing for rent.
The boost which we have given this year and last to housing association investment demonstrates beyond any doubt our commitment to the housing association movement. I must restate for the record that the Housing Corporation's gross provision for 1983–84 is £690 million. I think that that figure speaks for itself and Clause 2 should be seen in this context.
Clause 2 of the Bill has given rise not only to a very large amount of correspondence and some vigorous lobbying—there is nothing wrong with that, if one so wishes—but also to a great deal of emotive argument. It is some of those emotive issues on which I shall concentrate, for they are the issues of fairness and equity. However, before I come to those points, let me remind your Lordships' Committee of the justification for these proposals, and of the main features of the clause.
The Government believe that it is manifestly unfair that those secure tenants of charitable housing associations and housing trusts living in dwellings which have been provided wholly or overwhelmingly with public funds, in the form of housing association grant, should continue to be denied the right to buy. This second-class treatment for these charitable housing association tenants does not rest upon their circumstances; nor is it based on the way that their 845 dwellings were funded, nor on the status of the tenants under the Housing Acts; nor does it bear any direct relationship to the rents payable by the tenants. It rests solely and simply upon the status of the landlord.
In many cases it is a matter of pure chance whether, on being offered a public sector tenancy appropriate to his or her needs, a person ends up in a dwelling owned by a local authority, a non-charitable housing association, or a charitable housing association. In each case he or she will become a secure tenant; but only as a charitable housing association tenant is he or she denied the home.
Were it the case that these houses of the charitable associations had been funded in a way quite different from the others, then a rationale for distinctly different treatment of tenants could be advanced. But this is simply not so. Since 1974 charitable housing associations have funded the provision of the vast majority of their houses, in exactly the same way as their non-charitable brethren, by claiming housing association grant from the Government. This grant is payable at a very high percentage of the cost of the dwelling-85 per cent. or more—and the balance of the cost is also met by a public sector long-term loan from the Housing Corporation or a local authority, serviced by the rental income from letting. These are to all intents and purposes public sector houses, built with public sector money, just like those of local authorities, new towns, and non-charitable housing associations, whose tenants all enjoy the right to buy.
It is beyond dispute that the present situation is anomalous and results in inequitable treatment of one group of secure tenants as compared with all others in virtually identical circumstances. Your Lordships' House is rightly proud of its reputation for guarding the rights of the individual, and it seems to me inescapable that we must accept the case for change to remove this anomaly.
What of the position of the landlords? Here we need to ask ourselves some questions. First, are the arrangements so devised that in responding to the legitimate aspirations of individual tenants, they nevertheless have proper regard for the interests of charitable housing associations as landlords? I believe that they do. Secondly, is the dividing line drawn correctly between what the Government may properly and legitimately propose for the use and disposal of publicly created assets, and the rights of the private sector to have its investments protected? Again, I submit that the answer is, Yes.
As our deliberations have clearly brought out, almost three-quarters of the existing stock of charitable housing associations will be exempt from the provisions of Clause 2(1). Only dwellings provided with housing association grant will attract the right to buy. The list of exemptions is worth repeating—it needs, repeating. This clause, this Bill, does not—I repeat, does not—apply to all dwellings provided before 1974, under the subsidy systems which preceded the introduction of HAG. It does not apply to all dwellings built on land bought with charitable money, or on land donated to the charity. It does not apply to all dwellings bought with charitable money or donated to the charity. It does not apply to all dwellings falling within the exemptions for special 846 accommodation for the elderly and disabled in Schedule 1 to the 1980 Act. It does not apply to all almshouses.
Not only would a high proportion of charitable dwellings be excluded from Clause 2; but all the evidence from the operation of the existing right to buy provisions of the 1980 Act suggests that only a limited number of tenants would actually exercise that right. What that means in practice, therefore, is that the charities will continue to have at their disposal the vast majority of their existing stock, to manage in the way that they have always managed it. To the extent that they sell under right to buy, any reductions in stock available for renting will be replaced many times over by new or rehabilitated dwellings, which they will be able to provide, with full access to housing association grant. May I quote again the telling figures which I gave your Lordships at Second Reading. Under the present Government the rented stock of registered housing associations in England and Wales has increased by over 120,000 dwellings, and for each one dwelling sold under the right to buy, almost 50 dwellings have been added.
To say that the proposals in Clause 2 will reduce the availability of accommodation to rent is to stand logic on its head. The argument is discredited by the facts, by the sheer numbers that have actually been involved; it is discredited not by theology, not by ideas, but by the facts of what really happens.
The right to buy has not undermined the effectiveness of non-charitable housing associations since 1980. The fact is that they have gone from strength to strength. Nor would it undermine the work of charitable housing associations. Their future is bright, and Clause 2 casts no shadow over it.
The effect of the exclusions from Clause 2(1), which I have listed, is that the right to buy will apply only to dwellings which have been provided at the taxpayer's expense. Any material input of charitable funds produces exemption. In short, assets provided with charitable funds, even if they have had substantial sums of public money spent on them by way of repair or improvement, are excluded by this clause. We have gone further. We have undertaken to return to charities the modern value of any marginal investment that they may have made, by way of a small topping-up contribution to HAG-funded dwellings. My honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction gave a categoric undertaking to that effect in another place on 14th December. This surely represents a fair and reasonable approach, which takes full account of the rights of the charitable associations.
I should now like to turn to some of the main criticisms which have been levelled against Clause 2. First, there is the question of the allegedly "retrospective" nature of the clause. In fact I do not believe that Clause 2(1) is retrospective, in the proper sense of that word, and in the sense that is normally meant, when Governments are accused of legislating retrospectively. Had the debate not gone on for so long, I should certainly have wanted to quote the many examples which there are of legislation brought about by all parties, and to do not only with housing, but with many other matters as well. I should certainly have wanted to talk about the Leasehold Reform Act and all that flows from that. But for the moment let me 847 acknowledge that the charge of retrospection has come not only from noble Lords opposite, but also from some of my noble friends. I gently remind them that the 1980 Housing Act granted the right to buy to tenants of non-charitable housing associations which have received public subsidies. So they must tell me how this clause is different. The dwellings affected by Clause 2 were also provided with public money. If the extension of the right to buy to tenants of existing grant aided dwellings was all right in 1980, why is it so wrong in 1983? If any noble Lord on this side can provide a convincing answer to that question, I would be pleased to hear it.
Finally on this issue, I should like to remind the House of the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark who said on Second Reading that retrospective legislation,cannot be defended unless it is to remedy an injustice". [Official Report, 11/4/83; col. 33.]Beyond all doubt, this Bill does, indeed, remedy an injustice.
§ Lord Bellwin
This is precisely what it is about. I listened carefully to all that was said by noble Lords opposite. I am sure that they will afford me the same courtesy. The fact is that this Bill is precisely about that. In that single phrase, the right reverend Prelate makes our whole case for us.
