§ Order for Second Reading read.3.37 pm
§ The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Ian Gow)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In the previous Parliament, the Housing and Building Control Bill, after a somewhat tempestuous journey, was approved by this House and had completed its Committee stage in another place. The present Bill is in substantially the same form as when Parliament was dissolved seven weeks ago. The fact that we have brought the Bill forward so speedily in the new Parliament underlines the importance that the Government attach and will continue to attach to housing.
As this is the first speech that I have made in the House for some years, I should like to say a word about the philosophy that will guide me in my approach to the new task, a philosophy of which the Bill forms a crucial part.
Until the arrival of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley), whom I believe to have been one of the finest housing Ministers ever, successive Governments had adopted, as one of the criteria for the success of their housing policies, the number of new council houses that had been built exclusively to rent, and with little or no intention that those houses should remain other than for letting in the public sector. The conventional, almost unchallenged, belief was that such a policy was in accord with the needs and wishes of the people. It was the classic case of Ministers—no doubt from the best motives — being ignorant of, or unresponsive to, the real hopes and aspirations of those whom they were trying to serve.
Now we know differently and better. The 1978 general household survey, carried out when the Labour party was in power, gave the startling news—startling, that is to say, to the then professional pundits — that home ownership was the preferred form of tenure for 90 per cent. of those under the age of 45 and for 61 per cent. of those over the age of 45. Nothing has occurred in the five years that have elapsed since that survey was published to show that the British people have altered their preferred choice. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that the clear signals from the 1978 survey are even more compelling today.
The Housing Act 1980, piloted through the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing, gave to every secure council tenant of three years' standing the right to buy his home. During the previous Parliament more than 550,000 tenants bought their homes, either under the right-to-buy legislation or under voluntary schemes, and there are more than 150,000 right-to-buy sales in the pipeline. Those figures tell their own story. The Bill carries a stage further the principles that inspired the 1980 Act.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
The Minister started by explaining the philosophy of his ideas and how he intends to pursue his work as Minister for Housing and Construction. If it is right for council tenants to buy, will the Minister explain why the Government are not giving 159 the same right to private tenants so that they, too, should have the right in law to be able to buy the accommodation in which they live?
§ Mr. Gow
Yes, of course I can answer the hon. Gentleman. Houses owned by local authorities or housing associations have been financed with public money whereas buildings in the private sector have not. It is perfectly legitimate for the Government and for Parliament to decide what ought to be the rights of the people in regard to public assets, but not in regard to those that are privately owned.
The Bill implements in full the pledges in our manifesto. It extends the right to buy to tenants whose landlord owns a leasehold rather than a freehold and it increases the discount from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. for those who have been tenants for 30 years or more.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)
On the basis of the statement that the Bill implements the Conservative party's manifesto pledges, will the Minister give an undertaking that the increase to 60 per cent. will be the last that the Government will introduce, or will he admit that he intends to continue until he is giving the houses away, not just giving discounts?
§ Mr. Gow
I give no such undertaking to the hon. Gentleman. It is certainly not the intention in the Bill as it has been presented to the House to increase the discount above 60 per cent., but, as the hon. Gentleman will know from the last Standing Committee on which he served, it is possible always for a Bill to be amended in Committee.
§ Mr. Gow
I shall be coming to that. I know that the other place is dearly beloved of the hon. Gentleman and I acknowledge that the other place has the right to change the Bill.
The Bill extends choice in housing, and choice is at the heart of liberty. Of course, there will continue to be an important role for public sector housing to let; of course, there will be many who will prefer to remain as tenants or who will be unable to buy; of course, our policies in the public sector must continue to take special care of the elderly, the disabled, and one-parent families; of course, we need to revive the private rented sector. But a proper sense of humility requires that our whole housing policy needs to be based on a recognition that we should give every assistance and encouragement to the prefered choice of the people. That preferred choice is, overwhelmingly, for the pride and independence which go hand in hand with home ownership. That pride and independence may not be understood by the Labour party, but it is certainly understood by many whom it would claim as its natural supporters.
Over the past seven years, the National Coal Board has followed a policy of offering its houses for sale to sitting tenants.
§ Mr. Gow
Yes, I agree.
The board offers to sell on highly advantageous terms with discounts of 50 per cent. The House will note that those discounts are in most cases more generous than those enjoyed by public authority tenants who exercise the right to buy. The discounts on houses offered for sale by the coal 160 board are an immediate discount of 50 per cent. with no qualifying period. The new owner, the miner who has bought his house, may sell it at once without surrendering any profit to the coal board.
What has been the miners' response to that offer? Since 1976, 33,000 miners have opted for home ownership rather than tenancy. I have not heard the faintest whisper of protest from either Mr. Arthur Scargill or the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not having given him notice that I was going to refer to him. I did not do so because, to his great credit, he is such an assiduous attender in this place that I did not think that it was necessary. Nevertheless, I apologise.
It is not just the miners who have been eager to become owner-occupiers. The former agent to the hon. Member for Bolsover bought his house from the Bolsover district council. A lifelong Socialist in Birmingham, who had agreed to buy his house from the then Conservative-controlled city council, was banned from buying when the Socialists took control. He said:It seems to me that once Labour win your vote and get in power, they don't want to know ordinary people any more.He went on:I have supported Labour since I was old enough to vote but now I am disgusted with the party. I feel totally let down and I shall be saying so to local Labour people.He concluded:There is nothing wrong with the working man owning his own house.I could not have put it better myself.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
Socialists have never been opposed to people owning their house. Socialists believe that it is wrong to own other people's houses. When will the Minister attack the position of houses to let? That is desperately and urgently needed.
§ Mr. Gow
I am happy to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that in the first five months of this year housing starts in the public sector are higher than in the corresponding period in 1980. However, I shall turn later to the Labour party's policy, of which I understand the hon. Gentleman is a supporter.
§ Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton. Kemptown)
Is it not fair to say that someone who owns his own house is a capitalist and a landowner? How is that compatible with Socialism?
§ Mr. Gow
I have many responsibilities, but mercifully none for explaining the Labour party's policy.
Clause 1 extends the right to buy to public sector tenants of leasehold property. "Public sector" includes not only local authority tenants, but new town and housing association tenants. There are about 50,000 such tenants in England and Wales. There is no reason why they should be excluded from the right to buy. The Bill will give them the right to a long lease, provided that the landlord's lease has not less than 50 years to run in the case of a flat and not less than 21 years to run in the case of a house.
Clause 2 extends the right to buy to dwellings that have been adapted for use by the disabled. We accept that it is unfair that tenants should be excluded from the right to buy simply because a council house has been modified in certain respects to accommodate a disabled person. In the previous Parliament, my noble Friend Baroness Lane-Fox said in the other place that to deny disabled tenants the right to buy would be to add insult to injury.
161 My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mr. Rossi) spoke eloquently on this subject in the debate on the Gracious Speech. He pointed out that no two disabled people are alike, that they vary in their disabilities and that a house adapted for one disabled person will not necessarily suit another. We accept my hon. Friend's argument in its entirety. We shall, therefore, bring adapted dwellings within the right to buy. Purpose-built and sheltered accommodation for the disabled will, however, continue to be excluded.
Clause 3 increases the maximum right-to-buy discount from 50 per cent. after 20 years' tenancy to 60 per cent. after 30 years' tenancy, in accordance with our manifesto commitment. We estimate that about 400,000 tenants will be entitled to buy at extra discount. The new discount scale, if approved, will apply to fresh right-to-buy. applications made after the Bill comes into force, and to current applications where the tenant has not, at the time that the Bill comes into force, received his offer notice under section 10 of the 1980 Act. Tenants of more than 20 years' standing who are buying their homes and receive a section 10 offer notice before the Bill comes into force may wish to consider withdrawing their present application and re-applying to qualify for the extra discount. However, if they do so, their homes will be revalued at the date of their second application and their mortgage entitlement may be affected if their circumstances have changed, for example, as a result of retirement.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Perhaps my hon. Friend could answer one slightly technical question. Why did he determine that the 60 per cent. discount should be available only after 30 years of tenancy? By then, many people are getting old and they may conclude that it is better to continue renting. Is it cost considerations that make it impossible for my hon. Friend to offer that discount after, say, 25 years of tenancy?
§ Mr. Gow
I fully understand my hon. Friend's point. When my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing introduced the 1980 Bill he and the Government had to judge where the discount should end. In 1980, it was decided that the correct limit to the discount was 50 per cent. after 20 years of tenancy. We have now carried that a stage further so that there will be a discount of 60 per cent. after 30 years of tenancy. It is difficult to say whether there should be a different cut-off point. I can well understand those of my hon. Friends who believe that the maximum discount should be higher than 60 per cent., or that the discount should be more than 1 per cent. for each further year of occupation. However, no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) will return to that subject if he has the good fortune to serve on the Standing Committee.
Clauses 4 to 8 make a number of improvements in the right-to-buy procedures and give my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State new powers to assist tenants seeking to exercise their right to buy. I should like to give some examples of the problems that have occurred, which prompted the Government to introduce these clauses. Clause 4 will give tenants additional protection against unreasonable use of the completion notice procedure by landlords to force them to withdraw. In one case involving the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, a single document out of the whole conveyancing package did not 162 reach the authority's office in time, as a result of which the tenant's application was deemed to have been withdrawn and he was unable to re-apply for a further 12 months. In another case, the London borough of Greenwich imposed the minimum statutory period for completion of 28 days, despite having been told by the tenant that completion would involve obtaining the signature of a member of the armed forces serving abroad. Clause 4 will help tenants in those circumstances.
In clause 5 we provide that landlords will not be able to impose, as part of the right-to-buy conveyance or lease, a condition whereby they will be able to charge the tenant for the giving of consent or approval. In one case, again involving the borough of Barking and Dagenham, the council's approval was required for the replacement of a window — and the charge for approval was £20. The House will note that both of the authorities that I have mentioned are Labour controlled.
Clauses 9 to 14 introduce a new right to shared ownership. We are determined to give more opportunities for home ownership to the less well-off tenant. Shared ownership is not new. For several years, local authorities, new towns and housing associations have operated successful shared ownership schemes on a voluntary basis. More than 6,000 dwellings have been sold in that way. What is new is that we now propose to give every public sector tenant who can afford even a modest mortgage the right to get his foot on the home ownership ladder—
§ Mr. John Heddle (Mid-Staffordshire)
Has my hon. Friend yet had time to read the report "Housing Tenure" published last week by the Building Societies Association which shows that 90 per cent. of the British people still want to own their own homes and expect to do so within the next 10 years? Do not the Bill's shared ownership provisions go a long way to meeting the aspirations of tenants in the public sector?
§ Mr. Gow
I have not only read the report but have a copy of it here. I noted with keen interest — as the Labour party will have done — the report's findings, which, of course, reinforce the conclusion of the 1978 survey.
All tenants who have the right to buy, but whose mortgage entitlement does not enable them to buy outright, can choose instead to purchase on shared ownership terms. Those tenants will be able to part-buy and part-rent their homes. They will be entitled to buy an initial share of not less than 50 per cent., with the right to progress to full ownership at any time by buying additional tranches of 12.5 per cent. The purchaser will get discount on his initial purchase and again, pro rata, on his purchase of subsequent tranches. There will be a fresh valuation of the property when each tranche is bought, but the tenant will be entitled to additional discounts as his purchase proceeds. These clauses will benefit particularly tenants who are less well off, and I know that we shall be able to count on the enthusiastic support of the Labour party for our proposals.
Clauses 15 to 20, which apply to voluntary sales as well as right-to-buy sales, will give new protection to purchasers of houses who have to pay service charges, and will also give local authorities new powers to encourage purchasers to obtain their mortgages from the private sector, thus increasing their own capital receipts.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
I do not know whether the Minister is referring to another stage. I welcome the Government's acceptance of my proposed new clause 21 to the previous Bill which gives more protection to the elderly orphans. That issue arose in the previous Parliament. I am grateful to the Government for accepting the new clause, as amended in the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Gow
The inclusion of that clause in the Bill owes everything to my hon. Friend's suggestion during the previous Parliament.
Clauses 23 and 24 will strengthen the tenants' charter — [Interruption.] When the Opposition intervene like that, it shows that often they hate and abuse one another more than they hate and abuse us.
Clauses 23 and 24 will strengthen the tenants' charter by enabling my right hon. Friend to introduce a right to information about heating costs and a right to repair. Hon. Members will know, from their own constituencies, that local authority repair services can be a source of dissatisfaction. Tenants sometimes have to wait an inordinate time for even relatively small repairs to be done. We propose to give to tenants the right to carry out certain repairs themselves, with reimbursement from the council. As soon as possible, we shall be carrying out consultations on the precise form of the scheme and on the right to information about heating costs.
The Dissolution of Parliament and the re-introduction of the Bill have given the Government the opportunity to look again, and in more detail, at some of the right-to-buy rules. We have concluded that there is one important respect in which the present rules are unnecessarily restrictive.
The present system requires that a tenant must have been a secure tenant for at least three years before he can exercise the right to buy. My predecessor made it clear, when the 1980 Bill was being considered by the House, that there was no particular magic about that three-year rule. Clearly, tenants who buy should be bona fide tenants. We have decided that the qualification period should be reduced from three years to two years and that the discount scale should start at 32 per cent. This change will mean that another 250,000 tenants will be given the right to buy. A Government amendment will be introduced at a later stage to give effect to that change.
I have already referred to our intention to extend the discount to a maximum of 60 per cent. for those who have been tenants for 30 years or more. The new maximum discount will also apply to voluntary sales. It will mean that where authorities are willing to sell on a voluntary basis, as many are, they will be able to go ahead straightaway with sales at the new 60 per cent. rate of discount to tenants who qualify. I hope that many authorities will do so, and that the tenants involved do not have to wait until the Bill reaches the statute book to take advantage of the improvement in the discount provisions.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
On the two-year qualification, will a corresponding amendment be made to the Leasehold Reform Act 1967?
§ Mr. Gow
No such amendment is contemplated at present, but I do not exclude that possibility. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be issuing an amendment to the existing general consent later this week.
The House will recall that when the Bill was introduced in the previous Parliament, the then clause 2 gave the right 164 to buy to tenants of charitable housing associations where their homes had been financed with housing association grants. That clause was defeated in another place. My predecessor and I have received representations from the tenants involved and from a number of my hon. Friends asking that their position should be reconsidered following the defeat of clause 2. My hon. Friends confirm the depth of their feeling on this subject. We are considering whether we can respond in some way to those representations, but I hope that the House will understand if I cannot make any announcement this afternoon.
I come to parts II and III of the Bill, which deal with building control.
§ Mr. Winnick
Is the Minister concluding this part of his speech about the selling of council dwellings without any mention of the Government's policy on council house building? He has placed great emphasis on the number of people who want to become owner-occupiers. What is the Government's policy towards those hundreds of thousands of people on waiting lists throughout the country who cannot become owner-occupiers and who desperately need rented accommodation which they will be able to get only from the public sector, if at all?
§ Mr. Gow
No. If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard tomorrow he will see that I said that there will be a continuing need for public sector housing to let, not just for the elderly, disabled or one-parent families. In answer to an intervention, I said also that public sector housing starts this year are higher than last year.
§ Mr. Gow
There is one other important aspect. The increase in the discount from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. and the reduction in the qualifying period from three to two years will accelerate capital receipts, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, can then be used by local authorities as they decide.
I was dealing with parts II and III of the Bill, which deal with building control. The present system of building control is not satisfactory. There have been persistent criticisms that it is cumbersome and bureaucratic and that the form of building regulations is inflexible, inhibits innovation and imposes unnecessary costs. That is not surprising. The system has grown gradually and haphazardly, from controls imposed a century or more ago under local authority byelaws, into a national system of great complexity.
We now have the opportunity to make radical changes. The Bill follows closely the proposals set out in Command 8179 published in February 1981, "The Future of Building Control in England and Wales". Those proposals have been the subject of intensive discussion and consultation with interested parties, including local authorities, professional and industrial associations, trade unions, property owners, and the building industry itself. Parts II and III of the Bill reflect that consultation and are substantially the same as in the previous Bill.
165 The main purpose of part II is to provide the opportunity for greater self-regulation through a system of private certification of compliance with the building regulations. I stress that it will be an option available to builders and developers. They will still be able to have their buildings supervised by local authorities if they wish. No one will be forced to use an approved inspector. No professional person will be obliged to provide an inspection service if he does not want to.
Part III provides for simpler regulations that can be kept up to date more easily. At present, local authorities have a monopoly in the provision of building inspectors. The Bill will allow properly qualified professional people to undertake work which, at present, can be carried out only by the public sector.
Inspectors will be approved by the Secretary of State or by bodies designated by him, such as professional institutions. Approval can be restricted to particular types of buildings, depending upon the applicant's professional qualifications and experience. In future, certain public bodies approved by my right hon. Friend will be able to certify their own work, if they wish, under arrangements similar to those for private certification.
My right hon. Friend will be empowered to approve documents that offer suitable practical guidance on how to comply with the regulations. He will also be able to delegate those powers by order laid before both Houses. The technical detail, which causes so much difficulty in the current regulations, will be presented in documents such as the British standards and agreement certificates which are written for technical users and are authoritative.
Partly as a result of the persuasive arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), a valuable new provision was inserted in the previous Bill. It remains in this Bill and will provide builders with a right to appeal to the Secretary of State for a determination in the event of a dispute with either an approved inspector or a local building control authority over the compliance of plans with building regulations.
Parts II and III of the Bill reflect the Government's belief that, wherever possible, the individual should enjoy greater freedom and choice, and should accept the responsibility that goes with them. Those parts of the Bill also reflect our conviction that in many areas of policy, partnership between the public and private sectors rather than a municipal monopoly provides hope and opportunity for progress.
Our philosophy for housing and building control is in marked contrast to that of the Opposition. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and his right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) were the principal architects of the Labour party's housing policy which many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as some Opposition Members, believe made a significant contribution to our victory on 9 June. Both right hon. Gentlemen used to be journalists on the Daily Mirror. I make no complaint about that. The right hon. Member for Gorton is a prolific, if superficial, author. His first book, which I commend to the House as an interesting study of ancient history, is entitledHow to Live Under Labour.Then, with characteristic modesty, came a volume which he calledHow to be a Minister.In that, this high priest of egalitarianism describes how 166When you, the Minister, walk through the door of your Department, doormen will salute you.The doormen have gone now and I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that although that might have happened in the Labour years it does not happen in his old Department now.
I quote something else with approval:I believe profoundly in freedom as the objective to which all others must be subordinate … Power should not be concentrated in a few hands; its exercise should be extended to as many free citizens as possible.Those are not my words, although I agree with them. They were written three months ago by the right hon. Member for Gorton in a chapter which he contributed to a book called:Renewal—Labour's Britain in the 1980s.Yet the same right hon. Gentleman, in the previous Parliament, fought a sustained rearguard action—which ended in failure in this House — against wider home ownership.
The Labour party manifesto was in relation to housing policies, the right hon. Gentleman's manifesto, because he was one of the majority of Labour candidates who actually believed in its policies. He wanted—later he will tell the House that he still wants—to take away the tenant's right to buy his own home, to prevent councils selling, even voluntarily, at a discount, and to force any former tenant who has bought, and who wants subsequently to sell his house, to sell it back to the council. Despite his professed wish that power should not be concentrated in a few hands and his professed purpose of extending power to as many free citizens as possible—objectives which are shared by every Conservative Member—the right hon. Gentleman wishes to halt, and, if possible, to reverse, the most fundamental transfer of wealth and property from the state to the people which we have seen in our history.
By their fruits ye shall know them.The truth is that the Opposition are always prepared to put their own prejudices before the wishes and aspirations of the people. Private ownership of property is incompatible with the Opposition's zeal for municipal and public ownership. The truth is that personal ownership of wealth and property, spread ever more widely, is the surest guarantee of political liberty. Socialists — at any rate those who have gained temporary or possibly even permanent control of the once mighty Labour party—prefer a dependent to an independent society. Their dream, which is the people's nightmare, is of a Britain where more and more of our citizens work for the Government, for nationalised industries or for local authorities; where more and more people are dependent on the state or its agencies for their employment, their health, their pension and their housing. They do not want the people to choose. Their philosophy shows the characteristic arrogance that comes from the conviction that the few should decide for the many. They want to perpetrate and extend the tyranny of the Socialist-controlled council house estate.
I acknowledge that the official Opposition will seek to prevent the Bill reaching the statute book, but the harder they fight the Bill, the more they will alienate themselves from the British people who, barely four weeks ago, gave a decisive endorsement of our policies.
Throughout the country, there is a consensus of testimony that it was on housing that the deepest instincts of the Conservative party and those of the British people were at one.
167 No Conservative would ever make the claim once made from this Dispatch Box by a Socialist Minister that we are the masters now. But we claim, with a proper mixture of pride and humility, that under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister we are the people's party once again.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
The hon. Gentleman's promotion to Minister for Housing and Construction has been greeted with pleasure in various quarters, not least by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who will now be able to pursue his activities without interruption or sabotage. The hon. Gentleman's arrival at the Department of the Environment is a different matter. After four years of silence, we listen to him with great interest. He seems to have modelled his speaking style on that of Mr. Ian McDonald issuing a communiqué on the Falklands war.
The Minister treated us to an outline of his philosophy. One must say, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Ian Gow, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. A housing policy and philosophy for Eastbourne is not a housing policy and philosophy for Britain." The hon. Gentleman's views appear to be constricted by the area that he has represented and the company that he has kept during the past four years. He quite properly, as Minister for Housing and Construction, introduced the Bill, but the House views with dissatisfaction the discourtesy of the Secretary of State for the Environment in not being present on the Second Reading of the first major Bill with his name to it. I hope that he will not treat the House with the arrogance that was displayed by his two predecessors.
The Bill is making its return appearance only eight months after its west end premiere, but not by public demand. Like all Bills sponsored by the Department of the Environment, it is afflicted by the dreaded curse of the legislative undead to haunt Westminster for evermore and to know no rest. The record is both consistent and extraordinary.
The Housing Act 1980 journeyed like a statutory flying Dutchman between the House of Commons and House of Lords and was finally amended, against the Government's wishes, to ward off the legendary doom of the Consolidated Fund Act. The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 was introduced in the House of Lords, withdrawn, reintroduced in the House of Commons and rewritten to within an inch of its life. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 arrived belatedly in the House of Commons from the House of Lords—an endangered species that had been relentlessly pursued by peers of all persuasions. The Local Government Finance Bill was introduced, withdrawn, reintroduced and then amended to remove some of its principal provisions. Even the tiny Local Authorities (Expenditure Powers) Bill, which is due for revival on Thursday, was found to be fundamentally faulty and had to be dropped. It reappears in working order courtesy of amendments made by Opposition Members.
This Bill was introduced last November with a vainglorious fanfare of trumpets as the latest instalment of the Government's enfranchisement of public sector tenants. It had its virility symbol removed in the House of Lords and now returns in a falsetto edition. The Minister told us that the Bill's principal purposes are to roll back 168 the frontiers of the state in rented housing and to bring private initiative into building inspection. It is strange that the more the Government legislate to reduce bureaucracy, the more bureaucracy they need.
When the original Housing and Building Control Bill was introduced on 4 November 1982 it consisted of 43 clauses, and nine schedules and was 59 pages long. After Standing Committee its contents had increased to 47 clauses, nine schedules and 66 pages. Now, as the Government hack doggedly away at red tape and officialdom—we heard the Minister speak of that today —the Jenkin-Gow version has 53 clauses, 10 schedules and 78 pages. Yet there is less actual legislative content in the 78-page Bill than there was in the rare 59-page first edition, now a collector's item.
Ministers have used the enforced interval in the Bill's progress in a productive way. In the original version schedule 1 occupied two pages. That same schedule, the purpose of which remains the extension of the right to buy, now occupies five pages. The Secretary of State is, presumably, faithfully fulfilling his promise of a fortnight ago to cut out some of the cumbersome procedures in the compulsory sale of council houses.
The war against officialdom and state control takes some remarkable forms. The aim of part II is to allow the refreshing breeze of competition to blow across the and wastes of publicly controlled building inspection, and certainly it contains some radical changes. Clause 36 will allow certain public bodies to dispense completely with outside building control and to do the job themselves by serving a notice. The Bill is obsessed with serving notices. No fewer than 27 clauses deal with serving notices, the effects of serving notices, the effects of not serving notices and even the possibility that a document that is not a notice may try to impersonate a document that is a notice.
