Dwelling-Houses Suitable for Occupation by Persons of Pensionable Age

New Clause 13 – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 21st December 1983.

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—(1) After section 18 of the 1980 Act there shall he inserted the following section— 18A.—(1) Where a conveyance or grant executed in pursuance of this Chapter is of a dwelling-house which—
5(a) is particularly suitable, having regard to its location, size, design, heating 5 system and other features, for occupation by persons of pensionable age; and
10(b) was let to the tenant or his predecessor in title for occupation by a person of pensionable age (whether the tenant or predecessor or any other person), the conveyance or grant may contain a covenant limiting the freedom of the tenant (including any successor in title of his and any person deriving title under him or any such successor) to dispose of the dwelling-house in the manner specified below.
15(2) The limitation is that, until the end of the period of twenty-one years beginning with the conveyance or grant, there will he no relevant disposal which does not fall within section 8(3A) of this Act unless in relation to that or a previous such disposal—
20(a) the tenant (or his successor in title or the person deriving title under him or his successor) has offered to reconvey the dwelling-house or, as the case may be, surrender the lease, to the landlord for a consideration equal (subject to subsection (4) below), to the amount agreed between the parties or determined by the district valuer as being the amount which under subsection (3) below is to be taken as the value of the dwelling-house at the time the offer
is made; and
(b) the landlord has refused the offer or has failed to accept it within one month after it was made.
25(3) The value of the dwelling-house at the time the offer is made shall be taken to be the price which, at that time, the interest of the tenant (or his successor in title) would realise if sold on the open market by a willing vendor on the assumption that any liability under the covenant required by section 8(1) of this Act would be discharged by the tenant (or his successor).
30(4) If the landlord accepts the offer mentioned in subsection (2) above, the consideration shall be reduced by such amount (if any) as, on a relevant disposal made at the time the offer was made and not falling within subsection (3A) of section 8 of this Act, would fall to be paid under the covenant required by subsection (1) of that section; and no payment shall be required in pursuance of that covenant.
35(5) Any disposal in breach of such a covenant as is mentioned in subsection (1) above shall be void.
(6) Where there is a relevant disposal which falls within section 8(3A)(0 or (e) of this Act such covenant as is mentioned in subsection (1) above shall cease to apply in relation to the property disposed of.
40(7) In this section 'relevant disposal' has the same meaning as in section 8 of this Act; and for the purposes of this section the grant of an option enabling a person to call for a relevant disposal which does not fall within section 8(3A) of this Act shall be treated as such a disposal made to him and a consent to such a grant as a consent to a disposal made in pursuance of the option."
45(2) The amendment made by subsection (1) above shall not apply where the tenant's claim to exercise the right to buy was made before the commencement date unless, at that date, the period specified in paragraph 5 of Part I of Schedule I to the 1980 Act (dwelling-houses for occupation by persons of pensionable age) had not expired or there was outstanding an application for a determination under that paragraph.'—[Mr. Gow.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

5 pm

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments to the new clause:

(a), in line 5, at end insert 'or for use by disabled persons'.(b), in line 8, after 'age', insert 'or for use by disabled persons.(c), in line 47, after 'paragraph', insert '3 or'.

We are also to take Government amendments Nos. 95, 106, 107, 81, 82, 114, 115, 84, 85, 86 to 88, 108, 89, 90, 91, 113, 92 and 103.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

This is an important group of Government amendments. They will make significant changes in the rules governing the exclusion of elderly people's accommodation from the right to buy. One important point I must make at the outset is that they involve no change to the rules about sheltered accommodation for the elderly —groups of bungalows or flats where a warden service and other facilities are normally provided for the residents. Sheltered housing of that kind has always been excluded from the right to buy, and will remain so—although I want to say a little more about sheltered housing after I have spoken to the amendments.

What we are talking about here is non-sheltered housing for the elderly — typically the one or two-bedroom bungalow or ground floor flat with the sort of features that help to make life comfortable for elderly people, such as special heating facilities, special kitchen and bathroom fittings, absence of steps, and so on.

The present legislation on that is in paragraph 5 of schedule 1 to the 1980 Act — a provision which, as some hon. Members may recall, was inserted after long discussion, both here and in another place, during the passage of the 1980 Bill. Paragraph 5 provides that, where a tenant of an elderly persons' dwelling seeks to exercise the right to buy, the landlord may apply to my right hon. Friend for a determination that the dwelling is to be excluded from the right to buy. The Secretary of State must make such a determination if he is satisfied first, that the dwelling is designed or specially adapted for persons of pensionable age; and secondly, that it is the practice of the landlord to let it only for such persons.

One might think at first sight that the intention underlying that provision is reasonably clear. It was meant to ensure that, while landlords did not have a blanket discretion to exclude from the right to buy any dwelling they considered suitable for the elderly, they did have a means of exempting housing that was genuinely designed for the elderly and normally let to such people.

Put in those terms, the matter seems relatively simple, but it has proved far from simple in practice. We have therefore been reviewing our experience with paragraph 5 since the 1980 Act reached the statute book, and it may be helpful to the House, in considering the Government's proposals, if I give some brief details.

