Orders of the Day — Housing and Building Control Bill

– in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 23rd November 1982.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I have not selected the Instruction.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment 4:05 pm, 23rd November 1982

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

When I moved the Second Reading of the Housing Bill in January 1980, I explained that it had two main objectives. The first was to give people an opportunity to fulfil their aspirations to own their own homes and the second was to reverse the trend of ever-increasing dominance of the State over the life of the individual. Those objectives infuse our housing policy. This Bill is a further stage in meeting both objectives.

Our housing policy has evolved against the background of economic stringency. After three years of financial discipline we are beginning to see the benefits. We have started to redress the imbalance between current and capital expenditure. Last week I announced to the House increases in some capital programmes, especially in housing. I have requested local authorities to increase their capital programmes for the current year to spend closer to the national provision. Authorities that need them have been offered extra capital allocations. All authorities can spend without limit on home improvement grants this year. I have agreed an increase of £150 million on the Housing Corporation's cash limit for the current year. For next year, 1983–84, the gross capital provision for housing will be increased. The provision will be some £340 million above the expected outturn for the current year, taking account of extra spend from last week's statement.

Housing starts are now showing clear signs of improvement. In the public sector starts in the third quarter of 1982 are 36 per cent. up on the equivalent period a year ago. By September, public sector starts this year had already exceeded the total for the whole of 1981. A similar picture emerges in the private sector. Starts in the third quarter are 23 per cent. up on last year.

In addition, there has been a revolution in the ways in which local authorities have started to make more effective use of the moneys available. They are now bringing in private finance through a range of joint initiatives and have been especially effective in opening new opportunities for home ownership in the low-cost sector of the market.

There is now a wide variety of schemes, that widen choice and opportunity, especially for households on lower incomes. We have promoted shared ownership, buying part of a house and renting the rest with the option of outright purchase in due course. We have produced a model scheme and are preparing a model lease. The Bill that we are discussing today gives a right to a shared ownership lease to tenants who cannot afford to buy their homes outright at once. We have encouraged homesteading, giving the chance to buy rundown property at rock bottom prices to those willing to put major effort into improving their homes. Co-operation among house builders, local authorities and mortgage lenders has produced sites for starter homes, often in the inner cities, and building for sale schemes under licence on local authority land.

We have enabled local authorities and housing associations to buy, improve and sell properties in poor condition, producing exceptional housing value for a relatively small amount of public expenditure. In the Housing Act 1980 local authorities and the Housing Corporation were given a new power to guarantee building society mortgages to help those buying the cheapest older homes. In all these ways, as well as through council house sales, we have extended the opportunities open to thousands of families. This has been achieved through an extension of partnership between the public and private sectors.

Many local authorities responded constructively. There is a new realisation that building more and more estates of housing for rent is not the answer for the 1980s and beyond. It is simply not what people want, it is not necessary and virtually everyone except the Opposition Front Bench now recognises that.

Much of our effort has been directed at improving the quality of life on local authority estates. For those who wish to remain as tenants, we have enacted a charter giving formal security of tenure, a right to improve, a right to take in lodgers and sub-let, a right to be consulted about management changes and a right to information. With local authority co-operation, we have pioneered experiments such as the priority estates project and the community refurbishment schemes. A concentrated effort is being made to consult and involve the tenants, to make management local and accountable, to carry out the repairs and improvements that people actually want, to clear away rubbish and to improve physical security and policing. Too many tenants have been denied the freedoms that much of the rest of community takes for granted.

At Cantril Farm in Knowsley we are proposing an even bolder experiment for a bleak and rundown estate of over 3,000 houses. It is proposed that the estate be taken over by a private trust involving the local authority, the tenants, the Abbey National building society and Barclays bank. Substantial amounts of private finance will be combined with public sector resources and devoted to the refurbishment of that estate. There would be a partnership between the Department, the local council, the Housing Corporation and the new trust. I am pleased to say that the tenants' first reaction has been enthusiastic. Full consultations are now in progress and work should begin early in the new year. Indeed, it is one of the curiosities of the political scene that in Liverpool the Labour Party is pressing the local authority to transfer its tenants in properties on the edge of Cantril Farm estate to the substantial experiment that I have described.

A central objective remains to enable as many people as possible to become home owners. Since the Government took office tenants have fulfilled this ambition to a remarkable degree. More than 400,000 public sector dwellings have been bought by tenants since April 1979 and about 200,000 applications are in the pipeline. It must be realistic to say that about 1 million people are now living in homes that they have been able to buy only because of the Government's legislation. Four thousand tenants are completing the purchase of their homes every week under the right to buy. This is perhaps the most massive redistribution of wealth and property ownership by any standards that the working people of this country have ever seen. I cannot recall any similar example of a Government transferring wealth back to the community on so wide a scale, and so often to families who previously had little or no prospect of ever owning their own homes.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

In the light of the right hon. Gentleman's statement only a week ago will he confirm that between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. of the 2 million people involved have bought their homes by voluntary negotiation rather than under the statutory rights provided by the Act to which he has referred?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, many Conservative-controlled local authorities have been selling their council houses for a significant period. It was only late in their period of office that the Labour Government sought to constrain local authorities' ability to do that. Nevertheless, under this Government the programme has been dramatically accelerated and we have fulfilled our obligations in the manifesto on which we were elected.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

The Secretary of State has referred to a great transfer of wealth to the ordinary people. Does he accept that that has been paid for by all the other council tenants, so there is no benefit to council tenants? The reason for the right hon. Gentleman's success is that he has forced councils to give a discount of 50 per cent. That is now being paid for by all the council tenants who cannot afford to buy their own homes.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I know that the hon. Gentleman disapproves of the sale of council houses. No doubt the Labour Party will wish to make it clear in their next general election manifesto that under a Labour Government council tenants will lose the right to buy their homes. As a former shadow spokesman, my principal reason for seeking to persuade my party to adopt the terms that the hon. Gentleman now criticises was to recognise the fact that those who had bought freehold homes in postwar Britain had gained immeasurably from the inflationary pressures that existed in society. Discounts to council tenants were thus some compensation for the fact that they have lost so dramatically through remaining tenants.

The figures are their own most eloquent testimony. In the first part of this year, applications under the right to buy were approaching a rate of 200,000 per annum. In Birmingham, between May, when a Conservative council took office, and the end of October, new right-to-buy applications have come in at a rate of more than 1,000 per month, taking the total from 5,000 to more than 12,000. It must now be beyond political question that the Labour Party's hostility to the enfranchisement of council tenants is one of the great political misjudgments of our time.

The Bill furthers opportunities for home ownership. It also increases the role of the private sector in the sphere of building regulations.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

The right hon. Gentleman speaks of the right of tenants to buy their own homes. We shall argue about that again today, but the right hon. Gentleman would clearly have us believe that it is some kind of fundamental right. If that is so, why were private tenants excluded from the Act and from the Bill now before us? Why should they not have the same rights in law as the Government have conferred upon council tenants and now seek to give to tenants of housing associations?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Gentleman knows the answer very well. As the Government are responsible for the disposition of the public sector, we were entitled to be elected on a manifesto stating that we would use some of those public resources in the way that we felt would benefit the tenants. It would have been quite wrong to suggest that we could deal with the private assets of individual citizens in the same way. However, if the Labour Party now intends to enable private tenants to acquire the privately owned property of other people, let us have that clearly on the record.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

Does the Secretary of State regard the housing association movement as part of the public sector? As Richard Best, director of the National Federation of Housing Associations, has said, in the past that movement has had charitable status and a great deal of charitable money has been poured into it. That makes it different from the public rented sector. Why, then, is the Secretary of State trying to force the housing associations to sell that property?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I think that I can satisfy him about the proposals relating to housing associations. I shall explain precisely the distinctions that I regard as important. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but the Bill anticipates it and there are no grounds for further anxiety arising out of our proposals. Nevertheless, I shall return to that point in detail.

As the House knows, some important groups of tenants have remained outside the right to buy and others within it have been unable to afford to buy outright. Part I of the Bill is aimed at them. It also makes a number of changes to the 1980 Act which will help to strengthen the position of tenants seeking to exercise their rights.

Clause 1 extends the right to buy to tenants of local authorities, new towns and housing associations whose landlord does not own the freehold of their homes. Those tenants, providing they qualify in other respects, will be given the right to purchase a long lease of their homes, subject to the landlord's own outstanding interest being not less than 22 years in the case of houses and 50 years in the case of flats. Tenants living in houses, as opposed to flats, who purchase a long lease in that way will also be able to buy their freeholds subsequently if they qualify under the normal leasehold enfranchisement provisions of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. It is because those provisions do not apply to fiats that we are providing for a 50-year minimum for flats so that tenants get a marketable asset. This clause gives effect to a long-standing Government commitment. There are perhaps 50,000 tenants who are currently outside the right to buy because their dwellings are leasehold property. There is no justification for their exclusion.

It has been open to councils to sell such property on voluntary terms, but not all authorities have shown fairness in the treatment of tenants who wish to buy their homes. That is why we are legislating.

The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) has left the Chamber, but I am sure that he will have a chance to read Hansard. None of us doubts that inevitably he will be back, anyway until the next election.

The main purpose of clause 2 is to confer the right to buy on tenants of charitable housing associations and trusts living in dwellings provided wholly or substantially with public funds. Tenants of non-charitable associations, other than co-ownerships and associations which have not received Exchequer subsidy, already have the right to buy under the Housing Act 1980. This clause now extends the right to buy to tenants of charitable associations and trusts whose homes were provided with housing association grant.

Charitable dwellings provided with the benefit of other forms of subsidy, which include all dwellings provided before the enactment of the Housing Act 1974, or with charitable funds, will not be affected, even if they have subsequently been improved or repaired with grant. Nor will dwellings built with grant on land provided by a charity attract the right to buy. That deals with the query of the hon. Member for Bootle.

This clause extends the right to buy to about 80,000 tenants—about a quarter of the tenants of charitable associations in England and Wales. It is an extension of the right to buy to a group of tenants occupying dwellings which, having been provided with public money, are directly comparable with the housing stock of local authorities and non-charitable associations which is already subject to the right to buy.

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 it is unfair to be denied the right to buy. We are correcting that unfairness.

The third major extension of the right to buy is the creation of a new right to shared ownership. That is dealt with in clauses 9 to 16 and schedule 5. Clause 9 provides that all tenants who have the right to buy, but whose mortgage entitlement does not enable them to buy, can opt instead for purchase on shared ownership terms. Shared ownership is a concept that is steadily gaining ground. Tenants will be given the opportunity to part-buy and part-rent their homes. They can buy the part they can afford and continue to rent the part that they cannot afford to buy.

The Bill provides for an initial share of not less than 50 per cent., with the right to progress to full ownership at any time by buying additional shares in 12½ per cent. slices. The purchaser gets discount pro rata on his initial purchase, and again on his purchase of subsequent tranches. He continues to pay rent on the share of the dwelling which remains with the landlord—but with a reduction to take account of the fact that the shared owner is himself responsible for repairs from the time of the purchase of his initial share.

That option will appeal to many thousands of tenants who cannot see their way to buying outright at once. It is important for tenants to get on to the first rung of the home ownership ladder from the start, but with the opportunity to ease into the full financial commitment over the years as resources allow.

The Bill thus achieves three main extensions of the right to buy. Other provisions will assist those seeking to exercise their rights by removing uncertainties and anomalies and by dealing with obstacles that a minority of landlords have used to try to frustrate tenants' rights.

New protection for tenants against unreasonable use of completion notices by landlords is given. Purchasers of houses who have to pay service charges are to be given the same rights of challenge as purchasers of flats already have under schedule 19 to the 1980 Act. That is needed as a few councils have imposed charges for so-called estate services in a totally open-ended fashion, claiming payment for facilities such as meeting halls and laundries. We are also stopping the loophole whereby tenants are deprived of their right to buy by being required to exchange tenancies by mutual assignment. These provisions are evidence of our determination to deliver to tenants the rights granted them by Parliament.

