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Applications Served On New Town Development Corporations

Volume 130: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1988

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'Where an application is served under this Part of this Act (Change of Landlord: Secure Tenants) by a local authority on a new town development corporation in the circumstances provided for under section 54(2)(d) above, the provisions of sections 55(5) to (10), 56, 57, 58(1)(b) to (3), 59, 60 and 61 shall not apply and the conditions of sale shall be as directed by the Secretary of State.'.—[Mr. Ingram.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

With this it will be convenient to take the following : New clause 12—Capital expenditure on houses acquired by district councils—

'In so far as a District Council in terms of section 53(1)(b) above acquire houses from a Development Corporation the Secretary of State shall grant an additional amount of capital expenditure consent in the financial year in question, such additional amount to be not less than a sum equivalent to the aggregate amount payable by the District Council to the Development Corporation in respect of houses so acquired by the District Council under the powers conferred on them in terms of this Part of this Act.'.

New clause 13 — Assets of new town development corporation

'Where the Secretary of State for Scotland makes an Order under section 36(1) of the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968 providing for the winding up and dissolution of a New Town Development Corporation—
  • (a) The New Town Development Corporation shall transfer to the Local Authority (being a local authority in whose administrative area the New Town or any part thereof is situated) the following assets:
    • All housing stock owned in whole or part by the New Town Development Corporation together with any property associated therewith or relating thereto (excluding housing held temporarily on land acquired by the development corporation for commercial or industrial development) together also with all rights, liabilities and obligations relating thereto, as defined in Schedule (new town property to be automatically transferred to local authorities) to this Act.'
  • (b) The new town development corporation may transfer to the local authority:
    • housing depots, office accommodation and nurseries and such other property as is defined in Schedule (new town property to be transferred subject to negotiation) to this Act.

    Amendment No. 108, in clause 53, page 30, line 8, after `effect', insert '(a)'.

    Amendment No. 109, in page 30, line 14, at end insert

    ; and
    (b) for the purpose of conferring on a District Council the right to acquire from a Development Corporation any house within the area of that District Council which on the relevant date is occupied by a qualifying tenant.'

    Amendment No. 110, in page 30, line 31, leave out 'this Part of this Act' and insert 'subsection (1)(a) above'.

    Amendment No. 111, in clause 54, page 31, line 39, leave out 'this Part' and insert

    `subsection (1)(a) of section 53'.

    Amendment No. 105, in page 31, line 43, after 'homes' insert

    `and subject to subsection (2)(e) below'.

    Amendment No. 112, in page 31, line 45, at end insert

    'in terms of subsection (1)(a) of section 53.'.

    Amendment No. 106, in page 32, line 7, at end insert—

    '(e) in respect of any house owned by a new town development corporation, shall be deemed to be granted to the local authority, which is the public sector housing authority within whose administrative area the house is situated upon the winding-up and dissolution of the new town development corporation as provided for under section 36(1) of the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968'.

    Amendment No. 107, in page 32, line 8, after '(3)', Insert—

    `With the exception of a deemed approval under subsection (2)(e) above.'.

    Amendment No. 113, in clause 55, page 32, line 11, leave out

    `or, as the case may be, Scottish Homes'

    and insert,

    'Scottish Homes, or, as the case may be, the district council'.

    Amendment No. 114, in page 32, line 30, after 'served', insert `by an approved person.'

    Amendment No. 115, in page 33, line 22, at end insert—

    '(11) Where an application is served under this section by a district council on a development corporation the provisions of subsections (5) to (10) above shall apply subject to the following amendments, namely-(a) the offer to sell notice shall state the lesser of the market value of the house determined in accordance with said provisions on the date of service of the application and determined by the District Valuer and the outstanding debt in the development corporation's accounts in respect of the house; and (b) the offer to sell served under this subsection shall be subject only to such conditions as are accepted to be reasonable by the district council.'.

    Amendment No. 116, in page 33, line 23, after `applicant', insert

    `who is an approved person or as the case may be, Scottish Homes'.

    Amendment No. 117, in page 34, line 1, after `applicant,' insert

    `being an approved person or Scottish Homes as the case may be.'.