The second argument which has been made and on which I should like to comment is the claim that if charitable housing associations had known, when they took housing association grant, that the dwellings they were providing would be subject to right to buy, they would not have accepted the grant. That was stated on Second Reading. Are we seriously to believe that charitable housing associations which, in the last decade, using public money, have more than doubled their rented housing stock to its present total of more than 300,000 dwellings and, as a result, have given decent homes to many thousands of people in need, would have turned down these opportunities because of the prospect of the sale of a few thousand dwellings? I do not believe that. It does them less than justice to say that.
What about the impact of Clause 2 on those voluntary workers, committee members and trustees, on whom charitable housing associations depend so heavily? The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, were very strong on this point, as were other noble Lords. The noble Baroness said that it would have a devastating effect on voluntary service. No one values more than we do the tremendous contribution that these people make to the housing association movement. To them must go much of the credit for the rapid and successful expansion of housing associations since 1974. I do not share the gloomy view of noble Lords that, if Clause 2 is enacted, these people will become disaffected. Why should they? The opportunities for future expansion are there to be seized. Clause 2 will not change that, any more than it would vitiate the achievements of the last decade. Most telling of all, surely, is the point that non-charitable housing associations have realised that 848 the right to buy does not inhibit the contribution that they can make to the provision of rented housing for those in need. They are as dynamic as ever, and here we are coming up to three years later. Are we therefore to believe that those who work for charitable associations are any less committed? I do not believe it. Not at all.
There was some suggestion on Second Reading that Clause 2 was defective in that it did not deal fully with the complex provisions of charity law which govern sales of assets by charities, and that charity trustees might as a consequence be placed in an impossible position. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, seemed to suggest that the attitude of the Charity Commissioners to the proposals bore out this criticism. As I have explained to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, in a letter, a copy of which has been placed in the Library, before the publication of the Bill, my department consulted the Charity Commission about the provisions of Clause 2. The commission said that it was opposed to the policy of extending the right to buy to certain of the secure tenants of charitable housing associations and trusts. However, the commission has never claimed that the Bill is legally defective. I suspect that this is an area about which the Committee would want to talk at much greater length. We shall possibly do so on a later occasion. I am willing even today to expand on the matter if pressed, but it is quite complex.
A further issue raised especially by my noble friend Lord Selkirk on Second Reading is whether the Government, having made grants to charities in order to enable them to provide housing, have the right to compel the charities to sell their assets and to repay the grant. It is claimed that this cuts across the fiduciary duty of trustees to manage their assets in the interests of the charity and that it constitutes a fundamental change in the law relating to charities. The Solicitor-General has dealt with this issue at some length in a further letter dated 25th April to the chairman of the National Federation of Housing Associations, a copy of which has been placed in the Library. For today, I will leave it at that, unless pressed. I think that is probably what your Lordships would wish.
Regrettably, I think that our debate on Clause 2 at Second Reading and here in Committee has been in one important respect very one-sided. Many speakers have approached the issue as if the only interests that need to be considered are those of the associations. My noble friend Lady Faithfull made the point very validly. I do not suggest that the landlords' interests are not deserving of the fullest consideration. I hope that I have shown that our proposals pay proper regard to the interests of the charities. This issue is about ensuring that we must not overlook the interests of the tenants. It is not good enough, it will not do, to brush cavalierly aside the legitimate and understandable aspirations of those people who long to own a home of their own but who have little chance of doing so unless the clause is enacted.
I know that many noble Lords have had letters from charities making their case. I have had the same ones. Seemingly, I, too, am on the mailing list. But my department has also had numerous letters and inquiries from tenants who hope and aspire to buy their homes under Clause 2. It is these people, the 849 tenants, that we must not shrug off. These are the people for whom the Government are arguing. They are the ones who are affected by our decision today. I ask your Lordships to have ears not only for the views of the associations which can express their case so articulately and which have a voice in the Chamber through many noble Lords who have links with them.
It has been stated by noble Lords opposite that this House has a long and honourable tradition of protecting the rights of the individual and of upholding those rights against injustice, inequality and against all interests, whether of private or public bodies. Now is the time to show that we care about the individual. It does not matter one whit that a comparatively small proportion of charitable tenants can be expected to take advantage of the right to buy under Clause 2. The quintessential point is that these tenants, living in publicly-funded dwellings, should have the right to buy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, asked why the Government have pressed ahead with these proposals despite the clamour of opposition from the charities' lobby and the criticisms that have been voiced in your Lordships' House. Why have we persisted despite the possibility that Clause 2 may prove not to command sufficient support in this Chamber? There has been no shortage of plain speaking today. Let me join in and say that the answer is no more and no less: it is purely and only our deep concern, our care about the rights of individuals. The whole situation is ironical in the extreme. Leaving aside the Leasehold Reform Act, the fact is that noble Lords opposite will surely concede—it is not to their discredit, it is their belief—that they have always fought tooth and nail, as they did during the passage of the 1980 Act, against the right to buy. Now, seemingly, on this Bill, they intend to do the same. That is fair enough. It is a matter of political theology to which I have no objection. I do not agree, but I have no objection. There should be no doubt that this is what weighs heavily with them.
As for noble friends on this side and, above all, noble Lords on the Cross-Benches, I hope that they will take into account what has been said about the rights of individuals. I am afraid that some appear to have accepted in full only the views of the charities' lobby. I ask those who contemplate voting against the Government on this matter whether they fully accept that in so doing they are representing interests that seek to deny the right to buy to people who are arguably among the most disadvantaged in our society and, I say again, people who may never again have the chance to buy their own home.
Noble Lords are aware that I always try to pick up points made in debates. I fear that today this would take too long. I shall therefore not do so. There are however two comments that I should like to make about what was stated by two of your Lordships, because they are wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Jacques—for whom I have the greatest personal regard and respect—talked about having to replace a dwelling sold under the right to buy at greater cost. That is exactly the same argument put at the time of right to buy. It is fallacious. It would only be valid if you had to build one dwelling to replace one dwelling. But the fact is that people who live in the particular dwelling 850 after it has been bought continue to occupy it, only now as an owner whereas previously they occupied it as a tenant. But it makes the dwelling neither more nor less available than it was previously. I ask noble Lords to let me finish my remarks because I listened and did not interrupt one of your Lordships, tempted though I was to do so. I ask your Lordships to allow me the same courtesy.
The fact is that if we were to build to replace then the noble Lord's point has some validity; but in practice it is not so. Anyway, what about the £690 million that the Government are putting into the housing associations to build great numbers more? Is not that replacement? So I do not take the noble Lord's point. Finally, I must tell him—
§ Lord Jacques
Will the Minister give way, because he has named me? What I said was quite clear and concise. I said that if the housing associations had to sell and they replaced with other assets at the present day costs, then their costs and their rents would be greater. Nothing that the Minister has said contradicts that.