When the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) speaks I hope that she will take the opportunity to explain to any authority, of whatever party, seeking to impose niggling obstructions to deny people the chance of a lifetime, that that is not in compliance with her political party, and that she condemns strongly such practices. I believe that there are a number of tenants all over the country who feel that there are authorities who are seeking ways to frustrate their right to buy. It would be immensely helpful if the Labour Party, at national level, would condemn those practices unconditionally.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , Preston North

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, while we are discussing an important Bill which deals with so many rights of tenants and other people, there are fewer than 10 Opposition Members in the House? They spend their time knocking the Government for raising important issues.

Photo of Mr Edward Graham Mr Edward Graham , Enfield Edmonton

There are only 11 Members on the Government Back Benches.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I am sure that many people will read what I have said, and its innate wisdom will be carried to a wider audience than those hon. Members present in the Chamber today. The good news will reach a large number of council tenants who will benefit.

Photo of Mr John Cartwright Mr John Cartwright , Greenwich Woolwich East

The Secretary of State said that those people buying houses would have the same right of challenge as those people who are buying flats, with regard to service charges. Flat dwellers in my constituency have found that right to be ineffective. It involves court action, and it is not a practical proposition for a council tenant to take court action against a major local authority to deal with unreasonable service charges. Is the Secretary of State convinced that he is giving practical protection?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Gentleman raises a difficult issue. The House can only make a determination based on a policy commitment and steer legislation through the parliamentary processes to the statute book. If local authorities, for whatever reason, seek to frustrate that legislation there is always the possibility that they will succeed temporarily. The Minister for Housing and Construction has done a valiant job in scrutinising a significant number of protests that have flowed from certain local authorities. By and large, the right to buy is being implemented now with enthusiasm and expedition.

If an authority is abusing the purpose of legislation, for which Parliament gave its approval, it will be the duty of the Department of the Environment to listen to representations and do everything it possibly can to ensure that those council tenants get their rights. I dare say that we shall also have to explain if any one political party tries to introduce a political motivation into the interpretation of the statutory duties. If the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) will give us details we shall consider carefully what we can do best to help.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

Are not many Conservative-controlled local authorities selling fewer council houses than some Labour authorities that are on the Secretary of State's hit list for not selling enough? For example, Blackpool is selling far fewer than Burnley, yet Burnley is under pressure from the Secretary of State.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to complain about a particular authority, or if he knows of tenants who wish to complain, we shall look at each case dispassionately. All I know is that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has devoted himself to the closest scrutiny of these matters and I have been involved where appropriate. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can argue that the Labour Party is exactly blameless in respect of matters that are now causing him concern.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

Is my right hon. Friend also aware that the city of Lancaster has always led the way in selling council houses, and managed to do so even when the Labour Government were in office?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I have always borne that very much in mind.

I have outlined the housing content of the legislation. Its provisions are evidence of our determination to deliver to tenants the rights granted them by Parliament. I shall continue to protect those rights, if necessary by using again my powers of intervention.

Parts II and III relate to building control. The present system is far from ideal. Builders complain of the delays and costs which it imposes. Designers object to the limits that are imposed. Industry and commerce complain that it stifles development. That is not surprising, as the system has gradually grown up 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 aim was set out in the White Paper published in February 1981. There has been intense discussion and consultation since that time, and the Bill will enable us to simplify the regulations.

The first objective of this part of the Bill is to provide an opportunity for the industry to achieve greater self-regulation through a system of private certification of compliance with the building regulations. This will be an optional alternative available to builders and developers. They will still be able to have their buildings supervised by local authorities if they wish.

The second objective is to provide for the approval of technical documents giving practical guidance on compliance with the building regulations. This will make it possible for the regulations themselves to be simpler and for them to be kept up to date more easily.

For private certification, the Bill sets out a legal framework enabling approved inspectors to supervise building work. Many of the detailed arrangements will be dealt with by regulations at a later stage.

The Bill provides for a developer and an approved inspector jointly to serve a notice on a local authority to the effect that the approved inspector—in other words, the certifier—will supervise the particular work. The notice will have to be accompanied by plans which will enable a local authority to carry out its other functions under the Public Health Acts. It will also have to be accompanied by evidence of insurance cover. If the notice is in order, the local authority in that case will be obliged to accept that its duty to enforce the building regulations will be suspended, and the responsibility will rest with the certifier.

Certifiers 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 on professional qualifications and experience. In future, public bodies approved by the Secretary of State will certify their own work, if they wish to, under the arrangements on the lines of those for private certification. It cannot be necessary to require bodies such as the Civil Aviation Authority to have their own work supervised by local authorities.

Local authorities are also exempted from the procedural requirements of the regulations. They will be required to comply with the substantive regulations and will be trusted to do so. In no way are we lowering the standards, which will be maintained at a consistently high level nationally. It is the method by which we establish that the standards are complied with that is affected by the legislation.

The Secretary of State will be empowered to approve documents from any source which offers suitable practical guidance on how to comply with the regulations. He is also able to delegate his powers in this respect, through an order laid before both Houses, to a body that he designates.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

One-man architect and surveyor businesses have expressed concern that they may lose business because of this provision, which personally I do not object to, in that they will be unable to get insurance cover, which is likely to be substantial. They fear that they will lose clients who wish to do their own certification. It is a job that small companies may be unable to undertake because of the expense involved in insurance cover.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I do not think that this is a practical problem, because this sort of work even today is not open to the private sector. I expect that the large and skilled professional firms will become involved in the certification process. After all, they already play a significant role in the advice that they give to local authorities. A local authority may not have the professional competence to administer a complex scheme in its area on a once-and-for-all basis and may have to seek advice from professional private sector firms in those circumstances. That sort of pattern is more likely to develop. I doubt whether the work load of small design businesses will be affected by what we are proposing.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he is helping or hindering the work of the housing associations? He must know that the National Federation of Housing Associations is opposed to the Bill. Is he aware that the Sutton housing trust, whose work in my constituency has been highly regarded, has said that its houses, which in many cases will be sold under the Bill, will no longer be available for renting by those who cannot afford to buy even on shared ownership terms? It is clear that the right hon. Gentleman is offending people who are trying to provide better housing.

Mr. Heseltime:

I am prepared to accept that I am offending the hon. Gentleman, and I accept his motivation to try to provide better housing. However, if he gets out into the real world and looks at what has happened as a result of the policies in which he believes, he will understand that the people he represents simply will not believe in the theories that he propounds. The fascinating thing about the right to buy movement is how a social revolution in housing expectations is now taking place in the inner cities. The only group that persistently cannot see it is the Labour Party. The people on council waiting lists and local authority tenants willingly and enthusiastically embrace what is going on.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

Not people on the waiting lists.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

Yes. The hon. Lady ought to visit Newham, where for years Labour authorities have denied the private sector the opportunity to develop houses for sale. When the private sector, under the London Docklands Corporation, began to develop houses for sale in Newham in the East End of London, 40 per cent. of those houses went to local authority tenants or people on the waiting lists. Those very people, under the normal regime of total Socialist suffocation, would have been forced out of the inner city areas to the suburbs where they then could have bought.

The Labour Party, in its own best interests, must wake up to the dramatic change that is taking place. Local Labour councillors are aware of that change and appreciate the gap in thinking that exists between the Labour Party at local and national level.

Photo of Mr John Ward Mr John Ward , Poole

My right hon. Friend is being too modest. Is not the only way to make funds available to those in real need of council housing to sell council houses? The money will certainly not be available if people who can afford to buy are sitting on council property and not releasing funds that should be used for those in real need.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He knows that the Opposition, when in Government, cut local government's capital spending programmes in half. They took £3,500 million off housing and other local government capital programmes in their last four years in office. All Opposition Members went through the Lobby in support of that policy. They know full well that when in power they cut the programmes to ribbons. We are finding alternative sources of finance that are beginning to reverse the decline that we inherited.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Hillingdon Uxbridge

Would my right hon. Friend care to remind the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) that additional funds have been made available to the Housing Corporation for the construction of new properties and the refurbishment of old ones and that that will help to replace many of the properties that will be sold under these provisions?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

My hon. Friend is right to remind me of the other £150 million for the Housing Corporation that I was able to announce last week. That is a manifestation of the fact that we have increased the funds of the Housing Corporation to the highest level, in cash terms, than ever before. We are completely behind the provision of a wide range of choice in inner city and housing policies. We utterly oppose any segregation that says for large parts of, usually Labour-controlled, Britain, "You will be a tenant of the local authority only if you want to stay here." In those circumstances, people do not stay and those who are left behind are increasingly those who are less able to look after themselves.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way. I have given way a great deal.

The Bill is an extension of the initial right-to-buy legislaton that has had a profound effect on the fortunes of British working people. It has brought about a major shift of commitment and wealth in their direction. It carries through the objectives on which we were elected to ensure that there is a real choice for those who live in urban areas or on council estates.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West 4:41 pm, 23rd November 1982

The Secretary of State has confirmed that the Bill contains no new Government thinking. Indeed, it is more evidence of the Government's continued dogmatic and blinkered approach to Britain's housing problems. The Opposition resent the fact that parliamentary time is being spent on such irrelevant measures when Britain's housing problem is reaching crisis proportions.

As the Minister said, the first part of the Bill is simply an extension of the right to buy. It is an extension of the Government's belief that the only way in which to deal with council housing is to sell it. First, they forced local authorities to sell to those who could afford to buy. Now that bonanza is coming to an end, they want to force councils to sell to those who cannot afford to buy. The right to shared ownership is designed for those who can afford to buy only half a council house.

Such is the Conservative Party's zeal for owner-occupation that, not content with giving the right to buy to tenants of property in the public sector, they want to extend that right to tenants of charitable bodies. The Secretary of State did not make it clear whether he intends to follow through the logic of that argument in the Conservative Party's next manifesto. Will he extend that right to tenants of property in the private sector?

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

My right hon. Friend made that point clear.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

He said that it was not in his party's previous manifesto. We look forward to seeing whether he carries the logic of his actions through and whether it is included in the next Conservative Party manifesto.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

The hon. Lady cannot have been listening. My right hon. Friend's words were that it is not proper for us to deal with private assets.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

Perhaps the hon. Lady will read in Hansard that part of the Secretary of State's speech which refers to the Conservative Party's manifesto. The Opposition look forward to seeing whether the Secretary of State carries through the logic of his argument and extends the right to buy, with discounts, to tenants in the private sector.

The second part of the Bill deals with privatisation. Indeed, it is privatisation at its silliest. The Minister did not begin to justify the proposed building regulations changes. I doubt whether any one who listened to the Secretary of State or the Secretary of State himself has any idea of the way in which those changes will work in practice. The Bill is so vague in this respect as to leave everyone in the dark about how the new regulations will operate.

The Secretary of State has not been able to show that the high level of public safety that has been achieved under the existing system will be maintained. That is an essential factor in any change. He should not leave the House in any doubt. The new system may lead to public safety problems that he did not discuss or go into any detail about.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Hillingdon Uxbridge

Would the hon. Lady clarify what she means by "public safety problems"? Is she suggesting that tenants who buy their homes through an equity sharing scheme are less able than a local authority to maintain the safety of their dwelling?

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman listens more carefully. I was talking about building regulations. I shall go into that matter in more detail later.

The Secretary of State dwelt on the right-to-buy aspects of the Bill. There is no doubt in his mind that the right to buy has been something of a success. He is nodding his head; he agrees. He believes that it is a success because there are now far fewer council houses than there were three years ago. Neither homeless people nor those on council house waiting lists regard it as a Government success.

The original enthusiasm of the Government's sales policy has worn off. That is why we have been presented with the Bill. It is intended to give another artificial stimulus to council house sales so that their total will reach the Government's magic figure of 500,000. That is why the right to shared ownership is being introduced.

The Secretary of State mentioned what he considers are some of the advantages of shared ownership. There are also many problems that he conveniently forgot to tell us about. With regard to the tenant, there is the disadvantage that, although he has only a 50 per cent. stake in his home, he must be fully responsible for repairs. For the local authority's part, there is a considerable additional administrative burden when the Secretary of State is placing further pressure on local authorities to reduce staff. The sale of a 50 per cent. share in a house will involve more work for the local authority than selling it outright and the cost of collecting half the rent will be no less than the cost of collecting the full rent.