    Amendment No. 118, in clause 58, page 34, line 49, at end insert—

    '(4) Where a landlord is a development corporation and the application has been served by a district council the development corporation may not dispute the applicant's right.'.

    Amendment No. 119, in clause 60, page 35, line 20, after 'Homes', insert 'or a district council'.

    Amendment No. 120, new schedule — New town property to he automatically transferred to local authorities

  • '1. Development corporation rented housing (including housing used for other purposes and excluding agricultural properties acquired and held by the Development Corporation on a temporary basis, pending development).
  • 2. Development corporation rented housing developments which are under construction or are undergoing major rehabilitation.
  • 3. Garage and car spaces associated with housing defined in paragraph 1 above.
  • 4. Open space and play areas associated with areas of development corporation housing.
  • 5. Associated roads, accessways and underpasses which are the property of the development corporation and have not been transferred to the roads authority.
  • 6. Television relay systems.
  • 7. Land forming infill sites in areas of housing defined in paragraph 1 above.
  • 8. Land which has been allocated for housing and is awaiting development as part of an existing housing development area.
  • 9. Depots used wholly to serve housing defined in paragraph 1 above.
  • 10. Nurseries used wholly for maintenance of landscape in housing areas.
  • 11. Local housing offices.
  • The following facilities shall be transferred to the local authority where they are situated in local or corner developments in housing areas, as opposed to neighbourhood centres:

  • 12. Meeting halls and clubrooms.
  • 13. Local and corner shops.
  • 14. Garages, car parks and workshops.
  • 15. Public houses and cafes.
  • 16. Surgeries.'.
  • Amendment No. 121, new schedule — New town property to be transferred subject to negotiation—

  • '1. Land zoned for future housing development.
  • 2. Development corporation houses situated within commercial or industrial developments or in areas zoned for future development.
  • 3. Central housing offices.
  • 4. Hotels.
  • 5. depots mainly serving housing.
  • 6. Nurseries mainly for maintenance of landscape in housing areas.
  • 7. Landlords' rights and interests in land leased in housing development areas for miscellaneous purposes.
  • The following properties where they are situated in neighbourhood centres—

  • 8. Meeting halls.
  • 9. Shops.
  • 10. Garages, car parks and workshops.
  • 11. Public houses and cafes.
  • 12. Surgeries.'.
  • There are two purposes behind the new clauses. They are designed to create the circumstances in which tenants may choose, on the dissolution of a new town development corporation, to have a local authority as a landlord. They also attempt to lay down the principles and basis of such a transfer, and they are consistent with the previously agreed position between local housing authorities and the Scottish Office. The Bill, as explained by the Minister in Committee, is a repudiation of previous Government assurances on new towns and destroys many months of work undertaken by Scottish Office officials in consultation with the five district councils within whose boundaries the new towns lie.

    The present law on new town development corporations in Scotland, under section 36 of the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968, provides for the transfer of new town district council housing stock to the relevant local authority. It is on that basis that assumptions have been made and assurances given by Ministers over recent years.

    In July 1982, the Secretary of State made clear his intention to wind up the new town development corporations in Scotland. At that time he said that the rented housing stock owned by those bodies would be transferred to the relevant district councils. In early 1983 a working party was set up to examine the means by which that would be achieved. It comprised Scottish Office officials and representatives of district councils.

    In August 1984 the working party reported. It set out the basis of the transfer on a no-profit, no-loss basis. More than a year's work went into arriving at that conclusion. The Minister took on board the working party's conclusions at the time, and in a ministerial statement confirmed yet again the Government's intention to transfer new town housing stock to local authorities. Therefore, the picture was clear to the 45,000 families who lived in new town corporation housing rented stock. Those families were secure in the knowledge that at some stage they would be transferred to responsible public sector landlords. That is no longer the case. New town tenants face a most uncertain future because of the Bill and the way in which it has been changed by Government amendments in Committee.

    One thing that we shall be able to tell those 45,000 families with certainty is that they have been deliberately misled by a Minister who neither cares nor listens to their views. In Committee the Minister said that new town tenants would be consulted before they were compulsorily transferred to landlords other than district councils. Those 45,000 families know what that means. Views will be ignored, just as the views of the SSHA tenants have been ignored. We have heard more on that tonight from the Minister.