§ Lord Bellwin
Let me just point out that the key word there is "replaced". But the fact that the noble Lord said that in this way rents would be pushed up shows, with great respect, that he does not understand the point. The rents are in no way connected with the cost of the dwelling. The rents are fair rents based upon the valuation placed by the rent assessment committee and the rent officer. So the rents fixed have nothing to do with it at all and the noble Lord must certainly acknowledge that.
I come to the conclusion of my remarks. One can talk on the matter at length; it is very emotive. Let me remind your Lordships that in another place the Bill received a Second Reading by a majority of 117 votes, and on Third Reading by a majority of 91 votes. So let me finish by summing up very briefly the main points.
First, Clause 2 extends the right to buy only to tenants living in dwellings provided at public expense. Secondly, almost three-quarters of the dwellings of charitable housing associations are excluded. Thirdly, the number of dwellings sold would, beyond doubt, be vastly exceeded by the number of additional dwellings which charitable associations will provide with public funds. Fourthly, charitable funds are fully protected. Fifthly, there is no factual basis for the claim that this clause will undermine the work of charitable housing associations. The non-charitable experience cannot be denied. Finally, may I say in view of all the years I have spent particularly in public housing, that I put forward my concern for the people in it with as deep a conviction as anyone who has spoken today. I believe equally passionately that what this Bill is proposing and what this clause proposes will not have a disadvantageous effect upon anyone. It will give a right which people are entitled to have and they will not be second class citizens. I look to this House of Lords, to this Committee today, for justice. That, and only that, is the issue before us.
The Earl of Selkirk
I should like to thank noble Lords who have supported the amendment which we have put down. I should like to say only two things to my noble friend. I dare say that much of his speech was 851 prepared before he came into the Committee. He talked about unfairness. No tenant who is in a housing association house can complain of unfairness compared with the 2 million or 2½ million who are living in substandard houses.
He has missed the second point completely. Every house that is sold leaves the rented market and never comes back. It is only in the rented market that the people with a low standard of living can get proper accommodation. They are therefore taking away from the people who are at the bottom of the ladder the first step towards getting into decent accommodation. It is for that reason that I think that the basis of this clause is totally wrong and I very much hope that the Committee will reject it.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 2, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 96; Not-Contents, 182.853
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Ingrow, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Lane-Fox, B.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Avon, E.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Long, V.|
|Beloff, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.|
|Boardman, L.||McFadzean, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||MacLehose of Beoch, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Mansfield, E.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Marley, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Cayzer, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Cockfield, L.||Milne, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Mottistone, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Daventry, V.||Orkney, E.|
|De Freyne, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Dilhorne, V.||Portland, D.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Quinton, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Elton, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Ferrers, E.||Sandford, L.|
|Forte, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Fortescue, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Soames, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Glanusk, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Glenkinglas, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Gowrie, E.||Teynham, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Wise, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Young, B.|
|Abinger, L.||Hooson, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Hylton, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Ampthill, L.||Ilchester, E.|
|Amulree, L.||Ingleby, V.|
|Ardwick, L.||Irving of Dartford, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Jacobson, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Jacques, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Balogh, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Bancroft, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Banks, L.||Kearton, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Kennet, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Beswick, L.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Birk, B.||Kintore, E.|
|Bishopston, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Blease, L.||Kitchener, E.|
|Blyton, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Lee of Newton, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Brockway, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Brookes, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Longford, E.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Loudoun, C.|
|Byers, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Caradon, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Charteris of Amisfield, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Chichester, Bp.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Chitnis, L.||Malmesbury, E.|
|Clancarty, E.||Margadale, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Collison, L.||Meston, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Minto, E.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Craigavon, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Monson, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Newall, L.|
|Croft, L.||Northbourne, L.|
|Darwen, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Davidson, V.||O'Neill of the Maine, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||Oram, L.|
|Denington, B.||Pender, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Perth, E. [Teller.]|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Dormer, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Radnor, E.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Richardson, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Ezra, L.||Rochester, Bp.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Rochester, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Freyberg, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Garner, L.||Seear, B.|
|George-Brown, L.||Seebohm, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Selborne, E.|
|Grantchester, L.||Selkirk, E. [Teller.]|
|Greenhill of Harrow, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Haig, E.||Shackleton, L.|
|Hale, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Sligo, M.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Somers, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Spens, L.|
|Hill of Luton, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Stewart of Alvechurch, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Stewart of Fulham, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Stone, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Strabolgi, L.||Walston, L.|
|Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Swinfen, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Tanlaw, L.||White, B.|
|Taylor of Gryfe, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Taylor of Mansfield, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Tordoff, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Tryon, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Clause 2, as amended, disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.17 p.m.
Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 9:
After Clause 2 insert the following new clause
§ ("Protection for elderly orphans and others
. In section 34 of the Housing Act 1980 at the end shall be added—
(5) In considering subsection 3(a) above the court must take account of:
§ The noble Baroness said: I am painfully aware that it will be extremely difficult to command your Lordships' attention after the exciting debate that we have had and the exciting vote that has just been taken. I shall attempt to be very brief, and I shall ask noble Lords to divert their minds to a far more mundane matter than the one which we have just been discussing.
§ We are not talking about housing associations, and we are not talking about the right to buy; so let us put those two matters behind us for the moment. Despite the sidelining by those who prepared the Marshalled List, we are not even talking about a species that has suddenly been called "elderly orphans". In fact, I assume from looking round your Lordships' Committee—and this certainly applies to me—that most of your Lordships are elderly orphans; but my amendment is not being moved on your behalf.
§ I am referring to a particular kind of elderly orphan, if we have to use that strange expression. I am referring to those people, men or women—and it is usually, but by no means always, women—who continue to live in the parental home (and I am speaking about council tenants) in order to look after elderly and infirm parents, which is a duty which often continues for a number of years. But the elderly and infirm parents, however unable to cope they become as the years go by, nonetheless are the legal tenants, and those who care for them have no status in relation to the tenancy of the house in which they live. Although they may have lived in the house for 50 years and may well be paying the rent—because in many cases it is those who care who also find the money for the rent—the legal tenant is in fact the parent for whom they are caring.854
§ Then, when the parent for whom they have been caring dies, it happens not infrequently that those who have been caring are unable to continue in full-time work, and therefore their income is greatly reduced. Many of them will have drawn on the savings which they have made in earlier years in the hope that they would have something put by for their own old age. But when the parents who are the dependants die, those who have been caring for them have no legal status in relation to taking over the tenancy.