Many questions remain to be answered about the way in which shared ownership will operate. We should be told more about the implications for the tenant, whose status needs to be defined more clearly. We must ask what will happen if the tenant-buyer gets into arrears with his rent or mortgage, or both. Many people who are buying their council houses are finding it difficult to meet their mortgage repayments. We need to know what will happen to inheritors of shared ownership dwellings or what will happen in the event of a marriage breakdown.

Although shared ownership has existed voluntarily in the public sector in a few places, sales under shared ownership schemes are numbered in hundreds rather than in thousands. The experience is limited in the private sector and housing associations.

Even the present Secretary of State should consider whether it is wise to force shared ownership on the public sector as a right when so many problems that have not yet been resolved still loom. We have not come to expect a great deal of wisdom from the Secretary of State. We know that he will do anything to boost the sales of council houses and those in the public sector while he still has a chance—however long that may be. That is one aspect that we shall oppose and that we shall want to examine in great detail in Committee.

The other extension of the right to buy—to tenants in properties where the landlord does not own the freehold—will also have to be examined. At the time of the Housing Act 1980 the Government thought it better to leave alone this type of dwelling. The Secretary of State has proved today that Ministers in his Department not only fail to learn anything but that they forget even what they do know. They will force even more problems on local authorities and housing associations which may have to fulfil obligations to the freeholder, for example, over the state of repair of the property. It is one more example of another problem glibly thrown on to the local authorities by the Secretary of State who will then berate them for employing staff to sort out the difficulties.

The measures proposed by the Secretary of State with regard to the extension of the right to buy to tenants of charitable housing associations and trusts is important. It should concern all those who are involved in charitable work. Few people can devote time and energy to their particular charity in the hope that the beneficiaries of that work are the lucky few affected by the Bill. Never before can any Government have proposed such a diversion of voluntary charitable work into private gain. I should have thought that the Charity Commissioners would have something to say about the matter in due course.

The Government are saying that properties acquired or built after 1974 with housing association grants are subject to the right to buy. We are not, however, discussing public property.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

Does the hon. Lady agree that the Housing Corporation funds are taxpayers' funds—in other words, public money?

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

The hon. Gentleman is correct. The money that the housing associations get is taxpayers' money. The money that the housing associations pay back to the Government accrues to the taxpayer. The property we are discussing is not public property. Public money goes into it and the housing associations repay that money. It is not public money. If the Secretary of State wishes to give the House a new definition of public property, I wonder whether he will include those properties to which improvement grants have been given. Also, are private landlords who receive improvement grants to come under the definition of public property? If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to redefine public property, hon. Members would be interested to hear him.

The proposed legislation cuts across all the provisions of the charitable housing trusts and attacks the basis on which many charities were founded. It forces these charities to sell at a discount. It takes no account of the overall interest or the basic reason for the existence of the charity itself. By interfering in the manner in which charities operate, the Government have created a dangerous precedent, and a legally complex problem which should concern even Conservative Members.

I hope that the Government realise—although I doubt it after hearing the Secretary of State—the alarm that the proposals are causing among those who work in charities. They are only just waking up to the dramatic effect of the proposals in the Bill. Only this morning I received three letters from different charities. One says of the Bill: This is contrary to natural justice and cuts clean across charity law. I can tell you plainly that we are fiercely opposed to this notion of compulsory sales which cuts clean across our independence and the responsibility of the trustees".

Another letter from the Sutton housing trust points out that the associations concerned will have contributed substantial charitable effort and in some cases charitable funds. These are the groups now attacked by the Secretary of State and told that they must sell off their assets regardless of the impact on their ability to deal with housing problems.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby

Would the hon. Lady be interested to know that the Sutton housing trust owns houses in my constituency, that my constituents have tried to purchase houses from the trust and that the trust has refused and will not enter into negotiations? Is she aware that this prevents tenants from purchasing the houses in which they live?

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

There are also Sutton trust houses in my constituency. They exist for people on low incomes. It is right that the Sutton trust should refuse to sell those houses. I am sure that in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, as in mine, there are long waiting lists of people on low incomes who would dearly like to live in a Sutton trust property.

Photo of Mr Neil Thorne Mr Neil Thorne , Ilford South

Does the hon. Lady agree that ordinary council housing is also designed for people on low incomes?

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

I am glad that the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) makes that point. One would think from listening to the Secretary of State that council housing was designed to be sold at a fantastic discount to those who could afford to buy. Ministers and Conservative Members do not normally take sufficient account of those whom the hon. Gentleman says that council housing is designed to help.

The Government's arguments take no account of reality. The Secretary of State says that all housing associations, including the charitable ones, receive public money by way of grant. So do private landlords. No right exists there. The Secretary of State has given no sign that he expects to extend the right to buy into that sector. Conservative Members choose to forget that housing association grants are repayable through the grant redemption fund. Whichever way one looks at the issue, the Minister has no right to intervene.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

Will my hon. Friend try to ascertain from the Secretary of State whether properties above Parker Morris standard built by housing associations since 1974, partly with grants from central Government but also through an input of charitable finance—Help the Aged and Anchor Housing are examples—are to be sold? If there is any charitable input, will the properties be exempt?

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

I am sure that the Secretary of State will be eager to clarify the point and assure hon. Members that the financial efforts of charities and the efforts in time and energy of the people involved in them will be taken into account and that the charities will be compensated for the work that they have done. As the right hon. Gentleman shows no sign that this is the case, I assume that the answer to my hon. Friend's question is "No", and that charitable housing association properties will be sold without any regard to the work done previously.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

That is not the case. The hon. Lady will be aware that there is protection for the funds of the charities in those circumstances.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

Is the Secretary of State saying that, if there has been an input of charitable work and charitable funds into housing associations to improve the standard of housing, they will be reimbursed or that the houses will not form part of the right-to-buy provisions of the Bill?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Lady will want to explore this matter in detail in Committee. I wish only to clarify the point that she pursues. Her comments are ill founded. Where private charitable money has flowed into the houses, there will be protection for the private charitable funds and arrangements made to protect those funds. The precise manner in which this is done will have to be carefully examined. The background is complex. I am informed, however, that we shall be able to find ways of dealing with the point.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

I am glad that the Secretary of State intervened to clarify that point. We look forward to his justification of what he said. All that he has said is that he does not know the answer to the question. It would be charitable to leave that point there and to let the Minister for Housing and Construction answer in more detail later.

With regard to charitable properties, the Secretary of State is taking no account of the practical difficulties that will inevitably arise. It will be impossible for the housing charities to replace the homes that they are forced to sell. The receipts after discounts and repayments of outstanding loans will be minimal. We know that the charitable organisations will not be able to replace those properties.

Therefore, the ability of the charities to fulfil their obligations will be seriously curtailed. Moreover, the proposal will be divisive because some tenants with the right to buy will make a good profit on later resale due to the improvements to an area made by housing associations, especially in the inner cities, about which the Secretary of State expresses so much concern. At the same time, other tenants of the same charitable trust will be excluded from the right to buy and will not be able to get anything.

In one street one could have, and probably will have, tenants of housing trusts who have lived in properties for 10 years but are unable to buy their property, whereas their neighbours, whose property was acquired later by the trust and is therefore more modern and who may have been tenants for only about four years, will be able to buy the property at a large discount. Subsequently they will be able to make a large profit on the sale. I look forward to a Minister telling us where the justice is in that. The Secretary of State is creating many problems for housing associations, which will have to explain all that detail to tenants.

As I said, the measures are rightly causing alarm among the charitable groups affected. They will prove an administrative and perhaps a legal nightmare for the associations concerned. They pose a threat to all charities that accept Government grants, even those that repay those grants. We shall oppose the provisions vigorously in Committee. We look forward to support from many quarters. I only wish that there were more support from Conservative Members.

I must restate our basic opposition to the right to buy as the Government have created it. None of the arguments that were put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) and others in 1980 is any less relevant now. They become more pertinent as our housing crisis intensifies.

We argued in 1980 that the nation could not afford the loss of rented accommodation created by the 1980 Act. Since then sales, combined with the abysmally low levels of replacement building that the Government allowed, have led to a drop in the number of public sector homes. I do not see how the Secretary of State can think that it is good to lose so many rented properties when all around him are so many signs of the need for good rented accommodation.

My right hon. Friend said in 1980 that we could not afford the loss of that rented accommodation. Events have proved him right. However, one thing has changed since the debates in 1980, and that is the cost of the sales policy. At the time many questions were asked, such as: "Will council house sales create a profit or a loss?" The Secretary of State said that that depended on 'the assumptions that were made.

One of the crucial assumptions was about rent levels. The Government issued a cheerful-sounding document called: The appraisal of the financial effects of council house sales". They made a number of assumptions about rent levels. In that now amazing document rents were assumed by the Government to rise by a minimum of 3 per cent. and a maximum of 11 per cent. per year. Then the Secretary of State's rent directives forced up rents by 117 per cent., with more increases to come. Part of the reason for the increase in rents was the encouragement of sales, but one of the effects has been to increase the cost of sales for local authorities.

One of the remarkable ironies is that the buyer of a council home may receive more subsidy as an owner-occupier than he did as a council tenant, yet the Government still portray council tenants as the subsidised sector of society. We were opposed to compulsory sales in 1980. Everything that has happened since reinforces our opposition.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I take it that the hon. Lady will therefore be committed to the repeal of the right to buy.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

I am happy to tell the Secretary of State that we are committed to the repeal of the right to buy. We shall say so in our election manifesto. [HON. MEMBERS: "And a rent freeze.") As my hon. Friends remind me, we are also committed to a rent freeze. That will do more to help council tenants than all that the Secretary of State has done in the past three years.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

The hon. Lady has committed a future Labour Government to a rent freeze. How does she square that commitment with the findings of her party when in Government in 1977 in a Green Paper, which stated that council house rents should rise in line with money incomes?

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to be aware of what the Conservative Government have done to council house rents over the past three years.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Would it not be more accurate to say that compulsory sales by councils will be ended by the next Labour Government? Are not the Secretary of State and Conservative Members forgetting that the councils that are being forced to sell or part-sell will have to pay, and continue to pay, the interest on the cost of those houses for the next 60 years?

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

My hon. Friend is right. Many Conservative Members do not understand that repealing the right to buy means allowing local authorities to decide whether they will sell council houses in their own areas. That is what Labour Party policy has always been. I am happy to reiterate it.

The Secretary of State did not say much about the part of the Bill that deals with building controls. The present building controls system in England and Wales is concerned primarily to ensure that new buildings and extensions are erected to a high standard and are safe both for those who occupy them and for those who pass by them. Councils that are responsible for the building regulations have administered them effectively, drawing on the expertise of practical and experienced building professionals. The ability of the system to ensure the safety of new buildings has rarely been questioned. Even now it has not been challenged by the Government, despite their intentions in the Bill.

How the new system will work, and if the new system will work, is not yet clear. The Secretary of State has not clarified the system. We are being asked to take on trust a new system to replace one that has proved itself to be inherently safe and effective. The Government have not said whether the replacement system can maintain such high standards. If certification is introduced along the lines suggested by the Government in 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, so they could become less than independent.

The system of building control must be above reproach. Building control officers in local authorities are independent and do not owe their position to any one developer. That must continue. Anything else would be unacceptable.

Moreover, if developers are allowed to go to independent inspectors, it will be difficult for local authorities to establish their work load in any one year. They will 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 local authorities for control. If certifiers can be found to operate the scheme, local authorities will be left with just the complex and contentious schemes. Their experienced building control staff may by then have joined private firms, thus reducing the capacity of local authorities to deal with complex developments. This, too, must introduce a possible threat to safety standards, as well as maximise the problems for local authorities.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

Does the hon. Lady realise that, when she speaks about safety from the Opposition Front Bench, it is a matter of importance? Is she in effect saying that if a private developer were to use an independent private certifier, a member of a professional institution, there might be occasions when that professional would do his work deliberately badly and not certify and inspect properly?