    If the Minister intends to consult those tenants, I should place on record some consultation that has already taken place. That may save the Government time and money. Two councils with new towns within their boundaries have consulted their tenants in recent months in relation to this legislation. Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district council undertook a survey that was published on 29 February 1988. In an 11 per cent. sample of all new town tenants in Cumbernauld, 91·3 per cent. stated that they wished the district council to be one of the landlords from which they could choose on dissolution.

    Cunninghame district council, which is responsible for Irvine new town, took an even larger sample of new town tenants, and achieved an 88 per cent. success rate amongst those tenants, who also stated that they wished the district council to be one of their options on dissolution.

    I am sure that the Minister has been supplied with those findings. I shall be interested to hear what further consultation the Minister intends to offer in the immediate months for new town tenants which is relevant to those conclusions.

    In Committee, the Opposition were accused of being premature in raising the very issues that are before us tonight in these new clauses. I must say that we were neither premature nor wrong in doing so. It is scandalous to treat the 45,000 families who live in new town district council houses in the way that they are being treated in the Bill. They have the right to know now whether they will be allowed the real choice that they clearly want—the district council. They have the right to know whether they will have a secure tenancy, with democratic control over rent levels in the future. Those are the choices on which they want to be consulted. They do not want to be told that the choice is limited and that the district council is no longer an option for them.

    That clear message is coming not from Members of Parliament or district councils representing those areas, but from tenants. The Bill has provoked the tenants in new town areas to form tenants' associations. They are aware that they have a fight on their hands. They are going to fight to retain the very rights that were laid down in previous legislation—rights that they thought Ministers from 1982 onwards were declaring in terms of the choice open to them.

    The Government have said that the new town tenants will have to wait until 1989–90 to find out what is going to happen to them. We have tabled these new clauses to reflect the wishes of each and every family living in a new town development corporation rented house. This provision also represents the views of many people who live in their own property. They want local authority houses and local development corporation houses to be retained for the families which are being brought up in those new towns.

    I am glad of this opportunity to change places with my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), so enabling him to speak from the Opposition Front Bench and me to support the new clause from the Back Benches. At the outset, I wish to place on record, as the representative of a new town, my appreciation of the work that my hon. Friend did in Committee in exploring this issue and exposing the position of the Government.

    It is regrettable that yet again such an important debate is to be answered by the Under-Secretary, who is not primarily responsible for housing in the new towns, and that the Minister of State who has that responsibility is absent.

    When my hon. Friend raised this issue in Committee, he was told that in the next parliamentary Session the Government would introduce legislation to put into effect the proposals in their White Paper. Tenants in new towns are thereby left in a state of uncertainty and insecurity for the next year. We should resolve the issue tonight and we should do so in defence of tenants' rights.

    This is a debate not about local authority rights but about tenants' rights. Local authorities have every reason to feel disgruntled about the Government's proposals. They have for long been encouraged to believe that the housing stock of the new towns would be transferred to them when the new towns were wound up. Indeed, they were encouraged to plan on that basis.

    Only a few years ago, officials from those local authorities, as part of a working party, spent much time and effort planning how best to handle the transfer of that housing stock. Indeed, new clause 13 contains the overall view of that working party, which was organised, and at the time accepted, by the Scottish Office. It is par for the course under the present Government that all that work should now be thrown out without even the pretence of consultation with the local authorities which contributed to it.

    Local authorities with new towns in their areas are now faced with the unpalatable prospect of being left with housing duties without the housing assets. In the context of Livingston, that will mean, for instance, a serious homelessness problem, because, although the local authority has few houses in the Livingston area, it will have to accept statutory responsibility for homeless families in the new town area. At present, the new town as a landlord co-operates voluntarily in discharging that duty. I see scant prospect of private landlords approved by Scottish Homes giving the same co-operation to the local authority in that important statutory function.

    Although, for all those reasons, local authorities have every right to be dissatisfied with the Government's proposals, the really serious issue is the reduction in tenants' rights. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride said, nothing has so electrified opinion among tenants in Livingston new town as these proposals of the Government. In the last five years, we have not had a federation of tenants' associations, yet within two months of these proposals surfacing, we have an active federation, formed mainly around the determination of tenants to fight for the right to choose a landlord for themselves.

