§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a charter of rights for council tentants.It has been my great privilege to introduce six Private Members' Bills. Two of them dealt exclusively with the protection of house owners and, as a consequence, I hope that house owners have some measure of protection against substandard building and the bankruptcy of building firms and that the standard of building has been considerably increased.
The other Bill affecting house owners which I submitted to this House dealt with the high cost of house and land conveyancing. Today, however, I ask leave of the House to submit a modest Bill that establishes a charter of rights for council house tenants.
There are a million council house tenants in England and Wales, and we are building 200,000 new council houses each year. New problems have arisen over the last 20 years creating a situation in which council house tenants are no longer a privileged section of our community. Indeed, in many respects they are rapidly becoming orphans of the storm. They are faced with many new problems arising from the enlargement of authorities, making local councillors more and more remote on huge council estates. They are very much affected by the recent increases in council rents varying from 20 per cent., 50 per cent., and 70 per cent. in the Greater London area over three years. In consequence, a rising tide of discontent has been sweeping great council estates in this country leading to unfortunate campaigns such as rent strikes and marches on councils.
It is clear that large numbers of council tenants feel exploited and frustrated. They have many new problems. Apart from the problem of increased rents, there are the problems of amenities from shortage of telephones to shortage of schools, lack of maintenance and repairs on council estates, air pollution, smells and dust from local factories, and shortage of doctors' surgeries and chemists' shops on council estates. As new council estates are built up and established, new problems arise which demand new ideas from 1083 this House and, in my view, new rights for council tenants.
Many of the difficulties created for council tenants can be laid if there is machinery whereby their legitimate protests and grievances can be ventilated. My modest Bill, which I hope the House will permit me to introduce, does not in any way attempt to undermine the democracy of local government. It does not in any way try to create new institutions and new machinery that will interfere with the legal statutory rights of our local authorities. I propose the establishment of small tribunals comprised of representatives of the tenants, the rate payers and the local council presided over by an independent chairman with professional qualifications. These small tribunals would be established by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in each local authority area. A local authority which decided to increase local rents would submit its proposals to the tribunal, and political parties and recognised groups of tenants' organisations would have the right to argue their case against these increases by explaining how anomalies had arisen for them and the people they represent.
The local council, through its housing committee representative, would open the books and try to prove that it has to balance its budget and show why it is compelled by law to make these rent increase recommendations. The tribunal will have no legal authority. It will look into the grievances of the tenants and analyse the right of the local authority to allocate subsidies as it thinks best and balance its budget. The tribunal will have the right to make a report to the Minister—the report will be published—and the Minister will then decide. This is essentially an advisory body to deal with and report on the mounting problems which arise from anomalies in rent increases which are causing so much discontent among hundreds of thousands of our constituents.
The next proposal in the Bill is the establishment of a housing advisory committee which will meet regularly and will 1084 be representative of recognised political parties, tenants' associations and rate payers. It will have a continuous dialogue dealing with the problems of council house tenants. This will be a means of communication between councillors, the housing committee and the tenants in these great housing estates. It will merely extend the accountability. It will in no way interfere with local government democracy. It is an extension of the means of communication which will perhaps allay the discontent that is undoubtedly sweeping through the great council estates of this country.
I seek to introduce a very modest Bill. It tries essentially to deal with new problems which have arisen from the enlargement of local government. It is our intention in future to regionalise local government. This will bring more and more problems and make the tenants more and more remote from their council representatives. Some of the constituencies represented by councillors in these great new areas of local government are larger than Parliamentary constituencies, so how can a councillor deal with the many problems which arise for council tenants? The number of council houses under the control of some of our big councils has increased to 150,000. Therefore, to deal with these new problems I should like to submit this modest Bill which I think will go a long way to appease the difficulties and allay some of the suspicions and frustrations which are so widespread in this country. Therefore, I now seek the leave of the House to introduce the Bill.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Robert Edwards, Mr. Roebuck, Mr. Milne, Mr. Leslie Huckfield, Mr. Horner, Mr. Will Owen, Mr. Woof, Mr. Archer, Mr. Newens, Mr. Rhodes, and Mr. Heffer.