§ It is true that, today, many councils are considerate and do not claim occupation of the house and do not remove the carers, those who have been doing the caring, from the tenancy; but some councils still do, as was shown in a case which was brought up in another place when a very similar amendment was moved there. The purpose of this amendment is to give protection to those who have done the caring but have no rights as tenants, so that they cannot be displaced arbitrarily by the local authority in order that it may obtain possession of the house to put other people in it. It is to give an opportunity: not to give an absolute right, but to lay down in legislation that the courts must take into account the factors which have been listed in this amendment, which would make it far more unlikely that a local authority would be able to force an ex-carer out of the house in which he or she has lived and in which that person has done the caring—by doing which, incidentally, they have probably saved the public purse a very considerable amount of money, because had they not continued to care, the old parents would have had to be put into publicly-supported accommodation at a very high price.
§ It may be said that there is a general responsibility here to consider the circumstances of the person who is left in the house, but I submit that a general responsibility is not sufficient protection—and it has been proved that there is not sufficient protection for those whose interests I have described. It may also be said that by listing the factors to be taken into account some people may be excluded because particular factors have not been included; but it does not say that these are the only factors to be taken into account. There remains a general responsibility as well; but by putting these particular elements into the legislation it makes it far more likely than if this clause were not included that people in the position I have described will be able to continue in the family home and will not be evicted on the death of parents. It is for this reason that I beg to move.
§ Baroness Birk
From these Benches I support the amendment moved, despite the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, having referred to us as "elderly orphans". Unfortunately, an orphan I now am, but I try to pretend that I am not all that elderly. Nevertheless, I feel that this is something that should be in the Bill and should be spelled out in this way. As the noble Baroness said in moving the amendment, it could be argued, and probably will be, that there is a general responsibility in the 1980 Act in the reference to conditions under which a court could consider it reasonable to make an order, but that is really rather a large generalisation.
855 In moving the amendment the noble Baroness referred to the situation where there is a daughter who is left alone, to whom the noble Baroness wanted the tenancy assigned. I take it that the same would apply whether it is a man or a woman. We should make this quite clear.
§ Baroness Birk
I am sorry if I misunderstood, but I was sure that that was what the noble Baroness meant. Although it is true that very often when this happens local authorities make sure that a person is not rendered homeless in this way, or put into rather inferior accommodation, I feel that unless the Government can come up with a very good reason to the contrary this provision should be put in the Bill and should be clearly in the statute.
There could be a problem where the house is a large one, with three or four bedrooms, and with perhaps one person living in it on their own. I should like the person concerned to have a choice. In some circumstances the person left, man or woman, may be quite willing to move to smaller accommodation. In other circumstances the person concerned may feel that, as they have lived in the house for a very long time—and we would all understand and have sympathy with that feeling—they may not want to be moved from what is his or her own home. One would hope that this situation could be resolved by the sensitivity of the local authority and by co-operation and agreement on both sides. Therefore, we on these Benches would certainly support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I have a good deal of sympathy with the object of this amendment, but I must confess that I am very much puzzled by paragraph (d). I cannot but feel that to introduce that into the provisions would undoubtedly give rise to a great deal of acrimony in the pursuit of other, probably quite irrelevant cases which could tend, if anything, to confuse rather than help the court. I do not know whether there is any explanation of this, but these words strike me as rather harsh.
§ Baroness Faithfull
I support the amendment, and would ask my noble friend the Minister for some information. Under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1969 I have very often had to visit elderly parents who are handicapped, sometimes mentally, sometimes physically, being cared for by a daughter, or in some cases by a son, living in the home; and I have tried to persuade the parents to alter the tenancy in favour of the daughter or son. But such is the strange pattern of human relationships that very often parents feel that the last bastion of independence that they have is to hold the tenancy. They may not be paying the rent, but they feel that to give up the tenancy in favour of their daughter or son is almost to give up life; and it has been impossible to persuade them to alter the tenancy, placing it in the name of the daughter or son.
Very often I have found that local authorities have been extremely sensitive and understanding, and 856 housing committees have acceded to the wishes of the remaining daughter or son and have allowed that person to have the tenancy without moving out of the house; but, sadly, some local authorities do not do this. They subscribe to the rule in their authority that if the person in whose name the tenancy stands should die, anyone else in the house must move out. Therefore, I would ask my noble friend the Minister whether he is aware of which authorities in England and Wales do this, and whether he is satisfied that all is well. I suspect that most is well, but not all.
I would make one other point following the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Very often a daughter, after looking after her elderly parents, is unable to get a job on the employment market. Coming, as I do, from Oxford, I know that lodgings are very much in need, and I well recall at least three occasions on which daughters have come to me and said: "I have lived in the house for 50 years and have cared for my parents. The only thing I can do now is to let out lodgings and have people in the house".
The point of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, about her staying in a bigger house when in fact the bigger house is needed for families, is a valid one. I regret to have to say that in two authorities I know this has been forbidden for the daughter. Therefore, I think that the community lost some good lodgings for young people and deprived the single married daughter of a living. Therefore, I would support this amendment, but at the same time ask my noble friend the Minister whether he is aware of what is the general attitude of local authorities in this country.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
I should like to support the general principle behind the question of caring for the carer. That is important. But I am not entirely happy with this amendment in the form that it takes. If a local authority has a long waiting list they are often desperately in need of this accommodation. My own experience on a local authority has been of single people surviving parents in, usually, a flat—as the area I was associated with had virtually no houses—and occupying a flat for which thousands of families must have been waiting. In these circumstances the local authority must have the right to rehouse such people in a much smaller unit, a one-person unit, if they are on their own.
The point about lodgers raised by my noble friend Lady Faithfull is an interesting one. I know that lodgers are now permitted in any accommodation in that authority area, and I thought that it was universal throughout the country. In the days when lodgers were not permitted, much greater hardship existed and much more property was under-used. It must be appreciated that if you have a large waiting list with a number of families in very substandard accommodation it is unfair to create a tenancy more or less in perpetuity, because after all the person given the tenancy could then have someone else come in to care for them when they get elderly, and so this under-occupation could go on for a long time.
I would also emphasise, as did the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that I find subsection (d) quite extraordinary and out of character. I certainly would 857 not wish to support that part of the amendment. However, the principle of caring for the carers and making it necessary to take into account the length of time they have been there and the care they have been giving to the parents or elderly relative is valid, and I would support that part of the amendment.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilion
This is an important amendment. Anyone who works for the health service knows that one of the growing problems is the care of the elderly. These people whom the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, seeks to help do a tremendous service to their parents and to the community, very often at a great sacrifice to themselves. I strongly support the spirit of the amendment.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
Hardly surprisingly, I suppose, I support my noble friend's amendment. In fact, my name appeared by mistake as initiating it originally. That was not our mistake but a mistake somewhere in the machinery. I should like to follow up the points made by previous speakers. The noble Baroness. Lady Faithfull, makes a good point that the elderly parent, widow or widower, often quite rightly feels that this is the last bastion and they would not pass the tenancy on even with the agreement of the local authority. Indeed, in some cases—and I can think of quite a number in my own experience—when the parent gets very much older, in spite of the considerable care that the daughter or son has given they become neurotically suspicious that the child living with them is involved in some deep and dark laid plot to have them removed from the house so that they can enjoy it alone. Therefore, I do not think that, in many cases that is likely to work.