    I stress that this is an issue of choosing the landlord. Once the Bill has become law, every public sector tenant with a local authority as the landlord will have the right to decide whether to remain in the public sector, and in particular whether to remain a local authority tenant. That choice apparently is to be denied new town tenants. They will not have the right to remain with their present landlord and will be denied the right to opt to become local authority tenants.

    11.45 pm

    We are not demanding that those tenants necessarily must become tenants of the local authority. The clause is framed so as to provide to those tenants the right to choose whether to become tenants of local authorities. They should be allowed that right and not denied it. I am confident that if the tenants of the new town and the tenants of Livingston are given that right to choose, most of them will choose to become local authority tenants. They will do that because as such tenants they will have greater security and a wider choice of transfers and will he likely to find their rents lower than the rents proposed by private landlords looking for an element of profit.

    I may be wrong. It may well turn out that the majority of tenants in my constituency will prefer to have private landlords. That will at least establish that the Minister, in putting the Bill before the House and in floating the idea of Scottish Homes and registered private landlords, was right to expect that many tenants would opt for that form of tenure. I ask the Minister to at least have confidence in his own proposals and give tenants the choice. He should allow them to decide whether they want private landlords or wish to be tenants of a local authority.

    The Government are fond of talking about choice. They commend the Bill by saying that it will give the tenant choice. Very well, let us give the new town tenants a choice as well. Let them decide whose tenants they wish to be, but let us make sure that all choices are made available to those tenants, including the opportunity and the right to become tenants of the local authority.

    The clause is designed to inject some sanity into a Bill that is characterised by all the hallmarks of the Government—indifference, arrogance and contempt. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) spoke about the plight of the new town. I represent the new town of Glerirothes which has excellent housing provision and a quality of environment that is second to none. While the problems of that new town have been exacerbated by the lack of cash resources from the Government, it has done an excellent job for its tenants. To the Government, these considerations seem to be irrelevant.

    A few years ago in discussions with the new town corporation, the Government agreed that when they reached the winding-up period in the early 1990s it was anticipated that the housing assets of the new town would be transferred to district councils. At the Dispatch Box and elsewhere the Government offer no compliments to local authorities that are doing a difficult job in the hostile environment created by the Government.

    The other appealing feature of the transfer of new town tenants and their assets to the district councils is that at a stroke there would have been democratisation of the new town housing function. That would have been welcomed by many Opposition Members because it would have not only provided a more sensible form of housing management, but built on the good physical policies that new towns have pursued. The Government would have none of that; through blind political prejudice, they have gone out of their way to ensure that the choice they talk about is not effective choice. That is because one of the key options for new town tenants will be removed by the Bill.

    It is a tragedy that district councils with major housing responsibilities have at a stroke been taken out of the serious housing debate in Scotland. Many council leaders view with increasing dismay the hostility focused upon them by the Government. The prospect of my tenants being faced with a choice between an approved private landlord or absorption in Scottish Homes fills them with dismay, bitterness and a great deal of anger.

    The reason for that is quite simple. A few miles from the new town in my constituency are two areas of British Coal properties that were bought by a private landlord. The landlord's headquarters are in Newcastle. It is a frightening prospect to represent areas in which the landlord is so remote from the tenants that it becomes a nightmare for them to get repairs done and for Members of Parliament to try and make the landlord tackle his responsibilities seriously. It is a return to the 1930s for that group of British Coal tenants.

    Why, in my constituency, do we see, on the one hand, the problems of private landlords and, on the other, a Government hell-bent on introducing an alien form of ownership to the new town, under which, by any objective measurement, the tenants will be much worse off?

    I return to the question of choice. It is nauseating to listen to the Conservative Front Bench talking about choice day in and day out, when it is choice only on the Government's terms. The Minister must tonight explain why a major option of district council involvement has been removed. Where is the intellectual or practical justification for taking excellent quality housing and tenants, casting them to the four winds and putting them at the mercy of the unscrupulous private landlords or of the new bureaucracy of Scottish Homes, which will be remote from the needs and aspirations of the people whom I represent in Glenrothes?