During the past three years my Department and the Welsh Office have received just 2,470 applications from authorities in England and Wales for the exclusion of dwellings from the right to buy under paragraph 5. Of those, 526 were subsequently withdrawn; 1,685 were rejected; and 103 are still being considered. Only 156 applications have been successful. In other words, over the last three years only 156 houses in the whole of England and Wales have been excluded from the right to buy under the provisions of paragraph 5. That is 6 per cent. of applications received, and a tiny fraction of the total stock of elderly persons' dwellings.

Why is the figure so low? First, the test that must be applied under paragraph 5 to decide whether exemption from the right to buy may be granted is a stringent test. It requires evidence to be produced both as to design and as to letting practice. Few landlords have been able to satisfy both parts of that test.

Secondly, the apparently simple terms of paragraph 5 have given rise to a number of difficult legal problems. For example, what part respectively do intention and achievement play in the concept of design? Must the dwelling have been let to an elderly tenant, or can it have been let to someone not of pensionable age who had an elderly relative living with him? These and other legal points have caused real difficulty.

That is a wholly undesirable position. Frequently neither landlords nor tenants know where they stand. In some cases representations and inquiries have stretched over many months. Decisions are often not understood by one party or another because of the shades of interpretation on which they turn. The Department has the greatest difficulty in satisfying itself that it is maintaining a consistent and impartial stance in its dealings with tenants and landlords. I can assure the House that we do not operate provisions that can give rise to accusations of inconsistency without a feeling of considerable unease.

Administrative costs have been wholly disproportionate. The cost to the Department of dealing with applications under paragraph 5 is running at £150,000 per year. Costs to landlord authorities must also be substantial. I remind the House that we are talking about the exclusion of a mere 140 dwellings in England and 16 in Wales from the right to buy over a three-year period.

That in itself represents a formidable case for reforming the present paragraph 5 arrangements and replacing them by something simpler. But there is another point I feel bound to make. A striking fact that emerges from the statistics we have collected is that the vast bulk of the applications we have received in England under paragraph 5 have come from roughly one third of the councils administering the right to buy. Two thirds of authorities have submitted four or fewer applications to my right hon. Friend. Of those, about a half have not made a single application. In a number of cases the obvious explanation is that the authorities are willing sellers of elderly persons' accommodation, and see no need to apply for exemption. In such cases the existing requirements for Secretary of State approval not to sell have no relevance.

But that the landlord freely sells elderly peoples' houses is a highly improbable explanation in other cases, where we know that councils have a declared policy of being reluctant sellers. In some cases, as a result of tenants' complaints, we have had direct evidence of authorities who simply tell elderly tenants that they are not entitled to buy their homes, without making any application to the Secretary of State. In other words, paragraph 5 has been used by those authorities as a basis for unlawfully denying tenants rights that have been conferred upon them by Parliament. That is a very serious matter, and where there is direct evidence we pursue it vigorously. But I am forced to conclude that the practice of denying claims to buy by elderly tenants without using the paragraph 5 procedures is quite widespread.

In the light of those factors, we believe that a different approach is required. Paragraph 5 of the 1980 Act will be repealed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will no longer have power to exclude dwellings from the right to buy by determination. Tenants of non-sheltered accommodation for the elderly will, in future, have the right to buy if they otherwise qualify. Where determinations have been issued in the past, that will not prevent a tenant from reapplying to buy when the Bill comes into force.

Landlords will instead be given the opportunity if they wish to impose a pre-emption covenant when selling an elderly person's dwelling. New clause 13 will give authorities that power where a dwelling satisfies a modified and simplified version of the design and letting test embodied in paragragh 5. That test is in subsections (1)(a) and (b) of the new section 18A.

Landlords will have the right to buy back on a first disposal of the dwelling within 21 years of the right to buy sale. Disposal for those purposes is defined as for discount clawback. In other respects, the provisions relating to the pre-emption covenant follow those of section 19 of the 1980 Act—the provision that permits such covenants to be imposed in national parks and other rural areas. Repurchase will be at full market value, subject to the normal rules about repayment of discount.

A number of detailed technical amendments—Nos. 81 to 92 and 106 to 115 are necessary to achieve consistency between the new section 18A and the old section 19.

I said that we are not here concerned with sheltered housing for the elderly — that is, and will remain, excluded from the right to buy—but I should mention that the provision excluding sheltered accommodation, which is in paragraph 4 of schedule 1 to the 1980 Act, has not been without its problems too. There is evidence that, partly because of its wording, some authorities have been able to make improper use of paragraph 4 to deny tenants their right to buy.

Some authorities, having realised that they have no case for a determination under paragraph 5, have simply withdrawn their applications to the Secretary of State and denied the right to buy on the strength of paragraph 4. Yet it must be obvious to every housing committee in the country that the two provisions relate to quite different types of accommodation. In other cases we have a strong suspicion that authorities have in effect played a trick on their elderly tenants. They have installed simple intercom systems in otherwise normal bungalows — and then denied the right to buy on the ground that these constitute "special facilities" within the meaning of paragraph 4.