I share the concern about the problem when a surviving child is left in a family house. This should be dealt with not by evicting them, which does happen on occasion, but by treating that kind of person with the same kind of friendly persuasion that local authorities have to use in persuading a widow living on her own to give up a large family house and go somewhere smaller. Speaking generally as someone who has been involved in local government, I do not think that this happens very often. Most local authorities are sympathetic, but there is the odd case where a great deal of hardship is done.
This Government have been extremely kind to the tenants in the public sector, as the noble Lord the Minister has told us on a number of occasions. This is an example where the local authority tenant does not have the same protection as the tenant of the private landlord. In his case, in controlled tenancies of course, the tenancy can pass twice. While the tenants in the private sector have not fared as well because they do not have the right to buy, they are, in the sense that they have more continuity of the right to possess the property, better protected than the tenant in the public sector. I hope that the Govenment will take a favourable view of this amendment.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
The anti-climactic feeling referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in moving this amendment does not, by the number of speeches we have had on it, seem to have carried through. The Government are not out of sympathy 858 with the intention behind this amendment. I can assure the noble Baroness that I wholly agree with the view that councils should adopt a sensitive and compassionate approach on a case by case basis when deciding whether or not a successor tenant should continue to remain in the family home in which the parent has died.
Perhaps at this point I ought to clear out of the way exactly who the successor tenant is. I can tell my noble friend Lady Gardner that under Section 35 of the 1980 Act a secure tenant has a right to take in lodgers, but of course the security does not then pass to the lodger. I should perhaps tell my noble friend Lady Faithfull of the succession rights of tenants of local authorities, new towns, and housing associations. On the death of a secure tenant the tenancy will pass to the surviving spouse living in the house, or to a close relative who has been living there for the 12 months prior to the secure tenant's death, providing that the deceased tenant was not himself, or herself, a successor under the Housing Act 1980. In other words, it only goes on for one generation.
In the case of a joint tenancy when one person dies the tenancy passes to the other person, who becomes the sole tenant, but there will be no further right of succession. Thus, one succession happens automatically under the 1980 Act, but a landlord may agree to let a further member of the family take over the tenancy after that.
The intention of the amendment is to set out certain factors which the court—this amendment is totally about courts, as I understand it—should have regard to when considering the reasonableness of making a possession order. The amendment would make the factors for the test of reasonableness applicable not only to orders served under Ground 13 but also, among others, to the five grounds in Schedule 4 to the 1980 Housing Act under which the landlord alleges misconduct by the tenant. The factors, in our view, should not be relevant to consideration on misconduct grounds.
Ground 13 of Schedule 4 gives landlords a ground to repossess only where, under the succession rules set out in Section 30(2)(b)—which I have just read out—of the 1980 Act, a member of the family, other than the spouse, of the previous tenant has taken over the tenancy and the dwelling is thereby under-occupied. To be valid, notices of possession have to be served under Section 33 of that Act more than six months but less than 12 months after the previous tenant's death. The court has to consider whether it would be reasonable to make the order, and be satisfied that suitable alternative accommodation will be provided when the order takes effect.
The Act does not specify the factors which the court should have regard to when considering reasonableness. A court, in applying the test of reasonableness, is expected to take account of all the relevant factors whether they relate to the personal circumstancs of the tenant, the particulars of the home, or of alternative accommodation, or the pressures on the council to provide homes of that type for people on its waiting lists in urgent housing need. Setting out these factors in legislation is, I am advised, unnecessary. In any case, evidence of the landlord's efforts to encourage other under-occupiers to transfer and possible 859 financial and social consequences on other people caring for elederly dependants would introduce considerations which had nothing to do with the case before the court and the instruction to the court which the noble Baroness's amendment gives.
In the light of a considerable body of case law in repossession cases as to what courts can and do take into account in assessing reasonableness, I am not at all convinced that the arguments that I have heard so far suggest that the sort of factors specified in the amendment—and various of my noble friends have referred to heading (d)—are likely to be ignored at present by a court. It does not therefore seem that the amendment is necessary. Furthermore, as a usual line of Governments, I must point out that the amendment is defective in embracing grounds other than the one which appears to be the subject of concern.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I must say how disappointed I am from this side of the Committee with that reply. It bothers me when any local authority wants to repossess under the succession rule, especially in cases such as we have heard enumerated today by the noble Baroness; because more often than not they have been daughters or sons who have been in that home all their lives. If it is the father who dies, they may remain, but if it is the mother who dies that is the end of it. When local authorities take that line I think it a very harsh line and one that we ought not to encourage.
If a mother aged, say, 75 or 76 is living in a council house which she has purchased, then on her death, obviously, her daughter may remain in possession. Nobody then expresses the view that the house is too big for a single person. Nobody says to a young married couple: "You can't buy a four-bedroomed house because it is too large for your needs". If you are renting a property, somebody may say, "Oh, that house is too big for you now that you are alone". Apparently, it is not too big for you, however, if you have taken the opportunity to buy it. So there is an iniquity about the matter of repossession. I always feel that children who, for whatever reason, have spent all their lives with their parents should not have to lose their home for this reason of repossession—and there are many people in this category.
When I was chairman of what was perhaps the largest local housing authority in the country, we had joint representations from all kinds of individuals in this category. Many of them were widows who had given up a bedroom to take a male lodger, perhaps, a university student or a worker from British Leyland at Longbridge. The man settled in the house and often almost became a son to the tenant of the house. We found this difficulty of repossession so we decided—since Birmingham has always had a joint tenancy policy—to overcome the repossession difficulty by having a joint tenancy. When a tenant who was perhaps 55 and 60 was getting terribly worried because a "son" or "daughter" of this kind, who was not really a son or daughter but perhaps a lodger who had come to be regarded as a son or daughter, might be evicted, we went into it in great 860 detail and included that person as a secure tenant eventually. I would have thought that this might have been one of the ways in which the Government would encourage other local authorities to deal with the matter. I want to stress that it would be quite wrong of any Government to have this iniquitious situation in the cases of people who purchase and people who rent.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
I should like briefly to support this amendment. It is generally felt that children who stay with their parents until the end and look after them, who thus show their loyalty to their parents and also take away this responsibility from the state, deserve the recognition of society that they have done so. I think that in many cases such children on the death of the parents might well wish to change houses. I should therefore like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Evans, has said. In many cases, it surely would be possible for this to be arranged between the authority and remaining sons and daughters quite amicably. I think that for society to say: "You have carried out your task of looking after your parents. Now you must get out", is something very hard to accept.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
I have no doubt that there are local authorities up and down the country who make the sort of arrangements with their tenants that the noble Baroness has referred to. But I must point out that it is for the local authority to manage its housing stock in its own way. They are the funders, the builders and the landlords. The landlord and tenant argument applies to them just as much as, in other circumstances, it might apply to the private sector tenant and the private sector landlord. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, spoke about the right to buy as such, comparing the right to buy and the circumstances surrounding that with the, in a sense, right to tenancy and the circumstances surrounding that. I should have thought that the inquiry was not so much the right to buy as in the disablement of people not to have the right to buy.
