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Lord Monkswell: I am rather curious about the Minister's explanation that after three years the interest has been paid. I may have misheard him, but it seems a curious view to take of the situation. I can understand the argument that to prevent a trade in housing and people benefiting from that trade, the point at which they can reasonably put the house on the market is delayed.

It is a penalty in the sense that one has to pay something extra for doing what would otherwise be one's own unfettered right to do. Surely, if the

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Government believe in the market place, they would see nothing wrong in people making an arrangement with a third party to buy something and then sell it on. I should have thought that that was exactly what happens every day on the Stock Exchange. In happens every day in market places and in shops. Surely the Government are not saying that this is a bad thing to happen in the market place.

We have probably chased this argument round enough. I shall not press my opposition to the clause standing part of the Bill.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [Priority of charge for repayment of discount]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 56:

Page 7, line 24, leave out ("in writing").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 57, 138 and 142. The effect of these amendments is to correct a minor drafting error in Clauses 12, 40 and 41. Each of the clauses requires a notice to be in writing, but it is not necessary to specify that as Clause 62 gives the definition of "notice" as being in writing. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 57:

Page 7, line 28, leave out ("written").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 58:

Page 7, line 40, leave out ("purports to authorise") and insert ("authorises").

The noble Lord said: As the Bill stands, Clause 12(4) states:

    "in so far as it purports to authorise".
The amendment would delete the words "purports to authorise" and replace them with the word "authorises". I am puzzled as to why the subsection says "purports to authorise". I have looked up the word "purports" in the Concise Oxford Dictionary. It says that "purports" means "be intended to seem" or "the ostensible meaning". Although this may seem a little circular, the word "ostensible" means "professed for show" and so on. It seems to me that if someone purports to authorise, the person is not actually authorising. He is giving the impression of authorising. I do not see how that can be void. Surely the only thing that could be void is the full authorisation. I do not see the force of this provision. It would be much clearer if the subsection stated,

    "is void in so far as it authorises",
rather than it is void if someone may seem to have authorised. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Lucas: The problem is that if the agreement authorises a forfeiture, it does not purport to authorise the forfeiture and is therefore not void. It is only void if it purports to authorise the forfeiture without authorising it and therefore it is of no effect anyway. As the noble

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Lord said, it is a question of circularity. Which comes first: the chicken or the egg? One way or another, this is a confusing set of words which may not achieve what it sets out to achieve. We all understand, having read the clause, what it means to achieve and we are uncertain as to whether the particular wording chosen actually achieves that. We shall look at it again and return to it in one form or another at Report.

Lord Dubs: I thank the Minister for agreeing to look at the subsection again. As I listened to his explanation, I became even more confused than I was to begin with. Therefore, I am grateful that he is going to have another look at it to see whether we can get it into a form of English which means what it is intended to mean. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 12, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Monkswell: One of my concerns about Clause 12 relates to subsection (4) which the Government have now accepted is in need of rewording. I shall maintain my opposition to Clause 12 if only to enable any other Member of the Committee who had intended to speak on this point to do so. Failing that, I shall not pursue my objection to Clause 12 stand part.

Clause 12, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 13 to 15 agreed to.

Clause 16 [Right of tenant to acquire dwelling]:

Lord Monkswell moved Amendment No. 59:

Page 10, line 30, leave out from beginning to ("sector") in line 31.

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment to ask the Government why there should be certain restrictions on the right to buy. It has been accepted now for a good many years that council tenants should have the right to buy. It has been accepted, although there is still some tidying up to do, that leaseholders--private tenants--should have the right to buy. What we are discussing in this clause is the right to buy for people living in what one might generically term housing associations.

If there is a general agreement--it is almost a cross-party agreement--that the right to buy is a good thing, why should that right to buy which is so widely accepted be restricted? Why should some people have the right to buy and others not have the right to buy? The intention of the amendment I am moving is to take out of Clause 16 those provisions which seek to restrict the right of people to buy. I am interested in the Government's response to this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps, if only for my benefit, but I suspect also for the benefit of the rest of the Committee, I can be clear that the noble Lord is moving only Amendment No. 59 at this stage, that he has unbundled Amendments Nos. 70 and 81 and that we shall come to them in their turn. He is simply asking--I do not know if "simple" is quite the right word--that Clause 16(1)(b) be deleted from the Bill.

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The noble Lord gave us a fairly eloquent account of his views on the right-to-buy at Second Reading. I hope that I am not paraphrasing him wrongly, but essentially he feels that the system is unfair. He is in favour of tenants being able to buy their homes. He recognises the benefits this has brought to communities in breaking up huge monolithic estates and creating mixed and responsible communities. But he does not want to see public money used to support this policy. If tenants want to buy, he told the House, they should pay the full market price. In the interests of fairness, he would also like to see all tenants, even those with private landlords, given the right to buy their homes. This amendment and the others which have been unbundled, and his opposition to Clauses Nos. 20 and 21, are all in pursuit of what I hope I have fairly described as "his position".

As regards this particular amendment and the removal of paragraph (b), that is a condition that in order to qualify for the new scheme the property shall have been provided with public money. Where a property has been provided with private donations--for example, by a charitable foundation--the landlord can participate in the voluntary purchase grant scheme and sell to the tenant, if he chooses. But I do not believe, and I suspect that not many of the charitable foundations will believe, that it is right that we should compel a landlord to sell where absolutely no public funding has been given. That would be unfair. There would be some reasonable voices raised in complaint if I came forward with that proposition. Perhaps there may be opposition from the Bench of Bishops because all the Churches are involved in housing of various kinds across the country where they have provided the land and the money either themselves or with other institutions and without the use of any public money.

I do not believe that it would be right for Parliament to legislate in order to compel those landlords to sell to their tenants. As I say, they can do so voluntarily if they wish, but I do not believe that it would be right to compel landlords in these circumstances to join in this particular scheme. With that explanation of the Government's firmly held position, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Monkswell: I am curious about the way in which the Minister has articulated the Government's opposition. He has suggested that it would be forcing private or charity landlords to sell their properties. But that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about conferring on others the same rights that apply to some of our citizens. It seems to me that that is rather different from the way in which the Government describe the position. They describe it as forcing people to sell. But that is not what I understand to be the purpose of this legislation. If that is the Government's intention with this Housing Bill and they are forcing social landlords to sell their properties, I suspect that that is not the way most people will view this particular section of the Bill. I am rather disturbed that the Government should use that language.

I return to my original argument. Why should some tenants, citizens of our fair country, not have the same rights as other tenants? I can see that there are certain

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fairly good reasons for some tenanted properties being considered differently from others. We shall consider the situation in rural areas and small communities later. I suspect that there may be other exceptions that could be made for very good social reasons. However, to suggest that a blanket denial of the rights of tenants to buy the house in which they live should be required in this situation is wrong.

Furthermore, why is there such a distinction between public money and private money? We shall consider that point in later debates, but I raise this point now: what is the situation where a house is procured or built with a combination of public and private money, and perhaps with charitable money also? The Government have not explained how we shall tease out such problems. I should be interested to hear any comment from the Government about the way in which they have described their opposition to my amendment as forcing people to sell rather than as giving tenants a right to buy their property.

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