We have also had representations from the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation pointing out that paragraph 4 as it stands—even if read with clause 2 of the Bill—does not adequately cover the case where accommodation in a sheltered housing scheme is let either to the elderly or to the physically disabled; nor does it cover sheltered accommodation provided for the mentally ill or mentally handicapped.

That is a valid point. The Government will therefore table amendments in another place to meet the genuine concern expressed by RADAR, and at the same time seek to prevent the sort of abuse of paragraph 4 to which some authorities appear to have stooped.

I believe that the new approach embodied in new clause 13 will effectively deal with the problems that have arisen under paragraph 5. It will ensure that elderly tenants get their right to buy and are not denied it unlawfully. It will be quite clear now that only sheltered housing is excluded.

Secondly, the clause will remove a costly administrative burden, both on the Department and on the local authorities, which is out of all proportion to the results which have been achieved. Finally, I stress that it will give local authorities the opportunity to reacquire elderly persons' accommodation where they consider that necessary to meet the needs of their area.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Will the Minister address himself to amendments Nos. 106, 107, 81 and 82 to clause 7, which deals with arrangements for national parks since half of my constituency is covered by them? What is the intention behind clause 7 and what is the Minister's intention in the amendments?

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

The national parks are unaffected by the Bill; the amendments are purely technical.

I was reminding the House of the important preemption provisions. We shall give any local authority which wishes the right to buy back a house sold under the provisions in the new clause.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

As the Minister said, this is an important clause. From its length and size one could say that it is not so much a clause as a mini Bill. We take exception to such important clauses being presented to the House within two days of our being able to discuss them and without them being considered in Committee. Hon. Members have not had the opportunity to examine in detail all the aspects.

We are somewhat upset and worried about what the Minister said about sheltered accommodation. He said clearly that sheltered accommodation will not be affected. He talked about local authorities which may have transformed some old people's dwellings into a type of sheltered accommodation in the interests of that locality and the circumstances of the neighbourhood. The Minister implied that some authorities were pulling a fast one and would be dealt with by an amendment tabled in another place. Once again, the House of Commons will not have the opportunity to examine the proposal.

5.15 pm

I hope that the Minister does not become upset when I say that that underlines once again the Government's dictatorial nature. Local authorities will not be able to determine what is in the interests of local people. If they do so the Government will move against them. That is wholly in line with their policies on rate capping, reducing the rate support grant and bringing local authorities to heel. This is the beginning of the end of local democracy as it has been known for hundreds of years, and for which we have had to fight so hard. I hope that the House will take notice of what the Minister said and take it into consideration when we vote on the clause.

The Government once again are extending the right to buy. As the Minister said, under the Housing Act 1980 exemptions were allowed. Paragraph 5 of schedule 1 spells that out. The Minister was right to say that the paragraph was inserted after lengthy debate and because of opinion in another place. If the Government cannot get their way on one occasion they bring an issue forward on another hoping that both Houses will not be so vigilant. I hope that the House of Lords is vigilant and that the Government will be soundly defeated on the clause.

We were far from happy that the arrangements under paragraph 5 worked to prevent the sale of elderly persons' dwellings. Towards the end of 1982 the Association of Metropolitan Authorities conducted a survey of members and found, as the Minister said, that of 305 exemptions applied for, only 15 were granted, 235 were rejected and the rest were awaiting decision. The rejection rate was 93 per cent.

The problem for local authorities was that the Secretary of State would not grant an exemption if a dwelling had been allocated to a non-aged person at some point in the distant past and, for example, if an allocation had been made to a disabled person not of pensionable age. We hoped that there would be a tightening up on exemptions, but the Government are opening up the right to buy on all aged persons' dwellings except those in sheltered housing schemes. That is a frightening development.

Replying to questions this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), the Minister said that there was no danger that the building stock would be diminished. That is an absurd statement because the local authority stock would be diminished. Everyone who knows anything about local authority housing, especially in the urban areas, is aware that the lack of aged persons' homes is one of the real problems. There is a need for more bungalows to be built or adapted, and for more ground floor flats. To remove only one of those homes from the stock adds to the Burden, because Government policy: is ensuring that the number of buildings being built by local authorities is going down and down. It is quite wrong for the Government to say that the stock will in no way be affected.

Even though present exemption arrangements have not worked in favour of the local authorities, it has to be said that most local authority tenants have understood that their aged person's dwellings are not available to be bought. Most tenants have therefore not applied to purchase and have not pressed their case with the Secretary of State. There has been what one could call an administrative deterrent. If that deterrent is removed, as is proposed in the clause, the floodgates could be opened for applications.

The sons, daughters or grandchildren could move in. The house would be bought at a discount, but the children or grandchildren would be the real purchasers. It is inie that they could not simply take over the dwelling if the old people died, because of the 21-year rule, but the dwelling would then be bought by the local authority at the market price. Somebody, somewhere, could do well out of that. We must take that into consideration.