§ Baroness Seear
The only two objections raised to this amendment are to head (d) which, although not a vital part of the amendment, is worth keeping in simply because there has been a tendency—and I would not put it stronger than that—to feel that the single woman left on her own is someone who can be not so much taken advantage of as perhaps treated as of very little importance. If pressure is being put on her to get out of occupation on the grounds that the house is under-occupied, that it is too big for her, then it is at least reasonable to be assured that that kind of pressure is being put on other categories of tenant. Although I do not regard that as the most important point, I think it is worthwhile keeping it in.
I must say that I was amazed at the last remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, when he said that this, after all, was entirely a matter to leave to the local authorities. One would really think that there had never been any national housing legislation governing the way in which local authorities conducted their housing affairs; whereas, as your Lordships well know, the statute book is cluttered up with legislation determining how local authorities should or should not conduct their affairs. As an argument against my 861 amendment, I must say I do not think that that holds water. We are getting on this evening and we have had a very heavy day. I am not going to say any more, but I am going to put this Motion to the Committee.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 9) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 101; Not-Contents, 95.862
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Airedale, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Lee of Newton, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Balogh, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Banks, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Birk, B. [Teller.]||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Bishopston, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Blease, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Morris of Kenwood, L.|
|Caradon, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Chichester, Bp.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Collison, L.||Oram, L.|
|Darwen, L.||Peart, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Ezra, L.||Rochester, Bp.|
|Faithfull, B.||Rochester, L.|
|Fisher of Rednall, B.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Seear, B. [Teller.]|
|Hale, L.||Segal, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Hanworth, V.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Stone, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Jacobson, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Jacques, L.||White, B.|
|Jeger, B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Young of Darlington, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Beloff, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Belstead, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Bessborough, E.|
|Avon, E.||Boardman, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Boyd-Carpenter, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Brookes, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Burton, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Long, V.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||McFadzean, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Colwyn, L.||Mansfield, E.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Molson, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Monson, L.|
|Croft, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Newall, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Norfolk, D.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Dormer, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Eccles, V.||Orkney, E.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Elton, L.||Pender, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Radnor, E.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Rochdale, V.|
|Gisborough, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Glanusk, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Sandford, L.|
|Grantchester, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Gridley, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Soames, L.|
|Haig, E.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Hemphill, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Ingrow, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Kintore, E.||Vivian, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Wise, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Young, B.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 6.59 p.m.
Baroness Lane-Fox moved Amendment No. 10:
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Physically disabled persons
§ .—(1) In Part I of Schedule Ito the 1980 Act (Exceptions to the Right to Buy) paragraph 3 shall be omitted.
(2) Paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the 1980 Act shall be renumbered as sub-paragraph (1) of that paragraph and after that provision as so renumbered there shall be inserted the following sub-paragraph—
(2) 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 disabled persons.".").
§ The noble Baroness said: As your Lordships will see, Amendment No. 10 is in two parts. The first part deals with owning your own home. At present, if tenants are disabled, they are not allowed to buy their council houses in many areas, and in housing associations, whereas able-bodied tenants are allowed to do so. Why should this be? Is it because society feels that there is a need to be paternalistic towards them; that they cannot manage their own affairs, even though their peers are living independently elsewhere and getting on splendidly; or is it because it is thought that they are generally short of cash and should not be asked to buy?
§ There are now disabled tenants who rightly think that they are ill-used by not being allowed to buy their own home. Some have endeavoured to save in their remunerated employment and, like many of us, have decided to put their nest-egg or their mortgage into 863 their home. Others may belong to the luckier section of the disabled, who have received large compensation or perhaps some windfall. Why should their disability debar them from buying their house?
§ Linked to the core of this amendment is an appeal to all organisations working for disabled people—including RADAR of which I am a vice-president—to press housing authorities to use the money available to them to build more houses to rent; helped, of course, by grants through the very substantial housing improvement programme—all ready and waiting to be used. With the local authorities, £800 million of accumulated capital receipts under-spent since 1980, plus HIP money, is available for building new houses. If this can be mobilised quickly, it disposes of the old need to keep an adapted house in the belief that it will do for another of this strange breed called disabled people.
§ There are three reasons why new building is better. First, it is not likely that adaptations suitable for one will be right for another. Second, it is most important that local authorities should be pressed to use all the hundreds of thousands of pounds available to them to build more houses and to include a proportion of mobility housing: houses with wide doors and flat or ramped entrances, to which tailor-made adaptations can, if necessary, be made later. Third, in this way one could create more homes to rent for all the disabled people who cannot afford to buy—something we all want to have, especially with improved medical science and the threat of more disabled people to be housed in the future. If possible, let those houses be built with flattened kerbs and convenient approaches. Meanwhile, let those who can afford it buy, if they want to, shouldering responsibility for their own housing, free from the stigma of exclusion through disability. We do not want insult to be added to injury.
§ The second part of the amendment is self-explanatory. Why these groups are different is because they provide accommodation which is half-way between residential accommodation and the community. There are those of us who cannot pretend to be able to live independently, who must have backup support. To give an example of the kind of carers I am talking about, the John Grooms Housing Association, with its care schemes, aims to provide positive caring within the housing complex. Care staff are recruited from the immediate locality, either paid or unpaid, but with a helpful attitude. It is necessary, they find, to tenant able-bodied dwellings in the same vicinity as the integrated wheelchair schemes. In these special schemes for severely disabled people it is important to retain control over the tenancies. Now that there is a welcome move towards getting more people out of residential accommodation, it is essential that planning for their care in the community is not forgotten. Among many important Government schemes for information technology are plans for data bases linking disabled people wanting suitable places to live with available provision. For these reasons, I beg to move this amendment.
§ Lord Swinfen
The noble Baroness mentioned in her speech the John Grooms Housing Association. I ought to declare an interest. I work for the John Grooms 864 Association for the Disabled, which provides most of the charitable funds for that particular housing association. I am not sure that I agree entirely with my noble friend's amendment, for a number of reasons. The basic reason is that specially designed accommodation can cost as much as another £10,000. One has to bear in mind that much wider corridors and doors than normal are needed; also, larger lavatories. Therefore, a much bigger floor area for the dwelling as a whole is needed. This increases the cost of any one dwelling in a scheme. Therefore, one tends to end up with fewer dwellings for the scheme as a whole than one would have if the accommodation were not specially designed.