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

If the hon. Gentleman checks, he will find that I did not say that the professional would do his work "deliberately badly". I said that it was important that the people who do the work should be independent and should be seen to be independent.

Not just Labour Members and local authorities are anxious about the new proposals. The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) spoke about professional people. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which I think he would acknowledge has a right to have its voice heard on this matter, has 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 controls from local authorities. The Bill has been described to me as a charter for developers who have fallen out with local government.

There is an important basic principle at stake because the enforcement of building control regulations is really law enforcement. In some countries, building inspectors are known, quite rightly, as building police. The Secretary of State is proposing to give this law enforcement function to private citizens. This is an unprecedented move, and one that comes strangely from a Government who are supposed to be devoted to law and order. Not only does the Secretary of State intend to place in private hands responsibility for enforcing regulations designed to ensure public safety, but he intends to give himself free reign to do it without consulting anybody.

Clause 38 removes the obligation placed on the Secretary of State by legislation to consult the Building Regulations Advisory Committee and other bodies before making regulations. In future, his obligations to consult will be limited to technical matters, and no doubt the Secretary of State thinks that that is wise in view of his recent consultation experience. I do not think that those concerned with building regulations support the moves that the Secretary of State is proposing. That is why he will be happy not to consult them in future.

I have been talking about what the Bill is about—the tenants' right to buy and building control. That seems to be the sum total of what the Government think is necessary in housing. Yet, as the Secretary of State and his colleagues remind us daily, the prime need in housing is for increased capital expenditure—expenditure to improve and repair our rapidly deteriorating housing stock and for new build. It comes as a delightful surprise, after three years of the Opposition trying to persuade the Secretary of State of the need for spending, to find that we are suddenly preaching to the converted. If this is a real conversion, it is good, but it depends whether we can take what the Secretary of State says at face value.

The problem is that the Secretary of State knows as well as anyone that the vast majority of local authorities are spending their capital allocations and cannot plan in advance to spend uncertain capital receipts.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

The right hon. Gentleman says "Rubbish", and is therefore asking local authorities to plan to spend money that they cannot be sure that they will receive. I should not have thought that the Secretary of State would approve of that. If local authorities were to spend before receiving authorisation, I should have thought that the Secretary of State would be the first to criticise them.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Lady must be aware that local authorities have £600 million from last year, which is quite a substantial sum. They should be able to make use of that.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

The Secretary of State was complaining that the local authorities did not spend the money last year. However, they did not know in advance that they would receive it, and could not have planned for that amount of spending.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The local authorities now have it, and can spend it this year, but they are not spending it.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

I wish that the local authorities thought that the position was as simple as that, because if they were sure that they would have that money and that the Secretary of State would let them spend it and meet the revenue consequences of that expenditure, they would be very pleased.

The Secretary of State should be aware that one of the main stumbling blocks on capital spending is that local authorities are uncertain about capital allocations for future years. If the Secretary of State is so anxious to increase capital spending, why does not the Bill contain provision for giving local authorities some machinery by which they can be given security about the level of capital expenditure for two or three years ahead? If the Secretary of State is so anxious about capital spending, I wonder whether he would give effect to it by supporting an amendment in Committee that could bring some forward planning into the existing machinery for allocating capital spending to local authorities.

From what the Secretary of State has said, it seems that he has no other causes for concern about housing than the right to buy. However, the Bill will clearly make no significant impact on the parts of the housing crisis to which the Government have turned a blind eye. There is no mention of help for the homeless, yet the number of homeless families has reached a record level. It is a year since the Department quietly published a report called "Single and Homeless", which showed clearly that for the vast majority of single homeless the overriding need was for ordinary, reasonably priced rented houses. The report came from the Department of the Environment, but there is nothing in the Bill to help the homeless.

There is the problem of houses in multiple occupation. It is true that the Department introduced regulations last year after yet another tragic hostel fire. However, they cover only the larger hostels. They would have done nothing to prevent most fire tragedies in the past, and they do nothing to ensure adequate standards in hostels generally.

Although the Bill will help some council tenants to buy, it does nothing for the rest—the majority. Why does not the Secretary of State try to do something for them by ensuring that they will get more for the increased rent that he is forcing them to pay? If councils are making a profit out of their tenants, as many are, there is surely a case for ensuring that tenants receive the benefit of that profit in better services.

Why do not the Government extend the tenants' charter? They took over the Labour tenants' charter and put it into the 1980 Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Conservative Members seem to have a short memory. Their party took over our tenants' charter and put it into the 1980 Act.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

Would my hon. Friend advise Conservative Members to go to the Library instead of laughing and get a copy of the published Bill of the Labour Government? The tenants' charter which the Tories took over and partly amended downwards was published and it was intended that it should be put in legislation before the 1979 general election.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

Many Conservative Members are well known for having selective memories and it might do them good to refresh them.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

Perhaps the hon. Lady will go to the Library and see the Private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) now Under-Secretary of State for Transport. She will notice that the then Labour Administration voted down the tenants' charter.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

Perhaps the Minister will look at the Labour Government's Bill, which was published, and at its details. Indeed, he should look at it, because one of the bits that this Government subsequently left out of their legislation was the right of tenants to be consulted about rents. The Labour Government proposed that. After three years of rent increases from a Conservative Government, we can understand why they left out that provision.

I come to the provisions in the Bill and those, more importantly, that have been left out. Perhaps it would be naive to expect the Government to concern themselves with the problems of the homeless, and single and public sector tenants who cannot afford to take advantage of the right to buy. In the past three and a half years the Government's priorities have been clear, and they are not related to housing need. One of the Department of the Environment's internal documents—for Central Office, I suspect—proves that point. The paper is called "The Department of the Environment—A Synopsis of Main Developments, May 1979-November 1982" and has a long section on housing. It mentions the right to buy, shared ownership, homesteading, shortholds, assured tenancies—all 21 of them—and the other fringe measures that the Government have introduced to divert attention from the main problem. However, the document quite wisely makes no mention of house building. After all, why should the Secretary of State publicise the fact that the Government's figures on housing starts are the worst since 1924?

The Secretary of State is now shedding crocodile tears about capital expenditure, yet, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick pointed out last Monday, when the Secretary of State introduced his so-called new deal on spending, that new deal represents a further 14 per cent. cut. In reality, the Government are simply trying to create a good impression with the big builders. After all, the general election draws near and contributions will once again be required. The Bill does nothing to alleviate the housing crisis that the Government have created, and we shall oppose it tonight.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Barnet Chipping Barnet 5:24 pm, 23rd November 1982

I am extremely glad to have been called unusually early in the debate. It is a great pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor). I should like to take up some of her points about parts II and III of the Bill. With respect, I do not think she quite understands the role of the professional in the building industry. Certain professional people may be among those who are approved inspectors under the Government's proposals. The hon. Lady made one or two remarks that seemed to impugn the integrity of such people.

I hope that the hon. Member for Bolton, West will forgive me if I do not take up her comments on part I concerning the extension of the right to buy. The arguments were well rehearsed during discussion of the Housing Bill 1980. However, there is a fundamental difference about the Government's right to allow council tenants to buy their homes, because the State is the owner—whether it is central Government, Government Department, or local authority. It must be remembered that local authorities are part of the State. They draw most of their revenue from Government block grants and therefore there is a fundamental difference between homes which the State owns and homes which a private citizen owns.

I welcome part I because I believe in the principle of the right to buy and in the extension of home ownership. It is right that those who were forbidden by the 1980 Act to buy their council homes because the lands on which their properties stood were held on leaseholds should have the right to buy, as well as certain tenants of housing associations and trusts. On the wider housing issues already raised in the debate, I commend the Government on the way in which they have enacted a range of proposals that emphasise the important role in housing policy of partnership between the private sector and the local authority. I need mention only shared ownership, homesteading and the breaking up, through ownership, of vast council estates. Those estates led to social divisions within the country. Therefore, I welcome the enactment of such measures.

It would be appropriate and prudent of me to declare such interests as I have. I am a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, although no one will dispute that I am a non-practising architect. I am also a non-executive director of a development company and of a construction company.

Part III of the Bill deeply interests me. It has always surprised me that four different sets of building regulations should apply to different parts of the United Kingdom: to inner London, to the rest of England and Wales, to Scotland, and to Northern Ireland. Ideally there should be one set of building regulations that cover the whole of the United Kingdom, but I realise that that would be difficult because I understand—although I am not a lawyer—that there is a different legal system in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, if the Bill is enacted and new regulations are issued, I hope that the Government will seriously consider whether Scotland and Northern Ireland should follow suit.

I am equally amazed that within each of those four parts of the United Kingdom one necessarily comprehensive set of building regulations should cover all types and sizes of building. The regulations apply equally to the erection of simple structures and of technically complicated structures that are built in different materials. There is a case for separating those building regulations. There is every reason to suspect that the building regulations at present are in many respects too complex and confusing. They are cumbersome and in some ways—I do not wish to exaggerate—unnecessarily bureaucratic. On occasion, they are too inflexible. They inhibit innovation, particularly in design, and they impose unnecessary costs.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the two main objectives of reform should be the more effective expansion or development of type certification and the simplification of the consultation process, to foreshorten it? Will the hon. Gentleman please accept that the Bill does nothing to help in that way or to reduce the complexity and bureaucracy of the system?

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Barnet Chipping Barnet

I hesitate to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, because he has immense experience in Government of dealing with such matters. However, with respect, I do not entirely agree about those two points. There are many other significant factors. However, I promise to re-think what the hon. Gentleman has said, because I have great respect for his experience.

Throughout the industry, there is widespread dissatisfaction and it extends further than the big builders. People are dissatisfied about the scope and form of the existing regulations. Those regulations could be simplified. It is no contradiction to suggest that there could be separate regulations for, for example, small structures, housing, industrial buildings and for public and commercial buildings. I ask my right hon. Friend earnestly to consider that matter.

Above all, I want the regulations to be unified so that they cover the whole of the United Kingdom. I note, of course, that the Bill refers only to England and Wales, because of the different legal systems. Perhaps at this stage I might pay a sincere tribute to the work of the Minister's building regulations advisory committee. It does difficult and sterling work under the chairmanship of Mr. David Llewellyn. I hope that the committee will be called upon to advise and perhaps suggest drafts for the new regulations.

I welcome particularly the way in which the regulations are to be divided so that there are mandatory requirements which must be carried out, and which relate obviously to basic safety and health matters.

Photo of Mr Edward Graham Mr Edward Graham , Enfield Edmonton

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although the Secretary of State talked about 100 years of bureaucracy and disagreement with the building regulations, it was only as recently as 1965 that there was a major review of building regulations, when they were made more flexible? Is it not true that, without this legislation, a similar review and improvement of building regulations could well have taken place?

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Barnet Chipping Barnet

I disagree with the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) for two reasons. As he knows, technical innovation is taking place in the construction and building industry at an almost frightening pace. Secondly, the building regulations have to be changed from year to year. That is done, although the process is far too tortuous. However, that does not impinge in any way on what I am saying and on what is laid down in the Bill.

We need a second category of building regulations to give guidance on other matters. In the introduction it was called, I think, performance standards. Clearly the Government will draw on the use of codes of practice and the British Standards Institute's specifications.

I want to put two suggestions to my right hon. Friend. First, I hope that the practical guidance part of the proposed building regulations, as with all parts of the present regulations, will be an absolute defence in law. The aggrieved party should be in a position to use compliance with the regulations in a court of law. I accept that these are immensely complicated and technical issues, and perhaps more suitable for debate in Standing Committee, but with respect, there should be a better means of resolving arguments and disputes. May I remind the House that originally the procedures for dealing with disputes were laid down in section 64(3) of the Public Health Act 1936. Disputes were dealt with by a court of summary jurisdiction, which I am reliably informed means a magistrates' court. As I suggested, in answer to an intervention, building law has become much more sophisticated and complex. I suggest that magistrates' courts may not be the best body to deal with such legal disputes.