This is a very bad provision. We intend to oppose the clause, and we hope that, having listened to all the reasons given by myself and my hon. Friends, other hon. Members will oppose it too. We agree that this is a matter of great importance. The clause should be discussed at greater length than some of the other clauses. It involves an extension of the right to buy. It underlines the dogmatic attitude of the Government. Instead of devising policies that would solve the housing problem and ensure that within a number of years all our people would have decent homes at reasonable rents, or would be able to buy at reasonable prices, the Government have adopted the dogmatic attitude which is evident in their approach to the whole concept of the right to buy.

I hope that a number of Government Members will not hesitate to join us in the Lobby. I may be speaking to deaf ears, but it would be nice if, now and again, some Conservative Members could see the realities of such legislation and would assist the Opposition in trying to rectify the wrongs done by the Government.

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Milton Keynes

As the Minister will appreciate, this is a new clause of immense complexity, but I hope that, taking into account the rights of preemption, the 21-year period and so on, he will be able to answer my question. Could we ever find young people living in accommodation expressly built for the elderly? I understand that, if certain circumstances arose, this would happen. My hon. Friend will remember that when this was discussed in another place, the point that caused the greatest anxiety was that in certain circumstances we would lose accommodation designed and built expressly for the elderly. That might not matter much in the large conurbations—although it would matter to some extent —but it would be intensely relevant in small rural areas where the number of such dwellings is very small.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Until I read new clause 13 I had no intention of attempting to speak in this debate. Having read that clause, I can only believe that the Government have flipped their lid. What they are doing will throw open the floodgates. An answer that I received in Question Time today has strengthened my belief that even the Minister for Housing and Construction is not quite certain what the consequences of the new clause will be. He referred me to the pre-emption point, but my case was that, even if the local authorities did not wish to buy them back, these properties would still appear on the open market at the market value. The clause will open the floodgates. I am bearing in mind the Minister's earlier statement that previously there had been problems and hold-ups in connection with the sale of bungalows.

Most of the people in my area who live in accommodation for the aged are of a great age. They are in their 80s or older. Under the clause, younger members of the family — daughters, sons or granddaughters —could purchase old people's dwellings on behalf of their parents or grandparents. If, in the course of time, the old people die, within a short period the younger members of the family will be in possession of the dwelling.

I have carried out a little exercise in my constituency, where there are about 3,000 such dwellings. I believe that there may well be a great many applications from younger people to buy on behalf of the aged. If the figure is 50 per cent., I reckon that the local authority will lose £30 million of its assets, and will be giving away £18 million to younger people who have been able to manipulate the legislation in the way that I have just described. If the young people hold on to the dwelling for five years they will get a rake-off of £12,000, or the difference between market value and 40 per cent. of the market value, and so it would go on down the scale.

It is possible that within a matter of months a person who bought a house for his or her parents or grandparents could cash in to the tune of £2,500 in the event of the older person's death. We shall finish up with old people's accommodation, which local authorities have strived for many years to provide, being taken out of the local authority pool. There might be cases of young people living in such accommodation. In my area we have some two-bedroom accommodation which would be quite suitable for young or middle-aged couples. We shall find ourselves short of bungalows for aged people who remain on the waiting list for accommodation.

5.30 pm

If a younger member of a family wants to sell back to the local authority a property that he has bought the local authority will then be obliged to sell it to an old person who has completed the qualifying years in a council house and, again, younger members of that person's family might benefit from the 60 per cent. discount. That is barmy. I do not know how much thought has been put into new clause 13. I do not believe that the Minister, or whoever is responsible for it, has considered the consequences. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said, I hope that we shall be able to encourage the Government to withdraw it.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West

In the light of the Minister's response to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon), I should like to know whether, under existing law, premises that are constructed principally for elderly people can be inherited by young relatives. They can do so as successor tenants, so surely the point that we should be asking is whether they should do so as tenants or as owner-occupiers. Is not what is proposed an improvement in that we shall now be certain to regain possession under the right to repurchase?

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

I oppose new clause 13. In Committee, I expressed anxiety about its effects on communities in which there is a shortage of accommodation for the elderly. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) foresaw new clause 13 having a dramatic effect on accommodation for the elderly in his constituency. I can say with hand on heart that there is a shortage of such accommodation in all parts of my constituency. Moreover, provisions such as those in new clause 13 will not improve matters. Indeed, I can envisage a deterioration in the amount of accommodation for elderly people. The elderly tend to want rented accommodation. If we remove from the rented sector the accommodation that is suitable for aged people, as is proposed. the shortage will be even worse.

The Government are reducing the allocation under the housing investment programme this year. When the Minister moved new clause 12 he assured the House that there would be a slight increase in the Government's contribution to housing investment in the coming year. I have a document which has been supplied by the Department. It says that the gross provision for 1983–84 will be slightly bigger—about £70,000 more—but that the amount available for distribution is reduced because the Government are providing for locally applied capital receipts. Nevertheless, the Government are providing less money in 1983–84 than in 1982–83. In view of the Minister's earlier reply, I hope that he will explain his suggestion that more money will be available under the HIP allocation for next year.