It is a relief to find in clause 44 thata document purporting to be a notice issued as mentioned in section 43(3) above shall be taken to be such a notice unless the contrary is proved;".What a relief to find the notice innocent. The problem is that although clause 36 allows a public body to serve notices stating that it is to turn itself into a do-it-yourself building inspector, we do not know exactly what such a public body may be, as the Bill gives the Minister almost complete freedom to define a public body. It is true that such a body is required not to act for its own profit, but these days that could apply to almost any industrial concern.
The Bill is so uncertain about the effect that it may have that it goes to great lengths to lay down procedures for litigation when a local authority rejects the certification issued by a public body on its behalf. The Bill envisages that where a builder brings in a private inspector instead of a local authority inspector, the local authority will inspect the inspection to make sure that it is done properly. Instead of eliminating officialdom, the Bill provides for its duplication.
Such confirmatory inspection by the local authority may turn out to be necessary — indeed, essential —because clause 31(8) provides that the private inspector need not actually do his own inspection but may appoint another person, who need not be qualified for the inspection, to do the inspection in his stead. It lays down that the private inspector must take responsibility for the 169 inspection done on his behalf. But if, meanwhile, a building has fallen down and people have been killed, that will not in itself necessarily be a comfort.
The Bill is a curious mixture of legislative provision for institutionalised negligence coupled with the most tortuous bureaucracy created to eliminate bureaucracy. All those demented procedures are buried away in the less glamorous part of the Bill, that dealing with building control, although the clauses are of paramount importance to public safety.
The real heart of the Bill for the Government, the part to which the Minister devoted a great deal of his speech, is the glamorous part I, dealing with the compulsory sale of public sector houses. Of course, the clause that was the centre piece of the original legislation last November is now no longer part of the Bill. The compulsory sale of houses owned by charitable housing associations and trusts is conspicuously absent, although the Minister made an opaque reference to the subject.
Clause 2 of the old Bill was the subject of grandiloquent boasting by Ministers eight months ago. The then. Secretary of State for the Environment told the House a heart-rending tale when he introduced the Bill. He said:I have received a number of letters in the past year from tenants of charities who would dearly like to be able to own their own homes. They see the right to buy as the only opportunity that they are ever likely to get. Those whose homes were publicly funded believe that it is unfair to be denied the right to buy. We are correcting that unfairness.How deeply moved we were to hear the right hon. Gentleman tell the House that tale.
The previous Minister for Housing and Construction, ever the man for detail—the former Secretary of State provided the broad brush—explained:It is illogical to allow one tenant in a dwelling that is provided with housing association grant to have the right to buy and to deny that right to a tenant who is living in a house that is funded by housing association grant simply because the latter housing association is constituted as a charity.He rebuked the Opposition with the cutting words:No real arguments have been put forward by Opposition Members against this proposal." — [Official Report, 23 November 1982; Vol. 32, c. 720–94.]We were suitably mortified.
That unfairness is not now being corrected by the Government. They are failing to put forward arguments on behalf of those victimised tenants. Instead of finding new arguments, they have found new victims—in this Bill it is the disabled. Houses adapted for the disabled are to be sold off forcibly. What a squalid proposal that is. The disabled lucky enough to be living in houses adapted for them for their use will be able to buy them. I say lucky enough, because there are so few of them. What about the tens of thousands of disabled people in need of a house to rent that suits their special needs? What about future generations of the disabled deprived of such rented houses?
When this matter was discussed in the House of Lords, Lord Bellwin, the Minister for Local Government, offered this solution. He declared:if we have a shortage of accommodation for the disabled—and we have — we ought to be building more such accommodation."—Official Report, House of Lords, 26 April 1983; Vol. 441, c. 868.]The trouble is that the Government's cuts in housing investment have reduced the amount of newly built housing for the disabled so that last year only 270 new units were built—little more than half the figure for the previous year. It is no good saying, as the Minister says, 170 as his predecessor said and as the Prime Minister says—they all chant the same tune—that the problem could be solved by using capital receipts. Apart from the fact that every local authority is hoarding its capital receipts because of the Government's penal legislation on local government, it is a fact that to get enough capital receipts to build one house, 10 houses must be sold, which results in a net reduction of the housing stock. That is why adaptation has gone ahead, with 4,500 new converted units last year. That is why the potential loss of such dwellings is a grievous attack on the disabled. We shall fight this cause on behalf of all disabled people who need a decent rented house.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman realises that capital assets do not have to be released by the sale of houses for the disabled in order to raise the money to build new houses for the disabled. A vast amount of capital assets, both in housing and other areas, could be used by local authorities, particularly Labour authorities, to build more accommodation geared to the disabled. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell Labour local authorities which are hoarding capital assets to spend them on the disabled?
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Gentleman fails to understand the subject. What the Government have done with regard to grant-related expenditure assessments, expenditure ceilings, penalties and holdback means that local authorities, including many Tory-controlled local authorities, are hoarding those capital assets and capital revenues as a way of protecting their ratepayers. Until the Government abandon their penal legislation against local government, local authorities will continue to hoard their capital assets—
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Gentleman appears to have learnt very little from walking three paces behind his Minister all this time. If local authorities spend their capital assets, they will be penalised on grant-related expenditure assessments and by holdback. If the hon. Gentleman does not know that, he has learnt nothing.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Gentleman should study the legislation, because his interventions show that he has not absorbed a single fact. Knowing the hon. Gentleman, that is not surprising.
The Bill has nothing to do with housing need. It is a cynical exercise in political dogmatism, buttressed by phoney and dubious calculations. A comparison of the financial memorandum in the original Bill with the one in this Bill reveals how the Government are rigging the figures to seek to give respectability to their case. Let us study the financial memorandum to the Bill published in November. It said:On the assumption of an average price (after discount) of £9,760 with 47 per cent. of the finance provided privately, there would for every 5,000 dwellings sold be immediate net capital receipts of about £13.5 million".I hope that the House will note that figure.
I now come to the financial memorandum to this Bill, which is very different. It says: 171On the assumption of an average discount of 43 per cent. and an average price after discount of £8,895, with 47 per cent. of the finance provided privately, for every 5,000 dwellings a year sold outright on leasehold terms there would be immediate net capital receipts of about £21 million".So the capital receipts have suddenly leapt from £13.5 million to £21 million.
The House will want to know how, with higher discounts, which of course reduce the prices, and therefore assumptions of cheaper house prices, the calculations of net capital receipts are up by more than 50 per cent. between the two Bills. The clue is in the inclusion in the second memorandum of that word "outright". In the first memorandum the Government were assuming that, somehow, some houses would be sold under the shared ownership provisions. In the new memorandum they assume that the shared ownership provisions will be completely ignored and that all the houses will be sold "outright". So, after the Minister has spent much of his speech rhapsodising about the great innovation of shared ownership, he shows a curious lack of confidence in shared ownership, since all his financial assumptions are based on no shared ownership sales.
While the Government have little confidence in shared ownership, they are so convinced of the merits of compulsory sales that they even legislate for some tenants whom they are sure will become addicted to it. Schedule 2, paragraph 5, is based on the anticipation that some purchasers will buy, sell, become tenants again, buy again, sell again, become tenants again and so on, into infinity — rather like those photographs showing someone holding a photograph which itself shows that same person holding that photograph. It is not altogether surprising that the schedule even provides for one of these recidivist purchasers to be a deceased spouse. In Tory Britain, you can take it with you.
As I said during the debate on the Housing Bill in 1980, The Government have a mandate for their policy of compulsory sales and there is no doubt that that mandate was further endorsed by the general election last month. But having a mandate for part of a housing policy does not mean that that should be their only housing policy. Only last week the Building Societies Association published the results of a survey to which the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) referred. The survey showed that while 45 per cent. of council tenants would like to become owner-occupiers, only 18 per cent. wanted to achieve home ownership through buying their council house. The Building Societies Association report said:The survey makes clear that the demand for owner-occupation cannot be satisfied solely through the sale of existing rented houses, and that there will need to be substantial new building of houses for sale.Yet another report, issued last week by the National Council of Building Material Producers, forecasts that building for owner-occupation will in two years' time be down by 12.5 per cent. That, of course, is not surprising with mortgage interest rates rocketing as they are.
The Bill is not a policy for owner-occupation; it is simply a policy for a marginal form of owner-occupation. It is a vindictive policy. Many people who are buying their houses under the 1980 Act are finding themselves in great difficulty in keeping up their mortgage payments because they have lost their jobs. Their councils may be willing to 172 solve the problem by buying the houses back, but repeatedly the Secretary of State has refused the necessary consent.
Many examples have come my way and I shall give one. My constituent, Mr. George Howard, of 2 Garswood road, Fallowfield, bought his council house jointly with his daughter and son-in-law, who, quite understandably, have decided to find a house of their own, leaving Mr. Howard living there. Mr. Howard lost his job a year ago. He receives £55 a fortnight in benefits. His mortgage is £77.20 a month. He could not meet his last mortgage payment. Manchester city council is perfectly willing to buy the house back and to keep him as the tenant, but the Secretary of State has refused to allow that and, as a result, Mr. Howard faces the prospect of financial ruin. Yes, the Secretary of State has given Mr. Howard the right to buy, but he has refused him the right to sell. No wonder schedule 5 contains provisions for a council to take repossession of a house when its owner cannot keep up the payments.
§ Mr. Heddle
Lest the House should be persuaded by the figures which the right hon. Gentleman quoted from the Building Societies Association survey, will he confirm that in 1975, 25 per cent. of council tenants looked forward to the opportunity of home ownership within 10 years, but that by 1983—the intervening period, by and large, being one of Conservative Governments — that proportion had increased to 48 per cent.? If, at his advice bureau next Saturday, one of the right hon. Gentleman's constituents asks whether he is in favour of his constituent buying his home, either outright or under the shared ownership provisions, what will the right hon. Gentleman say? Is he in favour, yes or no?
§ Mr. Kaufman
I shall not be holding an advice bureau next Saturday morning, so it will be difficult for me to oblige the hon. Gentleman in that regard. Of course council tenants want to become owner-occupiers, but, as the Building Societies Association survey showed, fewer than one in five want to achieve that by buying their own council houses. Far more of them want to achieve it by buying in the open market. The hon. Gentleman had better read the survey again—possibly when not driving his car—because while 45 per cent. of council tenants want to become owner-occupiers, only a minority of them want to do so by buying their own council houses. And with rocketing house prices and mortgage rates, their ability to buy on the open market, where most of them wish to buy, is being damaged rather than assisted by the Government.
Where the Bill and Conservative policy are not vindictive, they are irrelevant. They do nothing to deal with the gigantic housing crisis facing Britain today, and that is the crisis of the deteriorating housing stock. The Government have acknowledged the enormous difficulties involving dwellings built by industrialised methods —Airey, Orlit, Caspen, Unity, Smith, Parkinson, Henry Boot and many more—and only yesterday Cumbernauld development corporation issued a warning about dwellings built by the Bison method, another variety of jerry building which is already only too familiar in many parts of the country.
The Government view the situation seriously enough to have launched a survey, but the only action they have taken is to offer grants to those who have bought Airey houses and to warn tenants of houses built by other 173 industrialised systems not to buy. It is estimated that the cost of remedying the defects in industrialised dwellings is £5 billion, yet the only advice offered by the Government to local authorities faced with these massive costs is to use subsidies—when three quarters of local authorities are no longer receiving any subsidies—and to find money by putting up rents on top of the 134 per cent. rent increases already imposed under the Conservatives.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman is saying about defects in industrialised buildings. I think he participated in a debate on the subject shortly before the Dissolution. Does he accept that a majority of industrialised houses were built at the behest of a post-war Labour Government, that they were built under the tutelage of local authorities and that they were inspected under the very building regulations which he is seeking to defend?
§ Mr. Kaufman
No. As the Government have acknowledged, industrialised building was urged by both Conservative and Labour Governments. The particular abomination that used to be in my constituency, and which I have now lost to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland)—Fort Ardwick—was built under a Conservative-controlled city council. Both parties, at local and national level, bear responsibility. Nobody is denying that. I am saying that when the major housing problem in Britain today is the deterioration of industrialised buildings—and, as I shall be pointing out shortly, other non-traditional buildings —the Bill is totally irrelevant to that crisis, and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), by endorsing the existence of the crisis, endorses my criticism of the irrelevance of the Bill.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Conservatives may not have learnt from the mistakes that were made in the late 1950s and 1960s by system building and that they may be doing the same to new owner-occupiers as was done to council tenants in the 1960s by allowing untried systems to be used to build houses of very low standards indeed for owner-occupation?
§ Mr. Kaufman
I take it that my hon. Friend is referring to the timber-framed buildings which were dealt with by Granada television in a programme a few days ago, buildings which have been defended by Sir Lawrie Barratt, who may turn out to be the Sir Freddie Laker of home ownership.
As I said, the Government's only proposals for dealing with these industrialised building problems is to say, "Use subsidies"—which three-quarters of the councils do not have—"and put up rents"—when council tenants have already had their rents increased by 134 per cent. Then there is the mounting cost of the deterioration of other public sector houses built in the 1940s and 1950s by nontraditional methods. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities estimates that the cost of putting those right is yet another £5 billion.
The problems are so immense that they turn the right to repair in clause 23 of the Bill into a sick joke, particularly when that right to repair involves no inspection and may lead to the dwellings ending up in worse repair, especially as the tenant who exercises that right forfeits his right to have repairs done by his landlord.
174 That is only in the public sector. The house condition survey published last year by the Department of the Environment and quoted by the Minister today shows that 3,900,000 dwellings, many of them owner-occupied, require at least £24 billion to be spent on them. The Bill has no relevance to that problem either.
The nation is suffering from an unprecedented housing crisis. By 1986 there is likely to be a shortage of 517,000 homes. The building material producers are forecasting that building for owner-occupation is in decline. The Minister in his speech today boasted about local authority housing starts so far this year. Local authority starts in the first five months of this year were less than half those in the first five months of Labour's last year in office. That is how we must compare the figures, not with the miserable totals achieved under the Conservatives.
So far under the Conservatives the number of houses and flats which have been started by local councils is only one third the number started in the last four years of the last Labour Government. At the rate of building so far under the present Government, it will take nearly 12 years to start as many council houses as were started in those four Labour years.
Those are the dimensions of the Government's failure in local authority house building. They are also the dimensions of Britain's housing crises. It is a crisis for which the Conservatives are, to a considerable degree, responsible. It is a crisis which the Bill ignores. In the coming Session we shall use the debates on the Bill to put forward our considered, constructive policies to deal with the national housing crisis.
§ Mr. Martin Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)
I am grateful for the privilege of addressing the House at so early a stage in the lifetime of the new parliament. The hurdle of making one's maiden speech — and it is a hurdle—seems to get higher with every day of waiting, certainly high enough to send many hearts searching for that little room of which Mr. Speaker spoke on the first day of this Parliament.
It is 25 years since there was a maiden speech from the Government Benches from a representative of a wholly Nottingham city constituency. If that sounds like "holy" it was meant to sound that way, for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services required a very large chunk of the county of Nottinghamshire to make up the old seat of Nottingham, South, and we must go back to my hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Mr. Tapsell) for the last time that such a speech was made from the Government Benches.
I have to thank Mr. Jack Dunnett for donating the three wards from the old Nottingham, East—two of them inner city wards; and Mr. Michael English for the other six wards from the old Nottingham, West to make up the new constituency of Nottingham, South. As both contributed mainly Labour wards, I suppose that I have more to thank for being here today that the Boundary Commission.
Although this is a housing debate I hope that I shall be allowed to present the profile of Nottingham, South, which I believe is relevant to housing need. I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), at least to a modest extent, the telecommunications giant Plessey. To a much greater degree my constituency contains the pharmaceutical company of Boots. The 175 founder of Boots played an enormous part in helping to make Nottingham university one of the finest universities in Britain. That university, which is wholly in Nottingham, South, together with the new university teaching hospital, played a substantial part in a successful Conservative campaign in June.
Nottingham, South is also the home of Players and TI Raleigh. It might be said that the products of the former are overused by hon. Members and that those of the latter, to misquote my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, perhaps underused. The constituency contains the royal ordnance factory and the Trent polytechnic, which has a student population greater than that of most universities. It has the world-famous lace market whose factories produce cloth dyeing and finishing, garment-making and many ancillary textile operations as well as the famed lace trade.
In the heart of my constituency is the city centre, with its commercial and administrative activities as well as some of the finest shopping in Britain. There are two closed pits within the constituency. One, the old Wilford pit, is now a thriving industrial estate with many factories. One employer, Pork Farms, has four large factories. I believe that the estate now employs far more than ever worked in the old Wilford pit. The second, the old Wollaton colliery, will this year become a large housing estate, with all that that means, directly and indirectly, for employment.
On the southern border of the constituency there is even a genuine farm. Its fields provided excellent advertising space during the general election campaign between the depredations of the red hordes.
Nottingham generally, and Nottingham, South in particular, has a breadth and variation that would be the envy of the one-industry profile that has ruined so many of our northern cities. However, homes and housing are our concern in this debate. Of the 41,000 homes in the constituency 22,000 were council-built. Those homes range from plush mansions, standing in about three quarters of an acre, in what we call Lenton park. There are top executive dwellings overlooking the beautiful Wollaton park. There is mature suburbia, private estates old and new, and council estates old and new. In newly-completed modern council developments the numbering of the properties, for some obscure reason, is jumbled. Only the architect working from a helicopter would be able to tell anyone where he was. We have tower blocks, too, of both standard and deck-access construction. We even have the remains of Victoriana, which we have fortunately saved from the bulldozer and which we are modernising. It is perhaps unfortunate that much of this housing has become part of bed-sit land.
Nottingham, South is a constituency that illustrates the entire range of living and working. It has a broad industrial and commercial base and, on balance, would at one time have been considered safe Labour territory. So it was in 1979. It was progressively less so through to 1983. In the crunch, it deserted the Labour party in droves. The Government's policies in general, and on housing in particular, were responsible for that success. I welcome the opportunity to support them.
I welcome especially the Minister's comment that the exclusion clause operated unfairly against the disabled and their families. It was surely never the Government's 176 intention to deny the disabled the right to buy. However, Labour councillors and the Labour-controlled Nottingham city council have used every device possible to deny those people the right to buy.
One example concerns a family in my constituency with a disabled son. As he is confined to a wheelchair, the conventional doors within the home were removed and sliding doors were fitted. That family was denied the right to buy. The matter is being taken to appeal and I hope very much that the tribunal will find in the family's favour.
On some odd grounds, the Labour city council will even reject standard bungalows as a matter of course. The right to buy is granted in almost every instance on appeal. The initial refusal is a delaying tactic, which is the hallmark of a Labour authority. I hope that the legal jargon of the Bill will not provide loopholes that will enable Labour councils to continue these practices.
I hope, too, that there is time to consider the successful policy of transfer buying that was operated by the Conservative group when it had control of the city council. I pay tribute to the late Councillor Jack Green, who was the leader of the city council from 1976 to 1979. It is true that errors were made, but it was a new scheme. Under Jack Green's leadership we sought to give council tenants the right to buy a council home, but not necessarily the one in which they were living. The scheme gave tenants the facility to buy a larger home or a smaller home depending on the current needs of the family, the couple or the single person.
The wider implementation of such a policy would hasten the occupation of empty properties. My city cannot be alone in having thousands of empty properties. They have been left empty because, in most instances, a Labour council wishes to advance the spurious argument that the Government will not give it sufficient money to allow it to modernise the properties. The transfer buying system would enable authorities quickly to fill all empty properties.
The repairs clause is especially applicable to Nottingham. In three years the Labour council doubled the amount spent on repairs. It adopted the old policy of throwing money at the problem. I assure the House that few living in Nottingham would say that they notice any difference in the quality or number of repairs that were carried out.
The social and housing needs of Nottingham, South are entirely in sympathy with economic and employment requirements. It seems that Government policies have transformed traditional Labour cities such as Nottingham. They have become proud property owning societies. If nothing else, they have become anti-Socialist. I hope that my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, North (Mr. Ottoway) and for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles) and I will represent for many years what is called the queen of the midlands.
§ Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)
I compliment the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) on an excellent maiden speech. The content of his speech, and the deliberation that led to it, show that he will be a great asset to the House. I look forward to hearing his future contributions. I do not agree with all that he said, but I welcome his enlightening speech.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me early in the debate. The fact that you have done so shows that 177 compassion is one of your many qualities. I would have been at some disadvantage if I had been bouncing up and down until about 9 o'clock tonight.
It is a privilege to make my first speech in a debate in which I am sure many right hon. and hon. Members wish to make contributions. It is also a privilege to represent the electorate of the Don Valley constituency. In the previous Parliament it was represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh). At that time Don Valley was one of the largest constituencies. As reconstituted, it forms one third of the metropolitan borough of Doncaster. The other part of the Doncaster area is ably represented by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I offer you my congratulataions on your appointment to such a high office. It shows the esteem that tight hon. and hon. Members have for your parliamentary acumen.
The main industry in the Don valley is coal mining. The south Yorkshire coalfield is a long-life field. Being relatively new in historical terms, the coalfield enjoyed a higher standard of planning and housing than the norm in some of the older, traditional mining areas.
The Minister referred to the high percentage of miners purchasing their houses. Perhaps he could make a contribution to enable them to make improvements. Most National Coal Board houses are 80 to 90-years-old and need to be brought up to modern standards. I hope that when he dishes out the allocations he will see that areas with high NCB stocks enjoy a higher percentage of the HIP.
I come to the House after service as a member of Doncaster borough council. I had the honour of leading that council. Housing was a key service then and it remains so today. My constituents expect good housing. It is the responsibility primarily of the local authority to take action so that the housing conditions are adequate and meet the aspirations of the people. That function should rest fairly and squarely with the local council, but the Government will not allow that.
I come to the House as an advocate of local democracy. I have, therefore, examined the principles of the Bill. Sadly, I have come to the conclusions that it will do very little to solve the main housing problems. Some parts of the Bill, if enacted, will lead future generations to ponder about the wisdom of the House approving such a measure.
For far too long, the Government have spent too much time telling local authorities to reorder their priorities to accord with Government policy, yet at the same time I have heard Ministers preach about the need for local democracy and how the Government are committed to local government. The uncertainty in local government on housing matters and the complexity of the systems introduced by the Department of the Environment led last year to a massive underspend of housing capital of about £800 million. Much of that capital had come from receipts from the sale of municipal housing.
The Bill seeks to extend the right to buy local authority accommodation. It also extends the right to discounts. No doubt we shall be told of the Government's commitment to a property-owning democracy. How much better it would be if the Bill extended the right-to-buy provisions to tenants of property owned by the Government or to tenants of their landlord friends in the Private sector.
The mining areas of this country have more than a fair share of physically disabled people. One of the priority areas for local authority building in those parts of the country has been the provision of special accommodation 178 adapted for use by the physically disabled. Despite the improvement in mine safety, we have to recognise that the demand for specially adapted accommodation for the disabled will not diminish. I therefore wonder about the wisdom of allowing that accommodation to go into owner-occupation. The consequences will be further heavy expenditure by local authorities in providing replacement accommodation. My preliminary thought is that that practice will increase public expenditure. A much simpler approach is by way of improvement grants for the adaptation of private houses, for the benefit of the physically handicapped.
The remainder of the Bill is concerned with the building control function. I am aware that the House has already spent many hours in debate and consideration of this most complex draft legislation. I do not know whether to call it daft legislation.
I was one of the many people serving on local councils who opposed the introduction of fees for dealing with applications for consent under building regulations. At the time, I saw it as yet one more step towards the Government's objective of reducing the rate support grant. That happened, and local authorities were given the task of administering a charging system of a complexity that could have been devised only by the British Civil Service. A whole new bureaucracy was created. Relationships between local government and the public deteriorated.
There was a fear in local government that the need to pay fees would encourage people to go ahead with work without the necessary approvals under the building regulations. We did not hear too much about privatisation. We were naive and thought that the Government's motivation was simply to extract more money from the general public and reduce the rate support grant. The deepening of the recession has caused many business-people and professionals to search hard for new sources of income. Now companies are wildly enthusiastic about the task of collecting household refuse. I wonder where that initiative and drive were to be found before the recession.
We are discussing another piece of draft legislation which, if it is passed, will put fees into the hands of a new inspectorate, and will take them away from local authorities. It is clear that there will be no action by the Government to make good the loss with extra rate support grant.