The final part of my noble friend's amendment relates to dwelling-houses which include a call system and the services of a warden. Does the warden have to be employed 24 hours a day? In a number of schemes the warden is on duty only from, say, 10 o'clock at night until 7 o'clock in the morning. Does that count as full wardening, or would that take it out of the scheme? There may also be dwellings where no particularly special design for disabled persons is needed; but there are other dwellings, containing very expensive and extensive equipment which is specially designed for disabled people, where there is no special call system—very often because the tenant does not want it and feels he can do without it.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
I should like to support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox. It is wrong that disabled people should be discriminated against when it comes to the right to buy. It should also be appreciated that not all disabled people live in buildings which were originally designed for the disabled. Very large numbers of people live in adapted dwellings. The adaptations make those dwellings easily usable by anybody. If there have been highly specialised adaptations and a dwelling is purchased by the person living in it, the next person to buy that dwelling would take into account those special adaptations. It is logical that the dwelling would be sold to someone with a similar disability.
It is not fair that only one section of the community should be excluded in this way. The point made by my noble friend about the extra cost involved in building larger dwellings would be reflected in the purchase price. The price of every dwelling which is sold is based upon the amount of space in it and the amenities provided with it. It may be that such dwellings for the disabled would be so much more expensive to purchase that people would not wish to exercise their right to buy. But that, to me, is not important. What is important is that they should have the right to buy.
The point made by my noble friend in the second part of her amendment about the call system and the services of a warden is too specific. It would be better if those words were not included. They have probably been included by my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox to indicate a type of group dwelling which is designed entirely for people who require sheltered housing. Such accommodation should not, I believe, be included in the amendment. It also has to be remembered that after people have moved into their homes they may become disabled, and that many of them may have exercised their right to buy before the 865 adaptations were made. That kind of dwelling could certainly be sold to a similar purchaser. I support the amendment.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
I, too, support the amendment. As chairman of a housing committee, I have had a certain amount of experience of this type of accommodation. I used to insist that in small groups of houses one house was built which could be used by somebody who was in a wheelchair or had some kind of disability. It always worked very well. The expensive way is to build houses without making any provision for someone who is disabled.
The important point about providing houses for the disabled is not to put them all together but to mix them up with the ordinary community so that they are part of the community housing scheme. It is quite true that there should, perhaps, be a number of homes specially for severely handicapped people, in which case they must be given the care and other facilities which have been mentioned. Whether these should include a call system and the services of a warden is doubtful, but there are cases where these may be needed. The important point is that all housing authorities ought to make provision for disabled people as part of their schemes. If this were put into the Bill, it would encourage those local authorities who do not do this to do so in future.
§ Lord Auckland
I live in an area of Surrey in which there are a number of organisations for the disabled, some of which are—to say the least—quite unsuitable for housing those who are residing there. I mean no disrespect to the organisations themselves, which are doing their very best. My noble friend's amendment could go a long way to offsetting this. I can quote one example, which is admittedly of a sheltered housing scheme in Leatherhead, which concerns a girl of 17 who suffers paralysis and is in a wheelchair. Through having a home suitably adapted, she is now able to carry on a full-time job and thus save the local ratepayers' and the taxpayers' money. She has some pride in her work and works for herself. The amendment of my noble friend will aid those who are disabled to the extent that they are still capable of contributing something to the community.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
I believe I am right in saying that the law of the land lays down that if one has lived in a council house for more than three years, one has the right to buy the house if one so wishes. If a member of the family is disabled and the house has been adapted in some way, the family is denied the right to buy their house. If a house is adapted for a disabled person, there can be a 90 per cent. improvement grant for even private housing adaptions.
I support this amendment on the grounds of discrimination. If there is a street of council houses, and one of those houses has been adapted, the tenants of all those houses will have the right to buy with the exception of that one family. Is that good integration? Is it not piling on the agonies of disability and making that particular family stick out like a sore thumb? If the disabled person is the breadwinner of the family, he will become very aggrieved. The discount on his 866 council house will most likely be more than the cost of the adaptations.
There is a need for more specially built houses and adapted houses as the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, has already said. But if the Government say, as they do, that they have quite a pile of money, then this is an excellent way in which to spend some of that money, and I hope that the Government will do so. Equipment can be removed, so that is not a problem which the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said it might be. Some people do need special housing which has warden assisted help and this should be protected and not for sale, otherwise it might disrupt the organisation of the councils which run it.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Viscount Ingleby
I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, not on her amendment—with which I disagree—but on the tremendous courage she shows in overcoming all the difficulties—not least, being in this Chamber for nearly five hours without a break.
My noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth), who unfortunately is sick, and I have agonised over this amendment for the past fortnight. We both started off by welcoming it because we felt that the amendment provided an opportunity to right an unfair discrimination. Since then, quite independently, we have both come to the conclusion that we are totally opposed to this amendment so long as there is a shortage of suitable accommodation for disabled people.
This amendment may benefit one class of disabled persons—those who are lucky enough to be living in suitable accommodation—but it goes completely against the interests of the many others who would like to have suitable accommodation but who do not have it, and also against the interests of future generations of disabled people. If this amendment is adopted, it will remove specialist housing from the disableds' rented pool. Such housing would be sold and would then come on to the open market and be resold to the highest bidder. Once it is sold, it is gone forever. It is probably true that the great majority of disabled people will never be in a position to buy.
What is the extent of the demand by disabled people, who are council house tenants, for the right to buy? The information from which I am about to quote comes from RADAR. Noble Lords may like to be reminded that RADAR has nothing to do with the Royal Air Force but stands for the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation. RADAR tell me that so far as purpose-built housing is concerned, they have received only two or three inquiries from council house tenants interested in buying, and those people quite understood when the reasons why they could not buy their houses were explained to them.
In respect of specially adapted housing, RADAR have received between 10 and 20 inquiries. The majority of those were not challenging the exclusion of houses which are substantially different, but merely claiming that in their particular cases there were a number of minor adaptations to the house which should not have taken the houses out of the right to buy. So, as far as RADAR know, only a handful of disabled tenants of council houses want the right to buy.
867 There is still a very serious shortage of suitable accommodation for disabled tenants; I am sure I can say that without fear of contradiction from any part of your Lordships' Committee.
Let us now look for a moment at the performance in this field over the past three years. In the case of purpose-built housing for the disabled, only 270 new units were built last year, compared with about 500 units two years ago. We are still a tremendously long way short of the 20,000 units estimated to be needed. This was the estimate given by Judith Buckle in 1971 in a DHSS publication entitled Work and Housing for Impaired People in Great Britain.