If we are to reduce the quantity of accommodation that is available to the elderly and there is to be a reduction in the amount of money that is available to replace such accommodation, there will be a tremendous shortfall in accommodation for the elderly throughout the country. If the Minister assures us that more allocation will be available, I should like him to explain the meaning behind the circular.

There has been another reduction in allocation to the Yorkshire and Humberside region. Requests made by local authorities there should be re-examined. The Minister said that sheltered accommodation will be exempt from the right-to-buy provision. There are bungalows that have been purpose-built to accommodate the elderly. How will it be possible to discriminate between one lot of purpose-built accommodation and another, which will be available for purchase? The Government are being hypocritical and they should rethink new clause 13 because of the effect that it will have on communities and the waiting list for aged people's accommodation. Every week I and local councillors receive representations about the effect of the shortage of aged people's accommodation.

Photo of Mr Paul Hawkins Mr Paul Hawkins , South West Norfolk

I do not feel able to support or oppose new clause 13 because I do not understand it. It is a jungle. Unfortunately, that is what happens in these complicated matters when drafting must be done.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon), I represent a rural constituency that puts tremendous demands on special accommodation for old people. Many of our local councils have spent many years trying to provide such accommodation. They believe that, as a result of new clause 13, we shall lose some—even if only a little — of the special accommodation for elderly people. That is the argument to which I should like the Minister to reply. If what I have said is true, our councils will be discouraged from building more special accommodation.

Norfolk probably has one of the oldest populations in the country. Many people from north London, Essex and elsewhere have retired there because building land used to be considerably cheaper there than anywhere else. There has been much building of special accommodation for elderly people.

I do not fully understand the 21-year consideration. Nevertheless, 65 plus 21 is only 86 and that is not old for many people in Norfolk. Indeed, if hon. Members want to live for a long time they should live on the north Norfolk coast. Will my hon. Friend the Minister explain in simple language whether new clause 13 will mean that we lose accommodation for elderly people? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I want to be assured by the Minister, not by the Opposition. We all understand things perfectly when we are in opposition.

I do not understand the clause and I hope that my right hon. Friend will make it clear. I shall not feel inclined to vote for it if it means that we are to lose accommodation for the elderly.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

I intervene briefly to direct attention yet again to Government amendments Nos. 106, 107, 81 and 82. I gave the Minister a little notice of my previous intervention seeking to elicit from him the extent to which arrangements in the national parks will be changed. The tenor of his reply was that there would be no change. I am informed by the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen, however, that the pre-emptive rights arrangements under the 1980 Act will be tightened up. I hope that the Minister will clarify that.

I have been greatly concerned about the implications of section 17 of the 1980 Act and its effect on housing arrangements in the national parks. The Minister will see from the Official Report of the proceedings on the 1980 legislation that I intervened periodically to express my dismay at the arrangements being made and suggested that the Government did not understand the pressures on public housing in the national parks. The result was some minor amendments to the arrangements for elderly persons' accommodations throughout the country. The present Bill will dismantle some of those arrangements.

My objection to section 17 of the 1980 Act was not based on dogma. I have supported the right to buy in principle and I openly advocate it in my constituency. Today I restate my reservations about the arrangements in the national parks. I believe that the Government have a duty periodically to review those arrangements. At present, council tenants have to meet certain conditions. They must have worked or lived in the national park for at least three years. Despite those conditions, however, some of the housing stock has been lost and there is great concern about that.

In relation to the conditions laid down by section 17 of the 1980 Act, it is worth drawing attention to parallel provisions in planning law under section 52. A press statement from the Department last week, however, suggested that those arrangements were to be terminated. Given the importance attached to those arrangements by the Lake District planning board as the only means of restricting the development and growth of second home ownership in the national park, it is incumbent on the Government to introduce or to help us to identify a further mechanism for restricting that growth. Perhaps the Minister will devote a few words to that aspect of legislation as it causes great concern to the Lake District planning board which finds itself empty-handed and unable to deal with a growing problem.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:45 pm, 21st December 1983

I join the chorus of hon. Members seeking to persuade the Minister to change his mind. The new clause represents a change in the position adopted by the Government in 1980. It thus requires persuasive arguments to convince those who listen to logic, given that in a comprehensive review only three years ago, in which this matter was no doubt considered, the Government did not see fit to introduce such a proposal.

The Minister must give us information of the kind that we sought in the Standing Committee about property built or adapted for the disabled. At any given time, there is a substantial demand for such accommodation. As Conservative Members have made clear, the demand in rural constituencies is no less than that in urban areas and the proportion of properties built for a specific use is often higher. The Minister must persuade the House that demand does not exceed supply. Given the Government cuts in funding for local authority housing—there are greater cuts in that area of local authority finance than in any other—the only new building that many authorities can afford to undertake is specially designed for the disabled or the elderly. That is certainly more or less all that an authority such as mine will be able to achieve in the next year or so.