I am against the appointment of outside inspectors. Building regulations are complex secondary legislation. Understanding and interpretation of those regulations comes only with years of detailed training and experience. Even then, many local authority building inspectors question the complexity of the regulations and their relevance to much present-day building construction.
The legislation does nothing to solve the basic housing problems of this country. I fear that it will add to those problems, because the abolition of local authority building control is a charter for the jerry builder. That must be avoided at all costs. The public's investment in house purchase is of primary importance to them for their future welfare. There have been too many examples of jerry building and malpractice in the British housebuilding industry.
Careful thought must be given to the possible consequences of the Bill. Had the House looked into a crystal ball many years ago and seen the present Prime Minister, the suffragettes might not have won their well-deserved victory.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
The House has been fortunate today to hear not one, but three maiden speeches. One was from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), whom we are delighted to welcome to the Conservative side. Another was from the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) who spoke for his constituents with weight and, no doubt, perception. Thirdly, there was my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) as the new Minister for Housing and Construction.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will have followed closely the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley as you are his neighbour. The House is fortunate to have yet another representative of the great mining industry which all hon. Members admire. I had the good fortune to grow up in a mining area, although on the other side of the Pennines. Many years later, in government, when we had some difficulties with the gentleman in question, I discovered that my first district councillor was the present Lord Gormley. I learned at least something from him about the mining industry. The hon. Member for Don Valley has worked on the surface of coal mines in his area. I am sure that he will contribute great knowledge to the Opposition.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South rightly reminded the House of the great breadth of industries and other activities in his constituency. He said that the hurdle of a maiden speech was high, but he soared over it with the same grace with which he soared over his opponents at the general election. He is most welcome not only for his personal characteristics but as a former chairman of his district housing authority. He will contribute mightily to the work of the House.
The third maiden speech that the House was fortunate to hear—I say this without any impertinence—was by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne. When we heard his mellifluous tones and carefuly marshalled arguments, those of us who had been Members of the House for some time realised that he had been quiet for far too long. The Prime Minister's loss of a Parliamentary Private Secretary is certainly the gain of the House of Commons.
My hon. Friend the Minister was entirely right to pay tribute to the splendid work done by his immediate predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Mr. Stanley). If anyone laid the foundations of a successful housing policy for a Conservative Government, it was he. If anyone is equipped to build upon them and to take the programme forward, it is my hon. Friend the new Minister. I was delighted, as I am sure were all my hon. Friends, to hear his robust statement of his philosophy as he approaches his challenging task. I was further gratified to hear him say—and mean—that he would seek to widen choice, which is the centre of freedom, and to roll back, wherever prudent, the frontiers of the state. Above all, I was glad to hear his commitment to the broadening of our capital-owning democracy, in particular through the medium of home ownership. My hon. Friend has made a splendid start and I am greatly heartened.
I start with the same advantage as my hon. Friend the Minister in that I did not speak on the previous Bill and I had the good fortune not to sit on the Committee. I should 180 make it clear to any Whip who may be present that I hope to continue that record. I can thus come to the Bill with a fresh mind and some simple and fairly clear points.
First, in relation to the changes to be made in the building regulations and their administration, I very much welcome the move towards self-regulation and, in some cases, self-certification. Many, though not all, of our present regulations are out of date. They do not take sufficient account of the new materials and methods available to the building industry. It is high time that regulations framed as long ago as 1936 were brought up to date.
Secondly, I welcome the changes because the language in which many of the building regulations are couched is obsolete. It obscures rather than illuminates, to the point where the courts, let alone the ordinary citizen, cannot understand what is meant. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who is a great expert in these matters, will seek to modernise and clarify the regulations. I count on my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction to simplify them, too, so that those who build and inspect our houses know precisely what they are supposed to achieve.
Thirdly, I welcome the changes because there is too much regulation of building altogether. I had some responsibility at the Department of the Environment when we introduced simpler arrangements for planning via the general development order so that people could make additions to their houses without having to go through the whole rigmarole of the planning laws. There should now be a similar move in respect of building regulations. Having recently built and modernised a house myself, I speak from some personal experience. I did not do the physical labour, but I took an active interest in it. I was mainly responsible for the demolition of what went before so that those more expert than I could carry out the reconstruction work. I also did the garden. When modernising old agricultural premises or the like, I believe that in principle the owner should be able to do as he pleases, within his own curtilage, provided that he does nothing to endanger his own or visitors' safety or to put the public at risk through pollution or the like.
Unfortunately, I and my local building inspectors do not agree. They have tried to go into that curtilage by telling me exactly what to do inside as well as outside. In that regard, the state is over-mighty. The council can be over-intrusive. I hope that my hon. Friend and his colleagues will consider this matter in Committee. I hope to represent it to my hon. Friend more effectively, in writing.
Overall, I welcome the changes, but I have some tiny reservations. With self-regulation and self-certification, we must ensure the selection of competent certifiers. We must also be sure that their performance is monitored properly.
My experience goes back to when I had some responsibility in the Ministry of Transport when we allowed certification of vehicle safety to be carried out by private garages. The three-triangle scheme was introduced. The important feature was and still is that the Ministry sanctioned a large number of private garages to carry out the certification on behalf of the Government. On the whole, the scheme has worked well, but the sanction behind it is that before a garage is put into the scheme it must satisfy the Department as to its equipment and the competence of its work force. Thereafter, if a garage 181 proprietor transgresses or performs badly he can be thrown out of the scheme. Indeed, it frequently fell to me to consider appeals from garage proprietors against being thrown out of the scheme.
The analogy is less than exact, but it is important in the case of building regulations that the Government satisfy the public about the selection of the certifiers, the monitoring of their performance and the effectiveness of the sanctions that could apply if they failed to do their job properly.
I am a little worried, too, about my hon. Friend the Minister's use of the word "option". I take him to mean that there would be a two-way, rather than a one-way, option. In other words, there would be no obligation on a house owner to employ a private architect or builder; equally, however, the council should not be able to prohibit him from employing such people as he chooses, provided that they have been adequately certified. I am sure that my hon. Friend meant that it must be a two-way option.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The Bill also deals with the extension of the social revolution that the Government have set in motion—the massive move towards home ownership. I have now been through eight general election campaigns. During the most recent one, I encountered the fear among large numbers of women who live in council houses in my constituency and the other five that visited that if a Labour Government were returned to office, their opportunity to purchase their homes would be snuffed out. I am not making a party political point, simply an observation. I suspect that many such women who had recognised the opportunity to get on to the home ownership ladder had for years been nagging the old man to take advantage of that opportunity, but that, for some reason, he had not done so. Perhaps he could not afford it, or perhaps he was not interested. During the election campaign, however, many women suddenly realised that if the election went the wrong way, their option to buy would be ended overnight. I am sure that many women who normally vote Labour changed their minds and their votes over this issue. I hope that the Opposition will realise that there was a shift of expectation and desire among many of their supporters on that issue.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)
Were not 250,000 council houses sold before this Government came to power in 1979?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I was referring to people's aspirations. I am sure that the hon. Member agrees that many people want to own their homes. That is the heart's desire of the majority of young married women. The problem is how to do it. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He would like all first-time buyers to buy in the private sector. Fair enough. However, the only way for many people to become home owners is to purchase a council house and many people, especially women, feared that that option would be snuffed out.
Through this Bill, my hon. Friend is opening the door to another substantial advance towards a property-owning democracy. I am glad that he was able to confirm that nearly half a million people purchased their council houses during the previous Government or now have purchases in 182 the pipeline. I should like him now to set a further target. Without confirming it at the Dispatch Box, I hope that he will regard 1 million sales as the right target while he is Minister for Housing and Construction. A target of 1 million is a nice round number. It would be a fitting one for my hon. Friend who is a competent and robust Minister. He could then go on to conquer other worlds.
During the general election campaign and at other times I have visited council houses. I have also found that many tenants become extremely irritated when something has gone wrong in the house and they cannot get the council to put it right. If it is a minor problem, I frequently tell them that they should do the repair themselves and not leave everything to the council; however, an elderly person or someone on an extremely small income has a larger problem if a window no longer fits or a wall starts to crumble. How unsatisfactory it is that months and sometimes a fair part of a year can elapse before the council gets round to doing anything. It is therefore entirely right that a Conservative Government should extend the tenants' charter to give tenants a right, under proper control, to have a repair made and to send the bill to the council. That will have two effects. First, it will enable the tenant to have the problem dealt with quickly. Secondly, it will reveal to elected members on the councils, when they start to receive some of those bills, that something is radically wrong with their council's arrangements for urgent repairs. It will help keep councillors up to the mark.
In an intervention, I asked my hon. Friend the Minister why he felt unable to offer the 60 per cent. discount to those who have lived in their council houses for 25 as opposed to 30 years. I know that he will consider that, in my absence, in Committee. It is worth pressing the point, however, because many council tenants who have occupied their homes for 30 years are, almost by definition, elderly and might not want to exercise their right to buy at such a late stage. If the full 60 per cent. discount were available—it is designed as an incentive — for 25 years, there may be a substantially larger number of people whom my hon. Friend would be able to help.
During his speech—I normally enjoy the right hon. Gentleman's speeches, but it was not one of his best, perhaps because he did not have quite as many quotations from The Guardian as usual—the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that the right to repair was a sick joke. When I tell my tenants in the Bury St. Edmunds constituency that proposals to enable them to have their repairs carried out more quickly are regarded by the official Labour party spokesman as a sick joke, they will conclude that it is the right hon. Gentleman who is a sick joke.
Over the past 20 years, under all Governments, but primarily led by the post-war Labour Government, national Governments, most local authorities and most building inspectors have presided over the construction of too many poor quality council homes. Whether they were the prefabs, the high rises or homes built in the new overspill estates that are damp and unsatisfactory, we all have some responsibility. But I am afraid that the principal responsibility must lie with the existing system of council house management by local authorites and over building regulations framed by central Government. It is refreshing 183 that we are breaking that mould and moving in a new direction that will enable some of those errors to be put right.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
It is with pride and a sense of privilege, that I rise to address the House in this debate on the Housing and Building Control Bill. I express my thanks to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity at such an early stage in the debate. I also offer my congratulations to you Sir, on your election as Deputy Speaker, and I am sure that the warmth of your character and fairness will ring through the Chamber. In addition, I congratulate my colleague and friend, whom I have known for a considerable time, my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond), on his splendid speech.
It is also a privilege and an honour to represent the Normanton constituency, and I do so with pride. This is the first maiden speech from the Normanton constituency for more than 31 years. I thank my predecessor, Mr. Albert Roberts, for his sterling work and efforts on behalf of my constituents. I hope that I can draw the same respect and support from the constituents of Normanton.
Boundary changes have meant slight adjustments to the Normanton constituency, which now includes the former borough of Ossett in the Wakefield metropolitan district council area. Before the boundary changes, it formed part of the Dewsbury constituency. That area was represented by David Ginsberg, who is no longer a Member, but I thank him for his work on behalf of my new constituents.
As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are aware, the Normanton constituency is in west Yorkshire. In the days when Albert Roberts was first elected to this House, mining and railways were the two prime industries that offered job opportunities to thousands of people. As one who has served and worked in the mining industry all my life, I appreciate the values of the mining fraternities. Sadly, these industries have declined, and my constituency, like many others, is now suffering from rising unemployment and loss of job opportunities.
The rise in unemployent since 1979 has been staggering. In the Rothwell area, which comes under the Leeds metropolitan district, the total number of people unemployed, male and female, in May 1979 was 340. By May 1983, that figure had increased to 1,235—four times greater than five years ago. In the Dewsbury employment area, total unemployment in May 1979 was 1,591. In May 1983, it was 4,756. Last October, the figure was 4,871, but there was then an adjustment in the method of recording the unemployment level.
In the Wakefield employment office area, which includes a large part of my constituency, in May 1979 1,612 males and 622 females, a total of 2,234, were unemployed. By May 1983, the total figure stood at 5,492. That demonstrates the problem that the Normanton constituency is facing, just like many other constituencies, mainly because of the Government's policies.
The Wakefield district council and West Yorkshire county council are using all the means at their disposal to attract industry and employers into the area. The towns of Ossett and Rothwell lie alongside the M1 motorway, and the former Normanton and Stanley urban district areas are adjacent to the M62 motorway. In other words, this 184 important area is covered by the motorway system, communications are ideal and industrial sites can be found adjacent to the M1 travelling north to south and the M62 travelling east to west.
I shall be pleased to show any industrialist or entrepreneur considering future development over sites that offer wonderful opportunities. I can introdue them to a work force that is willing to work and help to produce national wealth. All that exists in Normanton.
I am pleased to use this opportunity to make my first contribution on housing. I have been active in local government since 1951 and was deputy leader of the Wakefield metropolitan district authority from 1974. That authority is responsible for about 48,000 council dwellings — about the tenth largest housing authority in the country. As a result, housing has always been foremost in my mind. We are proud in the Wakefield metropolitan district that we make housing provision for all sections of the community, and in particular for the aged and the infirm. I share the concern of my colleagues about the talk of reducing the number of dwellings that would be available for the disabled as a result of the introduction of the Bill.
The Housing and Building Control Bill, by its very title, suggests that it might tackle some of the problems that local authorities face. However, I find that the case is to the contrary and the Bill deals with a whole series of relatively minor and peripheral issues, and is largely irrelevant when it comes to facing up to the housing crisis that we have to endure. The Bill sets out the right to buy in certain cases where the landlord does not own the freehold and it proposes to extend the right to buy at a discount. It also gives tenants the right to shared ownership, and gives the Secretary of State a host of new powers.
The Government's proposals on shared ownership are hard to believe or conceive. If I have it right, the Bill could mean that if a tenant cannot afford to buy his house, he can first buy the toilet and perhaps the kitchen, and then pay rent for the bathroom, the living room and the rest of the house. That is ridiculous, to say the least. There is also the problem of repairs. We heard much about that from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), and there will be tremendous difficulties over repairs to shared ownership properties. It is difficult to understand how it would work.
Let me make it clear that I am not opposed to owner-occupation. The Labour party is not opposed to owner-occupation, and I wish to underline that. Over the years, in my capacity as a local councillor, I have encouraged many a married couple to buy their own house, and I shall continue that advice in my capacity as a Member of Parliament. In my former authority, and now in the Wakefield metropolitan district council, we have built and are building houses for sale. In the 1960s, when I served on an urban district council, council houses were sold, but that was done on a voluntary basis and that is what should apply today. If an authority feels that it has the ability and the wherewithal to sell council houses, that should be done on a voluntary basis and not on the compulsory basis used by the Government, because that causes many problems.
The Bill will do nothing to help the 1.2 million people on our housing lists, or the 60 per cent. or so of council tenants in receipt of housing benefits and dependent on means-tested allowances. I ask the Minister what the Bill will do for the 1.5 million public sector dwellings that have 185 structural defects. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities estimates that remedial works necessary for those dwellings may cost £10,000 million. That could involve putting right defects in, or the demolition of, houses that in some cases are only 10 years old. These are some of the major problems that the housing authorities face and the Bill, like the Housing Act 1980, simply ignores them.
Housing expenditure has borne the brunt of public expenditure cuts. The level of investment on housing is only 45 per cent. in real terms of what it was in 1979. However, the housing problems have become worse rather than better over the same period. The Government may say that local authorities are underspending, but generally that is not true. Where some local authorities have failed to spend their allocations plus capital receipts, it is generally because of the crazy system of housing finance from which we suffer. The system of annual allocations for housing expenditure is, and always has been, complete nonsense. The under-investment in housing is chronic and if the position is not improved, more and more houses will fall into disrepair and there will be increasing problems of homelessness and desperate housing circumstances.
Investing in housing would be a sensible measure and net costs would be small. The AMA has estimated that for every additional 1,000 houses built, up to 1,500 jobs are created and that for every 1,000 houses renovated, 700 jobs are created. At the moment, there are 400,000 unemployed construction workers, and at the latest estimate it costs £5,000 per annum to keep an unemployed person, in terms of benefit and tax forgone. If that money were spent on housing, more than 120,000 jobs could be created.
I ask the Government to conduct a thorough investigation into the condition of the public housing stock and to begin to do something about the defects in that housing.
§ Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)
This must be my lucky day for not only have I been called to make my maiden speech, but I have been allocated a desk. To have both on the same day is more than I could possibly have expected.
I was interested to hear the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien). as I know his area well and spent some time there not long ago helping to prepare a report on the infrastructure deficiencies of the Wakefield area. Although I concur with what he said about its having advantages over other areas, many projects remain to be completed.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, who is now my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell). He has been extremely helpful to me, both in the House and in the constituency. He will long be remembered for the part that he played in transforming the plans for phase 1 of the Hemel Hempstead hospital into reality. Lest it be thought that I shall be short of advice, I am sure that I shall be able to rely, in a bipartisan way, on advice from the new hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), who was previously the Member for my constituency, from my noble Friend Lady Davidson and from another predecessor, James Allason, outside this place, who I am sure will be only too willing to help me.
186 I do not know why Hertfordshire, West has its present nomenclature. Under its previous guise, when 55 per cent. of the constituency was in Hemel Hempstead town, it was called Hemel Hempstead. Now that 75 per cent of it is in the town of Hemel Hempstead, it does not seem to warrant the same consideration. The new name somehow conveys the impression of broad acres, which is not an entirely true reflection of its composition. Of course, there are many beautiful villages in my constituency, as well as the market town of Tring, but the vast majority of it is the highly successful new town of Hemel Hempstead — and successful it is, largely because its industry has been based, not on the old and large dying industries, but on the new-wave industries of the future, particularly high technology. It also has the advantage that many of those industries are in the small business sector, rather than among the giants. As a result, its distribution of employment has been beneficial to the whole area and has resulted in one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
I am happy to speak about housing and building control, because I have taken a considerable interest in it for some years. I cannot hope to emulate the 31 years in local government of the hon. Member for Normanton, but I am in my eleventh year in local government, and I have been involved in housing matters for most of that time. I have also had the privilege of working as head of research for the National House Building Council. The building controls provisions of the Bill are, therefore, of great interest to me, as I have seen as first hand the work that has been done by the National House Building Council and how the example that it has set has spread abroad and been adopted in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and many other places.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to timber frame houses. May I point out that the National House Building Council brought out its practice note on timber frame houses long before anything was done in that respect through building controls. There is much to learn, therefore, from the voluntary sector, particularly when, as in the case of the National House Building Council, it reflects the membership of building societies, the professions, unions, builders, and the consumer movement. It is a most useful body on which to build—if I may be permitted to use that pun.
The other aspect of the Bill is of supreme importance to my constituency, having, as it does, a near equal split between public sector and private sector housing, despite the purchase of some 3,000 houses over the past few years by tenants taking advantage of the right to buy. Many tenants will benefit from the increased discount, reflecting their length of tenure. Many of the first tenants in my constituency, after moving out from the east end of London, moved into the homes that they now occupy, and I am sure that they will look forward to the opportunity to buy those homes.
However, that does not apply in other pans of my constituency. Tenants of charitable housing associations, of whom I have many, are not in the same position. very much welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction said, and I hope that on the next occasion it will be a little less opaque, because I have received many letters on this subject — indeed, more than on any other subject. The letters fall into two categories. Many tenants cannot buy, simply because the housing association concerned refuses to sell. Others 187 complain that although their charitable housing associations have conceded the principle of sale, they are still dragging their feet after four years and refusing to give a price. Surely the House cannot legitimately place any family in that situation, putting them at a disadvantage compared with their neighbours. In many of these cases, the housing association houses are identical to the council housing across the street or round the corner, and the people rightly feel that they are being discriminated against. I hope that something will be forthcoming to encourage them in their just desire to own their own homes.
I have listened to Opposition members talking about the loss of housing stock. One gets the impression that my constituents will blow the houses up as soon as they have bought them. The point is that those houses will remain part of the housing stock. We are talking only about tenure. Our policy represents the most significant redistribution of wealth and power that this country has seen this century. Moreover, I welcome the increased consumer advantages that it brings. The many families who have bought are able to carry out improvements to their houses and cultivate their gardens in the knowledge that that will benefit them and their families. It also has an effect on the neighbours who have not bought. As a result, areas of Hemel Hempstead have been transformed by the council house sales policy.
I, therefore, commend to the House this most important measure. The right hon. Member for Gorton made great play of the fact that it is a long Bill, but it can be as long as my hon. Friend the Minister likes, as long as he makes sure that all the shenanigans that we have seen by Socialist authorities are stamped out and that people such as my constituents can do what they have always wanted to do, and that is to own their own homes.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) on a brilliantly delivered and extremely fluent speech—delivered, I might add, to my amazement, completely without notes, and without the additional advantage of a perspex autocue in front of him.
The hon. Member spoke with some feeling about the town of Hemel Hempstead and its industries, and said that it was a highly successful new town. It is, of course, a splendid example of a lead being taken by the public sector in generating housing, employment and industry, and of that example being followed by the private sector. However, I must put in a rider: I cannot agree with what he said about the right to buy. I shall return to that matter later.
This Bill is introduced against the background of a major housing crisis. During the past five to six years there has been a serious lack of investment in our public and private housing stock. The housing stock is deteriorating at a faster rate than it is being replaced. The problem is particularly acute in London. We have the lowest house building record since the 1920s. Even in the much vaunted private sector, proclaimed by the Government, house building is still at a very low level and there is still enormous reliance on untried methods of housing construction. We have to view this Bill against that 188 background, and viewed in that way it is a pathetic response to housing needs. It is not only a pathetic Bill; it is a bad Bill.
First, the Bill extends the right to buy. I am delighted to see that the right to buy for tenants of charitable housing associations has been removed from the Housing Act 1980 by the Bill. I hope and trust that the political reality that was forced upon the Government by the House of Lords —bless it—will stay with the Government when they come to think further about the Bill's opaqueness.
Less than 10 per cent. of the public housing stock in my constituency is made up of houses; the rest are flats. Of those properties on which the right to buy has been exercised, 80 per cent. are houses and 75 per cent. have been built or renovated since the mid-1970s. That is a clear demonstration of the fact that it is the better quality accommodation that is being purchased under the right-to-buy legislation. At the same time, it is clearly those tenants who remain in the poorer quality, older accommodation who are further restricted in their choice of transfer and purchase. Eventually, as the right to buy proceeds, as the Minister wishes it to, only the older accommodation will remain—flats rather than houses—as a residual sector for those who could not or did not wish to leap out of it. That is what is happening and it is a tightening of the screw on the rented sector, dividing home owners and tenants still further. It makes nonsense of the Minister's claim in response to an intervention that he did not wish to see the rented sector becoming a residual one. The Bill will make it an increasingly residual sector.
The Minister's statement, when he was challenged on extending the right to buy to tenants of private landlords, was amazing. He said that of course it was right for the public sector to divest itself of assets but that it was not right for the public sector to take that same approach to the assets of private landlords, from which those landlords have profited for many years.
§ Mr. Winnick
Is it not also often the case that the tenants of privately owned accommodation require far more protection than those who rent from the public sector? If there is a case for tenants to buy, there is a stronger case for private tenants to be able to buy than there is for public sector tenants.
§ Mr. Smith
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Local authorities, for all their faults, and they are many, are at least accountable to the electorate and the people housed in their accommodation; private landlords are not.
Building regulation and control is a much misunderstood science and it is a less glamorous part of the Bill. However, we should note what is going on at present in the production of, for example, timber frame housing. Now is not the time to start privatising Britain's building regulation and control structures. They should be made better, not worse, as the Bill is doing.
I want to concentrate on the right to repair. At first sight the provisions of clause 23 seem wonderful, like so much that the Government say. However, on closer examination they are rather less wonderful. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is not here to listen to what I have to say because, what he said on this matter clearly showed that he had not read the clause.
First, the clause gives carte blanche to the Minister to make regulations. It is an imprecise clause for areas of 189 such crucial importance to many tenants. It is dangerous to leave so much open to administrative regulation and the House should be worried by that. Secondly, it forces the tenant to pay in the first instance. The hon. Gentleman said that the tenant could get the repair done and send the Bill to the council but that is not what happens under the clause. A tenant pays and then claims reimbursement from the council which is very different. Old age pensioners, the unemployed and those on low wages will find it difficult to exercise the rights which are supposedly given to them by the clause. Thirdly, the clause will make local authority repair services worse, not better. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that many are bad enough already.