I realise that, alternatively, an aggrieved party can go to the Secretary of State for determination under the existing legislation, but only if both parties—the applicant and the local authority—agree. That is under section 67 of the 1936 Act. This new Bill will extinguish that right. I accept that an aggrieved person can go to the Secretary of State, but he can do so only if the guidance note or performance standard is written. That, as I understand it, is the meaning of clause 35 of the Bill.

I ask the Government seriously to consider widening clause 35 so that any party unilaterally may go to the Secretary of State on any dispute relating to any part of the new building regulations, whether the aggrieved person is dealing with a local authority or with one of the approved inspectors. I understand that at present it is intended to apply only when the dispute is with the local authority. Such a change as I propose could be practically implemented and frivolous appeals to the Secretary of State would be prevented in my opinion because fees would be payable.

Part II introduces certification, or approved inspectors. In my view, that is sensible and right. I welcome, in particular, the proposals for public authorities to selfcertify—if I may use that piece of shorthand—because there is some illogicality in the present set-up. If a county council wants to build houses for the police, it has to get building regulations approval from the local district authority. On the other hand, if a regional health authority wants to build a hospital, or an electricity board wants to erect a sub-station, or British Rail wants to put up a signal box, they do not need to get permission from the local district authority. The Bill gets rid of the wasteful and costly exercise of double-checking, when competent people in private sector companies and in public bodies have to have their work double-checked by other competent people. Therefore, the Government are taking a perfectly reasonable step in this respect.

Finally, there is a matter which I believe is directly related to this issue but which, alas—perhaps understandably—is not in the Bill. My right hon. Friend, in introducing parts II and III, spoke of the twin objectives in his proposals for the new building regulations. The first was the introduction of certification and approved inspectors. The second was the simplification—and, I hope, the unification and change in the scope and form—of building regulations. In my view, all these are inextricably involved in the law of liability, when subsequent defects are found in buildings. It is both essential and vital to deal with this matter, since the House of Lords decision on the Anns v. the London borough of Merton case. I find it astonishing that there is no time limit to liability in the present law. I always understood, for example, that for architects the liability was six years. Others may say that it was 10 years. I do not make a special plea for the professional group of people with which I was once associated. This matter is just as vital for local authorities and builders as it is for architects. I invite my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction, if he is to wind up this evening, to deal with this matter, because in my view it is urgent. He may say that the matter cannot be dealt with in this Bill, and I would understand that. However, it should be a first priority of the Government to introduce amending legislation to deal with the law of liability.

This is a necessarily complex measure, dealing with the technicalities of building. It affects fundamentally important aspects of the housing and construction industry. In my view, it goes in the right direction. Certain details need careful consideration and improvement—if I may presume to say that—in Standing Committee. I fervently believe that the building regulations can be simplified and unified without detriment to health and safety standards, both during and after construction. I congratulate the Government on their initiative. I commend the Bill to the House. I shall support it in the Lobby tonight.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East 5:39 pm, 23rd November 1982

First, I put on record my interest in matters that are the subject of the Bill. In an honorary capacity, I am associated with several charitable housing associations.

Much has recently been made by the Secretary of State, the Minister for Housing and Construction and the Prime Minister of the alleged failure of local authorities to spend their capital provision, despite their having been instructed by the Government to cut back on that expenditure for the past three and a half years.

We must understand what happens to capital receipts that remain unspent, either in a single year or from one year to the next. Ministers are responsible for much myth-making on that subject. There is an idea—it arose in exchanges earlier—that there is about £1,500 million of capital receipts knocking around in local government which has not been spent and which the Government now want spent on capital investment. Welcome as Government statements in the past couple of weeks have been, they know perfectly well that only a marginal part of that sum could be spent between now and 31 March.

More particularly, it must be said that the Government are not informing the House or the public accurately about this matter. Local authorities cannot generally be expected to plan capital investment in new construction on a 12-monthly basis when they do not know what money will be available.

It is not good enough for the Secretary of State, supported by his right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services, to ask why local authorities do not spend the £600 million from last year. Do the Minister and Conservative Back Benchers think that that £600 million is in a series of boxes somewhere in town halls? If the Government can argue or believe that, they have not the slightest idea how local government finances are organised. It is astonishing that the Secretary of State should make such a statement at the Dispatch Box, and have it endorsed from a sedentary position by the Minister of Housing and Construction, and for similar statements to be made in the country.

As these matters have come to the fore in recent weeks, I have put several questions to the Secretary of State. I have asked him whether he would advise local authorities to use any, or a significant, part of their capital receipts to reduce rate burdens. It was clear from the answers that I received that he did not understand what I was saying. If he did understand, he was misleading the House and the public in his replies.

The money is being spent. It is being used to refinance existing debts, to reduce likely rates at the end of the financial year and being put into various accounts to reduce current and prospective expenditure this year and next. It is nonsense to suggest that £600 million of capital receipts is lying around somewhere waiting to be spent on bricks and mortar. It has been put into balances, paid off existing debts or partly financed new debts—new loans that are being raised for capital expenditure last year and in the current year. It cannot just be picked out of a box and spent on housing or any other construction activity.

The same must be said of the other £900 million to £1,000 million. That is not lying around waiting to be spent. It is being spent. The issue is how local authorities should spend the money. Should it be spent on reducing the rate burdens, which Ministers have been urging local authorities to do, or should they spend it on capital investment that will produce revenue and carry rate burdens further in the coming years? Interest rates have come down recently, but they are still high on borrowings.

I do not wish to pursue the matter beyond that point. I hope that there will be some intelligent discussion of such figures in future by Ministers, whether in the House or elsewhere, and not the myth-making nonsense that they have been putting around in the past few weeks and months.

The word "months" brings me to a point that I have mentioned previously in the House. I was in correspondence with the Minister for Housing and Construction in the early summer about statements made by him and others on the likely underspend on allocations, never mind capital receipts. He will recall our correspondence in May and June this year which emerged from even earlier correspondence on related matters. To this day I have not had a reply to my final letter. I urged him then to do precisely what the Secretary of State proposed in a big statement to the House only a week ago. What was going on between June and November?

I urged that free rein should be given to local authorities and housing associations which wanted and were physically able to spend more, while other authorities, for various reasons, were underspending, according to the Minister. He rejected that proposal and said, in so many words, that it would be considered next year. He suggested that if local authorities wanted to switch their resources around within their budgets, they would be free to do so.

It took the Government several months to come to the House to make good some reasonable part of the underspend about which the Minister was talking as early as June and July this year. That is unforgivable. The Government are playing politics with an important matter in the worst possible way.

That leads me to my next point. It is not possible for local authorities to maintain reasonable programmes of investment if housing associations and corporations are being confined to 12-monthly budgeting. The Labour Government made limited but effective moves to end that nonsense. It took much arguing with the Treasury and inside the Department, but from 1978 onwards local authorities were at least able to extend their budgeting by 10 per cent. one year into the next or claw back 10 per cent. of their budget provision for the current year without interference by the Department. We were also able to give a base capital allocation for the second year in a three-yearly cycle. The ultimate objective was to make allocations on a three-yearly basis. By our deeds shall we know ourselves. We took steps in that direction.

What happened under this Government? They dropped those measures and went back to 12-monthly budgets on capital provision for both local authorities and housing associations. Worse still, in some areas of housing there is more detailed interference in local authorities' capital allocations, limited as such allocations may be, than there was 10 or 15 years ago.

More than 15 years ago, the local authority in Brent wanted to purchase old, run-down houses on a programmatic basis for modernisation without subsidy. In those days there were no subsidies or grants. In difficult housing conditions, we were prepared to do it out of our own resources. We negotiated the agreement of the then Minister and Department to block loan sanctions so that we had flexibility in the use of resources within the 12-month period. We said that we wanted to spend up to a certain amount and asked whether we had to obtain the agreement of the Department for every property that we wanted to buy, which was the position at that time. We negotiated block loan sanctions so that we could programme our work and run efficient departments. Hon. Members should ask local authorities what they now have to do.

The Minister will know from correspondence from me about my own authority that it was not a matter even of asking for more resources, although we have done that too. I said to him that I was not arguing about more resources, because that would be for another time. I asked for authority to be given to the borough council, within the limits that the Minister had imposed, to spend what it considered necessary to improve, rehabilitate and convert properties into flats in areas which were outside general improvement and housing action areas. What was his answer? He said that he did not like to see municipalisation of properties and that, therefore, he would continue to require local authorities to apply for permission to purchase houses that they wished to rehabilitate and modernise before they could go ahead.

That is happening all over London and in every major city in Britain. Therefore, how can it be argued that local authorities have effective administrative instruments at their disposal to programme work in an efficient and economic way when there is more interference today than 15 years ago?

I urge the Minister to consider this again. It is separate from the total level of resources. If we cannot get agreement on this matter, how can we expect other than underspend in many instances in local government? Local authorities must be given the capacity to organise and to programme for more than just a few weeks, a few months or 12 months ahead. I urge that this should be allowed. In addition, they should he told over as long a period as possible what their capital allocation will be, irrespective of capital receipts which may or may not be forthcoming.

Do the Government and Conservative Members who are seriously concerned about housing rather than merely sloganising about it really believe that without genuine assessment of housing need and demand at local, regional and national level, which was the original underlying theme of the housing strategies and investment programmes, we should participate in a run-down of the total number—irrespective of the ownership—of rented properties in Britain?

Are Conservative Members and even Ministers aware that for the first time in half a century we have fewer rented properties in Britain as a result of a major indiscriminate selling-off by compulsion of properties that in many instances might justifiably not have been sold off?

If we want sensible policy at local, regional and national level, it should be based on the best-known assessment of housing need and demand in as minute an area as can possibly be examined and analysed. Macro and sweeping legislation does no good to sensible housing policy. It creates a position in which, unknown to most of us—possibly unknown to the Government and to many people who speak to me on this issue—for the first time in half a century we have a significantly smaller number of rented properites.

Until the past year or so, there had been a loss of between 100,000 and 120,000 units of rented accommodation in the private sector, chiefly as a result of sales into owner-occupation. Many factors underlie that position, but I do not wish to pursue them in detail today. They can be argued one way or the other—politically, economically and socially. But we also had, year by year, as a result of new legislation, 100,000 or more rented properties being made available by local authorites and housing associations and adding to the stocks. What was lost on one side was made good on the other.

Until a year or so ago there were about 6 million rented properties in Britain. That was the approximate figure—allowing a few thousand one way or the other—that existed in 1945. The total number had not gone down. Now, with the Government's ideologically obsessional policy translated into legislation without any concern for the detail of need and demand, hundreds of thousands of properties, which until now have been rented, are being transferred into owner-occupation by compulsion. That approach is fundamentally wrong. It is wrong that, without concern for a proper examination of need and demand, we should end up for the first time in our history with a significant reduction in the total number of rented properties—a reduction by hundreds of thousands.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

Would the right hon. Gentleman extend the description "ideological obsession" to those of his colleagues who regularly condemn private renting and who, by doing so and by a refusal to encourage people to bring properties on to the market, have equally played a great part in reducing the numbers of properties available for rent?

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

I condemn any obsession in housing, from wherever it comes. However, let me make it quite clear that I do not consider it obsessional when Labour Members or, indeed, Conservative Members have for many years campaigned against, and taken action to rectify, the disgraceful condition of many parts of private sector rented accommodation. A large part of public sector housing, at least until recent years, has been provided to replace such rotten accommodation. One could argue in detail at great length about the economic, social and legislative factors which have given rise to that position, but there is nothing obsessional about campaigning against it and taking effective action to do something about it. That introduces the role of housing associations, housing trusts and local authorities.

For all the justifiable criticism of particular aspects of public sector housing, in general we need have no shame about what we have achieved. On the contrary, we should be proud of what we have done over half a century or more in public sector housing. Many countries throughout the world, including some advanced industrial countries, wish that they could have followed the same road, in one way or another, to deal with their housing problems.

There are further aspects to the argument about sales. The Housing Act 1980 was wrong to compel the indiscriminate sale of thousands of rented dwellings. It led, without our knowing that would be the result, to a significant reduction in the total rented sector. If we continue down this road, we shall have a financial loss. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) has said that it may be developing already. All the experts on housing put this argument in 1980 and earlier. The evidence, as briefly referred to by my hon. Friend, points more and more in that direction.