The Minister proposes to get rid of a scheme which I accept may have caused a disproportionate amount of work for the Department, but it will be replaced by a scheme which will effectively remove from the public housing stock property specially built or adapted for people of pensionable age. The arguments adduced by the Minister do not support his case, for the following reasons. Clearly, few old people will apply to buy property. If they could afford to do so, they would have done so earlier in their lives when they were earning. People do not suddenly fall upon gold mines at the age of 70. Indeed, if they have any money they are usually trying to give it away. The likelihood of a large number of such applications to the Department is therefore extremely small. When the Minister argues that some authorities did not apply at all, he begs the question of how well publicised the provisions were. We have not been told the results of any investigation.

Above all, the Minister gave no figures for the size of rural and urban authorities' waiting lists for property which exists or is known to be required for people of pensionable age. Like many other Members representing urban areas, I am approached weekly by constituents who wish to retire to rural areas on the south coast, in Norfolk or wherever. The housing authorities in those areas regularly write back to me saying that they do not have enough property for their own people with specific needs, let alone for those nominated under a mobility scheme by another authority.

The Liberal party is also concerned about the change in wording of the definition section. In paragraph 5 of schedule 1 there has been a change in the wording of the definition which allows specific categories to be exempted if a notice is served. The Minister gave no explanation or justification for that change. He did not say whether the categories would be larger or smaller as a result and whether they would involve tens, hundreds or thousands.

We are dealing with the right to buy a small number of extremely valuable local authority properties which are especially useful and convenient for old people without the local authority being able to recoup the funds needed to replace such properties. The local authority will lose out because of inflation and the relative increase in property values in the time between the first build and the build that replaced it. Despite the qualification of the discount proposed in the clause, no matter which party runs the local authority, it will be a considerable net loser in funding such property. The elderly population is growing, as is the demand for such property.

It is not good enough for the Minister to come to the House without an argument to support his case for a clause which we saw for the first time two days ago, and which affects hundreds of thousands of people. We await the Government's reconsideration so that they can persuade hon. Members on both sides of the House that the case has some merit, because we see no merit in it now.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

Although I support the drift of the argument of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), one of his remarks was quite wrong. The Government have not changed their position since 1980. The proposal to force the sale of elderly people's dwellings and bungalows was included in the 1980 Bill, was debated at length in Committee and on the Floor of the House, was opposed by the Opposition and some Conservative Members — especially those representing rural areas—and was defeated in the other place when the House of Lords voted five times in one night against the Bill. The next day the roof fell in, and it is still being fixed. The shock was too much and the Government should not repeat the exercise.

The Government did not publish the clause in the Bill, or introduce it at the beginning of our deliberations in Committee. They introduced it at the last minute. They hope that those members of the Conservative party who organised the campaign against the Bill in the other place in 1980 will not have time to do so again and will not realise what is happening.

Hon. Members who asked in 1980 whether the clause would deplete the stock of elderly people's dwellings received answers similar to those that we heard today. Everyone knew what it would mean, which was why its inclusion in the Bill was defeated. But now the Government are pulling a flanker.

By introducing the clause, the Government are attacking the most needy in the community. Elderly people's bungalows to let are like gold. The elderly queue up at advice bureaus and local housing departments to ask for transfers from three or four-bedroom accommodation, which they under-occupy, to such bungalows. By selling the dwellings, the Government are penalising the elderly who want access to such accommodation, and are making sure that the under-occupied three or four-bedroom houses are not released and let to families on waiting lists.

As my right hon. and hon. Friends said, the people who will purchase the dwellings will not be the elderly residents, but the younger members of their families. The younger people will not need to buy the dwelling from the elderly resident or inherit it when he dies because under the 1980 Act up to three members of the tenant's family can join him to purchase it. The 1980 Act defined a family for the purpose of the legislation. It stated: A person is a member of another's family within the meaning of this Chapter if he is his spouse, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece; treating—

  1. (a) any relationship by marriage as a relationship by blood, any relationship of the half blood as a relationship of the whole blood and the stepchild of any person as his child; and
  2. (b) an illegitimate person as the legitimate child of his mother and reputed father;
or if they live together as husband and wife. All that has been missed out are the budgie and the goldfish. We should send that list to the Home Secretary and have it enshrined in the immigration legislation.

The provision is economic madness, because all those elderly people will have lived in council accommodation for a long time and will be entitled to 60 per cent. discounts. It would cost less to provide rent-free occupation of council dwellings to all elderly and retired people for the rest of their lives, and it would keep the accommodation within the local authority's stock. The Labour party should adopt the latter idea as its policy, because it would be cheaper than the present system of paying discounts and administering them. Owner-occupiers enjoy the benefit of income tax relief on their mortgages, and with this idea they could also enjoy in their old age mortgage-free occupation of their subsidised or formerly subsidised owner-occupied dwellings. It would be much cheaper than the present proposal, which is a direct attack on the needy elderly who wish to rent such accommodation when it becomes available for reletting.