Since that publication was written, a large number of young disabled people, who previously would probably have spent their lives in institutions, now want to live independent lives and to have their own housing, possibly with some assistance from able bodied people. So one then has to add them to the figure of 20,000 that Judith Buckle quoted.
So far as specially adapted housing is concerned the record is better, and I congratulate the Minister; last year 4,500 new units were provided, which is nearly double the figure for three years ago. But the demand for specially adapted housing is still much greater than the supply, so there is still clearly a very serious shortage of suitable accommodation.
The real question therefore is not one of unfair discrimination but of the best use of precious resources. Is it better to sell them for the benefit of particular individuals, or is it better to keep them for those who are still without suitable accommodation, and for future generations? I venture to suggest that if you asked disabled people now living in specially adapted or purpose-built accommodation, provided by the council, "When you no longer need this accommodation what do you think ought to happen to it?", the great majority would say that it ought to be kept for another disabled person.
I urge your Lordships to resist this amendment. At the same time I thank the Minister, who I know is very keen to provide more housing for disabled people and wants to encourage local authorities, housing associations and charitable housing associations—freed from the distraction, we hope, of the right to buy—to provide many more suitable housing units for disabled people.
§ Lord Hylton
I had some initial sympathy with this amendment on the ground of non-discrimination, but I hope the Minister will not be tempted to accept it for that reason. I should like to support very strongly what my noble friend Lord Ingleby has just been saying. For many years we have had a shortage—and it still goes on—of even ground floor local authority flats. In addition to that, there is a shortage of adapted ones and of purpose-built ones. Therefore, I feel that this amendment is premature and ought to be resisted.
§ Lord Bellwin
The effect of this amendment, as my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox has explained, would be to narrow the range of disabled persons' dwellings excluded from the right to buy. The existing provision, in paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 to the 1980 Act, excludes 868 all dwellings which have features which are "substantially different" from those of ordinary dwelling houses and are designed to make the dwelling suitable for occupation by the physically disabled. This amendment would restrict the exemption to dwellings which are grouped together and have special facilities, including a warden service.
I have sympathy with the views my noble friend has expressed. The present position is not satisfactory. There is some evidence that different landlords give different interpretations to the phrase "substantially different" in paragraph 3, and that the right to buy is being denied in some cases on what I would frankly regard as inadequate grounds. While it is true that tenants have recourse to the courts if they consider they are being unjustly denied the right to buy, and some tenants have exercised that right, we all know that going to the courts is not a realistic option for most tenants.
Moreover, even where paragraph 3 is correctly applied, it is clear that there is a sense of injustice among many disabled tenants that they should be denied the right to buy because they, or a member of their family, are disabled. This injustice is felt particularly keenly where what is at issue is a number of adaptations to an otherwise normal council house. We receive a steady trickle of letters from tenants in these circumstances, who say, "Why should the fact that I or my wife is disabled mean that I should suffer the further misfortune of being denied the right to buy?" I think that argument should be further considered. It is particularly hard where the tenants concerned are prepared to pay a fair price for the house and for the adaptations that have been made. There is also, of course, a risk that tenants in that position will refuse to have adaptions done to their homes rather than risk losing the right to buy.
I listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Ingleby said. Really we are back to the basic arguments, the basic belief in it all. I happen to believe very deeply that the answer is that if we have a shortage of accommodation for the disabled—and we have—we ought to be building more such accommodation. It is not right to say that you have to make a choice; it should not be right. As I said years ago, I would want to see the emphasis on building more and more single-person, one-bedroom or two-bedroom accommodation, which was needed and I think still is; and I think in this case there ought to be much more emphasis on building accommodation for the disabled. It is not a question of money. I said in the earlier debates that resources are made available to housing associations; local authorities have great sums of money in the coffers by way of capital receipts which they could apply. This should be a priority. I think that really is the answer to the very real concern which I know my noble friend Lord Ingleby and my noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) must have agonised over before they came to the conclusion to which they did.
The Government will, therefore, give further consideration to the issues raised by the amendment which my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox has moved. In particular, we would want to consider whether only conventional housing which has been adapted for the 869 disabled should be brought within the right to buy, or whether, alternatively, both adapted and purpose-built accommodation for the disabled should come within the right to buy, only excluding, as in Scotland, disabled accommodation with a warden facility. We want to give further consideration to these points before Report stage. I wonder whether, in the light of what I have said, my noble friend would feel able to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Birk
I waited to hear what the Minister had to say about this amendment. While I appreciate very much how the two noble Baronesses feel about it, I must confess that tonight my tribute is to the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, who, also speaking from a very strong personal experience of being disabled, yet took an entirely contrary line—a line which we certainly support.
The Minister of course remembers—he referred to them—all the discussions that took place on Schedule 1 to the 1980 Act. In the context of the acceptance of the right to buy, it seemed then that to make that exception was something which was generally agreed. The importance of having a pool of houses for the disabled to rent was recognised; and also the expense involved in local authorities having to build or adapt houses, and that it was absolutely right to do it that way. I know the Minister always says that there is plenty of money around for local authorities to build houses. Of course, when you talk to local authorities it is a different story. Although there is a certain amount of capital—the Government suddenly made that available, but the authorities had to make decisions within an impossibly short time—there is not enough on their revenue accounts or from Government allocations for them to be able to pay the debt charges and all the other things involved. But we will not go into that; that is a side issue.
I feel strongly that because of the demand, and because of the necessity of adaptation—we are talking here, on the whole, of people who are gravely disabled—it also involves the question of extra land, which many authorities have not got. The type of housing, with adapted ramps, fitments at wheel chair level and so on, means ground floor accommodation, and this involves land. There is also an urgent need for more specialised accommodation, particularly in the inner city areas, where disabled residents often have to live several floors up in unsuitable private rented sector, or even local authority accommodation. Therefore, it really does seem that, with the demand as it is at the moment and with the supply not being able to keep up with it, as the noble Viscount said, to take a great deal more out of the pool for the disabled, which is what would happen if there were the right to buy in these categories, would be a great mistake.
Although I know the Minister said that he would take this back and look at it, I beg him not to alter the present situation until the existing housing situation has very considerably altered, and until we know very much more and have more detailed figures before us about housing for the disabled in all parts of the country. I certainly hope that it is in that spirit that the Minister will look at this.
§ Baroness Lane-Fox
Having heard the Minister's reply and the comments by the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, I should like to say that I am very grateful to the Minister for what he has said. I would be delighted if he would take the matter away and consider it. Before concluding, may I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that to my mind it would be a very great shame if we were to look a gift horse in the mouth. Housing for the disabled will definitely be at a disadvantage if we do not take what we are offered now in the way of grants and make the most of it. I beg leve to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Denham
In moving that the House do now resume, I think it might be for the convenience of your Lordships who are interested in this Bill if I say that we shall not resume the Committee stage before half-past eight o'clock.
§ I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved, accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.