Further, we shall have a significant loss of relet accommodation. That problem will be in addition to the difficulties surrounding new build to which we have referred on so many occasions. The report of the Select Committee on the Environment states that for every 100,000 properties that are sold, each year nearly 3,000 relets that would have been made available to those in housing need will, as a consequence, not be made available. I think that the statistic was 2,600. It was between 2,500 and 3,000 a year. At one stage in ihe argument that factor was discounted. In Committee and in the House the Minister suggested that the effect on relets would be minimal, and that that would be so for 30 to 35 years. However, it became clear, following further exchanges, that for every 100,000 properties sold between 2,500 and 3,000 vacancies each year, will no longer be available to be let to those in greatest need.

If we continue along this road, we shall not bring an end to the divisive society. We are all concerned about massive estates, but if they are broken up, in the best sense of the term, they will not benefit. The signs are that these estates will be reinforced in their isolation. They will become separated even further from the more attractive housing that we have provided for the most part in the local authority sector.

There will be an end to divisiveness if we accept that the argument is not about the right to buy. The Labour Governments of 1964–70 and 1974–79 gave authority to local authorities to negotiate, if they wished, the sale of some of their properties. There has been no argument about that authority. Some might have engaged in it, but they were arguing about basic policy that was accepted and applied by previous Governments and their predecessors without a major dispute.

The argument arises when there is compulsion on local authorities to sell, irrespective of their judgment, irrespective of their examination of the needs of their area and irrespective of whether they will lose vacancies as a result of selling. The Labour Party need have no fears about the argument of pro and anti owner-occupation. It is a worn-out argument. The local community in my constituency has not bothered with it for years. It knows where I stand and where my party stands and where we have stood over many years.

It is wrong to play politics with these issues, which is what the Bill is doing. I accept that we need legislation to deal with building regulations, but I am not happy about the way in which the Bill tackles the problem. In the runup to a possible general election, which may take place in a short while, the Government have decided to have another little game with housing. This is political dressage.

The Bill has nothing to do with real housing needs in our cities and throughout the country generally. The Government are prepared to continue to play games with housing instead of getting down to the job that should concern them. They should be engaged in examining real needs and trying to meet them. They should be encouraging local authorities and housing associations to meet them. The Government have signally failed to do so for the past three years and they have shown no sign that they will get out of the present mess this side of the election. I hope and believe that the British people will not be fooled once more.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton 6:05 pm, 23rd November 1982

The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) speaks with immense experience and knowledge of housing. He was Minister with responsibilities for housing for longer than anyone else. Obviously we always listen to him with care. I am tempted to take up many of his remarks on work load and sales but it is not to those topics that I wish to direct my remarks.

However, on work load, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Departmental colleagues have been urging local authorities to spend their capital receipts. Especial emphasis has been placed on improvement work. The need to proceed with it has been urged by myself and by many others on both sides of the House. There is a great deal to be done on improvement work. There are over 1 million houses in Britain without internal WCs and that is scandalous. Local authorities should be getting on with the issuing of improvement and repair grants. My right hon. and hon. Friends have an excellent record in improving the level of grants, strengthening the relevant legislation and widening the scope of it. They have nothing to be ashamed of in this regard.

I wish to speak about parts II and III of the Bill and in so doing I remind the House of my interest in the building industry, currently as a director of a house building company and previously as the director of the House Builders' Federation. I declare that interest, as always, but it is of loose relevance only to the Bill.

First, I shall try to put my right hon. Friend's radical new proposals in their wider context. We are dealing with a vital issue that goes to the heart of building, which is how to stop buildings falling down. When my right hon. Friend took office there were quite a few nasties lurking in the undergrowth. I am not talking about the former Government. Perhaps it will be salutary to recall some of them. It is right to say that they all arose under the existing building control system. That needs to be said because of to remarks made by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) while speaking from the Opposition Front Bench.

First, there was Ronan Point, which fell down in 1968. Four people were killed and umpteen millions of pounds had to be spent to strengthen tower blocks throughout the country. The inquiry found an inherent design failure, inadequate building regulation and an unsatisfactory code of practice.

There was the tragic and dreadful incident at Summerlands with 50 deaths and further amendments to the building regulations. High alumina cement was another cause of concern. Its structural use had been controlled by the French Government as long ago as 1928 and again in 1935. It had been banned in Bavaria in 1962 but no adequate action was taken in the United Kingdom until 1975.

There was the lowering of U-values in 1974–75, and subsequently, which has produced a most disturbing gap between the technology of eliminating heat loss and the threat of damp penetration. We still do not know enough about the long-term effects of some materials used in domestic insulation.

Further, there were the polyurethane ceilings which the Greater London Council took out of buildings at Thamesmead and elsewhere. There was the woodwool slabs affair at New Malden. There have been great problems and heartaches over the use of calcium chloride. There was the "Clasp" system fire at Fairfield in Nottinghamshire. These are only some of the more highly publicised cases of building failures and disasters.

The mechanism of public sector control which my right hon. Friend inherited was basically fourfold. There were the building regulations that were supervised by building control officers. It was a long-standing and extremely reputable system, but it was open to criticism from architects and others that the regulations were virtually incomprehensible. Criticism was frequently made and widely reported in the trade press.

There was the Building Research Establishment, which was famous throughout the world. However, there was low morale as a result of a series of staff cuts, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. The Building Research Establishment experienced a frequent change of sponsoring Ministers and the introduction of a bureaucratic nightmare of committees and departmental working parties, which sprang from the Rothschild principle of commissioned research. There was also the Agrément Board, which was virtually dying on its feet in 1979 and which the independent Bennett committee had recommended merging with the British Standards Institution. Finally, there was the National Building Agency, which had long ceased to have much connection with its original job of appraising industrialised building systems. It had become, in effect, a private consultancy firm with a substantial public sector work load. The NBA has since been scrapped, along with the housing development directorate of the Department of the Environment, the Environmental Board and the Department of the Environment directorate of research. All those bodies had diffuse concern or had responsibility for study and research into building or design problems. May I say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I remember you and I discussing the matter at about four o'clock in the morning on two separate occasions when you had ministerial responsibility for such matters.

There were also the legal nasties to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) referred. Looming over all was the problem of liability. The decisions of the courts in Dutton v. Bognor Regis urban district council, Anns v. Merton and others—coupled with the Defective Premises Act 1972—seem to imply a total and unlimited liability on local authorities and their building control officers. No wonder some of them ran for cover and builders began to complain of a slow and defensive attitude from the building control machinery.

The response that I favoured was to try to deal with all those problems at once. I argued two years ago that Ministers should merge the Building Research Establishment and the Agrément Board into a construction industry testing authority. I envisaged a public, statutory agency. It would become mandatory for a new component or product coming on to the market to receive a testing certificate from the agency, or from private laboratories working under contract to the agency. If the product received a certificate, it would automatically be deemed to satisfy the building regulations. The cost of the testing would be met by fees and, since the process would be mandatory—the Agrément process is not—it would be self-financing. Liability for failures would fall on the manufacturer, designer or contractor, as appropriate, subject to a 10-year limit. Liability would lie against CITA only if the agency had failed to test properly the new product or had otherwise acted in a negligent or incompetent manner.

My proposals were not acceptable to Ministers. That was fair enough, as they have responsibility for decisions and I do not. Instead, they reprieved the Agrément Board, but they left the system of submission of products as voluntary. The Building Research Establishment was to be given a new independent management board and was also to have the assistance of an EDC for the building industry research strategy committee. There was, alas, a serious muddle over the hasty introduction of fees for building regulations consent. The first regulations in 1980 were a complete mess, but the 1982 revisions were better.

My right hon. Friend also decided that the nettle of building controls should be grasped differently. Whereas I wanted a national organisation whose certificates would be deemed to satisfy the regulations, Ministers chose a more flexible option—a combination of private certification and a drastic revision of the regulations. In that respect, the Bill closely follows the consultative paper which was itself a development of last year's White Paper and of a major speech of the Secretary of State to the National House Building Council in December 1979.

The issues have been well argued in the industry, although some of the details remain obscure. The Bill, of course, leaves all the vital questions to the regulations. We are not told how a person is to achieve the status of approved inspector, nor what requirements will be made for insurance. Nor do we know for how long the insurance period must last, or whether it will be an insurance of the building, an indemnity insurance of the inspector or both at the same time. The only thing we do know, which is essential, is that if the private certificate option is used there can be no question of the local authority retaining liability. The same is true of the new system of self-certification for other public sector bodies. That is quite right. The new system would be ludicrous if the local authority retained responsibility in such circumstances.

Some may say—the hon. Member for Bolton, West said it—that until these issues are resolved we cannot evaluate the Minister's proposals properly. There is some truth in that criticism, but I shall put forward some criteria against which we could judge the Bill in practice. Membership of a professional institution should not of itself be a sufficient qualification. There must be a separate vetting procedure for private sector inspectors, which should be carried out by the institutions, as the consultation paper said. It should, arguably, involve further academic qualifications that relate specifically to structural and engineering matters, and there must be much practical experience.

Secondly, self-certification by an architect, engineer or surveyor who is in the direct employ of the developer rather than acting as an independent consultant, is unlikely to command public confidence. The inspector must be at arm's length.

Thirdly, sub-certification cannot be acceptable unless there is an overall inspector who is plainly and directly responsible for the whole operation.

Fourthly, part certification, which is permitted in the consultation document, is undesirable. If the developer cannot find approved inspectors who can do the entire job, it would be better to leave it to the local authority and avoid duplication of effort and confusion of responsibility.

If liability is to fall personally on the certifier, he would become responsible for a defined period for buildings that he had not designed or built but only inspected. That suggests that it would be better to follow the French system and insure the building, which means in practice the architect and the contractor. Any liability against the certifier could be limited only to negligent inspection, and it must be time-limited. The Bill should also contain a time limit for local authority inspection. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take on board the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet. We must deal with that matter now.

The new building regulations are a brave attempt by the Minister. This technical issue cannot be examined properly on Second Reading and must await examination in Committee. Suffice to say now that the new "approved documents" do grasp the nettle of "deeming to satisfy" the building regulations, but they are not entirely satisfactory as a defence. They will not be subject to parliamentary control, as part of the trade-off in the new system of differentiating between the general proposals, which Parliament will approve, and the detailed, non-statutory back-up. That will present a fundamental dilemma to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments and it is a matter of considerable controversy in the industry. We must have much more public discussion before final decisions are made.

I welcome with wry amusement clause 39, which repeals the Building Control Act 1966. That Act was a flop from the start. It destroyed the ministerial career of the late Charles Pannell, a man who was very popular in the House, and it has been inoperative since 1968. During its passage through the House, I had a modest role to play in the Conservative Research Department, when I advised my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts, my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) and Sir Robin Chichester-Clark. I am glad to be in at the kill 16 years later.

Parts II and III of the Bill are not politically exciting and are unlikely to win or lose votes, but they are of immense importance to the construction industry and its allied professions. I congratulate sincerely my right hon. Friend on his determination to bring them forward, but the issue of preventing building failures remains. I hope that the Minister will ensure that both the Building Research Establishment and the Agrément Board give single-minded and constant attention to the need for efficient testing to avoid some of the horrors and disasters that we have experienced in past years. There is still much to be done in that regard.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight 6:19 pm, 23rd November 1982

It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham), whose contribution once again showed his great professional abilities. I am sure that we shall all read it several times in the Official Report. I certainly hope that the hon. Gentleman will be serving on the Standing Committee, as there is much work to be done and he raised some highly pertinent questions. I hope that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) will also be a member of the Committee, as he, too, made a most valuable contribution.

My contribution, which will be considerably less learned than that of the hon. Member for Melton, will deal mainly with part I of the Bill. Although parts II and III are important, I think that most people will regard part I as containing the main proposals, which I view with great concern.