The clause is typical of the Government's mean-mindedness and their doctrinaire attitude to the public rented sector. It comes on top of the legislation to force local authorities to sell dwellings specially adapted for the disabled. Even those who are in favour, in principle, of the right to buy and the enforced sale of council houses will oppose this mean act of forcing the sale of elderly people's dwellings and of accommodation adapted for the disabled. I hope that the whole House will tell the Government that this is not on. If the House does not do it tonight, I am confident that the other place will respond in the way that it did previously, and send the Government packing.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

It is important to understand that when the Government conferred the right to buy in the 1980 Act a special factor applied to houses and flats that were modified for the elderly. We always recognised that, and we incorporated it in this Bill. The proposed changes are relatively minor. I have already mentioned the figures of applications made for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's determination. There are about 250,000 non-sheltered dwellings for the elderly in the public sector ownership in England and Wales, but the number of applications has been low. Since 1980, there have been 2,470 applications; 526 were withdrawn, and in 1,448 cases my right hon. Friend was unable to exclude the dwelling from the right to buy.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

That is the whole point. The spirit of the previous legislation was not observed by the Government. There have been few applictions because the Secretary of State deliberately set his face against exemptions.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

I draw the opposite conclusion. The Government recognise that there is a special problem, which is why they included the special pre-emption provisions in the Bill.

6 pm

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon), it would be possible, after the 21-year period has expired, for a property with minor adaptations for the elderly to be bought by someone who was not an elderly person.

I can tell the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) that total housing provision for next year will be £3,274 million, compared with £3,244 million this year. Therefore, in cash terms, there will be slightly more.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood

To be fair, will the Minister admit that that is because he has taken back 60 per cent. of the proceeds of council house sales instead of 50 per cent?

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

I was asked about the provision for housing and I gave the House the correct figures. I stand by them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) said that he had difficulty in understanding our proposals. I have explained that the existing arrangements have been difficult and costly to administer and have not worked well. We propose to simplify them by providing local authorities that are selling a council house or flat that has been specially adapted for the elderly with the option to impose a special pre-emption clause for 21 years.

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Milton Keynes

Surely the pre-emption applies during the 21-year perod only if the property is offered for sale. It does not apply to transfers and a person could, therefore, leave his house to whoever he wished.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

My hon. Friend is correct. The pre-emption clause apples only on a disposal.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who courteously told me that he had to leave to attend another meeting, asked about the Government's amendment to the provisions affecting national parks. The House's intention in the 1980 Act was that the pre-emption provisions in respect of national parks should affect only the first disposal. There has been some doubt about whether the Act is clear, and the purpose of the amendment is to confirm that the pre-emption provisions apply only to the first disposal.

I understand the strength of feeling expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Government have considered carefully what we ought to do and we have borne in mind that elderly people also have rights. We have concluded that it is right to bring forward these proposals.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 257, Noes 165.

