Orders of the Day — London (Government Assistance)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:06 am on 4th August 1980.

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Photo of Mr Douglas Jay Mr Douglas Jay , Wandsworth Battersea North 2:06 am, 4th August 1980

As the night is still very young, I call the attention of the House to the impending housing crisis in London, which has been caused by the destructive policies carried out by the Tory Greater London Council. It has been worsened by the collapse of new house building all over the country, and in particular by the utterly reckless actions of the Tory council in Wandsworth, which includes my constituency. All these practical proofs that the Tory Party no longer cares in the least about housing, if indeed it ever did, and about the thousands of wretchedly housed families in London, are combining to cut down further and further the number of council dwellings available for those most in need.

The GLC's completely irresponsible policy of handing over housing estates to the boroughs means that the only slender hope that was once available for council tenants to move from one part of London to another has almost disappeared. The Prime Minister is advising the population of Wales to move to London. My constituents cannot move from Battersea to Southwark, because it is impossible to find anywhere to move to. Indeed, the Tories on the council in Wandsworth have now devised an even more extraordinary scheme, by which most council tenants in that borough cannot even move from one ward of Wandsworth to another.

On top of this, and probably worst of all, the sale of council houses is drastically reducing the number available to let. Hardly one constituent who comes to my surgery, or writes me letters about his or her housing needs, can buy a house. For the first time in many years, I am having to tell any number of people in distressing housing conditions—for instance, old ladies of 80, living alone and in frail health—that there is no practical hope now of their being rehoused in London, as long as present Tory policies are continued.

The Tories did tell us that the sale of council houses was intended to enable the sitting council tenant to realise his alleged lifelong ambition of buying a house. The humbug of this has just been exposed by the extraordinary action, in the last two weeks, of the Tory council in Wandsworth.

This council decided recently to sell to a private property interest the council estate known as St. John's, bordering the river in my constituency. This estate was a pioneering effort by Labour councils in the 1920s, designed to rehouse families from the worst slums of those days. Three years ago the then Labour council decided that it should be wholly modernised. The Tories then took it over two years ago. Having decided to sell the estate to a private interest, the Tory council recently discovered that about 40 families refused to move out. The Wandsworth council then decided to evict them. We can see how much sincerity there was in all this talk about selling council homes to sitting tenants. In this case a Tory council is proposing forcibly to evict council tenants from their homes and to sell the estate to a private property interest, which will no doubt sell the flats to the highest bidder.

That is not quite the end of this curious story. The Wandsworth Tories also recently discovered that the Government's Housing Bill would give security of tenure to the council tenants, which would frustrate this whole operation of selling the estate. If this Bill becomes law in the next week or two, as I understand the Government hope, according to my information the enhanced security for council tenants would operate not later than early October. I believe that that is the latest state of the Bill. Thus threatened with defeat by their own Government's legislation, Wandsworth Tory council was so determined to evict these unfortunate people, at any cost to the council's reputation for responsibility, that it rushed through council last Thursday evening, 31 July, a motion authorising it to carry out the evictions at once, before the new Bill becomes law and the tenants obtain a new security.

This seems to be positively outrageous conduct on the part of the present majority on the Wandsworth council. I urge the Secretary of State to intervene in this affair and prevent the Wandsworth council from, in this case, defying not merely all principles of responsibility and decency but the intention of Parliament and the Minister's own legislation.

I understand, and the Minister can tell me whether I am wrong, that the sale of this estate to a private interest would require the consent of the Secretary of State. I therefore repeat the request that I made in a letter which I sent to the Secretary of State last Thursday, to withhold his consent to this sale. I would have thought, if there is any sincerity left in the Government's professed concern for the security of council tenants, as set out in the Housing Bill, that the Secretary of State could prove it by disallowing this sale. I therefore ask the Secretary of State to do so. I can assure him that he would immensely relieve the anxieties of 40 families on this estate if he would do this immediately.