The true nature of what is about to hit them is only just dawning on many charitable housing associations. When I saw the outline of the Bill, I did not believe that it would apply to the housing association that I helped to found. I now find that it will apply absolutely and entirely. I therefore declare an interest as a founder member of the Isle of Wight housing association. I am no longer on the management committee and hold only a £1 share, but clearly I take a great interest in its development. I have also been a member of a London housing association. I should perhaps declare a further interest as I am still a fully paid-up member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, although I hasten to add that my qualifications were in agriculture and had nothing to do with building surveying.

The Isle of Wight housing association, which has been a great success, dates back to 1972–73 when there was an enormous increase in house prices. At that time, I was associated with a village church and Portsmouth diocesan board was saying that the land surrounding the rectory would have to be sold for executive-type homes. We rebelled against that on the grounds that if the land had to be disposed of it should at least be sold to build houses that would be available to the local people. There was a dire shortage of building land, no new houses were being built, the average age of the population was continually rising and the younger generation were leaving the area. I shall not bore the House with the details of the battle, but ultimately a very red-faced archdeacon suggested to me that we should form a housing association and I replied, "We shall."

A local builder, Miles Clarke, joined me in the project. I put his name on record as he gave five years of unpaid and unstinting work to get the association off the ground. Week after week, he gave many hours of his time without any payment. He never built a house for the association. He ensured that his involvement was entirely separate from his building activities. If anyone deserves to be rewarded in the Honours List, it is he. I left him holding most of the responsibility. When we formed that association, we put our own money into it. Admittedly, it was not a great deal—several hundred pounds—and some came from Church sources. Nevertheless, we put our own money into it and in forming the association we examined various similar bodies, particularly in the Portsmouth area.

I am delighted to say that the Isle of Wight housing association has developed to such an extent that it now manages between 300 and 400 properties. Some were taken over from other associations, but most are converted stock or properties that have been built since 1974. It is a joy for me to visit the association. Indeed, I visited the management office only last Friday. At the request of the parish council, we deliberately built 40 or 50 housing units on glebe land in the centre of the village in a rural part of the Isle of Wight because we wanted to bring young people and families back to the village. Only the other day, I took part in a discussion about how a doctor's surgery could be brought to the area.

What will happen if the Bill is passed and that association is forced to sell recently completed properties at discounts of 35 per cent. and more? The people involved will decide to buy—perfectly sensibly, as it is a gift to them. They will then sell the properties and the process that we sought to arrest will begin all over again. The houses will become second homes or they will be occupied by retired people. The younger people will thus be forced to leave the area, the average age will rise again and the village will stagnate. As the National Federation of Housing Associations has said, the same will happen in the inner cities. Fat profits will be made on such sales and no one can blame the tenants for taking advantage of that chance.

I have just had to buy my own flat on a long lease, with repayments of about £400 per month, which I find rather harsh and cannot really afford. How some people are buying the properties that they are currently purchasing, I do not know. I believe that many of them must be in great difficulties with repayments. If the banks and building societies are not pressing them too hard, this may not yet have shown up, but I believe that in the next year or two there will be a large number of repossessions because people cannot meet their mortgage obligations.

It is not true that when the housing association tenants took occupation they did not know their position in relation to the right to buy. The first article of the Isle of Wight housing association tenants' charter concerns the right to buy and it is made clear that tenants of the association, which has charitable status and is registered as a charity, do not have the right to buy that secure tenants of non-charitable associations now have under the 1980 Act. A copy of that document was given to all tenants moving in as well as those who had recently taken occupation. The Secretary of State now says that he has received a large number of letters from housing association tenants who wish to buy, but they knew the terms when they took occupation.

As the NFHA says, housing associations are controlled by volunteers. Even when a committee employs expert staff, its members give endless hours of their own time to help those in severe housing need. That donation of time to meet the needs of others is not acknowledged in the Bill. People have put in many years of voluntary service to secure decent homes for the disadvantaged and they deeply resent the proposal that some of the more fortunate tenants should now take those homes permanently out of the reach of the less well-off. I say "Hear, hear" to that. That is what I find so distressing about the Bill.

In conclusion, I accept that anomalies have arisen under the 1980 Act. For instance, the position of local authority homes on long leasehold and unacceptable service charges should perhaps be dealt with. Charitable housing associations, however, were set up by amateurs—ordinary people who were greatly concerned at the shortage of accommodation for their children and their friends' children and wished to help to solve the problem. Those people have given up vast amounts of their own time and spent a great deal of their own money—only to see the results of their work sold off. That was not the object. That is why I support the Opposition view and I plead with the Government to change their mind. It is diabolical that the Government should now try to undo the work of so many people in the voluntary sector. We hear enough from the Government about the need to support voluntary effort, but they are now literally taking the ground from under those people's feet and I bitterly resent that.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby 6:27 pm, 23rd November 1982

I hope that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) will forgive me if I do not follow him too far down the road that he has signposted. I will, however, pursue him into one area. He expressed concern at the amount of mortgage repayment that his constituents were likely to make. I am sure, therefore, that he will join me in applauding the Government's economic policies, which have resulted in a fall in interest rates and a fall in the amount of mortgage payments being made.

The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) made a forceful speech. He said that the number of houses available to rent was the lowest in 50 years. I understand his genuine concern about that, having served with him on the Select Committee on the Environment. It is fair to say, however, that if the right to buy had not existed many of the people who exercised that right would have remained tenants for ever. There is no real reduction in the housing stock.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

However one views the rightness or wrongness of this, until recently one sector of rented housing was losing about 100,000 properties per year, which was made good by the construction of at least that number in the public sector. Today, however, more than 200,000—almost a quarter of a million—rented dwellings in the private and public sectors are being lost every year, but only 30,000 to 35,000 are being built. Therefore, there is a major reduction and in 10 years' time hundreds of thousands fewer properties will be available for rent than would otherwise have been the case.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby

The right hon. Gentleman might care to reflect on the fact that if the Opposition had not been so dogmatic we might have seen many more private landlords in existence. Legislation introduced by the Opposition has almost driven private landlords into extinction and that is part of the problem that we face at present.

I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on an imaginative Bill. I am sure that the House will share my opinion. It is another excellent runner from the Heseltine-Stanley stable, and I do not doubt that it will prove to be another winner. The Government are rightly firmly committed to the principle of council house sales and the Bill merely takes us further down that road. It brings certain housing associations into the right-to-buy legislation. I know that there are many tenants of housing associations within my constituency who wish to purchase their homes. I have here a folder containing about 166 letters that have passed between me, my right hon. Friends, the Leicester housing association and my constituents. I have been arguing the case for house sales for over 18 months with that housing association, but despite my best endeavours not a single house has so far been sold.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby

I hear the hon. Gentleman agreeing. I trust that my constituents will also hear that clear expression of opinion. It is disgraceful that housing associations should be able to flout the declared wishes of the House when it passed legislation about two years ago.

I am aware that the Housing Act 1980 gives my right hon. Friend the power to intervene in cases where tenants have experienced difficulty in exercising the right to buy. When the Minister winds up I should like to hear how many times that right has been exercised and how soon thereafter tenants purchased the houses which were the subject of intervention.

The sale of houses in the ownership of local councils has done much to broaden the base of home ownership. At least 350,000 houses have now been sold. Tenants have expressed their clear desire to own their own home. Why should they be deprived of that right? A major criticism of the Opposition is that they intend to repeal the relevant legislation. I believe that to be both dogmatic and spiteful. No doubt it will be a major contributory factor to their losing the next general election. The council house and rent-paying public have expressed 350,000 times their belief that the present legislation is both necessary and desirable. This legislation will further advance that case.

If it is thought that I exaggerate, it is worth referring to "Labour's Programme 1982", which says: We will relieve public landlords of any statutory obligation to sell, with effect from our first days in office.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear". In case hon. Members should feel that that is an isolated pronouncement, I shall quote from the National Executive Committee's policy statement: The Labour Government should in its first days of office make an official announcement of its intention to end enforced sales. Legislation would then follow in a matter of weeks. I hope that every council house tenant hears that clear and unequivocal threat to their rights. I have no doubt that they will know what to do when the appropriate time comes. It is a direct commitment by the Opposition to end council house sales.

Photo of Mr Edward Graham Mr Edward Graham , Enfield Edmonton

The hon. Gentleman is repeating a canard that has already been voiced by the Government—that there is a clear commitment to stop council house sales. That is untrue. We intend to stop the compulsory sale of council houses and to leave a willing buyer and a willing seller, as there always is with a good contract.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby

I am delighted about that intervention from the hon. Gentleman. I should like to quote from the reference sheet that the hon. Gentleman will find in the Library. It says: The Labour Opposition is vigorously opposed to the compulsory sale of council houses. 'Labour's Programme 1982' sets out Labour's policy on council house sales as follows. 'We will relieve public landlords of any statutory obligation to sell, with effect from our first days in office. Sales which have reached an advanced stage, comparable to exchange of contracts in a private purchase, … will be allowed to proceed'.

Not only have Opposition Members noted that passage, I am certain that council house tenants will hear what has been said in this House and will appreciate who really cares about council house tenants and their rights.

The Opposition are evidently suggesting that ordinary people cannot be trusted to look after themselves, be responsible for the roof over their heads or to have something of real value to pass on to their children. For them the State is evidently greater than the individual. They believe that council house tenants should always remain council house tenants. Once a tenant, always a tenant, is the Opposition's slogan.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

We know from experience that most Labour-controlled councils will not sell a single house unless the law gives the tenant the right to buy.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. But official Opposition Members are not entirely alone. The Social Democratic Party apparently cannot make up its mind. It says: We need to debate whether … the Right to Buy should remain a single national policy, or whether it should be up to local decision in the light of local housing needs. It does not reach a conclusion.

Photo of Mr John Cartwright Mr John Cartwright , Greenwich Woolwich East

The hon. Gentleman is quoting from a document that is somewhat out of date. If he quotes from the official statement, which was published in May he will find that our position is clear.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby

The Social Democratic Party changes its policies with regular monotony. The Social Democratic Party discussion paper on housing that I referred to was published in 1981. The Social Democratic Party changes its policies so often. It clearly shows considerable indecision. It might try to get an issue of this importance right first time.

I do not suggest that the Social Democratic Party is two-faced, but I believe that it is facing two ways. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) is taking mote. One of the things that might come out of this debate is a clear statement of intent from the Social Democratic Party. What does it intend to do about the right to buy? Will it keep it or scrap it? Will it be more socialist than democratic tonight? Will it say unequivocally that the right to buy is right? I look forward to hearing the contribution of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East.

The Bill does not go as far as some of us would like. The right to buy will not be available for those houses or flats owned by charitable organisations before 1974, when the housing association grant was introduced. Neither will it be available where dwellings provided before 1974 have been repaired and improved subsequently with the aid of a housing association grant.

I welcome the fact that tenants of leasehold property will have the right to purchase a long lease of up to 125 years, dependent only on the length of time that the landlord's lease still has to run, and subject only to the landlord's leasehold interest being not less than 22 years in the case of houses and 50 years in the case of flats.

I am pleased that clause 5 renders void any attempt by unscrupulous local authority landlords to charge for the giving of the right to buy. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about private landlords?"] Private landlords are not mentioned in the Bill, for the reason already given by my right hon. Friend. It is a pity that Labour Members were not listening when my right hon. Friend spelt out the case in such comprehensive detail. Clearly, this legislation will stop an existing loophole, and it should therefore be welcome.

Schedule 3 protects tenants against unreasonable surcharges. That has been yet another method used by obstructive authorities to prevent the implementation of the right to buy.

Clause 17 amends the provisions governing sub-letting and the assignment of secure tenancies. I understand that certain local authorities, when agreeing to a transfer of tenancies, have made it conditional on the tenant not exercising the right to buy. That is disgraceful. It is wrong that such arrangements are made to prevent the tenant from purchasing the house into which he moves, and that is clearly contrary to the spirit of legislation passed in his House. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has incorporated the appropriate provision in the Bill.

