Skip to main content

Recovery Of Certified Amounts

Volume 897: debated on Monday 4 August 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Lords amendment: No. 2, in page 2, line 34, leave out from "at" to end of line 35 and insert "the appropriate rate".

9.15 p.m.

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

With this amendment we are to take Lords amendment No. 3.

These amendments were made to correct a practical difficulty over the commencement of the recovery period. It was pointed out to us by the Association of District Councils that if a rent loss certificate became effective late in a financial year, it would be difficult to collect the required amount during the ensuing year. Four weeks' notice is required for rent increases, many of which are made in April, and rates are also fixed some time before the commencement of the financial year.

Although it would be possible to defer a rent increase or levy a supplementary rate, these courses would be most unwelcome to local authorities.

Accordingly the amendments lift the requirements to collect one-fifth of the certified loss in the first recovery year in cases where a rent loss certificate becomes effective in February or March. The amendments do not, on the other hand, affect the requirement that the whole amount should normally be recovered within a total of five years.

We are grateful to the Association of District Councils, which drew this defect in the Bill to our attention.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 4, page 2, in line 39, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

"( ) A council shall perform their duty under this section by a general increase of the rents of those of their housing revenue account dwellings in the part or parts of their area to which the certificate relates; and a council may make any such increase notwithstanding section 111 of the Housing Act 1957 (charges for local authority's houses)."

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

The effect of this amendment would be to restrict the freedom of local authorities to recoup the amount of a rent loss certificate by means of a rent increase over the whole of their areas if they so wish.

We have said on many occasions that it is the responsibility of the local authorities to recover this money locally. We have absolute confidence that they will do so by the method most appropriate for their own area. Only the local authorities can consider all the circumstances prevailing within their areas.

Opposition Members seem continually to forget that local authorities are elected democratically. They represent all their constituents and are well aware that their decisions have electoral consequences.

In our view, decisions affecting local people must, as far as possible, be made locally, and this Bill is essentially about local matters. That is why we have drafted it to give local authorities as much choice as possible.

The Opposition may talk a great deal about their respect for local government, but the amendment illustrates the shallowness of much of what the Opposition say. To vote for the amendment would be to vote against the responsibility and freedom of local authorities to settle their own problems in the way most appropriate for their own areas. I must therefore ask the House to vote against this amendment.

The arguments of the Under-Secretary of State on this clause are rather pathetic. The effect of the amendment is to confine the burden which might fall on rent payers of making up the moneys not collected by the offending councils in the new enlarged authorities to those in the areas which benefited from non-implementation.

To take the familiar example of Clay Cross and North-East Derbyshire, we believe that, if the full burden is to fall on rent payers, it should only be on those rent payers who benefited from the failure to implement the Housing Finance Act.

It is nonsensical to present our point of view and that of their Lordships as an attempt to restrict the freedom of local authorities. The point is a very simple one, and I put this to Labour Members as to anyone else. Why on earth should council tenants, in the areas which derived no benefit, be liable, if their council so wishes, to bear this particular burden?

The Government have throughout our proceedings totally failed to meet this case. They failed to do so in Committee and on Report, and the Under-Secretary of State has failed to do so again tonight.

The essential fact of the matter is this. The Secretary of State said in his statement on 6th November 1974 that the aim was to recover money from non-implementation from communities which benefited from later implementation. In other words, the Secretary of State said that the burden now is to fall on those communities which benefited.

I cannot see by any stretch of the imagination how it can be argued that the citizens of North-East Derbyshire, for example, outside the Clay Cross area, benefited in any way from the failure to implement the Housing Finance Act. How can it possibly be the case that those in the areas which at that time were in quite different local authorities can be said to have benefited from this particular failure?

It really is the most blatant nonsense, and makes mockery, apart from anything else, of the Labour Party's claim to have the interests of council tenants at heart, and I ask the House to support the Lords amendment.

It is very strange that the Under-Secretary of State should produce this rather worn piece of paper which Departments seem to put into those red files whenever there is something for which they need to find a tawdry argument.

The Under-Secretary says that this interferes with the freedom of local authorities. We have seen it used before. We have noticed how it is kept on one side and is not brought out when the Government are in a difficult position. We have seen it used by different Governments and left aside by different Governments, but its bearing on the question is negligible, as the Under-Secretary knows well.

It was people in Clay Cross who benefited from the actions which were taken, and who were the occasion for all this, and it is they who must surely bear the burden when there is a burden to be borne. The wider community of which Clay Cross is now part did not elect the Clay Cross council, and none of the defences put forward applies to the wider area of which Clay Cross is now part. It did not benefit from any of the decisions taken by the Clay Cross council. There is no reason why the costs should be visited upon the ratepayers of that wider area. Nor is there any reason why this House should allow them to.

The Secretary of State has made several references to wiping the slate clean. Many of us doubt whether a piece of legislation of this kind could do that and would not have consequences extending far beyond our discussions today. But it will be much more difficult to wipe the slate clean if we visit upon other areas the consequences of what was done in the smaller Clay Cross area. How can we tell the ratepayers of the other parts of North-East Derbyshire that by footing the bill they will be helping to wipe the slate clean and to rid our history books of this unfortunate episode? How can we tell the ratepayers that they must foot the bill because it is the law of the land and these matters must be respected? The context of this legislation makes it more difficult to advance that argument. We shall try to do so, but we are undermined in doing so by legislation of which this is part. The notion that the slate can be wiped clean by asking other people to pay the bill is absurd.

The whole job must be done by Parliament. Parliament must make it clear that, rather than the ratepayers of the whole Derbyshire district, it is the rent payers who benefited who must foot the bill. Responsibility must be kept where it belongs—first with the councillors responsible and then with those who benefited directly from their actions. Without this amendment, I do not see how that can be done.

The concept of wiping the slate clean will now be seen by the wider population to mean wiping it clean on behalf of the Labour Party, despite the great suffering it will create for a large number of ratepayers and others in the area who were not affected by the decision taken by the Clay Cross councillors.

That is not the only example of "double think" which this amendment brings to mind. Time and time again we have heard Labour spokesmen say that there is great outrage and bitterness in the country that this terrible thing should be visited upon the Clay Cross councillors, who are as white as driven snow, and the 400 other councillors who have deliberately refused to obey the law. But the outrage and bitterness is not all on one side, and Government supporters would be deluding themselves if they thought that they had a monopoly of the ill-feeling that this legislation has engendered.

There will be much bitterness and outrage in those parts of the country which will have to pay for the mismanagement and deliberately wilful acts of these councillors. So, whether it is because the Government are wiping the slate clean or because they feel that they have a monopoly of outrage and bitterness, the country will see that there is nothing in the arguments of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite who have a purely party political bias which says "Let anyone else suffer, but let us hold the Labour Party together".

It is for that reason that the Opposition, and I hope, some Government supporters, will accept this Lords amendment.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 272, Noes, 263.

[For Division List No. 321 see col. 195]

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 5, in page 3, line 19, after "account of" insert "( a)".

Motion made, and Question, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment—[ Mr. Armstrong]— put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 6, in page 3, line 21, at end insert—

"; and
(b) any sum or sums which the court may order to be paid to that council".

Motion made, and Question, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment—[ Mr. Armstrong]— put and agreed to.