§ Mr. Kaufman
My hon. Friend has made some valid points. In addition to his point about a tenant recovering the cost from the landlord, it is important to point out that clause 23 states that the cost of repairs should not exceed the costs that would have been incurred by the landlords in carrying out the repairs. How is the tenant to know how much a local authority would have paid? What if, without knowing, the tenant paid more? He will therefore lose money on a repair for which he should not have to pay anything in the first place.
§ Mr. Smith
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. That is one of the many imprecise parts of the clause, which is ill thought out and which will act to the detriment of tenants.
The clause will have decimate local authority repair services. There are authorities — that for my constituency is one—which are trying valiantly to improve the standard of their repair services. They are already being hit by block grant penalties because they are having to employ more workers to improve the standard of repairs and to set up area repair teams. They will now face a further decimation of their work forces as a result of the Bill.
The clause offers no protection at all against unscrupulous private contractors. Anyone who knows the building industry—clearly the Minister does not—knows that there are many unscrupulous private contractors around. Many tenants will be caught out by the clause, thinking that they are getting a good repair for a fair price. They will find that not only is the repair bad and the price unfair but that they are losing their right to call on the council. The clause will affect many people.
There are, of course, a few sensible right-to-repair schemes operating in the country. Far and away the best scheme is that operated by a Labour-controlled authority in the London borough of Brent. It offers proper safeguards to tenants. There is an approved list of contractors. There are agreed time periods in which the local authority has the opportunity to carry out the repair. After that a tenant has the right to call in one of the approved contractors. If a tenant does so, he does not have to pay. The provisions in the Brent tenancy agreement have encouraged extremely good standards in terms of time and quality from the local authority's repair service. The Government would have been much better advised to consider the system operated by the London borough of Brent, instead of grabbing at a garbled version of that operated by the London borough of Havering in their haste to push forward these provisions.
Therefore, the Bill is quite inadequate in the following three areas of policy: the right to repair, the right to buy, 190 and building control. The Government claim that it is a charter for tenants but for the reasons that I have given, it clearly is not. Time and again Conservative Members stress that the Bill will extend choice—that great green sward of unctuous freedom on to which the Minister squelched at the beginning and conclusion of his speech. In a very limited way, it may extend choice and freedom for those tenants who wish to exercise the right to buy their dwellings, but it offers nothing to the many tenants who naturally and rightly want to own their own homes, but who do not want to buy the dwellings in which they live. They are by far the majority, yet the Bill offers them nothing. Moreover, it offers nothing to those who want to continue renting.
Yet again, in the supposed name of freedom, the Government propose to emphasise the existence of two nations within our country. There are two nations in housing: the home owners and the tenants. The Bill will only deepen that divide. That is why it is a bad Bill and despite all the fine words uttered by Conservative Members, I shall continue to fight it.
§ Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for having called me to make my maiden speech in this extremely important debate on one of the most significant reforming Bills produced by the Government.
The constituency that I represent has been substantially changed by the Boundary Commission. Part of it was represented with great distinction by my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward). I should like to put on record my thanks to him for the considerable assistance that he has given me in dealing with the problems of the revised constituency. However, the greater part of my constituency was represented for many years with enormous distinction by my predecessor. Sir John Eden. It is customary to pay tribute to one's predecessor, but that task is always made much easier when it can be performed with the pleasure and conviction that I have today.
Sir John served the country, the House and his constituents for nearly 30 years in a most distinguished career. He served on, and was the Chairman of, many Standing Committees. He served the nation as a Minister of State, Ministry of Technology, a Minister for Industry and a Minister of Posts and Telecommunicaticns. From the many messages passed to me by my constituents, I know how well he served the constituency and how greatly he will be missed. I can only hope that in my parliamentary career I shall be able to live up to the standards that he has set.
My constituency of Bournemouth, West now takes in a substantial part of the borough of Poole. It is the first time that a constituency in my area has crossed the borough boundary. Of course, there has been a traditional, friendly rivalry between the two boroughs of Bournemouth and Poole. However, I am pleased to say that that has not affected matters in my constituency greatly, and that there is a very friendly relationship between us. Taken together, Bournemouth and Poole represent first and foremost a most attractive seaside area, which is one of the premier resorts in the country. The resort enjoys tremendous natural advantages and is surrounded on all sides by beautiful countryside. The towns offer terrific amenities 191 and there is a wide variety of hotels. Indeed, I was gratified to see how many political parties had already booked their next conferences in Bournemouth.
Of course, many changes are taking place in the tourist industry. In my humble opinion the increased popularity of holidays abroad, rather than in Bournemouth, is mistaken. Nowadays, there is a tendency for tourism to relate more to specific activities and to conferences. However, I am pleased to say that Bournemouth and Poole have adapted extremely well to changing circumstances, and can hold their own in competition with all the other major resorts. Indeed, they do rather better than the others, because Bournemouth can offer one of the cleanest beaches in the country. We are in the process of building a substantial new international centre, which will provide facilities both for the town and for conferences held there.
The two towns also offer a regional centre for the arts. The theatres, symphony orchestras and visiting ballet companies make them an extremely important regional centre for those interested in such cultural activities. The two towns are also a regional centre for commerce. Many of the major banks, building societies, insurance companies and firms have chosen to relocate there because of the attractiveness of the environment, the range of housing available and the extremely skilled manpower there. The area is linked by good communications, by air, rail, sea—to the port of Poole—and road. Indeed, I hope that we shall proceed quickly with completion of the link from the M3 to the M27, not least because it will enable me to reach my constituency more quickly.
The area is also a growing centre for light industry and high technology. Many of the firms are involved in defence and several of them may well be affected by the recently rumoured decision of British Aerospace to contract at Hurn and lay off labour. That is a matter of great concern to my constituents — as many of them work there—as well as to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley).
Bournemouth is also a major retirement centre. Indeed, 30.1 per cent. of the population are retired. That is more than double the national average. This presents special problems for the constituency and especially for the elderly who have to live on fixed incomes. We must remember that those elderly people have greater expenses than the rest of us because they cannot carry out for themselves or afford the services which we can. They cannot maintain their own homes and gardens, for example. Therefore, they are forced to employ outside people. This increases their costs greatly.
I am worried particularly about the elderly unemployed — those who are over 60 and who perhaps have no prospect of employment again before they reach the retirement age of 65. I hope that the Government will consider raising the capital threshold for supplementary benefit for those people. Some 9,000 people lost benefit in 1980, according to the 1982 DHSS report—only a tiny fraction of the number who would benefit if the threshold were raised for that age group alone.
My constituents are anxious about the rating system. They welcome the pledges that the Government made about the rating system, although I think most of them would like to see a little more done.
My constituents are also worried about law and order. I am afraid that there is a growing crime wave throughout 192 the country, from which Bournemouth is not exempt. I make a plea that we should increase the staffing levels and authorised establishment of the Dorset constabulary.
As a chartered surveyor, I have taken a keen interest in the progress of the Bill. The areas that have come into my constituency from the borough of Poole are composed substantially of municipal housing and a high proportion of municipal housing already exists within the Bournemouth borough part of the constituency.
I am happy to support wholeheartedly the general objectives of the Bill, which I regard as an extremely important extension of democratic freedom. However, I am worried about one or two parts of the Bill—they have been referred to by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith)—which suggest that it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to make regulations. It seems to me, although I wish to pay a great tribute to all those who have worked in Committee on the Bill, that we need to look much more closely at whether we can enshrine the necessary regulations within the legislation. I believe that that will overcome some of the less well-considered criticisms raised by the Opposition. There are grave difficulties under clause 23 in establishing what the costs would be if repairs had been carried out by the landlord. I do not believe that those difficulties are insuperable, but we should spell them out and deal with them in Committee. However, it is proper that the tenant should first pay, because if there is no obligation on the tenant to pay and then recover that payment, this would greatly reduce a tenant's incentive to ensure that the work has been done well and at a reasonable cost.
I am worried by the fact that clause 23 does not take into account the need to prescribe the manner in which the work should be carried out, which could be just as important as the cost. When a group of buildings have been historically decorated or roofed in the same manner or rendered in the same colour, it may cause a great deal of disharmony within a town if tenants in all cases carry out such repairs in any way they think fit, although it may be appropriate in some cases that will be particularly relevant when we deal with listed buildings or those within conservation areas. In such cases it may be important to prescribe the manner in which the repairs should be carried out.
It is important also that some control should be retained over the materials used. Unless we control the materials used, a tenant, in good faith, may carry out a repair in inappropriate materials, thereby rendering the repair worse than useless. There are large parts of the Bill which would be more appropriately spelt out and dealt with in Committee. I hope that the Committee will consider my points. I applaud my colleagues for producing an admirable piece of legislation which greatly extends democratic rights, and one that I support wholeheartedly.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
When I made my first speech some three months ago, I followed my hon. Friend the then Member for Croydon, North-West, (Mr. Pitt). The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), who has just made his maiden speech, some 18 months ago tried to become the Member for Croydon, North-West. I am happy to recollect that he was defeated by a member of the Liberal party. In the way of true, determined Tories, the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West proceeded up the Tory 193 alphabet from C to B and now comes to the House as the Member for Bournemouth, West. We welcome him here and welcome the expertise that he brings to such a debate.
I am happy to agree with the hon. Member on one point, at least, upon which he substantially concentrated — that the regulations should be in the Bill and not somewhere else, so that those who are given the task of ensuring that property is built properly know where to look and know the penalty if they do not comply with the requirements.
Many speakers have begun their contributions by commenting on the national position and I want to do so also. The recently arrived hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) who is a personal friend of mine, although a political opponent, said that it was a disastrous national position. It may not be commonly realised that the housing budget has been cut more in the past 10 years than any other social expenditure budget. Between 1974 and 1979 the Labour Government cut housing expenditure by 27 per cent. between 1979 and 1983 the Conservatives planned to cut it by 48 per cent. We still have a few months of the projected period to run. Compare that with a 10 per cent. cut in the education budget and a 23 per cent. increase in the defence budget and one can begin to understand why our housing predicament is so appalling. During the past two years there has been a reduction, first, of 40 per cent. and then 60 per cent. in the pounds and pence per year spent on housing.
Many people have a dire concern to remedy what is happening. It falls to me to say from the Liberal Benches, as it did to the Liberal spokesman when the Bill was introduced in its original form in the last Parliament, that the Bill does nothing to deal with the housing crisis in Britain in 1983. All that it does is deal with some peripheral areas. Primarily, it deals with the right to buy, about which I shall make some observations, but it deals too with building control and regulation, which I shall also discuss.
I represent a constituency where four out of five families live in council housing. More people live in council housing in Southwark and Bermondsey than in any other constituency save four. Tinkering with provisions such as the right to buy does not begin to solve their problems.
Southwark contains about 5,000 empty properties and about 14,000 which are technically unfit for human habitation. People are desperate to have their lot bettered and, if possible, to escape. The tragedy is that 61 per cent. of people who live in council housing need the rent and rates connected with that housing to be paid for by the state. They cannot escape because they do not have the funds to buy their own housing, whether it is a council dwelling or a privately owned property elsewhere.
We are therefore talking only about four out of 10 families in council housing who might consider purchasing property. The problems remain for those who will live in public sector property for years. They will be unaffected by the Bill's proposals.
Liberals welcome one thing. In spite of the Minister's opaqueness in his maiden appearance in his new role, on which I congratulate him, there is no old clause 2. That dealt with charitable housing associations' right to buy. One reason for the omission is that, in another place, Liberal Members, with other Opposition Members, defeated the proposal. Even some Conservatives saw the 194 light before the end of the road. In passing, it is important to note that the Labour party wants to abolish the second Chamber. Liberals want a second Chamber, but we want it to be democratic. There is great merit, as the exercise on this Bill last time round showed, in another place being able to curb the excesses of a majority in the House of Commons, particularly when the majority of seats, though not majority of votes, is so large. We hope that plans to return the right to buy for charitable housing associations will disappear from the Department's thinking.
We welcome in principle the opportunity for people to afford and acquire their own homes. All parties appear to agree about that, but situations vary. In a rural community, only four council houses may exist. Should the people in them be entitled to buy, to the detriment of prospective applicants for public sector housing? In a London borough, such as the one that I represent, there are some 65,000 council houses. Surely there is good reason for monitoring and controlling houses that are sold. The most appealing properties to buy are the newest. People are willing to buy a semi-detached or detached ground floor property with a garden, but they are unwilling to buy if they live on the twenty-fifth floor of a tower block, particularly since such a purchase might involve enormous complications.
I invite Labour Members to make their proposals clear. They object to the Government's proposals, but what do they propose? I can tell the House what we propose. We believe in the principle of the right to buy. However, the local authority should be entitled to say that in its situation, or in respect of some of its property, only a given percentage, or none, in each year should be sold. That may have to be monitored by an independent body such as the Ombudsman. A local authority should have the primary responsibility for adjudicating upon its needs. I hope that the Government can be persuaded that those nearest to the problem should be allowed to decide how best to control their housing stock, subject to the entitlement of those who feel that decisions are unmerited to appeal against an arbitrary local decision.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts
The hon. Gentleman has outlined circuitously the Labour party's policy. We say that the decision should rest with the local authority. The Labour party does not favour banning the sale of council houses, but believes in local democracy. The decision should be taken locally. That is what the hon. Gentleman seems to be saying.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am happy that Labour party Back Benchers do what their Front Benchers fail to do. I am happy that the Labour party is adopting Liberal party policy. That has often been our experience. Other parties regularly adopt our best policies and pretend that they are their own.
We welcome the leasehold entitlement in the Bill. We do not say that no disabled person should be able to buy because they may be specifically disadvantaged, but a particular category of housing is involved, which normally is needed to meet the needs of the disabled in a community.
We welcome the shared ownership provisions, although they may be complicated. We do not welcome the increase in discount from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. That is unjustified. Given that six out of 10 people in some 195 areas are in receipt of housing benefit, it is an unnecessary extension which will produce little good for those who already have the opportunity to buy.
We are happy with proposals that will make clearer for people who buy the service charges that councils may impose. In the originally named Southwark Sparrow, my borough council's newspaper, the borough issues a warning to those who are considering buying. It is part of its policy to discourage buying, so it warns that a typical two-bedroom flat in a block with central heating and a lift might cost £964.84 in service charges. There are some interesting heads of service charges, including the reserve fund. In other boroughs, there is a payment for the disposal of other than common refuse. It is important for tenants to know the implications of such charges.
We welcome the right to repair provisions to some extent, but they involve some disadvantages. The common law already provides the right to repair and the Bill proposes to make that statutory. The danger is that most tenants will have to pay in advance for a service that, as other hon. Members said, may be as bad a service as the often appalling local authority service. They should at least be given the option. They must not be deceived into thinking that payment for a private builder, who equally could botch up the job, would necessarily be an advantage. It would be best if the council repair service met the needs of those who pay the rents and rates, and if the service were improved many tenants would be happier.
One proposal in the Bill will illuminate for tenants the mysteries of their often enormous heating charges. For those tenants living on estates such as those in Southwark and Bermondsey, who are often old and occupying high-rise blocks, it is a grave imposition to pay enormous heating charges for often wholly inadequate heating. If the Bill succeeds in providing value for money for them and improved heating services on our council estates, it will in this respect be worth while.
When we debated motions on the Budget prior to the full debate last week, I was mystified that the Labour party did not support the Liberal party in its opposition to the Government's proposed and subsequently accepted mortgage interest relief threshold increase from £25,000 to £30,000. There is an increasing discrepancy between the subsidies of those in private sector accommodation and those in public sector accommodation. I hope that the Labour party recognises that its duty, which is also ours, is to ensure that those in the cheapest housing categories are given the advantage of the country's finances and that those who are given the right to buy are also given the chance to buy private properties at the lower price end of the market — which are the only prices that most of them can afford.
It is regrettable that although the London docklands development corporation will bring the opportunity to buy to my constituency, where only 2 per cent. own their own homes, it will provide a considerable percentage of those new homes to people who will have to pay at least £50,000 or £60,000 for them. That is an unacceptable misuse of the Government's opportunity to allow people on a limited budget a new start that will give them the independence all hon. Members have been saying they wish to give them.
On Third Reading of the original Bill in the previous Parliament my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight 196 (Mr. Ross), said that we would oppose the proposals that would weaken the system of control of buildings, especially those in the public sector. He said that we would oppose it because, as is known in the construction industry —we have been given examples in recent weeks as in years gone by — commercial interests often take precedence over a good service and a duty to the housing stock, purchaser and tenant, and also because the Bill would probably lower the standards of building control. That is still our attitude.
In some cases the Government's proposals are amazingly naive. They propose creating a right for the Secretary of State to pass the powers given to him to an undemocratic body, which is not answerable to Parliament, for imposition of building regulations. The Bill will provide for the removal after certification—at present someone certifies that a building is of an acceptable standard — of any criminal sanction to be taken against the builder who, on breaching the building regulations, would normally be liable to prosecution by the local authority.
To take away the present entitlement of local authorities to monitor, supervise and ensure that the buildings in our country are of good standard, is a Government sacrifice on the altar of their privatisation desires. It does not take into primary account the fundamental need for people in this land to live in housing that they can be satisfied was, when built, reliable and capable of standing firm without enormous construction and other problems in the years to come.
I wish to give one example of the problem that bad building control can produce. In Bermondsey there is an estate called the Bonamy. It has been the subject of a recent letter to the Secretary of State for the Environment. It was built between 1964 and 1970 and comprises 918 dwellings of different types and with different numbers of bedrooms. Since 1978, it has been apparent that the estate has fundamental problems. I have the technical report produced by the technical services section of the London borough of Southwark housing department. The head of that section has concluded that within no more than 12 years of the construction of that estate, which houses more than 1,000 people in almost 1,000 dwellings, the only solution is to pull it down. The cost of rehousing those currently living there will be approximately £45 million. That is irrespective of how that is done—whether the estate is completely rebuilt on that site or elsewhere. Estates should not be built that within 12 years need to be pulled down. It should be part of the control system, which does not yet work properly, to ensure that many of our worst estates never become worst estates.
Rather than tinkering around the periphery, I hope that the Government will see it as their duty and objective to ensure that at the end of this term of office they leave the housing stock of Britain, which is currently an embarrassment for a civilised country, in a considerably better state than that in which they found it and in which, after four years and to the regret of millions of people, it remains.
§ Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in a debate on a subject so close to my heart and to the heart of my constituency. As chairman of a charitable housing association, I am conscious of the problems of 197 housing for those who have little choice. As the Member of Parliament for Dulwich I am conscious of representing a constituency where those who choose to make their homes there, and are able to do so, often find it a happy place to live. Indeed many hon. Members have chosen to live there.
But the immediate and outward attractions of Dulwich may disguise some of its deeper housing problems. It would appear at first sight a pleasant place to bring up a family. It is enhanced by large open spaces which owe as much to good commercial estate management of the past as to the municipal planning practice of the present.
Dulwich is rightly renowned for its fine schools, which testify to the ideal of excellence and independence in education. I mention in passing one old boy of Dulwich, P. G. Wodehouse, who, in one of his most youthful novels, when the effect of the neighbourhood and the school were strong upon him, wrote an account of an election meeting in Dulwich. That was in 1910. I re-read that account the other day, and it is as fresh today in describing, perhaps, one of my election meetings in 1983 as on the day that it was written. P. G. Wodehouse's reputation as a writer has always remained fresh and lively. There was a time when his reputation in the House was slightly eclipsed by his honour being impugned, but I am delighted to mention his name today as his honour has regained its full lustre.
Dulwich gallery is a monument to enlightened private patronage and benefaction of the arts. It houses a unique collection of old masters, including a famous Rembrandt—the roving Rembrandt, sometimes on public view and sometimes away on enforced loan. Alas, it is at the moment away on its travels.
The presence of education and the arts has made some areas of Dulwich attractive places in which to live and its growth as a residential suburb has been greatly dependent on the leasehold tenure which has been the basis of its development. Such tenure gives rise to problems of ownership and anomalies—the very subject of the Bill before us today. It is interesting to note, but no coincidence, that my predecessor, Sam Silkin, was much concerned with leasehold reform when he entered the House in 1964.
I should like to take this opportunity to express the gratitude of the constituency to Sam for all his work and his tireless concern for constituency affairs over those 19 years of service. He was assiduous in his attention to constituency duties and for four of those years we worked in double harness, as I was the GLC member for Dulwich. We had a fruitful, co-operative and, I think, productive relationship. I greatly admired his personal approach and will seek to emulate it, although I do net share his political attitudes and do not necessarily seek to emulate them. Sam Silkin is greatly revered and respected in Dulwich.
People like to live in Dulwich. They like to buy their homes in Dulwich and it is a place where many council tenants would like to buy their homes. The incidence of leasehold tenure, and the fact that the council has only a leasehold interest, has in a sense disabled tenants from purchasing by right under the Housing Act 1980. The Act denied them the independence, freedom and stability that home ownership can bring. It failed to meet the needs of those tenants whose superior landlords were unwilling to sell. There are 1,500 such tenants in my constituency and this Bill is their salvation.
198 I understand that it is a convention that maiden speeches should not be controversial, but to talk about housing matters without crossing the threshold of controversy is extremely difficult. However, I shall try today not to be too controversial. Many tenants who sought to buy their homes from the council found themselves in the centre of controversy. They faced implacable opposition from their council landlords—opposition which has been direct in the past but is now becoming more oblique. The mislaying of papers, the inordinate delays and the raising of legal difficulties are all recognised ploys in the procedure attendant upon an application to purchase a council house. Now a further scare has been raised by some councils.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has already alluded to the problem of service charges which are being used to dissuade tenants from buying for fear that they cannot meet the cost. The crippling service charges for heating, caretaking and maintenance promulgated by Southwark council put off many prospective purchasers. Therefore, I welcome the provision that a council must publish its service charges and that such charges should be reasonable.
Where a council raises matters which need to be legally tested, the Bill requires that the tenants should be assisted in pursuing an action without having to bear the brunt of its cost. From my layman's reading of the 1980 Act and the Bill, one point is unclear to me. Will this legal aid be available to a tenant faced with unreasonable service charges? Those charges may be correct, but they may nevertheless be wanton and extravagant and it is unreasonable that they should be apportioned and passed on to the purchaser.
A Bill which provides for legal aid and insists that service charges should be published and should be reasonable is a realistic one. It adds a note of practical implementation to a sense of idealism. Those councils that lose the papers, drag their feet or raise legal niceties should be flushed out of their coverts. The provisions for legal aid and for dealing with unreasonable service charges show that the Bill means business.
I conclude by thanking the electors of Dulwich for sending me to the House of Commons to represent them. I should like on behalf of my constituents to thank the House for this Bill. I give it my wholehearted support.
§ Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)
I pay sincere tribute to the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) for his impressive maiden speech. All. hon. Members realise just how nerve-racking such occasions are, but I am sure that, with his confidence and command of the subject, we can look forward to many more competent contributions. The hon. Gentleman also paid generous tribute to his predecessor, Mr. Sam Silkin, who was a distinguished Member. We have all been impressed today by the hon. Gentleman's skill and eloquence. They will stand him in good stead as he continues to speak with conviction on behalf of his constituents.
The new Minister for Housing and Construction in opening the debate referred to the importance that the Government attach to housing. What immediately shot through my mind was that the way to place greater importance on housing is to build more houses. When one considers that the Government's housebuilding record is the worst since the 1920s, they can hardly look back with pride at the past four years. They may tinker around with 199 methods of selling existing housing stock, but that will not resolve the many problems facing the country. The Minister went on to say that the Conservatives are now the people's party, but some Opposition Members have recently been active in their constituencies.
I urge the new Minister for Housing and Construction to spend a while in the part of my constituency, which I recently inherited, known as the Turkey lane estate. It is comprised of concrete flats, building approval for which was authorised years ago by the then Tory council. The people living in these concrete monstrosities are not queuing up to purchase them. In other words, we are not offering equal opportunities to all council tenants.
When, in his speech, the Minister attacked various Labour local authorities, I thought that he really was trailing his coat, particularly when he referred to their housing programmes. I remind the House of the many mistakes made by the Conservatives prior to the 1940s. In those days we had mainly Conservative Administrations and mostly Tory local authorities. We inherited from them rotten houses, dreadful slums bestowed on the community; they were houses without indoor toilets, hot water or baths, not to mention gardens and what are considered today to be essentials.
