Orders of the Day — Housing and Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th February 1974.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby 12:00 am, 5th February 1974

No, it was made too hard for the local authorities to do this. The Minister knows that the conditions could be effectively reimposed only by Government legislation. This was known to every local authority in the country.

I turn briefly to the Housing Corporation and the housing associations. I welcome the provisions in Parts I, II and III of the Bill. I am only too well aware that in my party there has traditionally been a certain suspicion of the voluntary housing movement. Some housing associations in the past and at present have appeared to be more money motivated than public spirited, more interested in earning fees than in housing the homeless. Many smaller housing associations have been an incompetent nuisance. Tory Ministers and the Tory GLC have often given the impression that this movement was to be a substitute for municipal responsibility.

I support the movement, not as a substitute, but as a complement. It should not, never will and cannot possibly take over the main responsibilities for rented housing. It is important not to give the movement a rôle beyond that which it can carry. But it does provide a wholly desirable element of choice and variety of tenure.

Three things have been needed, and all are provided in the Bill. Firstly, it provides stronger central direction. I welcome the new range of powers for the Housing Corporation in Part I, and I particularly welcome, for the reasons which made the hon. Member opposite nervous, Clause 6, an admirable clause which will have our strong support in Committee. It could be the basis for a large-scale competitive public enterprise in the construction industry.

Secondly, we need the enforcement of higher standards, and I therefore welcome all the registration powers in Part II. I welcome, too, the subsidy provisions in Part III, which, incidentally, will often have the effect of relieving the rates. They replace the subsidy provisions in the Housing Finance Act, which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) spent hours proving, correctly, would collapse within a short space of time.

I do not like Clause 41, which appears to be ideological and objectionable, but I will not go into it for reasons of time. I just add this point. The housing association movement should be, and be seen to be, more democratic than it is at the moment. There should always be local authority representation on the committee of an association, and there should always be a strong element of tenant participation in management.

Lastly, I turn by way of light relief to Part IX. Hopefully, this marks the final chapter in the "will-they-won't-they?" saga of the Government v. Mr. Harry Hyams. The House will recall how it began. Amid mounting public anger at the sight of the empty Centre Point, the former Secretary of State donned his crusader's armour and came to the House on 26th June 1972 to proclaim: Some major developments have remained empty for many years. … I believe that the time has come to bring an end to this highly undesirable practice. Therefore, I have decided that, unless those responsible take action to ensure that the practice ceases within the next few months, I will be ready to introduce legislation to guarantee that these existing blocks are suitably occupied".— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June 1972; Vol. 839, c. 1094.] Those were his heroic days before he went into total oblivion and eclipse.

Mr. Hyams paid about as much attention to the former Secretary of State's bluster as the rest of us have now learnt to pay to his pronouncements about the energy crisis. A few jolly, well-publicised letters were exchanged, on the lines of "Dear Peter" and "Dear Harry". The next few months went by and a few more months still, and then the rumours began to leak out—that the Government could not find a way to do it, it was too complicated, the parliamentary draftsmen could not cope. We had all the classic excuses of a Conservative Government contemplating the dreadful prospect of interference with private property rights. Eventually last November the present Secretary of State came clean and, in a burst of candour, wrote to Camden Council telling it that he did not intend to take any legislative action to get the empty offices occupied and we all settled down.