[Division No. 116][6.50 pm
Adley, RobertDouglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Aitken, JonathanDover, Denshore
Alexander, Richarddu Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Amess, DavidDunn, Robert
Ancram, MichaelDurant, Tony
Arnold, TomDykes, Hugh
Ashby, DavidEdwards, Rt Hon N. ('broke)
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Eggar, Tim
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Eyre, Reginald
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Fallon, Michael
Baldry, AnthonyFavell, Anthony
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyFinsberg, Geoffrey
Beggs, RoyFletcher, Alexander
Bellingham, HenryFookes, Miss Janet
Berry, Sir AnthonyForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Best, KeithForth, Eric
Bevan, David GilroyFowler, Rt Hon Norman
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnFox, Marcus
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterFraser, Peter (Angus East)
Body, RichardFreeman, Roger
Bonsor, Sir NicholasFry, Peter
Boscawen, Hon RobertGale, Roger
Bottomley, PeterGalley, Roy
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Boyson, Dr RhodesGlyn, Dr Alan
Brandon-Bravo, MartinGoodhart, Sir Philip
Bright, GrahamGow, Ian
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Gower, Sir Raymond
Bruinvels, Peter Grant,Sir Anthony
Bryan, Sir PaulGreenway, Harry
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.Gregory, Conal
Buck, Sir AntonyGriffiths, E. (8'y St Edm'ds)
Budgen, NickGriffiths, Peter (Portsn'th N)
Bulmer, EsmondGround, Patrick
Burt, AlistairGummer, John Selwyr
Butler, Hon AdamHamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Butterfill, JohnHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hampson, Dr Keith
Chalker, Mrs LyndaHanley, Jeremy
Chapman, SydneyHargreaves, Kenneth
Chope, ChristopherHarris, David
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Harvey, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Hawksley, Warren
Clarke Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hayes, J.
Clegg, Sir WalterHayhoe, Barney
Cockeram, EricHayward, Robert
Colvin, MichaelHeathcoat-Amory, David
Conway, DerekHeddle, John
Coombs, SimonHenderson, Barry
Cope, JohnHickmet, Richard
Couchman, JamesHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Critchley, JulianHirst, Michael
Crouch, DavidHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'thrrit)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaHolland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Dicks, T.Holt, Richard
Dorrell, StephenHooson, Tom
Hordern, PeterRossi, Sir Hugh
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Ryder, Richard
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)Sackville, Hon Thomas
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)Sayeed, Jonathan
Hubbard-Miles, PeterShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Hunt, David (Wirral)Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Hunter, AndrewShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Jessel, TobyShersby, Michael
Johnson-Smith, Sir GeoffreySilvester, Fred
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Sims, Roger
Jones, Robert (W Herts)Skeet, T. H. H.
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineSoames, Hon Nicholas
Key, RobertSpeed, Keith
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Spencer, D.
Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Lamont, NormanSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lawler, GeoffreySquire, Robin
Lawrence, IvanStanbrook, Ivor
Lee, John (Pendle)Steen, Anthony
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Stern, Michael
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkStevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Lester, JimStevens, Martin (Fulham)
Lightbown, DavidStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lilley, PeterStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant)Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Lyell, NicholasStokes, John
McCurley, Mrs AnnaStradling Thomas, J.
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Sumberg, David
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Taylor, Rt Hon John David
Maclean, David John.Taylor, John (Solihull)
Macmillan. Rt Hon M.Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
McQuarrie, AlbertTemple-Morris, Peter
Maginnis, KenTerlezki, Stefan
Malins, HumfreyThomas, At Hon Peter
Mates, MichaelThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Miller, Hal (B'grove)Thorne, Neil (IIford S)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesThornton, Malcolm
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)Thurnham, Peter
Moynihan, Hon C.Tracey, Richard
Murphy, ChristopherTrippier, David
Neale, GerrardTwinn, Dr Ian
Needham, Richardvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Neubert, MichaelVaughan, Dr Gerard
Newton, TonyViggers, Peter
Normanton, TomWaddington, David
Onslow, CranleyWaldegrave, Hon William
Oppenheim, PhilipWalden, George
Page, John (Harrow W)Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Parris, MatthewWaller, Gary
Patten, Christopher (Bath)Ward, John
Patten, John (Oxford)Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Pawsey, JamesWarren, Kenneth
Pollock, AlexanderWatson, John
Porter, BarryWatts, John
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Powley, JohnWheeler, John
Proctor, K. HarveyWhitfield, John
Pym, Rt Hon FrancisWhitney, Raymond
Raffan, KeithWolfson, Mark
Renton, TimWood, Timothy
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonWoodcock, Michael
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Ridsdale, Sir JulianYounger, Rt Hon George
Rifkind, Malcolm
Rippon, Rt Hon GeoffreyTellers for the Ayes:
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Roe, Mrs MarionMr. John Major.
Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Atkinson, N.(Tottenham)
Alton, DavidBarnett, Guy
Anderson, DonaldBarron, Kevin
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBeith, A. J.
Ashdown, PaddyBell, Stuart
Ashton,JoeBennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)
Benyon, WilliamKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Bidwell, SydneyKirkwood, Archibald
Blair, AnthonyLamond, James
Boyes, RolandLeadbitter, Ted
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Leighton. Ronald
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Bruce, MalcolmLitherland, Robert
Caborn, RichardLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Campbell-Savours, DaleLoyden, Edward
Carter-Jones, LewisMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Clarke, ThomasMcKelvey, William
Clay, RobertMcNamara, Kevin
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)McTaggart, Robert
Cohen, HarryMcWilliam, John
Coleman, DonaldMadden, Max
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Marek, Dr John
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)Martin, Michael
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Corbett, RobinMaxton, John
Corbyn, JeremyMaynard, Miss Joan
Cowans, HarryMeacher, Michael
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Meadowcroft, Michael
Craigen, J. M.Michie, William
Crowther, StanMikardo, Ian
Cunningham, Dr JohnMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dalyell, TamMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'Ili)Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'I)Nellist, David
Deakins, EricO'Brien, William
Dewar, DonaldO'Neill, Martin
Dixon, DonaldOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Dobson, FrankOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Dormand, JackPark, George
Douglas, DickPavitt, Laurie
Duffy, A. E. P.Pike, Peter
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Eadie, AlexPrescott. John
Eastham, KenRadice, Giles
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n SE)Randall, Stuart
Evans, loan (Cynon Valley)Redmond, M.
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Fatchett, DerekRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Faulds, AndrewRobertson, George
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Rogers, Allan
Fisher, MarkRoss, Ernest (Dundee W)
Flannery, MartinRowlands, Ted
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelSedgemore, Brian
Foster, DerekSheerman, Barry
Foulkes, GeorgeSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Fraser, J. (Norwood)Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
George, BruceSilkin, Rt Hon J.
Godman, Dr NormanSkinner, Dennis
Gould, BryanSmith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Hardy, PeterSoley, Clive
Harman, Ms HarrietSpearing, Nigel
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterSteel, Rt Hon David
Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithStrang, Gavin
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyStraw, Jack
Haynes, FrankThomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Heffer, Eric S.Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Tinn, James
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)Torney, Tom
Home Robertson, JohnWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hoyle, DouglasWareing, Robert
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Wigley, Dafydd
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Williams, Rt Hon A.
Hughes, Roy (Newport East)Winnick, David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Woodall, Alec
John, BrynmorYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Johnston, Russell
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Tellers for the Noes:
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldMr. James Hamilton and
Kennedy, CharlesMr. Lawrence Cunliffe.
Kilroy-Silk, Robert

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.