For the Conservatives now to say that they are championing the cause of decent homes for the people, and that they are the people's party, is ridiculous. I assure Conservative Members that the people have long memories and will not forget the teeming slums that existed in all our major cities.
I will not go over yet again all the arguments that have been adduced about the sale of council houses. I have already made the point that what the Government propose will not increase the housing stock or reduce the misery caused by homelessness. Hon. Members who meet their constituents at their surgeries are only too well aware of the real needs. My constituents do not queue up to see me to talk about buying their council houses. Often I am confronted by poor families living high up, perhaps on the twelfth floor of a council concrete block, who want ground floor accommodation so that they can take their children or the baby for a walk.
Despite all that, the Conservatives feel that they have the solution. Their answer is not to build council houses — their programme of council house building is deplorable—but to sell off the existing stock. The result must be fewer houses available, with less opportunity to enjoy even living in a house, let alone owning one.
We must pay close attention to clause 2, which deals with dwellings for the disabled. It is essential that we impress on the Minister the shortage of and urgent need for accommodaton for the disabled. The few properties we have should not be sold off in view of the money that has been spent on adapting them. Local social services departments often spend between £4,000 and £5,000 fitting out dwellings with special bathroom showers and other attachments, wider doors, ramps and so on. It is in the inner city areas, where the incidence of old people is high, that there is the gravest shortage of accommodation for the disabled.
Wherever possible it is the policy of many Labour authorities to keep old people in their own homes rather than move them into institutions. That is why it is important for properties to be adapted for the disabled. If 200 the Government sell off the few such dwellings that exist, that will place higher costs on local authorities and result in longer housing waiting lists.
Selling off such dwellings should be a decision for the local authorities concerned. Those with a surplus can, if there is no great demand, sell them off; we have no strong feelings in those circumstances. But when we know that in some inner cities hundreds of people are waiting desperately for this type of accommodation, it is immoral even to try to put a price on such dwellings. Nothing is achieved by selling them. It is a scandal that such properties should be sold off.
Part II of the Bill has caused extreme alarm. The operation of the building control standards and safety regulations for new dwellings is an area which the Government have not studied sufficiently. Consider, for example, the activities of the so-called independent inspectors. If they must rely on developers to do the work, their conduct must be reflected accordingly. In other words, these so-called independent inspectors will have to please the very people who are supposed to be working for them. There is a contradiction in that provision which will not help the building standards and regulations.
The Bill, from my reading of it, intimates that in certain circumstances the independent inspector can withdraw from the case. If he does, the matter is then handed over to the local authority. Again, the local authority is being made the long-stop. On the one hand the Government are saying that local authorities must reduce their personnel and, on the other, because the Bill enables inspectors to withdraw, a further burden is being placed on those authorities. Things are bound to go wrong on large developments, and if the local authority must take over the case, from where will the resources come?
I understand that the Government have already received from the building profession representations critical of the Bill. In other words, the profession has no confidence that what is proposed will improve building control methods. If the Government intend to proceed in such a pig-headed way, ignoring expert advice, they will be going sadly wrong. We will be wasting our time if, having consulted the professions concerned, their advice is disregarded, especially as they know more about the industry than the Ministers do.
We must not forget possible conflicts between the Bill and local legislation. Consider, for example, the Greater Manchester Act 1981 and the enforcement provisions in that legislation. Section 61 refers to parking places and safety requirements; section 62 refers to access for fire brigades; section 64 refers to fire precautions in high buildings; and section 65 refers to fire precautions in large storage buildings. Much local legislation has been approved by the House on behalf of many of the large local authorities. Part II is riddled with anomalies that will produce many problems. If the Government fail to amend the Bill, we shall face massive problems after 10, 15, or 20 years.
§ Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)
It is a privilege and an honour to speak for the first time in this place, especially when looking after the interests of the people of Harlow. The House will be aware that Harlow is a new town which is surrounded by beautiful Essex villages. Like many new towns, it evolved in the late 1940s and was built up in the 1960s.
201 Harlow has a great diversity of industry. It was decided that Harlow would not make the mistake of being dependent on one industry and having subsequently to face the problems that would occur when that industry eventually died. British Petroleum, Cossor electronics, Standard Telephones and Cables Limited and a flourishing body of new businesses are situated in Harlow. The new businesses owe a considerable debt to the Government for the measures that have been introduced to help small businesses to flourish — for example, the business expansion scheme and the credit loan scheme. Some weeks ago, I was privileged to visit a new business by the name of Perchem which was started four years ago. I saw it receive the Queen's award for technological achievement. That was a considerable achievement after only four years.
For a short period Sir Winston Churchill represented the old part of Harlow. From 1970 to 1974, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), who is now Secretary of State for Employment, represented Harlow. My immediate predecessor was Stan Newens. Who was greatly liked by Members on both sides of the House. He is a good and kind man and he worked hard on behalf of his constituents. It is to his credit that throughout the election campaign—it was sometimes hectic and difficult—not an acrimonious word passed between Stan and myself. I and my wife Alison wish Stan and his wife Sandra every success in their new life.
Harlow, unlike many other new towns, is not a concrete jungle. There are green wedges in Harlow, park lands which break up the urban sprawl. The people of Harlow have considerable benefit from their environment. However, they have had to put up with many outrages and injustices from the local district council. It was only when the Harlow district council found itself being dragged to the door of the High Court that it decided to implement the Housing Act 1980. It has since been implementing the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law.
I commend the Bill because it includes provisions to increase discounts from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. That will be of considerable benefit to the people of Harlow. Why should those who have lived in their homes for 20 or 30 years and contributed towards their upkeep not have the opportunity of buying their homes at a generous discount?
Another provision that I particularly welcome is the implementation of the co-ownership and part-rent and part-buy scheme. It will be of tremendous benefit to young people setting up homes in Harlow. That is demonstrated by the number of people in Harlow and in similar constituencies who have put their money where their mouths are and applied to buy.
Perhaps the most pressing issue in Harlow is council house repairs. The houses that were built in Harlow and in many other new towns in the 1960s received design awards, gold medals and citations. Very often we find that those houses have become socially obsolete. I have seen the modem squalor that has been imposed on many areas of Harlow. Governments of both political complexions must bear some guilt. They have been dragging their feet on section 10 grants and local authorities have been dragging their feet. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will accept that there will be one or two problems in implementing the regulations set out in the Bill, but the essence of them is to give people the opportunity to take the law into their own hands. Surely that must be right.
202 I ask the Government to bring the regulations before the House as soon as possible. It is clear from the provisions in the Bill that the enactment of this measure will mean that councils will no longer be allowed to get away scot free with their previous attitudes. They will be legally bound to give legal advice and assistance and to disclose documents. They will have to say, "This is what we are proposing to do and these are your rights." If people make a mess of their right-to-buy forms and if there are errors, the forms will not be nullified.
I, and I am sure the vast majority of the people of Harlow, welcome the Bill. We have seen the probably largest single transfer of assets from the state to the individual in history. That is only to be welcomed.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) on his maiden speech. He is about the eighth maiden speaker today, and was less fortunate than others who were lucky to get away early. I think that the House will agree that the waiting did not reflect on his performance. One thing is certain. The confidence that he showed will stand him in good stead for the future.
The hon. Gentleman will understand if I do not agree with all of his speech, which was lively and confident. The other maiden speeches were also good. They all had their own political style and contributed greatly to the debate. The election has brought to the House new faces—some pretty and some not quite so pretty. It is a change to hear fresh voices and fresh views from people who have come direct from the hustings and have not been fastened down in the House over the past few years. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harlow and hope to hear much more from him in the near future.
Listening to the debate, one would think that no council houses had ever been sold before the Conservative Government came to office in 1979. That is not true. Before that time, local authorities had the right to sell council houses. About 250,000 council houses were sold before 1979 by local authorities deciding for themselves.
We must examine the Bill responsibly. There is no political mileage in just opposing some of the clauses on council houses. We must consider whether the Government are right in pushing forward with the Bill. I oppose clause 1 not simply because of the extension of the right to buy, but because local authorities are left as leaseholders between head leaseholders and the purchasing tenants. If the purchasing tenant defaults on his obligations, the landlord authority could be saddled with repair obligations. Therefore, the local authority may retain its obligations with none of the normal rights of ownership.
Clause 2 extends the right to buy to all disabled persons' dwellings except sheltered provision. I say categorically to the Minister that he has got that wrong. As he is well aware, in my constituency many paraplegic miners are waiting in a queue for homes for the disabled. They have to wait until someone passes on before they can enjoy the convenience of specially designed dwellings. If those homes are sold, there is no point in those people being in a queue. That aspect of the Bill should be looked at again. If the supply were sufficient to meet the demand, it would be different, but as the Minister must know, the supply is 203 not there. To take away the present accommodation from disabled people who might one day enjoy those facilities is wrong.
Clause 3, which I also oppose, was introduced in another place during the previous Parliament. It increases the maximum discount to 60 per cent. The House will be aware that in clause 3(3) the Secretary of State gives himself the power to modify the cost floor date. The Minister will remember a classic difference of opinion in the Chamber between him and me the day after the clause went through the other place. I am convinced that the suggestion that I made then was right. At present, the date is 31 March 1974. Local authorities cannot discount the price to tenants below the costs incurred in any properties built after that date. The Secretary of State will now have the right to decide whether a tenant can buy his house at a discount, whenever it was built.
The Secretary of State would have powers if new housing were built on an estate. It might cost £25,000 or more to build each new house. The Secretary of State has given himself powers to sell those houses with a 60 per cent. discount. That cannot be right. The Secretary of State might not intend that, but he is giving himself that right, and he should not do so.
I am fundamentally opposed to clause 6 because it would give the Secretary of State the power to decide what it is and what it is not reasonable to include within conveyances. At present, local authorities draw up their own conveyances and there is always in the background the test of reasonableness in the courts. I am even more concerned that the effect of the clause is retrospective, so that the terms of conveyances for houses already sold can be changed.
I also oppose clause 7, which is a further unnecessary extension of the Secretary of State's power and in which he is considering intervention. He would single out local authority officers, rather than take action against the local authority. Therefore, officers would have conflicting loyalties. That is how I understand the clause will operate.
Clauses 9 to 14 deal with the right to a shared ownership lease. That is a further extention of the right to buy and will add considerably to local authorities' work loads in sorting out the administrative difficulties that are associated with those equity-sharing schemes.
One point of principle that should be pursued is that landlord authorities should have the right to buy back the purchasing tenants' share if they wish to leave. Such a clause was included in the Department of the Environment's model lease under the voluntary sale scheme. If local authorities do not have the right to buy back that share, an incoming purchaser—who will be a local authority tenant, in part—could be someone who either had no need of the equity-sharing scheme or was a former council tenant who perhaps had considerable rent arrears. Those points ought to be taken into consideration. I hope that they will be in Committee.
Clause 23 seems to be modelled on a recent departmental report entitled "Tenant Participation in the Repair and Maintenance of Council Houses". I understand that it featured in the London borough of Havering scheme, but there have been relatively few repairs under that scheme and it has not been in operation long enough to provide sufficient experience on which to base a national scheme. The clause purports to give tenants new 204 rights, but it threatens to undermine their existing rights. The London tenants organisation has expressed its opposition to the scheme.
The clause is worded in such a way as effectively to remove the landlords' obligations while the scheme is in operation. A short-term rate advantage may attract tenants initially, but in the long term they will face substantial repair obligations.
The scheme is unlikely to be self-financing and, thus, may increase local authorities' costs. Setting-up costs will be considerable and new accounting methods will undoubtedly be needed. Moreover, pre and post-inspection work will have to be increased, as all costs will have to be authorised under the scheme. In some cases, especially in rural areas where travelling distances are great, the cost of administration will exceed the cost of the work.
No doubt, some tenants who take advantage of the scheme will do a good job, but that will reduce the volume of work available to public and private contractors and, thus increase unit costs. Tenants unable to carry out the work themselves, such as the elderly, the disabled and single-parent families, are therefore likely to face higher repair costs.
Many authorities are embarking on decentralised housing management on priority estates, but that presupposes a certain volume of work to justify setting up the offices. This allows direct contact between the tenants and the repairs officers and operatives. The new scheme, however, will add to the fragmentation, if not the disintegration, of repair services.
I am also worried that some tenants will do the work badly. It will then have to be put right, presumably at the local authority's expense.
I recognise that many council tenants are dissatisfied with their repairs service, but if the Minister is genuinely interested in improving the service for the majority of tenants he must produce thorough and well-thought-out proposals rather than the narrow scheme now proposed. I therefore strongly oppose clause 23.
I should be less unhappy about the scheme if it came into operation only in the event of failure by the local authority to carry out works within a reasonable time or if the scheme was entirely voluntary so that authorities could operate it if they could make it work in their area. I should also be somewhat reassured if the scheme did not suspend the landlords' repairing obligations, as it now does.
I hope that two other matters will be pursued during the passage of the Bill. First, there should be an amendment to allow local authorities, on the application of either party, to apply to the court to end a tenancy in favour of one party in the event of the breakdown of a relationship between the tenants, including cohabitees. That would not especially benefit the local authority, but it would greatly assist tenants when divorce proceedings are in progress, but they have not yet resolved the future of the matrimonial home. It would also help to solve the matrimonial home problem in the case of cohabitees.
Secondly, under the Housing Act 1980, the Secretary of State determines applications for exemption of elderly persons' accommodation on a very narrow basis. More than 90 per cent. of the cases determined by the Secretary of State have been refused, so most of the aged persons' 205 accommodation subject to such applications is liable to be sold. An amendment is needed to define aged persons' dwellings in more generous terms.
Part II of the Bill is a matter for great concern. I shall not dwell long on the subject, as it has been mentioned by many hon. Members. The building control system in England and Wales is primarily intended to ensure that new buildings and extensions are erected to high standards, are safe for those who occupy them and for those who pass by them and are thermally efficient. District councils and outer London boroughs responsible for the building regulations have administered them effectively, drawing on the expertise of practical and experienced building professionals. Although there has been criticism of the detailed drafting of the regulations, the ability of the system to ensure the safety of new buildings has rarely been questioned and even now is not challenged by the Government, despite their intention to provide for the transfer of much, if not all, building control work from local authorities to a myriad of so-called independent inspectors.
The building control provisions of the Bill are drafted in a very general way, although their overall implications are clear. The word "prescribe" is perhaps the most frequently used term. Parliament is asked to give wide powers to the Secretary of State to introduce a certification system. How the system will work, if indeed, it can work, is not made clear in the primary legislation. Parliament is asked to take on trust a new system, to replace one that has proved inherently safe and effective, without any evidence that the system intended to complement the existing system can maintain such high standards and survive without threatening the viability of local authority building control.
If certification is introduced on the lines suggested in earlier Government consultation papers, there will be a direct threat to the safety of buildings. Although the new private inspectors will be "independent"', they may rely on a few developers for their work and may thus become less than independent. That might inhibit them from rigorously ensuring that plans and building work conform with the building regulations. There is nothing inherently wrong about the close commercial relationship, but when one party is required to control the work of the other the system must be above reproach. Local authority building control officers are independent and do not owe their position to any one developer. Anything less than that is unacceptable.
If developers are allowed to go to independent inspectors, it will be difficult for local authorities to establish their work load in any year. Authorities will therefore not be in a position to respond to substantial increases in the amount of work or to deal with developments originally privately certified, but subsequently returned to the local authority for control. If certifiers cannot be found to operate the scheme, local authorities will be left with complex and contentious schemes. Their own experienced building control staff may have joined private firms, further reducing the authorities' capacity to deal with more complex developments. That, too, must involve a possible threat to safety standards.
Under the proposals set out in the Government's last consultation paper, an independent inspector may refer a development back if he withdraws from it for any reason. If things have gone badly wrong with the development, the 206 local authority will be expected to pick up the pieces. The Government proposals therefore leave much to be desired. Their latest proposals require the local authority to allow completion of work that is in breach of building regulations if an independent inspector certified the plans as conforming with the regulations. An authority might also be required to certify completion of a development when earlier stages of the development were inherently unsafe if those stages were certified by an independent inspector.
Those two examples illustrate the clear limitations of the Government's latest proposals and suggest to local authorities that the proposals cannot work. So far, there has been little evidence of firms or individuals being interested in taking up the new powers. Moreover, despite lengthy negotiations, there is no sign of the insurance industry being willing to provide a scheme for independent inspectors—presumably because the insurers, too, are not persuaded that the scheme can work.
That is my view. It is also the view of the Association of Municipal Authorities and the local authorities. In a submission dated 20 September 1982, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors took a similar view. It said:The Institution's considered view remains that it would neither be in the public interest nor that of the building industry to remove building control from local authorities. The changes now being proposed in the form and content of the building regulations will take some time to implement and it would be wise in our view to defer any further consideration of private certification until the new regulations and the options stage and conditional approvals have become familiar to users and until the matter of liability has been considered by the Law reform Committee. When these issues have been settled it may be easier to see whether there is any demand for private certification and whether insurers are willing to provide the necessary cover.The AMA has also said that it is premature to suggest radical changes before the building regulations are radically redrawn. I share that view. I hope that the Government will, and that they will not press on with the Bill.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)
Few constituencies can claim to be more at the heart of the building industry than Mid-Bedfordshire. The London Brick Company and Potton Timber are to be found in Mid-Bedfordshire, as are many other major building companies and a huge number of smaller ones which represent 12 pages in the area's Yellow Pages.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction on his promotion. As he said, he follows a distinguished predecessor. He will add to that distinction. He made an exceptional speech after four years' silence. His speech will commend four years' silence to hon. Members who hope to emulate it. Some of my hon. Friends tell me that I must speak for myself. I do, and I do not intend to fall silent just yet.
I also congratulate those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. They have been distinguished. I mention especially my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) who represents many of those whom, formerly, I had the honour to represent. He spoke eloquently and with knowledge, which I am glad to share, on behalf of tenants of housing associations who used to be the subjects of clause 2 of this Bill's previous 207 incarnation. Like me, he knows that many tenants suffered a classic injustice from the loss of that clause in another place during the previous Parliament.
In general, I welcome the Bill as it builds constructively on the Government's excellent reputation in housing by extending home ownership. A Government can do nothing of more benefit than increase the opportunity for families throughout the country to own their own homes. If one owns one's own home, there is the incentive to improve it and to build up a nest egg for one's children. Such a move does more to improve a person's standard of living than any other Government action.
The Bill extends the right of home ownership to those who have been tenants of public authorities for more than 20 years. I welcome wholeheartedly the intention to increase the maximum discount to 60 per cent. for those who have, ex hypothesi, lived in a council house for 30 years. I also welcome the 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. discount for those who have lived in a council house for between 20 and 30 years.
People who have lived in council houses for that long have seen something remarkable—they have witnessed the value of their home increase, because of inflation, from about £2,000 to about £20,000 or more. That represents an increase of between 700 per cent. and 1,000 per cent. Anyone who quibbles at our giving a 60 per cent. discount to tenants in those circumstances is deceiving himself.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman advocate the same practice for the owner-occupied market? Would he sell his house at a 60 per cent. discount because he considers that he should not benefit from inflation?
§ Mr. Lyell
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) repeats what has been repeated by Opposition Members as though they think that comparison with the private sector is a useful argument. It has been stated time and again that it is not for the Government to dispossess people of private property. However, it is quite proper for the Government to do that in regard to public authority housing. There is a fundamental distinction between the two. If Opposition Members believe that they can get out of their astonishing dislike of council house sales by repeating that hopeless argument parrot fashion, they deceive themselves just as they do in many other ways.
§ Mr. Roberts
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that it is not councils or elected councillors who own those properties? Is he aware that the properties that are being given away or sold at a discount belong to the rent and ratepayers of the area?
§ Mr. Lyell
The hon. Gentleman has simply dug himself in deeper and shown that the Labour party does not understand the individual. It is the individual who lives in the house, who will have the opportunity to buy it and will therefore have the incentive to improve the front door or the windows or tidy the garden. It is the individual who will be able to provide a nest egg for his children when he finally passes on to a better world where there is no Socialist control. I hope that I shall be forgiven for injecting a tiny element of humour.
The Bill also extends the right to buy to occupiers of flats and public property on leasehold. I know, from 208 having represented Hemel Hempstead in the previous Parliament, and Kempston and Biggleswade now, that there are many people in flats who have been deprived of that right, especially in areas that are under Labour control. They will benefit enormously from the Bill.
The introduction of the right to shared ownership will encourage even the Mid-Bedfordshire district council. It has not explored shared ownership with its customary caution. Shared ownership suits those who are putting their foot on the first rung of the house-owning ladder. It is of immense value in areas such as Basildon and Billericay and closer to London. where council houses are comparatively expensive and councils have taken up the idea. I am glad that the Bill makes it a right rather than an opportunity.
Private certification is a huge advance. If he reads my speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Mr. Finsburg) will remember that I bombarded him in the early years of the previous Parliament about the need to modernise the building control system. I am glad that we have returned to this imaginative approach to the problem. As I have moved house more than once and done up my house several times, spurred by the incentive that I have mentioned—I did not have the opportunity or need to purchase a council house—I am aware of the problems associated with the certification of building developments.
It has always seemed utterly illogical that one should have to go to a local authority employee to provide the certification in these cases. There can be few examples of something that can be better or more responsibly done by the private sector. It can be done with complete confidence and security, and it is the insurance and legal liability aspects that provide that security, certainly far more than the right to have the inspector approved by the local authority, and who is put in as a precaution. To carry out these tasks, a person must have public indemnity insurance. They may be liable for very large sums indeed if they do not do their work properly.
Those hon. Members who have practised at the bar, as I have, and have had the misfortune to come across a badly surveyed house, will be familiar with the case of Anns v. London borough of Merton in which, following earlier cases, it was held that a local authority official who had certified a property could be held liable for damages to future occupants of the dwelling.
One must insure against that. It is the kind of firm that can carry large insurance, and if a person must renew his insurance if there are claims against him from time to time, he will perform those functions with much more care than someone holding a public office for a limited period. In no sense am I running down public officials, most of whom do a good job. However, people who do it privately as part of their normal practice will have every incentive to do it well, and I believe that they will do it much more efficiently than the present system. That option is opened by the Bill and it is greatly to be welcomed. I am sure that it will be welcomed by the entire building industry and that it will be widely taken up.
My key point concerns the missing clause—formerly clause 2—which in the earlier legislation gave housing association tenants the right to purchase their property. Several thousand tenants are involved. I am not sure of the overall figure, but I believe that it is at least 10,000, perhaps more. These are tenants of charitable housing 209 associations. The position of tenants of non-charitable housing associations was dealt with successfully in the 1980 Act, and that should be carefully borne in mind.
I was deeply disappointed that another place, overborne by a campaign that misunderstood itself and was misunderstood by Members of the other place, should have led to the overturning of clause 2 towards the end of the last Parliament.
In simple terms we are dealing with houses built by charitable housing associations, the money for which came either wholly or overwhelmingly from the public purse. When I say "overwhelmingly" I mean 85 per cent. or more from the public purse. We are dealing with the tenants of those houses, and it is our duty as parliamentarians to look at this from the position of the individual. Those individuals—many of them were and .are my constituents — went into those houses off the council waiting lists believing that they were entering something which to all intents and purposes was a council house. They believed that they would have the same rights, liabilities and prospective opportunities as a council tenant. They looked forward, in due course, to being able to purchase their council house in the event that a Conservative Government were returned. I am sure that many of them voted for such a Government, although many who voted Labour would nevertheless wish to take up that opportunity.
Although they have the opportunity under existing law, two things have happened. First, and sadly, a number of housing associations that said, "Yes, we will allow you to do it," have for years dragged their feet. I have sheaves of correspondence on this subject, which I could show hon. Members, attempting to get certain housing associations, which I shall be kind enough not to name, to do something apart from making pious comments. The second problem is that other associations are run by convinced Socialists—everyone is entitled to his view—who believe that it is wrong to sell council houses in any form and utterly refuse to do so. The people who went into these council houses believed that they would have the same rights, and it is our duty to see that they do.
I should like to examine the counter-arguments raised in the other place. The first, which was widely misunderstood, was that substantial charitable funds were involved. In a number of cases virtually no charitable funds were involved, but I repeat myself to emphasise that in no case were the charitable funds more than 15 per cent. and usually much less. Every penny of that money put forward by the charity rather than by the public purse is to be refunded in modern terms, to use Lord Bellwin's expression. That means that if the money was put in several years ago and its value has increased due to inflation, the charity will get the modern value to reinvest.