    What is more disappointing about the whole thrust of the Bill, especially in respect of new town policy, is the irrelevance of the proposals to the needs of the new town tenants. According to information supplied by Glenrothes development corporation, which administers the housing function, there are at present 552 families, 555 single persons and 226 senior citizens on the general waiting list of new applications. There are 580 families on the transfer waiting list. Almost 2,000 families are looking for decent accommodation in an environment which is sensitive to housing needs.

    The Bill does nothing for those people. I am worried that the proposals will worsen the chances of those people being adequately accommodated in the latter part of the 20th century in a safe and decent home that they can call their own, whether they purchase or rent. Why, at every turn, do we have politics based on dogma rather than on the needs of the people whom the Government purport to serve and to whom they say they are offering extended choice?

    The number of people on the waiting list is only one aspect of the challenge facing the Government, who are indifferent to real needs. What about the prospect of reduced cash for modernisation, repairs and maintenance? Is it not part of the Government's thinking to try to ease the burden on housing authorities, whether new towns or local authorities, which have tried to do a reasonable job in difficult circumstances? Is it not right that the Government should be providing in new towns allocation of cash for general needs? There has been a moratorium in Glenrothes since 1983. No housing has been built for general needs, despite a waiting list that now stands at almost 2,000 families.

    The Government claim to care about people with special needs. Why, then, are the disabled, the elderly and the handicapped now part of a growing queue for decent housing?

    It is heartbreaking to attend a surgery in my constituency — I am sure that this experience is shared by many of my hon. Friends — where elderly and disabled people seek assistance to obtain a property. The development corporation has many similiar families on the waiting lists and can do nothing to assist. I urge the Minister to take his responsibilities seriously, because the Bill is irrelevant to Scotland's housing needs and to the needs of the new town which I represent. Is it not time that the Government addressed the substantive issues that dominate my postbag and surgery and the needs of areas such as Glenrothes?

    It is customary for the Opposition in debates with the Government to dwell on the alien philosophies that underpin most of the Government's practical policies, but those philosophies are outrageous and immoral when dealing with such sensitive issues as housing. We are facing another enemy of decent people—the housing benefit changes that have started to bite in the computer printouts that fall through the letterboxes of the people whom I represent.

    I have catalogued growing demands for more repairs, more generous needs housing, more special needs housing and a fair deal for the disabled, the elderly and the handicapped. Will the Minister accept that the punitive element of housing benefit will only rub salt into their wounds? Will he accept that it is disgusting that an elderly person with a handicapped wife can have his housing benefit reduced so that he ends up paying perhaps £30 or £40 a month?

    On behalf of the tenants whom I represent, I say to the Minister that the Government's policies not only are unwelcome but smack of an arrogance and contempt to which I thought Ministers would not be so low as to stoop.

    I am glad to confirm to the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) that the moratorium on general housing has ended and that development corporations are now building general needs houses.

    The hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) raised these matters in Committee, and at that time I used the word "premature". I must do so again. The new clauses and amendments would give a district council the right compulsorily to acquire development corporation housing once an order for the winding up of the corporation had been made. The Opposition have ignored the reality that, under section 36 of the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968, the district council is already in effect the only possible inheritor of a new town housing undertaking when the development corporation is wound up. It would take fresh legislation amending the wind-up provisions of the 1968 Act to change that. No such amendments are proposed in the Bill. We therefore have the curious prospect of a score of amendments proposing the very policy which is currently enshrined in statute.

    That policy must come under question, however, because of the changes in the new towns over recent years. More than 21,000 new towns houses—over one third of the corporations' stock — have already been sold to tenants. The changes we have proposed to the discount restriction provisions in the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 will mean that many more new town tenants will be entitled to buy their homes at full discount. The level of home ownership in the new towns has risen from 22 per cent. in 1980 to nearly 40 per cent. today.

    We accept of course, that not all new town tenants want, or are able, to buy their homes. Under part III, they will be able, if they wish, to transfer the tenancy of their present home to a new landlord. Under clause 65, corporations, acting in full consultation with their tenants, will be able to sell groups of houses to alternative landlords. These measures are intended to introduce greater diversity into the pattern of ownership of housing in the towns. In particular, we see scope to develop community-based housing associations and co-operatives in the towns, providing a range of general as well as special needs housing.