It was also argued that in some instances tenants went into this housing knowing it to be charitable housing provided for social need. That is true of only a very small number of cases. The vast majority went in believing that it was identical to council housing. However, they got no particular benefit.
Let me examine this argument from the point of view of the individual who was poor, went into such a house and perhaps paid a slightly lower rent than would otherwise have been the case but who is now better off, who would now like to purchase that house and enjoy the benefits that that would bring. Are we to be dogs in the manger and say, "No, you can't," when the vast amount of the funds came from the public purse? That is wrong in principle, and I 210 join Lady Faithfull, who always takes an independent view on such matters, who supported us strongly and rightly in the other place when this issue was debated. She made the point that if someone was now in a position to buy, he should not be prevented from doing so and should be allowed to get his foot on the ladder.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
This raises a fundamental issue. If the charitable associations and trusts that have filled the gap in the housing sector are to be allowed to sell to people in such houses, is not the hon. and learned Gentleman's point best made by requiring the Government to provide funds for the public sector to replace the housing that those people will take out of the public sector? Without that compensatory investment in the public sector, the 800,000 people with no homes will have one resource fewer to which to turn.
§ Mr. Lyell
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. His intervention is well meant and I go along with him in his objective, but we have already answered that point. A person who went into a house provided by, for example, the Sutton housing trust, which provides homes for people who are rather less well off, may now be sufficiently well off to afford to buy his house. If he does so, the housing trust in question will get back all its money in modern terms. The hon. Gentleman is saying that we should make available through the public purse enough money for that housing association or other housing associations to provide afresh for somebody else who is poorer. That is sensible, and we are doing it already. I remind the House that we are now providing £690 million for housing associations and a high proportion of that housing is designed for people in those circumstances, just as much of it is also designed for the specifically disabled and others. We are not lagging on that, and I doubt whether hon. Members realise that so much money is being provided for housing associations.
Most of the objectives go back to the fundamental theological objection to the sale of council houses. We should not deceive ourselves about that. A number of people simply said that if one were to sell these housing association houses, the rented sector stock would decline. Two points must be made about that. First, the private rented sector, if one can call housing associations part of that, has not declined through anything done by this Government but has, sadly, declined through the doctrinaire approach of the Labour party towards the private rented sector, and the inability of Labour Governments, and to some extent Conservative Governments, to face up to the fact that people should be able to charge an economic rent for houses. If one provides absolute security of tenure and restricts to a so-called fair rent the level of rent so that it is so low that nobody can secure an economic return, there will be a decline in the rented housing stock.
Secondly, the argument on the declining stock in the rented sector is identical with that on the sale of council houses generally. The argument against that could not have been put better than it was by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West, who said that the house 211 in question will not be blown up or taken out of the housing stock, but will continue to be lived in by the person who has been wise enough to purchase it. The money goes back to the charity and £690 million is going to the housing associations to replace and build more such houses.
I think that I have put an overwhelming case to the Government to have the confidence — I am sure that they do — to have the clause reconsidered in both Houses. I know that their Lordships were sincere in their debate, but they were heavily lobbied by many other sincere people who believed that this clause was wrong. These people were mistaken. Another argument is that if we are to sell these houses, we should so disappoint those who work in charitable housing associations that they would refuse to carry on with such work in the future. However, people are not like that. I hope that we shall look at this clause afresh and bring it back into the Bill, and that it will go back to the other place and find its way on to the statute book along with the remainder of this excellent Bill.
§ 8.3 pm
§ Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)
The hon. and learned Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) gave the game away about this legislation when he closed his speech by defending the private rented sector and blaming its decline on successive wicked Labour Governments who have given tenants in the private rented sector security of tenure and rent control. The Conservative argument is that all one needs to do to solve housing problems is revive the private rented sector, allow people to get a return on the capital they invest in property for private renting, and get rid of security of tenure. People will then provide accommodation for the private rented sector in greater numbers, and the problems will be solved. That was the thrust of the Housing Act 1980, which was a landlords' charter to destroy security of tenure in various ways, including the shorthold provision, and allow private landlords to charge higher rents.
However, the Conservative party has a problem, because no one in his right mind will be dependent upon renting from a private landlord if the landlord is offering a more expensive choice than home ownership or renting in the public sector. If one subsidises the public rented sector, it will be cheaper than the economic rents that the private landlords will be allowed to charge.
Therefore, to force people back into being dependent upon private landlords, one has to make access to the public rented sector more difficult and more expensive. That can be done in a number of ways such as pushing up rents, reducing subsidies, not building more council houses or housing association houses, and reducing the stock of available accommodation in the public rented sector. The Bill has nothing to do with owner-occupation. It is an attempt to continue to force local authorities to sell off the best of their rented accommodation. It is part of a strategy to destroy the public rented sector and revive the private rented sector. It does little for the real needs of the nation or for owner-occupiers.
The Government's policy is build less, sell off the best, cut repair and maintenance services and push up rents. In this legislation, they are beginning to go over the top with their 60 per cent. discounts. Earlier, the Minister refused to give me an undertaking that the 60 per cent. Discount 212 will not eventually become 80 per cent. or 90 per cent., and, when we get to the next general election, a closing down sale with 100 per cent. off and the final destruction of the public rented sector.
There is now the two-year rule; one has to live in a council property not for thre years before one is eligible to buy, but for only two. I hope that the Minister will assure us that he will not reduce that time limit as Parliament progresses and the Government want to give away all the public rented sector, with the result that one only has to live in a council house for two weeks or so. I am sorry that the new Minister has inherited the brainstorms of the previous Minister on shared ownership. which was that Minister's great contribution to the housing debate and to the needs of the nation: "If you cannot afford to buy the whole house, buy part of it. Start with the lavatory and move on to the kitchen." That is the maddest and most hare-brained idea. The problem comes, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) showed, with repairs. People do not want to buy one half of their house knowing that once they have done so and are renting the other half, they do not get repairs done on any of the house. If they buy the back door, the council will not pay to repair the front door. It is a mad idea that creates enormous administrative problems for local authorities, and council tenants will not take it up.
The Bill also allows leasehold council tenants to purchase. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said, the most squalid part of it is that the Bill allows the sale of houses adapted for the disabled. It is part of a massive attack by the Government on council tenants and the public sector. The Labour party has to decide on its attitude, policies, statements and campaigns, not only on this Bill, but also on the Government's housing policies as a whole. We are told by many that it was our opposition to the sale of council houses that lost us some votes in the general election and made our defeat worse than it might otherwise have been.
We failed in the general election campaign to convince the electorate that we are the party of owner-occupation and that we want to help real owner-occupiers and those who aspire to be owner-occupiers. The record of past Labour Governments shows that that is true. The wrong way to help those people is to force those in housing need to wait for ever longer on ever growing housing lists and to force families with children who live in high-rise, mid-rise and walk-up flats to stay trapped there because the houses to which they could be transferred are being sold off.
We should continue our opposition to the enforced sale of council houses because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) said, only the best council houses are being sold, and we should continue our opposition to the massive discounts. The question whether Labour will be opposed to the sale of council houses will not be an issue at the next general election because by then, with the Government's intention to continue a policy of getting more people to buy the best houses, all the best houses will have been sold off. We shall then have an entirely new housing situation, in which all who want to buy or to take advantage of the give-away discounts have done so. We shall have had nine years of enforced sales. There will be a housing crisis of 1945 proportions. There will be massive and growing housing 213 waiting lists, increasing homelessness, and the faults of system-built owner-occupied properties being constructed at present will be revealed.
Already the faults in properties that have been acquired and improved shoddily by housing associations and local authorities are beginning to show up. The properties have been improved shoddily because the profit in acquiring and improving the property comes to more than its market value. Corners are being cut. By that time this will all be revealed. There will be a continuing decline in disrepair in the housing stock because of the private landlords' charter in the 1980 Act. Rachmanism will be rife. What is left of the public rented sector is likely to be the flats and problem estates, becoming ghetto welfare housing of the worst kind. That is what will face the next Labour Government in five years' time.
We believe that choice is at the heart of liberty. We want people to have a choice to buy a decent house at the price they can afford, and also the choice to rent a decent house at a rent that they can afford. The way to get choice is to have a surplus of properties. There can be choice only when nine people are chasing 10 houses. There can be choice only when there is not a massive shortage of houses for rent, and when there is a major opportunity for anyone who wants to be an owner-occupier.
So the Labour party must continue with its commitment to a new public rented sector, which will have to be built and provided by a Labour Government with the help of Labour local authorities and the right kind of housing associations to meet the needs of the people who want houses for rent. We shall also need to be committed to providing real help to owner-occupation, especially the first-time buyer.
This Bill is not about help to owner-occupation. It is an attack on the public rented sector. It is part and parcel of a total strategy. Before I come to what I believe Labour's proposals for owner-occupation should be, I shall quote from the housing investment programme report which will form the basis of the submissions that will be made to the Minister by the Conservative-controlled council of Sefton. Other housing Ministers and Department of the Environment Ministers have heard me refer to the metropolitan district of Sefton. It is the lowest rated metropolitan district in the country, and it is probably one of the meanest Conservative-controlled authorities in the country.
The report reveals the attitudes and actions of the Conservative Government towards the public sector, and housing needs in general:Over the past few years the total capital spending on housing has been reduced dramatically. In real terms allocations to the country as a whole have been cut by 58 per cent. in six years. All areas have suffered a reduction in resources for housing. Merseyside has been faced with a reduction of 40 per cent. After a modest upturn in allocations in 82–83, the 1983–84 allocations for all areas have resumed a downward trend. All districts have received a reduction in resources: Liverpool 35 per cent., Wirral 36 per cent. , St. Helens 46 per cent. However, Sefton's reduction has been in the order of 60 per cent., whilst the council has at the same time recognised the need for increased activity.One of the most loyal Tory councils in the country cannot get resources out of its own Government, and it is cut even more than other Labour authorities in the area.For the last three basic HIP allocations, Sefton's allocation has been the lowest of all Merseyside's districts, and Sefton is the only Merseyside district whose allocation has fallen faster than the national average rate of 58 per cent. Sefton's basic allocation was 75 per cent. of its bid.214 The report puts that reduction in context:It is estimated that at 1.4.84 some 12,200 private sector dwellings were lacking basic amenities in the borough of Sefton.As it happens, most of those are in my constituency, and many of them in the private rented sector, where landlordism is rampart. People cannot find out who the landlords are, and the landlords will not do the repairs or put in basic amenities. So 12,200 private sector dwellings were lacking basic amenities or were in need of major improvement.The council has recognised this problem and is giving an increasing share of its resources to the private sector in the form of improvements and repair grants. Current rates of progress could mean that 10 years will be needed to treat today's problems, taking no account of properties falling into disrepair within the period. Progress in renovating the council's own stock was very slow in 1982–83.It can say that again.Figures for last year's HIP submissions show that, although Sefton received the lowest allocation per head of population of any district in Merseyside, housing conditions are worse than several other districts.The report goes on, catalogue after catalogue, condemning the Government policies, the cuts in the allocation of housing to a Tory authority, showing that there is indeed a major problem. Over the next five years, neglect of that kind will result in the housing crisis that I have described. The Labour party will have to commit itself to a revitalised and new public sector.
We also have to be seen, as indeed we are, as the party of owner-occupation. This Conservative Government, far from helping owner-occupation, have hid behind the sale of council houses and launched a large-scale attack on owner-occupiers—the very people whom they claim to support. Their three-pronged attack created record high interest rates, a slump in houses built for sale, and increasing difficulties for those trying to sell their homes. During the past four and a half years, mortgage interest rates have been at a record high level. The average monthly mortgage rate under the last Government was 13.25 per cent., compared with 10.7 per cent. under Labour before 1979. It was 2.5 per cent. higher. That was their record on interest rates for the owner-occupiers. Under this Government, the mortgage rate reached its highest ever level of 15 per cent. Such a rate has never been known before. As we predicted during the general election, the Government waited until the election was over, and now mortgage rates have risen again. That is the party of owner-occupation that hides behind the attack on the public rented sector, but pretends that it supports the owner-occupier.
Independent financial sources predict that interest rates and mortgages will continue to increase. Fewer homes for owner-occupiers have been built by this Government than were built at the time of the Labour Government. Existing owner-occupiers are finding it increasingly difficult to sell their houses or flats. In many parts of the country the market is being undermined by unemployment —especially in such areas as Merseyside—and even more so by the sale of council houses. In many areas people who are trying to sell properties in the lower price range cannot find purchasers.
Those who previously moved out of council housing to buy are now purchasing their council property at half price and there will soon be a 60 per cent. discount. That is knocking the bottom out of the traditional owner-occupier market. The Government have now gone over the top with 215 the 60 per cent. discount. What will that do to the value of the traditional owner-occupied house? How will it help owner-occupiers? The Labour party will help real owner-occupation as well as assisting those in housing need and tenants.
Home owners are commercially exploited in the most callous way by estate agents, building societies and the conveyancing monopoly. We shall introduce schemes to help first-time buyers. We shall simplify and reduce the cost of house purchase, ending the solicitors' conveyancing monopoly. We believe in introducing a log book type approach for the buying and selling of houses. We want to stop red lining by building societies and to simplify grant procedures. We want to make more money available to owner-occupiers to improve their houses because those who need improvement grants are some of the poorer people who often live in the worst accommodation.
We want to give a real opportunity for joint mortgages from building societies for people who want one. Such an opportunity was given to people who wanted to buy their council houses under the 1980 Act, yet is denied to many young couples and others who want a joint mortgage in the traditional owner-occupier market. We want to make it easy for low income groups to get a mortgage. We shall be advocating as party policy that we should devise some scheme to introduce 100 per cent. mortgages. The first rung on the ladder is often the difficulty for people wanting to get into owner-occupation. We need to expand council mortgages. The local authority home loan service should be developed to compete with building societies and banks.
We want to establish a network of local authority estate agency and conveyancing services. If there is any group which exploits another it is the estate agents who exploit the buyers and sellers of houses. Anyone qualified or unqualified can rent a shop, put up a sign and open up in business as an estate agent, entering into the business of making profits out of people who are buying and selling houses. Municipal services would safeguard many from such exploitation.
We want a policy of building for elderly owner-occupiers for rent so that, if they wish, they can sell their houses to the local authority, relieving themselves of a growing burden of repair and care of a big house, and move into council accommodation in their old age. Shelter and Help the Aged, have recently launched an initiative of care and repair for the elderly owner-occupier. Housing associations, jointly with Shelter, have developed schemes to help elderly owner-occupiers repair and improve their houses with grants and assistance. That is a good idea. There should be more such schemes.
In justice the council tenant who has lived for 20 or 30 years in a council house should benefit when he retires from the rent-free occupation of his council dwelling in the same way as does the owner-occupier who has lived in a dwelling and had a mortgage with Government subsidy by means of interest relief, and thereby enjoys free occupation after living in his house for 20 or 30 years.
We should be developing co-operative housing schemes such as the co-operative homesteading which was pioneered in the London borough of Islington by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury when he was chairman of the housing Committee there. We need a scheme in which groups of people come together, 216 acquire old and empty properties from the local authority —or the council does it for them—and develop self-help co-operatives. That does not lead to the right to buy and it does not lead to those in housing need being bypassed or exploited.
We must experiment with new forms of tenure when we develop our revitalised public rented sector which will be needed after the next general election in five years, when a Labour Government will have to face an inherited crisis. There is a massive need at the moment for a major housebuilding programme, both in the owner-occupier and in the public rented sector. The post-war baby boom has now reached the family formation stage. The population may be declining but there are more and smaller families and they need more homes.
The Bill does nothing at all to meet the nation's problems. It does not help council tenants, private tenants, those in housing need on the growing waiting lists, the homeless or the owner-occupier. However, I want to refer to a particular category of people in housing need whom the Bill does nothing to help. I am talking about the single homeless and the hostel dwellers who have to live in council, local authority or voluntary organisations' hostels. One of their initiatives during the previous Government paid lip service to the building of decent hostel accommodation for those who are often on the bottom rung of the housing ladder. Yet by their actions they are preventing what they claim they want, although that might be the result of bureaucratic actions by civil servants in the Department of the Environment.
The Manchester city council agreed to replace Ashton house and Walton house, two large old Dickensian hostels. One voluntary night shelter agreed to replace itself because the conditions there are also appalling. The council was to replace the two hostels in its ownership with its HIP allocation and the night shelter was to be replaced through the housing corporation funding and joint projects with housing associations. Under the Government's hostel initiatives, housing associations want properties. Manchester has large empty properties in council ownership. Some of them Manchester will use for its hostel replacement and others could be usefully used by housing associations. But general consent is required by the 1981 Department of Environment circular.
The city council has made an application for dispensation under this circular to sell some of the large properties that it owns to the housing associations for hostel replacement. It made one specific application for dispensation to sell a particular property, 28 Palatine road, to the Family Housing Association. That was refused by the Department of the Environment even though it was for a hostel. A stupid argument was used. It was said in a letter from some civil servant that it cost taxpayers less if the council replaced it itself. That is nonsense, because the replacement of the night shelter has to happen anyway. Through the housing association, the night shelter people will have to purchase another property, probably at greater cost, with everything taking longer on the private market.
Manchester also asked for a general dispensation to sell properties for shelter use only. That was also refused, even though the properties would only be used as hostels. Such bureaucracy is stopping one of the Government's own initiatives and I hope that the Minister will take that up and do something about it.
I hope that I have made it clear that I, and people in the Labour party, are still opposed to the sale of council 217 houses in its present form. Council house sales and large discounts are being imposed, undemocratically, on local authorities. However, we recognise that the next five years are likely to alter the situation as well as everyone's perspective of the real housing problems of the nation. I hope that I have also made it clear that the Labour party is the party that wants to help the real owner-occupier and that we have policies for council and private tenants as well.
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) covered a wide area of housing policy and I hope that he will forgive me if, in my brief remarks, I stick to issues that are directly relevant to the Bill, which I hope will receive a Second Reading. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's comments were addressed primarily to his own Front Bench in his desire to see an alternative Labour party policy on housing, and it ill befits me to become involved in that party's civil war.
However, I was impressed when the hon. Gentleman said that his party had failed during the election campaign to convince the electorate of its commitment to owner-occupation. Those of us with many council tenants in our constituencies will recall that during the election campaign, housing and the sale of council houses became major issues. I have fought three parliamentary campaigns, but I cannot think of any other occasion when a single issue was so clear cut and when such a large majority of the electorate was so firmly in favour of our policy and against the Labour alternative.
It was particularly interesting to note that Labour party supporters of many years' standing came up to me in shops, in their places of work and at public meetings and told me that although they had voted Labour all their lives, they would never do so again for the simple reason that they wanted the right to buy their own properties. They might not intend to buy their houses this year, next year or the year after, but they want the certainty that if circumstances allow and the time is right, they will have the opportunity to purchase their own homes. If I was unsure whether I had read the situation correctly in my constituency I realised that I had hit the nail on the head when I saw the recent survey carried out by a prominent building society. It showed that more than 90 per cent. of people have ambitions to own their own homes. The Labour party has painted itself into a difficult and tight corner by misjudging the views of council house tenants. Those tenants are desperate to purchase the homes that they have lived in for many years. They do not accept arguments against that.
On behalf of those tenants, I wish to counter some of the arguments against the sale of council houses put forward by the hon. Members for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) and for Bootle. The most spurious argument is that if a council house is sold to a sitting tenant, the local authority loses it, and someone in inferior accommodation, or without accommodation, is thus deprived of the opportunity of quickly obtaining a local authority property.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts
does the hon. Gentleman know the figures for his own authority area? How many people on the waiting list are rehoused in newly built houses and how many are rehoused in re-lets that become available from the existing pool of housing? I think that the national 218 figures show that for every five housed in re-lets that become available, one is housed in a newly-built accommodation. If all the council houses are sold, how will people be rehoused?
§ Mr. MacKay
My major local authority, Bracknell district council, has about 12,000 local authority houses on its books. I am pleased to say that it has sold nearly 2,500 of them. With the proceeds, it is building more new local authority houses, particularly for first-time buyers.
To return to the point, the great majority of those who buy their council houses are unable to buy in the private sector, either because they cannot raise the funds for a mortgage or because their age is such that they cannot venture into the private housing sector. If a Labour Government deprived them of the chance to buy their council houses, only very few of than would be able to quit their tenancies and move into the private sector. The argument of the hon. Member for Bootle is utterly spurious.
I was delighted with the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction and, in particular, that he has increased the maximum discount to 60 per cent. for tenants of more than 30 years standing.
Two late-middle-aged people came to my advice bureau last Saturday morning. They had been offered a 50 per cent. discount because they were tenants of mom than 30 years' standing, but they still could not quite raise the difference to purchase their house. They had heard that there might be a possibility of obtaining a 60 ter cent. discount. They were getting on in years, and asked me whether I could offer them any hope. I am delighted to say that I will be able to ring those people tomorrow morning to tell them that, because Bracknell district council is Conservative-controlled and every ward in Bracknell was, for the first time won by Conservative candidates at the last local government election, the excellent council will, as promised today, allow people who have been tenants for more than 30 years to obtain their 60 per cent. discount. The Minister will have made a late-middle-aged couple extremely happy today and have given them an opportunity to buy their own homes—an opportunity which they would never have had if the Bill had not been brought forward and if the country had had the misfortune to elect a Labour Government on 9 June.
There is a particular difficulty for the older tenants. First, in most cases they have paid rent for years—this is completely dead money. Secondly, they are of such mature years that they can only get a mortgage that will take them to retiring age—normally five or 10 years. Therefore, the repayments are excessively high. We are giving those people an opportunity today to become owner-occupiers, and they will be most grateful. Does the Minister agree that we could extend the process a stage further? My hon. Friend will agree that someone over 55 years of age has great difficulty in obtaining a reasonably sized mortgage. Those who have been tenants for more than 30 years are more than adequately covered by the 60 per cent. discount, but there are others who, for various reasons, do not become tenants until a little later in life. They might be 55 or 60 but have only 15 or 20 years of tenancy behind them and, therefore, are eligible for only a small discount, which precludes them from buying. By the time they reach a 60 per cent. discount they will be at or past retiring age and will never be able to purchase their home.
219 I am the first to admit that that is only a fairly small group. However, if we agree with the principle of encouraging older people, who could not otherwise buy, to buy their houses, we should look at the problem in Committee.
I also commend the decision to reduce the enfranchisement period from three years to two years. Another characteristic of the election campaign that will silence the Opposition was that many young council house tenants, with children, who had been tenants for only a year or two were desperately anxious to buy their council houses. The Labour party conspicuously failed to win any converts in this age group and, in fact, lost many loyal supporters.
Many of those young couples will be delighted that, instead of having to wait for three years to buy their houses, they will be able to buy after two years of tenancy. Unlike the hon. Member for Bootle, I hope that in due course the enfranchisement period will be reduced to 12 months of tenancy. That might be possible through an amendment in Committee, but we shall have to wait and see.
Many of my younger constituents will be delighted and grateful that they have been enfranchised one year earlier and that they can get on the great property-owning ladder a year sooner.
The third announcement that gave me great pleasure was that the benefits of the discount and the reduced enfranchisement period will be immediate where it is not a forced sale. That means straight away when there is a Conservative-controlled local authority that wants to offer houses for sale and believes in a property-owning democracy. Unfortunately, there will be Labour-controlled councils that will want to wait until the Bill is enacted—in other words, to hold on to the last possible moment. I see that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) is nodding his head in agreement.
§ Mr. MacKay
I should not recommend that the hon. Gentleman's newly Labour-controlled local authority breach the law and I am sure that he would not encourage it to do so.
Many people have been waiting an extra year for the larger discounts, which can cause problems as they become a year older and their circumstances change. They will be able to buy immediately.
My final point relates to adapted houses. Many Opposition Members, and certainly the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham), completely misunderstood my hon. Friend the Minister. It all seemed clear to me, but perhaps it would be wise to spell it out once more. The Bill contains no suggestion that houses that have been purpose-built for the disabled or the elderly are eligible for sale. They are not. I have a constituent who has been forbidden to buy his house because he is severely disabled, as is his wife. The house has been adapted by the local authority to suit his purpose, although it is an ordinary semi-detached local authority house.
When we have had an "International Year of the Disabled People", it is sick that the disabled who suffer severely should be doubly penalised by being unable to buy their own homes. My constituent and many more 220 disabled people who live in local authority accommodation, which has been adapted, will be delighted that they have been given the opportunity to purchase.
I hope that I have it wrong—forgive me if I have—but some Opposition Members seem to be opposed to the sale of council houses, and I respect their point of view, but they seem doubly opposed to the sale of council houses to disabled people. That seems amazing. They do not want to help ordinary decent tenants who wish to buy, and they want to have a double go by knocking the disabled tenant. I hope that disabled electors will take careful note of that.
I wish the Bill godspeed in Committee. It is an excellent Bill which will be warmly welcomed. I am delighted by the views of the official Opposition. I shall ensure that their speeches are circulated widely in my constituency. Their views have gained us extra votes. I hope that the hon. Member for Bootle will continue his opposition and I wish the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), who is to wind up for the Opposition, more power to his elbow. We enjoy immensely what he has to say.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I would have more faith in the beliefs of the hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) if he wanted to give the right to buy to everybody instead of just to council tenants. I would believe him more if he wanted to give the right to buy to people in the high-rise flats or maisonettes that he finds so unattractive by allowing tenants to buy terraced or semi-detached houses elsewhere. Many of my constituents are bitter that they are stuck in unattractive council property when others are able to buy attractive council properties that they would like to move into if, without the discount, the tenant had bought a house in a private estate. If the hon. Member wants to be evenhanded, he should argue in favour of giving discounts to everybody, not just to council tenants, so that people have the right to buy all rented properties. That would be a fairer solution.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) making his maiden speech. I join him in his tribute to Stan Newens. He will be sadly missed by Opposition Members, by many people in the Third world and by people in countries that do not enjoy our freedom, for whom he was a champion.
I ask the indulgence of the House to refer to my new constituency. I represented the Reddish part of the area for nine years. I have not represented Denton before. Ken Marks represented Denton. I pay tribute to him. The House listened to him with pleasure when he spoke in the Chamber. He was fortunate in that he represented Denton on the local council, won a famous by-election and served in the House for 15½ years, being a Minister in the Departments of Environment and Transport. He will be remembered with affection by my hon. Friends. He will be remembered in Denton with a great deal of affection. Throughout the election campaign people came to me to express their thanks for the work that he did as their representative in the House. I hope that I shall represent the Denton part of the constituency as well as he did. I am sure that he will continue to work hard for the Denton area and maintain his long record of public service.
My constituency contains two local authority areas and an overspill area. The Manchester overspill, Tameside and Stockport housing authorities do not do justice to tenants in terms of repairs. Increasingly, the local housing 221 associations fail to do their repairs as well as they should. A major scandal in public housing is that no local authority or housing group manages to give tenants satisfaction in the efficiency of housing repairs.
I examined clause 23 with interest to see whether it would solve the problems by giving the tenant the right to carry out repairs. I would welcome a measure along that line, but the clause will not do the job. In a sense, we experienced such a provision in relation to the old medical officers of health before local government reorganisation in 1974. The old medical officers of health and public health inspectors were able to serve notices on private landlords and insist that repairs were done. In theory, officers still have the powers to serve notices on local authorities, but they rarely use those powers. Unfortunately, in many local authorities the housing and environmental health officer has those powers. Whereas in the past the public health inspector would have served notice on a local authority that failed to bring a house up to standard, and would have done it quickly, the new environmental health officers are reluctant to solve the problems that come within their responsibility. I hope that the measure will solve some of those problems, but I fear that it will not. First, it is absurd that when a tenant announces that he will do the repairs himself because the local authority has failed to do them, he should be made responsible for all repairs. Therefore, if a tenant who is especially disgruntled because the local authority has failed, for example, to repair the back door for some months does it himself, he will then be responsible for repairing his roof if it blows off. The clause will be a major disincentive to tenants to carry out repairs.
The other problem is that there will be no guarantee of standards. A tenant's friend might offer to do the job—perhaps on the cheap—the repair might not be done adequately and there would be no improvement.
In my area we face a major problem with people who tout loft insulation. I am afraid that in the same way people will go round council estates telling tenants that certain items of repair have not been done by the council and offering to do the work instead. That, again, could produce unsatisfactory results.
One of the major points of neglect in council house estates is the communal areas. It is difficult to understand how the clause would apply to such repairs. Would an individual tenant serve notice on a local authority that because a particular communal area repair had not been carried out he intended to get it done instead? Or would all the tenants jointly serve notice on the council? I am not sure how it would be done, but it is one provision about which there is considerable concern.
A particular problem arises in Stockport where the local authority takes the view that the tenant should be responsible for a substantial proportion of repairs. The authority feels that the windows, the gates, toilets, wash basins, and many other items are the tenants' responsibility. Stockport, a Tory-controlled authority, believes that its attitude will make tenants more responsible. However, it neglects to consider that a large number of its tenants are hard up and that they live on benefits. Such people are expected to replace a broken double-glazed window, a garden gate or other items out of supplementary benefit, but it is almost impossible in those circumstances, for the individual to save up sufficient money to do that. That is a major penalty on tenants.
222 Tenants who live in Tameside, the other half of my constituency, are under an authority that carries out the repairs. The rents may be marginally higher, but the tenants can claim that back without argument through supplementary benefit.
I hope that during the passage of the Bill the Minister will examine the problem whereby tenants in some areas are expected to pay substantial sums for repairs which they cannot afford because of their low incomes.
There have been many representations from my area, particularly from people who work in the local authorities, about the effect that the privatisation of the building regulations machinery will have on standards. The hon. and learned Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) said that there would be no difficulty because the professional person would take out indemnity insurance. What guarantees are there, however, about the insurance companies? There has been trouble in the past when insurance companies have gone out of business. This is one of those areas where the whole question of professional indemnity must be examined to ensure that there is a guarantee that if a particular inspector is negligent the money will he forthcoming to carry out the repairs and make the property satisfactory. At least under the present arrangements, everyone believes that if it can be shown that a local authority building inspector was negligent the local authority would have the money available to carry out the work.
The Bill fails to improve conditions for council house tenants. It does not improve the opportunities for people to own not only a home, but the sort of home that they want. I hope that the Government will quickly bring forward other measures that will give council house tenants real rights to live in houses that are well maintained, well repaired and of which they can be proud.
§ Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction on his maiden speech as a Minister. He put forward a progressive attitude and a typical piece of shrewd Conservative philosophy. I hope that he will continue in that way in future.
All hon. Members are freshly returned from the hustings. After the issues of the economy and nuclear disarmament, the support for the sale of council houses was immense. When visiting council estates we saw the pride of ownership and the difference between the houses already owned or being bought and those that were not. It proves that a stake in one's home and one's country portrays the true Conservative philosophy of a property-owning democracy.
When a councillor some 15 years ago, I supported a scheme for the sale of council houses. I am therefore delighted that we are now taking another fresh step towards giving more people the opportunity to own their homes. I shall not dwell on the psychological aspect of owning one's home. I am delighted that 500,000 council houses have been sold. The Bill will allow many more people to buy their homes.
While it would be invidious to mention all the maiden speeches today, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), who is my next door neighbour, on his maiden speech. He made the 223 powerful point that selling a council house does not take it out of service to the community. The house does not evaporate; it is still housing a member of the community.
The Bill covers many areas, but I do not have time to deal with them all tonight. I warmly congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench on the proposal to increase the discount to 60 per cent. for those who have lived in their homes for more than 30 years. My hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) said that we must assume that such people are at least 50 or 55 years old. For them, the sheer logistics of repaying a mortgage on their incomes is virtually impossible without the larger discount. I am delighted that we can now put homes within the reach of people on low incomes.
Paragraph 4 of schedule 2 deals with an area of discretion that formerly lay in council hands, and which some councils refused to implement. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) and I have battled with Watford borough council for some time to get it to implement discretion in its council house sales. It is well known that Watford borough council initially refused to implement the 1980 right-to-buy provisions.
The Bill transfers the years of qualification of a tenant to his or her offspring. I am thinking especially of daughters who have lived at home all their lives. They have probably spent many years looking after their elderly parents. Until now, they have had to rely on the council to transfer to them the benefit of those years of occupation. I am glad to see that that anomaly has been rectified.
I am pleased to see that under clause 2 the right to buy has been extended to the tenants of houses which have been adapted for the physically disabled. As my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East pointed out, that will not lead to the sale of houses that have been specifically designed for disabled people—only to those that have been adapted inside.
§ Mr. Loyden
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that the new generation of disabled home seekers would benefit greatly if those houses were excluded?
§ Mr. Page
I regret to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but I see no reason why they should be excluded. A physically disabled person should not be deprived of the right to own his own home and to hand it on to his children.
I now wish to reinforce the argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lye11) who pleaded for the reintroduction of clause 2 which was removed from the previous Bill in the other place. I will not repeat the arguments, but I hope that the clause can be reintroduced in Committee because people in one section of our community are being denied the opportunity to own their own homes.
The Bill will help more people to own their own homes. It is directly opposed to the philosophy which guides the official Opposition and directly in tune with the philosophy which guides the Conservative party. We believe in a property-owning democracy. We wish to see more and more people placed on the ladder of home ownership. I am delighted to welcome the Bill, which will give more and more people that opportunity.
§ 9.2 pm
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
It is a remarkable debate that contains eight maiden speeches—seven from the Back Benches and one from the Front Bench. All were delivered with conviction, sincerity and care, although not without controversy.
The first maiden speech was from the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) who wishes to sell off houses adapted for invalids. There is a good deal of disagreement over that proposition. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) and for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) on their maiden speeches. Both my hon. Friends underlined the insane economics of housing finance as it operates at present, particularly in their spending before the end of the financial year. They must either waste money or underspend. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton referred to the "crazy" housing finance system. I welcome both my hon. Friends and look forward to hearing their further contributions on housing and industry.
The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) spoke confidently from the heart and mind, although he did not speak from notes. He spoke with great knowledge of housing matters from his experience with the National House Building Council. I welcome him to our debate although he may be punished for his attendance by being asked to serve in Standing Committee.
I welcome the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill). There appear to be a great many ghosts here who fought seats around my constituency — the hon. Gentleman was on the edge at Croydon at one time. It was significant that a Conservative Member from Bournemouth spoke not only about housing, using his experience as a chartered surveyor, but about the problems of the poverty-stricken long-term unemployed of Bournemouth. I have a similar problem in my constituency, but it was interesting to hear that problem underlined by a Conservative Member from the lusher pastures of southern England. The hon. Gentleman urged an increase in the disregard for social security purposes. It was not what I expected to hear from Bournemouth, but I welcome his sympathy for the plight of many thousands of people who now find themselves in that situation.
I applaud the speech of my neighbour, the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden), who was sincere and spoke with pride and care about his predecessor, Mr. Sam Silkin. I share his tribute, though I do not share his political views. In other words, I hope that we may share courtesies, if not interest in policies, in the years to come.
We then had a maiden speech from the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) who also spoke in a noteless but animated and vigorous way. He spoke with obvious care and concern about housing, though obviously we will not always agree with him.
The first maiden speech, so to speak, though the last on my list, was that from the Government Front Bench, from the former silent companion of Denis Thatcher, the Minister for Housing and Construction, now coming to office and being rather more volatile. I owe the hon. Gentleman a word of thanks; I have never told him this but I feel that I should mention it today. I was once addressing an open air May Day rally at Eastbourne and I was extremely grateful for the intervention of the hon. Gentleman, who came along to heckle me. He was so 225 universally unpopular with the Socialists of Eastbourne that he made my day for me, and for that I am eternally grateful.
I must however warn him that being an ex-Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister is no guarantee against having the sack, as the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) will bear out. No doubt that thought will keep him on his toes; he may yet return to being the silent companion of Denis Thatcher.
I shall deal first with the latter part of the Bill which deals with building control and regulations. It contains the Government's proposals for privatising, and in some cases abolishing, building control. I warn that there are great dangers in permitting, for example, self-certification, even among public authorities. I oppose the privatisation of building control. It is a retrograde step carrying great dangers with it.
On the other hand—I have had experience of this as a Minister concerned with consumer safety—I welcome the proposals for simplifying and rewriting the way in which we frame our building regulations. We shall consider that aspect carefully and constructively, and personally I welcome redrawing the way in which we frame our regulations in statute law.
The purpose of building control is twofold. The first is to ensure that all new buildings and substantial extensions and alterations are built to comply with the law and observe a high standard. The second is to make sure that buildings are safe, secure and lasting, and to provide an inspection service which has undoubted integrity and independence from the developer.
When we talk about independence from the developer, we mean not just notional but real independence. That is particularly important for confidence in the building control system because anybody who has had anything to do with building regulations knows that they are full of discretions. Once one starts to undermine confidence in the integrity and independence of the way in which a discretion is exercised under regulations, one undermines confidence in the public system of administration.
Nobody has questioned the integrity, independence or ability of local authorities in administering the regulations. When failures have occurred there has always been compensation available to meet claims for negligance, though thankfully such failures have been quite rare. The present system also enables the local authority to build up a fund of knowledge and experience.
What the Government propose in the Bill is really the same as privatising the police force. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) welcomed the Bill and the privatisation of law enforcement. I bet that if the Government were privatising some of his clients—the Police Federation—it would be a different proposition. Nevertheless, the Bill involves the privatisation of a law enforcement process, and we must be particularly careful about that. It involves the abdication of public responsibility on the understanding that someone can make a profit from the abdication.
I am opposed to this course for a number of reasons. First, it does not carry the consensus of the professions. It is opposed, for example, by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The Government might say that it is supported by developers—that is surely a good reason for opposing it. It does not carry the consensus of local authorities, the professions or those who have been involved in the integrity of the building control system. 226 The safety and security of buildings are matters far too important to be left to competition or market forces. No one has suggested that responsibility for aircraft safety, drug safety or consumer safety should be privatised. No one has suggested that law enforcement functions of the police or the functions of the fire brigade should be privatised, and neither should the law enforcement procedures for buildings be privatised.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a recent "World in Action" programme drew attention to the very few failures, proportionately, of timber-framed houses? It made it clear that the failures were all to be found in the public sector. Will he recognise that the public sector should be responsible for the damages?
§ Mr. Fraser
The responsibility for picking up the bill is with the Government. The failure lies with the content of the regulations and not with a failure of inspection. We must examine the construction regulations and the enforcement system.
My second objection to the course proposed by the Government is that it will result in a loss of co-ordination and continuity. For example, a building night be extended, adapted and altered. It may be subdivided and occupied by two or three owners and two or three other occupiers. There may be permanent consents and temporary consents under the building Acts. The one building may present many complexities, but the one public enforcement system, with a repository of plans and experience and knowledge of the building and the neighbourhood, means that there is continuity. That is lost when privatisation is introduced. As a consequence, the new occupant of such a building loses the ability to obtain advice, especially when there has been temporary consent or a waiver of building regulations. Privatisation means a loss of continuity and the loss of intimate knowledge of a particular area.
In a quarrying or mining area it is necessary to know the way in which the land has been filled, where columns of rock have been left and where there has been infilling. Continuity and knowledge is lost when we start to farm out these responsibilities to create private profit.
My third objection to privatisation is that it creates an economic interdependence between developers and building control. I do not suggest that it results in planned corruption but it leads to economic interdependence, and a developer may well be the monopoly buyer of the services of the building inspector. That would be extremely dangerous. The building industry's record in respect of graft, corruption and collusion is not a happy one.
§ Mr. Fraser
It is, but it is not made lightly. There has been collusive tendering to local authorities by construction companies.
§ Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)
What does the hon. Gentleman say about the activities of direct labour forces?
§ Mr. Fraser
I did not distinguish between the private and public sectors. The building industry's record of integrity and corruption has not been free from criticism.
There are grave dangers in allowing the building industry to collude with a private enforcement service 227 which, at the end of the day, depends for its profits on whether it continues its services. There is the philosophy of pick and choose. The building inspector can pick and choose his work. He can pick the easy as opposed to the difficult stuff. The developer can choose to go to the local authority under some circumstances and can pick his building inspector under other circumstances. I am opposed to the pick and choose philosophy in the proposed system of the privatisation of building control.
There are great problems about getting adequate insurance. No one is sure what the limitation period is. When insuring a professional man, one finds that, with changing syndicates at Lloyd's, one cannot insure for 10 or 15 years in advance. One insures from year to year. One insures not on the original job but on claims. If a building inspector insuring from year to year has a bad claims record, there is no reason why the syndicate or the insurers should not turn that man down for insurance.
It is significant that the insurance provisions of the Estate Agents Act 1979, which I took through the House and which provides for the professional insurance of estate agents, were deliberately dropped by the Government. I do not know whether that was because they were too great a burden on the private sector, but I suspect that it was because of the difficulty that the insurance industry found in making adequate insurance arrangements. That is not the same as the National House Building Council. There, one insures the materials and workmanship rather than the basic construction and inspection. The inspection acts as a complement to the National House Building Council system. One is not a substitute for the other. At the best, the proposals for building control carry with them a risk of a drop in standards and at the worst a risk of undermining the integrity of the system and even a risk —I put it no higher than that—of corruption. For those reasons they must be rejected.
Another element of privatisation is the right to buy, or the compulsion to sell. I have no objection to home ownership—quite the reverse. I have spent most of my life encouraging and working for it.
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes, for home ownership. We did that by introducing a mortgage option scheme and the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 described by Conservative Members as Rachmanism in reverse. That is how they described leasehold reform. We did it by extending local authority lending. We did it in every conceivable way. I shall continue, as will all my Labour colleagues, to fight for an extension of owner-occupation.
In the past, Ministers have talked about the miracle of the effects of the right to buy. They say that it introduces variety, mobility and choice. The Minister for Housing and Construction said that the heart of liberty was choice. However, the difficulty is that, every time a council house is sold and not replaced, the choice is reduced for the rest.
Recently I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many flats and houses had been purchased from local authorities under the right-to-buy provisions of the Housing Act. The answer was that 269,000 houses and 5,000 flats had been sold under the right-to-buy provisions. Therefore, for every 54 houses that are sold, one flat is sold. That means that variety, mobility and choice are being constantly reduced. If the 228 houses were being replaced and the Government had a massive construction programme, it would not matter. If there were not a housing shortage, it would not matter, but they are not adding to variety, mobility and choice but diminishing them all the time, just as they are diminishing them through their proposals for the sale of houses for the disabled.
The Government are intensifying segregation in housing. Already there are 300,000 hard-to-let homes. The Government are making the situation worse. Yet another escape route is being cut off for the flatted council tenant. Invalids will not be able to move into adapted houses. Disablement may attack people in mid-life, not just at the beginning of their occupancy. Tenants who moved into a council flat when they had no children will have less chance of moving elsewhere when they have a family. If the houses sold are not replaced, choice will be diminished for all those people.
The situation is made still worse by the collapse of the housing programme. In 1981 only 31,000 new council houses were started and in 1982 only 44,000. Those are the miserable figures for council house building and there is no sign of any permanent improvement in the future. If the present policy of selling off existing houses and failing to build new ones continues, the Government will achieve the two things of which Disraeli accused the Conservative party. There will be two nations in housing and organised hypocrisy will the norm.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Prime Minister and her fellow Ministers go around the country saying that they believe in the family, but if one thing sustains a family it is a roof over its head. Yet the Government are busy cutting housing expenditure. In Disraeli's words, that is organised hypocrisy.
Sir William Clarke
If the hon. Gentleman believes in owner-occupation, why does the Labour party oppose the right of council tenants to buy their houses? Why should not the occupiers of council houses have the same rights as those in the private sector?
§ Mr. Fraser
I do not take the hon. Gentleman's narrow, simplistic and superficial view that selling off council houses but not flats, as occurs in practice, will solve the problem. We must reflect far more carefully on these matters and consider the total housing stock and the make-up of our housing estates, especially in inner city areas. Otherwise, there will be two nations in housing. Three quarters of householders will be owner-occupiers, reasonably well housed, mainly in houses, and receiving massive housing subsidies — well over £2 billion per year. Those people will be generally content with their tenure and they will be sitting—I do not blame them—on many billions of pounds worth of accumulated property values and untaxable capital gains. The other quarter will live largely in local authority flats. On the whole, they will be poorer, but they will be paying higher rents net of housing benefit and between them they will not have one accumulated pound's worth of property values. That is what I mean by two nations in housing.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Another example of gross hypocrisy by the Tories is the way in which letters were sent out before the 1979 election referring to council 229 tenants living in luxury and preaching about a property-owning democracy while the Prime Minister had a place owned by the National Trust at Scotney castle in Kent, which is regarded as the garden of Eden, with a golf course next door for her husband and subsidised up to the hilt.
§ Mr. Fraser
I think of it every time I go to Hastings. I criticise not those who own their own homes but the contrast, the two nations, the segregation and division.
The Department of the Environment must have a wider vision. It must consider the composition of the population and bear in mind the continuing "ghettoisation" of many housing estates. As many of the better properties on the edges of estates are sold off, a significant number of poor people are concentrated in low quality accommodation, principally flats. That is what the future holds. In areas such as Brixton, it has the gravest social consequences if people do not have sufficient vision to look beyond the right to buy to how we manage the housing stock.
Although 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. of tenants will buy their council homes, there will be the 80 per cent. to 85 per cent. who will permanently remain council tenants. They also have rights. There must be an equivalent of the right to buy for them that is as powerful and is backed up with similar resources. Tenants have a right to sound repairs and good management. Their rights must be enforced effectively. Clause 23 purports to deal with that problem, but it is superficial and ineffective. Moreover, it fails to take into account the fact that many repairs are communal concerns.
Many estates in my constituency have leaking roofs. It is no use a tenant following clause 23, getting in a surveyor and repairing the roof at a cost of perhaps tens of thousands of pounds. When an entire flank wall is damp, it is a communal problem. Lifts not working are also a communal problem. Clause 23 does not deal with any of those problems. Indeed, as many of my hon. Friends have said, it is a trap for tenants and for councils. Tenants are entitled, first, to sound repair, maintenance and management, secondly, to resources to carry those things out and, thirdly, to effective enforcement powers when failure occurs.
I am sure that many hon. Members are aware that tenants are just as anxious about the level of repairs, management and maintenance as about rent. The figures are scandalous. The National Consumer Council found that 35 per cent. of council tenants were dissatisfied with the repair service. It is disgraceful that one third of tenants in public accommodation are discontented with their surroundings. Another National Consumer Council survey found that one third of all tenants complained of damp, or condensation or both.
When eight local authorities took over 90,000 new town houses, they found that half needed repair because of design faults or major defects. The Building Research Establishment says that 17 per cent. of council homes are damp. The 1981 house condition survey for England said that 67,000 publicly rented dwellings were unfit and that 608,000 needed repairs costing £2,500 or more. Those problems of neglect, decay and discontent are not solved by the right to buy, nor are they solved by clause 23.
There should be an obligation on the Department of the Environment to provide resources to cope with that major backlog.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Department can cope with 90 per cent. repair grants — totalling £335 million — for the private sector. It can help the owner-occupied sector with more than £2 billion worth of mortgage interest relief. Why can it not do the same in the public sector? I am not suggesting that the money be taken away, but if it can be found for private repair grants, it can be found for local authorities. If a local authority attempts to spend more money on repairs, it is penalised. If the council in Lambeth tried to spend more money on repairs, for every extra £1 that it spent, £1 would be taken away. Therefore, the Government can alter the Bill to provide the resources.
Secondly, the Government can introduce a code with legislative force on repairing obligations for property owners, be they public or private. Thirdly, they can change the law so that environmental health officers have exactly the same powers to act against the local council as they have to act against a private landlord.
§ Mr. Fraser
The environmental health officer should be the agent of the tenant, not the agent of the council. There must be independent enforcement of repair obligations against local authorities in exactly the same way as there is enforcement against private landlords. In many constituencies in London, when the GLC controlled the estates, the environmental health officer could issue a summons or the work would be done in default. However, as a result of the handover by this Government of GLC estates to local authorities in London, that independent power of intervention by the environmental health officer has disappeared. That is absolute madness. That right must be given to tenants.
Fourthly, there must be a planned and regular estate inspection, something along the lines of the test certificate for a car. If a car must be roadworthy every year, why should not a house be tenantworthy? A tenant has the right to demand that his house is in a good state of repair.