    I state quite clearly that no new towns tenant will be compelled, in advance of the winding up of the corporations, to transfer against his or her will to another landlord. If a tenant chooses to remain with the corporation, he or she will retain full security of tenure and statutory rights.

    12 midnight

    Against that background, it would be wholly inappropriate to adhere unquestioningly to the assumption that all remaining corporation housing should automatically transfer to local authorities at wind-up. That is not to say—in answer to the hon. Member for Fife, Central—that we have ruled out any possible role for local authorities. We have given a strong undertaking to review all the options, and to consult the district councils fully on them. Thereafter, we shall bring forward fresh proposals for amendments to the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968. Obviously, that would be done not in the context of this Bill but much later.

    From the documentation that I have read it appears that district councils have been ruled out as a possible landlord for new town tenants. Is the Minister now saying that the issue will be further discussed with district councils—especially in the post wind-up period?

    We have not ruled out any possible role for local authorities, and there will be a full review and full consultations in due course.

    Opposition Members seek in the new clauses and amendments to introduce prematurely a policy not of choice but of coercion. New clause 13 would require a development corporation to transfer to the local authority all the housing stock that it owns. What happens to those who do not wish to transfer to the local authority? It is not enough to say that they should have exercised their right to buy or right to transfer in advance of wind-up, because not every tenant will have been able to put his choice into practice in that way. The amendments are concerned purely with satisfying the local authorities' hunger for a guaranteed inheritance, and we believe that tenants' wishes should be taken into account more fully.

    I remind hon. Members that no new town will begin to be wound up until 1990 at the earliest. Before then there will be consultation about the wind-up arrangements, including those for housing transfer, and there will be an opportunity for further debate in the House. The amendments would pre-empt that review and debate and would force upon new town tenants a solution that the Government regard as unacceptable.

    The Minister mentioned the moratorium. Let me give him some figures on which to ponder. In 1979, a total of 2,018 new houses were completed by the new towns; in 1986, the number was 157 and in 1987—for the second quarter—it was only 15. That was at a time of growing homelessness, growing waiting lists and growing demand for new town public sector housing, as my hon. Friends the Members for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) and for Livingston (Mr. Cook) pointed out. The Minister has said again that the new clauses and amendments are premature. I cannot accept that. There is genuine fear and worry among new town tenants about the Government's intentions. The Minister said that no one will be compelled to transfer his tenancy before wind-up, but he did not rule out compulsion after wind-up, and that is what is worrying new town tenants. That is why they asked the new town MPs to table new clauses to the Bill.

    If the Minister is genuinely concerned about giving the tenants in new town areas real choice, he should give them the option of choosing the district council on wind-up, as set out in the new clause. A refusal by the Government to accept the new clauses will give 45,000 families a clear message. They will never accept platitudes; they want clear and precise answers. I think that they have got such answers tonight. If the Government want to send out a different message and do something to the benefit of the new towns, they should accept the new clauses.

    Question put and negatived.

    I beg to move amendment No. 24, in page 1, line 19, after 'promoting', insert

    'owner-occupation (especially by those seeking to purchase for the first time),'.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss also the following: Amendment No. 135, in page 1, line 19, leave out from 'promoting' to end of line 20.

    Government amendments Nos. 25 and 26.

    These amendments are in the nature of concessions. I undertook to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) to ensure that there were adequate provisions to enable Scottish Homes to develop schemes to assist first-time buyers. That has been done. Amendment No. 24 puts it beyond all doubt that that has happened.

    Is respect of amendment No. 135, I am happy to confirm that Scottish Homes will have a major role in the promotion of rented housing as well as in the various forms of owner-occupation.

    In Committee, I made it clear to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) that I would respond to his representations to give Scottish Homes a specific role in respect of ensuring that proper training is available in research and development. Although the spirit of those amendments was in line with the White Paper, their form was not appropriate. We have therefore brought forward these amendments which arise out of Committee points made by hon. Members. I commend them to the House.

    Amendment agreed to.