All candidates in the general election will have gone round housing estates, even fairly new estates, and seen water coming down the walls, water overflowing from pipes and small trees and shrubs growing from the gutters of comparatively new accommodation. One of the reasons is the way in which the Government have manipulated the housing revenue account and the rate support grant to provide a positive disincentive to local authorities to get on with these important tasks.
Fifthly, there must be a change in section 32 of the Housing Act 1961 so that the obligation on a landlord is an obligation to remedy the underlying defect as well as the repair that comes to the tenant's attention.
§ Mr. Fraser
I have only a few minutes in which to conclude. The Bill does nothing to help the mobility of council tenants, and 500,000 people want a transfer within that housing sector. It does nothing to reinforce the family — [Interruption.] Conservative Members are pretty cynical about these matters. I and my hon. Friends know of many cases where fit relatives want to move within the council sector to look after unfit relatives or where grandma wants to move to he near the children. The Bill does nothing to help mobility.
The Bill does nothing to control the escalation of council rents. If the Government really want to 231 approximate the position of the tenant and owner-occupier, why do they not abolish the payment of rent for people over 65 who have spent 20 or 30 years in a council house and have paid for the place time and again? Why not give them an option? The Government propose a 60 per cent. reduction in price; why not have a 60 per cent. reduction in rent? That is an approximation of the rights of home ownership as against the rights of tenancy.
The Bill is a legislative kaleidoscope. The Secretary of State has shaken everything up, but nothing of substance has appeared. There is nothing in the Bill to provide an extra home. There is nothing in it that helps to resolve the problem of 71,000 homeless families. There is nothing in it that tackles the problem of 400,000 unemployed building workers. There is nothing in it to deal with the problem of 1 million unfit homes. There is nothing in it to deal with the problem of 4 million homes in a serious state of repair.
The Government's housing policy, which has borne the greatest proportion of the cuts, is inimical to the interests of the family and the interests of society. The Prime Minister has talked about Victorian values, but she and her pack of Secretaries of State are rather like Oscar Wilde's cynic in that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The only Victorian value that they portray is that of hypocrisy.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)
The debate has been well informed, although of necessity somewhat similar to the debate that took place on Second Reading of the previous Bill towards the end of last year.
The speech by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was not one of his better speeches. He was well advised to withdraw his nomination as deputy leader of the Labour party on that form. He criticised the length of the Bill, but in part that is due to the need to block the loopholes that are being exploited by ingenious Labour-controlled authorities, which are seeking to deny tenants the rights that Parliament meant them to have. Instead of criticising the length of the Bill, it might be helpful if every now and then Labour Members criticised the abuses being perpetrated by Labour-controlled authorities, which deny tenants the rights that they are meant to have.
The right hon. Gentleman made several rather extraordinary statements. For example, having said that a local authority had to sell 10 houses to get the funds to build a new one, he concluded that this transaction reduced the housing stock. It does not—it increases the housing stock. He meant to say that it reduces the local authority housing stock. Labour Members seem to assume that if a local authority dwelling is sold, it disappears off the face of the earth. However, it is still part of the housing stock. People are living in it and it is meeting a need. Labour Members have to stop looking at housing policy through narrow-visioned and municipal spectacles.
If one of the depressing things today has been the inability of the Labour party to learn anything from what has happened in the past few months, the encouraging thing has been a series of maiden speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House, starting with that given by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, 232 South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), a constituency where I was interviewed in the late 1960s and decisively rejected. He spoke with enthusiasm for, and deep knowledge of Nottingham and mentioned two major employers, Raleigh and Players, and hon. Members who know me will know which of those two firms I prefer. He rightly identified our right-to-buy policy as contributing to his success in Nottingham and I am grateful for what he said about our right-to-repairs proposals. We look forward to hearing more from him.
He was followed by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond), who made another excellent maiden speech. His experience as a former leader of a local authority will be of great value to his party and the House, and I am sure that he will contribute to our proceedings during the local authority debates, of which there may be one or two. He spoke of the right to buy for the disabled, which was a point made by several other hon. Members. One has to remember that the disabled have rights as well and one must think hard before denying them rights that we have extended to their fellow citizens.
The hon. Member for Don Valley also spoke about his reservations on private certification and again, these points were echoed by other hon. Members. Certifiers have to be approved by the Secretary of State or by a body designated by him and the two basic criteria will be professional qualifications and practical experience. But they will also have to be independent. They will not be allowed to supervise work for which they are responsible in any other capacity. I see no reason to suppose that professional people in the private sector will act any less responsibly than building control officers in carrying out their duties. Many authorities already make use of private sector professional firms in various capacities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said that the proposed changes in the building regulations are welcome, and we propose that they will be simpler to understand. I shall look into the dialogue that he had with his local building inspector to see whether there was any unnecessary intrusion. I confirm my hon. Friend's perception that our right-to-buy policy is particularly popular among women voters—even those who are unable to exercise the right to buy themselves support the concern and the right.
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) made a maiden speech as well, and spoke with affection about his predecessors. He criticised shared ownership as being difficult to understand, but at least 6,000 people have already participated in shared ownership schemes. Only this morning I was in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) opening another shared ownership scheme in Farnham Common and one that was heavily oversubscribed. Shared ownership provides an extra rung near the bottom of the ladder to enable people to get on the home ownership ladder earlier.
We also had a maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), who spoke without inhibition and without notes. Clearly, he is rightly proud of his constituency, and I am sure that his constituents are proud of him. We welcome his local authority experience. He also revealed an enormous knowledge of the National House Building Council—an experience which is not so much invaluable as, positively dangerous for Ministers on the Bill, as clearly he knows a lot more about the subject than my hon. Friend or 233 myself. He commented on charitable housing associations, as did other hon. members. As my hon. Friend said in opening, we are giving the matter further consideration.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) spoke about the private rented sector. No one has done more damage to that sector than the Labour party, and for it to pose as the saviour of the private landlord or the private tenant is sheer hypocrisy. The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the right to repair. That right is, of course, an option. No one is compelling tenants. A scheme is already in existence in Havering. It is working well and saving the ratepayers of Havering an estimated £25,000 in its first year. The new clause is tailored to enable the Secretary of State to introduce by regulation a tenants' repair scheme. We shall fully consult local authority associations and other public sector landlords before introducing the secondary legislation. Thr real reason why the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury does not like it is that it is a threat to Islington's direct labour organisation. Much of what the hon. Gentleman said was paternalistic nonsense, saying that tenants were not be trusted with the repairs of their own homes. To my mind, that is Socialism at its worst.
§ Mr. Chris Smith
The Minister is misrepresenting what I said, as he will see when he reads Hansard. Does he not agree that the right to repair enshrined in this legislation will decimate local authority direct labour organisations? It means that those tenants who cannot afford to take the option in the Bill will have to fall back on an even more inefficient local authority service than exists at present. Is the Minister concerned about those people?
§ Sir George Young
If the organisation is as efficient as the hon. Gentleman clearly thinks it is, it has nothing to fear from the Bill. If, as I suspect, there is scope for economy and a more efficient and effective service, the tenants will exercise the right that the Bill will give them. It may mean that there is less work, but that is the result of the option of the tenants to choose in a free market how to get their property repaired. I believe that tenants deserve to have that right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) in his maiden speech, spoke patriotically about the need for us to take our holidays in this country, rather than overseas, and in Bournemouth rather than anywhere else. Wherever we go, we hope that the usual channels will enable us to go there early. My hon. Friend spoke of the attractiveness of Bournemouth as a conference centre, and spoke with understanding and compassion about the elderly. His experience as a chartered surveyor will be of particular value as we progress through the Bill.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) enunciated clearly two strands of Liberal policy on the right to buy. First, the tenant would have the right to buy and secondly, the local authority would have the right not to sell. That seems a typical Liberal solution: on the face of it satisfactory to everyone, but when one starts to think about it it has an inbuilt serious contradiction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) spoke about the leasehold provisions in the Bill, which will he of great value to his constituents. He described graphically the obstacle course facing council tenants in Southwark who try to exercise their right to buy. 234 In the Bill we have lowered some of the hurdles, and I hope that we have brought the finishing post a little closer for them.
On service charges, the Bill gives us new powers to help tenants who face unreasonable charges — notably the power in clause 6, to direct that convenants and conditions that do not conform with the 1980 Act have to be dropped, and the power in clause 8 to assist with legal advice and proceedings on the right to buy.
In his maiden speech my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) spoke with pride about the development of new business in Harlow and also about the right-to-repair scheme. I am grateful to him for his support. We hope to make progress with the Bill and implement it as soon as possible.
The hon. Member for Pontyfract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) asked about the cost floor cut-off date. We have had representations from one or two local authorities that the cost floor cut-off date should be brought forward to take account of changes in price levels since the present date was fixed in 1980, and to save authorities unnecessary administrative work. We are looking at that but we shall have to take account of other changes in the Bill, notably the increase in maximum discounts. That, if combined with a later cut-off date, could lead to houses being sold at a historic loss. However, we have taken no decision yet and clause 3(3) will simply enable a change to be made without the need for primary legislation.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) spoke about the tenants of charitable housing associations and expressed his disappointment at the decision of another place. My hon. and learned Friend outlined the current position and welcomed the leasehold provisions and the imaginative approach on building controls.
I missed the speech of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) but, having listened to him day after day in Committee in the previous Parliament, I doubt whether he found anything new to say on the Bill this time. I welcome the return to the House of my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) and I am grateful to him for his support of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) again emphasised that the tenants of charitable housing associations in his constituency are disappointed at the disappearance of clause 2.
The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) said that there was nothing in the Bill to help the council tenants about whom he spoke, but what about the capital receipts? Capital receipts, principally from the sale of council houses, are an important element in the picture. Authorities will generate at least £684 million of housing capital receipts this year. They also have some £1,500 million of accumulated unspent capital receipts from previous years which can be brought forward for investment this year. There simply is no excuse for authorities not using those receipts in view of the needs that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
I relish the prospect of taking the Bill through Committee yet again. What worries me is the prospect of the building control officers coming into the Palace of Westminster again to monitor the proceedings but looking professionally and critically at the fabric of our building — for which I have ministerial responsibility — and longing to serve a variety of notices.
235 I shall speak first about parts II and III of the Bill, which deal with building control. Everybody welcomed the proposed reform of the substantive regulations which part III will enable us to carry out. There is no doubt that a recasting of the regulations has been long overdue. At the moment the regulations are long, complex and difficult to understand. Because they are in the form of a statutory instrument they are necessarily couched in legal terminology and that does not make for easy comprehension.
When our proposals for recasting were sent out for consultation on 27 May last year they were widely welcomed. One hundred and twenty-eight responses were broadly in favour of them and only 12 were against. Since then we have been working on new draft regulations and on 30 March we issued a consultation document containing a complete set, together with two of the approved documents, which will give guidance on complying with the regulations. We are now studying the comments that have been received.
The warm welcome for our reform of the substantive regulations is, of course, gratifying. I am, however, at a loss to understand the often intemperate criticism from Labour Members of our proposals for private certification of compliance with building regulations, for which part II provides. Anyone who had the misfortune to come to the Bill via the speeches of Labour Members would think that we were proposing certification as a mandatory system on developers throughout the land. In fact we are ending a public sector monopoly, the monopoly of building control work, by giving builders and developers an alternative. That is one of the themes of this Administration: to look at public monopolies, to ask if they have to remain public monopolies and, if not, to give people a choice. Understandably, that leads to a reaction from the trade unions representing the staff involved. But Government have to make a broader interpretation of their responsibilities. No one will be forced to use certification. The local authority system will remain for all those wishing to use it. However, private certification will also be available as an optional alternative that developers can choose, if they wish.
The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Developers and house builders will not use private certification unless they are satisfied that it offers a reliable system and results in houses that potential owners will buy. The total package on offer to the purchasers of those houses will have to be every bit as good as, if not better than, what is available from the local authority. The system is in many ways self-balancing. Private certification will spread if the building owner can be offered a better deal than he would get if the building were approved through the local authority system. If, as Opposition Members suggest, the local authority system cannot be bettered, people will not choose private certification. We are prepared to put the scheme forward on that basis. Let us see exactly what people want.
Hon. Members also raised the subject of our broad housing investment plans. Despite the tight economic situation, we are achieving significant increases in housing investment. For the past financial year, gross provision for housing investment by English local authorities showed an increase of some 6 per cent. in real terms on provision for 1981–82. For the current financial year, the gross 236 provision will allow authorities to increase their expenditure by some 8 per cent. on their estimated outturn for last year.
Again, many hon. Members — particularly those representing cities — mentioned the condition of the housing stock and the need to take action to improve it. In the previous Parliament, we underlined our commitment to the improvement of the housing stock in several ways. The March 1982 Budget raised the maximum grant rates for intermediate and repair grants to 90 per cent. Local authorities were first of all given an additional £80 million to spend on grants, and were then told that such spending could be unlimited in 1982–83. Indeed, 90 per cent. grants will now run until the end of 1983–84 and special arrangements have again been made to give local authorities additional capital allocations for spending on grants in 1983–84.
The result of these measures has been a dramatic rise in the number of grants given, and in spending on grants. Expenditure in 1981–82 was under £200 million. It was about £400 million in 1982–83, and it is likely to be substantially higher in 1983–84. The increase in the number of grants given for repairs has been especially marked, from 8,000 in 1981–82 to 48,000 in 1982–83.
Another initiative has been the introduction of enveloping as a mainstream housing activity. This is the external repair of a whole block of privately owned dwellings as part of a single contract, carried out at no cost to the owners. In the 1983 Budget, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that local authorities that had enveloping schemes approved would receive additional capital allocations for 1983–84.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
On the narrow issue of grants, does not my hon. Friend agree that the rateable value of £225 per dwelling is far too low? Has he any plan to raise the rateable value to some more equitable sum, such as £350?
§ Sir George Young
We have no immediate plans to do that, but we have it under review. I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's point.
We come back to the basic issue of choice, which is the theme of part I just as much as it is the theme of parts II and III. I hope that it will not be considered unsporting if I draw attention to the fact that both the Opposition spokesmen in the previous Session's Standing Committee on the Housing and Building Control Bill—Ann Taylor and Ted Graham—lost their seats at the election. The only other Front Bench Member on that Committee—Joe Dean, the former Member for Leeds, West—also lost his seat. However, I hope that that will not dissuade Opposition Members from serving on the new Committee. One wonders if the demise of those hon. Members had anything to do with the fact that they had the misfortune to act as the mouthpiece for the Labour party's opposition to this Bill and to the right to buy. I can think of few Socialist dogmas that can have contributed more to the defeat of the Labour party. It is a classic ilustration of the disregard which, for all its protestations, the Labour party holds for people's actual wishes and aspirations. That is not just my verdict, it is the verdict of some of the Labour party's more thoughtful supporters, recently sacrificed on the altar of dogma.
I quote the words of the former Member for Lewisham, West, Mr. Price, writing in the New Statesman on 17 June: 237One of the Labour movement's least agreeable characteristics has been a propensity, inherited from Beatrice Webb, to instruct the working classes, in humourless, educated tones, what is good for them.The former hon. Member for Derby, North, Mr. Whitehead, writing to The Guardian on 25 June said:We cannot go on concerned more with the ideological purity of the elect than with the hopes and ideas of the electorate.Listening to the debate today, I was reminded of another Labour comment on the last election:What people heard from us was not a single united voice but a series of discordant voices saying things that did not appeal to them at all—and sometimes saying them in tones which were utterly strident and unappealing.Those were the words of the present Leader of the Opposition in The Guardian on 24 June.
Those who are left in the Labour party who have some hope of doing better next time, could do worse than start to re-examine its policies on the sale of council housing. The Labour party talks a great deal about breaking down the barriers in our society and securing a fairer distribution of wealth, but that is exactly what the Bill does. It breaks down physical and social barriers in our towns and cities between one type of development and another and between one type of tenure and another, gives many thousands of families access to capital which they could never previously have hoped for and enables them to have a stake in our society.
In the Bill we are doing precisely what the Opposition profess to be in favour of, yet they voted against us. The Labour party's manifesto included a proposal that local authorities should be given the right to buy back council houses on first resale. That is a hopeless attempt to turn back the clock. Why should owners be prevented from selling on the open market at the price of their choice to the person of their choice? Do Opposition Members want to remove the new front doors, the new patio windows and the bright new paint in the interests of equality? Opposition Members want simply to return to drab, municipal conformity instead of the welcome diversity which is now breaking out on council estate after council estate.
§ Sir George Young
Not only is the Opposition's policy socially misguided, but it is bad economics. If they were to use the housing investment programme to bring existing houses back into the municipal stock, it would add not one brick to the nation's housing, nor create one new job in the construction industry. Diverting resources to municipalisation reduces new investment. That is the exact converse of our policy on council house sales, which generates substantial additional funds for local authority investment, which in turn creates new jobs.
§ Sir George Young
Our policy generates substantial, additional funds for local authority investment to enable local authorities to tackle the type of problems that the hon. Member for Norwood mentioned in his speech. Our policies are not only giving hundreds of thousands of families what they want and what they are perfectly entitled to have, but are releasing substantial resources for 238 the housing investment programme, helping those in housing need and providing new work for the construction industry.
If the policy of the Labour party on the Bill is misguided, it is at least clear. Not so that of the alliance. Last time it voted for the Bill on Second Reading and against it on Third Reading.
§ Sir George Young
It abstained on the crucial guillotine motion. That is the party designed to end fudging and mudging.
§ Sir George Young
The Bill will keep up the momentum of the unprecedented success over the past four years of our right-to-buy policy. Only a party determined to lose the next election, as it did the last, will vote against it.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 352, Noes 145.241
|Division No. 9]||[10 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Chope, Christopher|
|Aitken Jonathan||Churchill, W. S.|
|Alexander, Richard||Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Clark, Michael (Rochford)|
|Amess, David||Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)|
|Ancram, Michael||Clarke Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Arnold, Tom||Clegg, Sir Walter|
|Ashby, David||Cockeram, Eric|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Colvin, Michael|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne)||Conway, Derek|
|Atkins Robert (South Ribble)||Coombs, Simon|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Cope, John|
|Baker, Kenneth (Mole Valley)||Cormack, Patrick|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Couchman, James|
|Baldry, Anthony||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Batiste, Spencer||Critchley, Julian|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Crouch, David|
|Bellingham, Henry||Currie, Mrs. Edwina|
|Bendall, Vivian||Dicks, T.|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Best, Keith||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Dover, Denshore|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward|
|Blackburn, John||Dunn, Robert|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Peter||Dykes, Hugh|
|Body, Richard||Eggar, Tim|
|Bottomley, Peter||Evennett, David|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'ton)||Eyre, Reginald|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Fallon, Michael|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Farr, John|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Favell, Anthony|
|Brinton, Tim||Fenner, Mrs. Peggy|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Finsberg, Geoffrey|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Fletcher, Alexander|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Browne, John||Forman, Nigel|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Forth, Eric|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Fox, Marcus|
|Budgen, Nick||Franks, Cecil|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Fraser, Sir Hugh|
|Burt, Alistair||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Butcher, John||Freeman, Roger|
|Butterfill, John||Fry, Peter|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Gale, Roger|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Galley, Roy|
|Carttiss, Michael||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Chalker, Mrs. Lynda||Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Lightbown, David|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan||Lilley, Peter|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Lloyd, Ian (Havant)|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Gorst, John||Lord, Michael|
|Gow, Ian||Luce, Richard|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Grant, Sir Anthony||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Greenway, Harry||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Gregory, Conal||MacGregor, John|
|Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Grist, Ian||Macmillan, Rt Hon M.|
|Ground, Patrick||McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Madel, David|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Major, John|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Mallins, Humphrey|
|Hannam, John||Malone, Gerald|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Marland, Paul|
|Harvey, Robert||Marlow, Antony|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Mates, Michael|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Maude, Francis|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk, SW)||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Hawksley, Warren||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Hayes, J.||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Mellor, David|
|Hayward, Robert||Merchant, Piers|
|Heath, Rt Hon Edward||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Heathcoat-Amery, David||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Heddle, John||Mills, Ian (Meriden)|
|Henderson, Barry||Mills, Sir Peter (Devon, West)|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Hickmet, Richard||Mitchell, David (Hants, NW)|
|Hicks, Robert||Moate, Roger|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Hill, James||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Hind, Kenneth||Moore, John|
|Hirst, Michael||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S.)|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Holt, Richard||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Hooson, Tom||Mudd, David|
|Hordern, Peter||Murphy, Christopher|
|Howard, Michael||Neale, Gerrard|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Needham, Richard|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Nelson, Anthony|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Neubert, Michael|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Newton, Tony|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Norris, Steven|
|Hunter, Andrew||Onslow, Cranley|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Oppenheim, Philip|
|Irving, Charles||Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Osborn, Sir John|
|Jessel, Toby||Ottaway, Richard|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Page, John (Harrow, W)|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Page, Richard (Herts, SW)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Parris, Matthew|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Key, Robert||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Knight, Mrs. Jill (Edgbaston)||Pollock, Alexander|
|Knowles, Michael||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Knox, David||Powley, John|
|Lamont, Norman||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Lang, Ian||Price, Sir David|
|Latham, Michael||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Raffan, Keith|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)|
|Lester, Jim||Renton, Tim|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich, N)|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Thorne, Neil (Ilford, S)|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Rossi, Hugh||Thurnham, Peter|
|Rost, Peter||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Ryder, Richard||Tracey, Richard|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Trippier, David|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Viggers, Peter|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Waddington, David|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Walden, George|
|Shersby, Michael||Walker, William (T'side N)|
|Silvester, Fred||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Sims, Roger||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Waller, Gary|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Walters, Dennis|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Ward, John|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Speed, Keith||Warren, Kenneth|
|Speller, Tony||Watts, John|
|Spence, John||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Spencer, D.||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Spicer, Michael (Worcs, S)||Wheeler, John|
|Squire, Robin||Whitfield, John|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Whitney, Raymond|
|Stanley, John||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Steen, Anthony||Wilkinson, John|
|Stern, Michael||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Stevens, Martin (Fulham)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Wood, Timothy|
|Stokes, John||Woodcock, Michael|
|Stradling Thomas, J.||Yeo, Tim|
|Sumberg, David||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Mr. Carol Mather and|
|Terlezki, Stefan||Mr. Robert Boscawen.|
|Anderson, Donald||Conlan, Bernard|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Corbett, Robin|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Cowans, Harry|
|Ashton, Joe||Craigen, J. M.|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Crowther, Stan|
|Bagier, Gordon A.T.||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Dalyell, Tam|
|Barron, Kevin||Davies, Rt. Hon. Denzil (L'lli)|
|Beckett, Mrs. Margaret||Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)|
|Beith, A. J.||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Deakins, Eric|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Dewar, Donald|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Dixon, Donald|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Dormand, Jack|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Dubs, Alfred|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Dunwoody, Mrs. G.|
|Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)||Eastham, Ken|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Evans, Ioan (Cynon Valley)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Evans, John (St. Helens N)|
|Campbell, Ian||Ewing, Harry|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Fatchett, Derek|
|Canavan, Dennis||Faulds, Andrew|
|Cartwright, John||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Fisher, Mark|
|Clarke, Thomas||Flannery, Martin|
|Clay, Robert||Forrester, John|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Foulkes, George|
|Cohen, Harry||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Coleman, Donald||Freud, Clement|
|Garrett, W. E.||Millan, R: Hon Bruce|
|Godman, Norman||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Gould, Bryan||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Nellist, David|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Hardy, Peter||O'Brien, William|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||O'Neill, Martin|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Patchett, Terry|
|Haynes, Frank||Pendry, Tom|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Penhaligon, David|
|Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)||Pike, Peter|
|Howells, Geraint||Prescott, John|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Radice, Giles|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Randall, Stuart|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Redmond, M.|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Richardson, Jo|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Robertson, George|
|John, Brynmor||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Johnston, Russell||Rooker, J. W.|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Kennedy, Charles||Rowlands, Ted|
|Kirkwood, Archibald||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Lambie, David||Sheerman, Barry|
|Lamond, James||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Skinner, Dennis|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Smith, C.(lsl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Litherland, Robert||Soley, Clive|
|Lloyd, Anthony (Stretford)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Loyden, Edward||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|McCartney, Hugh||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Wallace, James|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|McKelvey, William||Wareing, Robert|
|MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Wigley, Dafydd|
|McNamara, Kevin||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|McWilliam, John||Winnick, David|
|Madden, Max||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Meadowcroft, Michael||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Michie, William||Mr. Ron Leighton.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).