Part II deals with building controls, and I shall listen with considerable interest to what my hon Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction says on this point. My understanding is that this part of the Bill had its origins in 1979 when the Secretary of State addressed the National House Building Council. He expressed proper concern that the existing system of building control in England and Wales was unwieldy, bureaucratic and unnecessarily costly and, above all, that there were widely differing interpretations of the regulations—so much so that they were consistent only in their inconsistency.

I am well aware that volume house builders such as Wimpey and Barratt can obtain an approval in one district but can receive a refusal on the same design in a neighbouring district. That is intolerable, and something must be done to resolve and simplify the situation. The proposals in the Bill will help builders. They will remove petty frustrations and help to keep costs down.

I understand that the Secretary of State will designate certain competent persons as approved inspectors able to provide certificates of approval. Those competent persons must possess professional qualifications, practical experience and be in possession of indemnity insurance. I appreciate that this definition encompasses architects, engineers and surveyors. Such a system has immediate attractions. Despite what Labour Members have said, it will result in less bureaucracy and time-wasting and will generally speed up matters in an industry where time is literally money. It will also reduce local government expenditure.

Evidently, however, no insurers have so far shown an interest in providing the appropriate indemnity to an approved inspector. Without that safeguard, the proposed system will not work, because the approved inspector acting without insurance cover would become personally liable for any claims made against him and, at any date in the future, for any building defects that he should have prevented. That point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman). It would be foolhardy for anyone to become an approved inspector without the appropriate insurance cover.

Should the approved inspector have a disagreement with the builder and decide to proceed no further, he can pass responsibility to the local authority, but there seems to be no provision in the Bill for the local authority to recoup any costs involved in that work. I hope that my hon. Friend will comment on that point.

I was a local councillor for about 21 years, and I am quite aware that at times local councils can be so bureaucratic as to be almost bloody-minded. I recognise the frustrations that are often felt by builders. But the present system has at least one principal benefit—it enjoys the confidence of the public, who recognise that local authorities are absolutely impartial and are not likely to approve a building that does not satisfy them. The present system, while undoubtedly requiring reform, at least ensures a high standard of safety.

My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) said that there were already many serious building failures under the present system and suggested that a change in the system need not necessarily be a change for the worse. Again, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on this point.

It is the responsibility of the local authority to maintain a register of approved notices and certificates, but there is no reference in the Bill to a fee. Can a local authority recoup the costs involved in the maintenance of the register? Will a body be set up to authorise and supervise the approved inspectors? How large will that body be; what is it likely to cost; and how many inspectors are likely to be appointed to supervise building regulations in England and Wales?

I welcome the fact that the Bill continues the current exemptions from building control and extends them to local authority buildings as well as to Buildings of such public bodies as are answerable either locally or through Ministers to Parliament". I note that such bodies will be able to give such relaxation to the controls as they believe to be appropriate. I have no doubt that they will discharge that duty responsibly, and I have no doubt that that will be to the public good.

Not surprisingly, some local authorities and professional bodies are worried about some of the provisions in parts II and III, but I am sure that those points will have already occurred to the Minister and that he will be able to reassure those local authorities and professional bodies when he winds up. I wish the Bill well and look forward to its enactment.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 6:48 pm, 23rd November 1982

During my remarks I shall respond to several points arising from the speech of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey). However, I do not intend to speak about the building control regulations in part II. Instead, I entirely endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) and agree with the reservations expressed by some Conservative Members.

We should be debating a Bill to deal with the formidable housing crisis now facing us. The number of council dwellings now being built is lower than at any time since the 1920s, and there is a growing waiting list of people desperately in need of rented accommodation.

The hon. Member for Rugby said that certain Labour Party remarks should be publicised. One of the remarks that we shall continue to publicise is that in the last two or three years council tenants have been unjustly treated and have faced rent increases of about 117 per cent., which is more than double the increase in the retail price index in the same period. I am sure that the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) will not agree with me, but that is why the Opposition maintain and the Labour candidate in Rugby will argue that there should be a rent freeze. The forthcoming rent increase is utterly unjustified in view of what has been happening to council tenants.

Rents have not increased so much simply to reduce the central Government subsidy, although that has been the main reason. The Minister for Housing and Construction almost boasts about another reason—the effort to encourage more and more tenants to buy their own homes. He says effectively that it is just as costly to rent as it is to buy. That is because of the exorbitant rent increases that central Government have virtually imposed during the past two or three years. Instead of taking those measures that should have been taken, we have this insignificant Bill that will do nothing to help people in housing need.

I do not want to be uncharitable about the Secretary of State, but no Secretary of State in any post-war Government has done as much harm to housing as the present one. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) said, he has done his utmost substantially to reduce the number of available rented dwellings. The properties that are now being sold off to tenants are not being replaced. We are experiencing the lowest number of council house starts since the 1920s. Not content with the harm that is undoubtedly being done to the rented sector, Ministers have now decided that the charitable housing groups—which were originally excluded from the earlier legislation—must take their turn.

Ministers and Conservative Members maintain—the hon. Member for Rugby has just done so—that a major principle is involved. That principle is the sitting tenant's right to buy. They seem to want us to believe that that is one of the most important principles in housing. The question that must inevitably follow, and which I asked the Secretary of State, is why, if there is such a principle and if it is so important for sitting tenants to buy, should private tenants be excluded? Surely they, too, should enjoy the right to buy. Needless to say, there is no mention of private tenants in the present legislation.

Mr. Arthur Johnston, the chairman of the Federation of Private Residents' Associations, in a letter to The Times that appeared on Saturday, wrote: There are thousands of private tenants, particularly in inner London, who would welcome the opportunity to purchase their flats … Why should private tenants not have the same rights as council tenants? That is an interesting question.

It should also be borne in mind that the council dwellings that are being sold off are those that the Select Committee on the Environment, of which the hon. Member for Rugby was briefly a member, warned about in its report last year. It said—this should come as no surprise—that the type of council dwellings that are likely to be sold off are those with gardens in the better areas. In the main, there has been no queue of tenants of multi-storey flats wanting to purchase. Only the better council housing stock has been sold off. All the evidence points in that direction.

I should be interested to know how many flats have been sold to council tenants. Leaving aside those who could not buy, I imagine that it is very few. Most of those who can buy have already done so. Many of those who see or write to us about housing problems are council tenants. Their problem is not so much that they cannot buy, as that they want to transfer to houses with gardens. It must be obvious that if one sells off the better council housing stock and it is not replaced—we know about the low level of council house starts—people living in multi-storey flats who have children and who may be desperate to move into houses with gardens must wait much longer.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Greenwich Woolwich West

If the hon. Gentleman's argument is true that people do not wish to buy flats and that if a council were happy to sell them people would not move in, how does he explain why Greenwich council, which is in my constituency, refused to sell flats for many months, although it agreed to sell houses?

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Irrespective of what might have been happening in Greenwich, it is true nationally that very few tenants of flats have wanted to buy them. Perhaps the Minister could tell me how many of the properties which have been sold as a result of the 1980 legislation have been houses, how many have been flats and, especially, how many have been in multi-storey blocks. Few tenants who live on the eighth or twelfth floor of a multi-storey block of flats have any desire to buy their flats, even if they were able to do so, and there were no legal difficulties in doing so.

About 80,000 tenanted houses owned by charitable housing associations are affected by the Bill. It is important not to overlook the fact that the Government are forcing independent organisations to carry out policies against their wishes. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West made that point. When discussing centralised Government and control, that is a good illustration of a Government who seem to be insensitive to the wishes of the affected housing groups. Many of those charitable housing groups have existed for a long time. As one would expect, most of those organisations have simply provided accommodation for today's housing victims. But they are also concerned with tomorrow's homeless. They provide accommodation for those who cannot find local authority accommodation and are unable to buy their own homes.

Neither the Minister nor any of his hon. Friends told us which housing associations and charitable organisations support the Bill. I have heard of none. Surely it is understandable that they should be allowed to continue to conduct their affairs properly. They do not want to be forced by the Government to do something that they believe is not right. It is as simple as that. Once dwellings are sold off to tenants, they are gone for good.

The Caldmore housing association is in my borough. It is a community-based housing association that offers homes to those in need, including single parents, the unemployed, battered women and their children and ethnic minorities. It has approximately 770 properties. Because of difficulties arising from cuts in public spending and because of local housing need and other factors, the association has had to close its waiting list. It has 400 people on that list. The director wrote to me as follows: If Housing Associations are now to lose properties through sales, how will the growing army of people without choice ever find homes to rent? Whatever else is said, the fact remains that demand for rented accommodation continues to grow. It is understandable that such a genuine charitable housing association that has operated for some time feels threatened, especially as the Bill will mainly affect properties built since 1974.

It has been argued that the Labour Party is somehow opposed to owner-occupation. That is far from true. It was a Labour Government who, in the 1960s, introduced the option mortgage scheme which has enabled many people to become owner-occupiers. Other Labour Government schemes have also enabled people to become owner-occupiers. I do not know why the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) shakes his head. The hon. Gentleman will not deny, I am sure, that the option mortgage scheme was the creation of the Labour Government in the 1960s.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Greenwich Woolwich West

The hon. Gentleman argues that the option mortgage scheme is enough. It is clearly not enough. Many of my constituents who wish to buy their homes were not allowed to do so by the Greenwich council, irrespective of the existence of the option mortgage scheme.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

The hon. Gentleman is not disagreeing with my contention that the Labour Party, far from being opposed to owner-occupation, has tried in Government to increase the numbers of owner-occupiers. We want people on ordinary incomes, if they so wish, to become owner-occupiers. There is no disagreement.

Most hon. Members are owner-occupiers. No one who wishes to become an owner-occupier should be excluded. However, surely it is better that those who live in the public rented sector, and certainly in charitable housing association property, if they have the means to become owner-occupiers, should go into the private market and receive assistance through the option mortgage scheme or in other ways and thereby release accommodation for those in need. That is surely better than the existing tenant buying the property in which he lives and so making someone desperately in need of accommodation wait that much longer. That is the difference between the Government and the Opposition. The difference is not over owner-occupation.

The Opposition believe that local authorities and housing associations, including charitable ones, should have the choice of deciding how they pursue their policy. The Government have forced compulsory sales upon local authorities. Now they are applying that policy to charitable housing groups. It is surely for those organisations and groups to decide how they should proceed. This is another illustration of Government dogma. They have not listened to those in local authorities and charitable housing associations who know about housing need and housing difficulties.

It is all very well Conservative Members being complacent over the sale of council dwellings and charitable housing association properties. There remain a large number of people whose only hope of finding adequate and secure accommodation is through the local authority or a genuine housing association. They do not have the means to become owner-occupiers. In most cases, they do not wish to become owner-occupiers. Not a word about their needs has been heard from the Secretary of State or Conservative Members.

It is shocking that in the Britain of the 1980s families should be living in squalid and difficult accommodation comprising one or two rooms. I am sure that the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) will say that the privately rented sector can provide the answers. I do not believe so. The hon. Gentleman may be right. I do not believe, however, that there is any evidence to show that the private rented sector can supply the accommodation that is so desperately needed. At the end of the day, those in desperate need can be assisted only by local authority housing or by genuine housing associations providing the necessary dwellings.

The Government have substantially reduced the rented sector. If the Bill is approved, those in need and whose desire for accommodation is great will stay longer out in the cold without secure and proper accommodation.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth 7:04 pm, 23rd November 1982

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has stated two myths. The first is that building an increasing number of council houses will reduce the council house waiting list. History does not support that contention. The second myth is that those on council house waiting lists want the right to rent a council house. Of course, they want the right to rent, but not necessarily the right to rent from the council. They would be equally prepared to rent from the voluntary housing movement or the private sector.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North, whose constituency adjoins mine, has made the same speech in each debate on housing since the general election in May 1979. Not once has the hon. Gentleman come up with an original or constructive solution to the housing problems. These problems are deeply embedded in the mongrel dogma of the past. The hon. Gentleman forgot to mention that his own authority has rent arrears of between £2 million and £3 million.

Like the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), I am a member of the board of management of a housing association, the United Kingdom housing trust. Like him, I am a consultant to a firm of chartered surveyors with a nation-wide practice. Like him, the consultancy is with a firm of valuation surveyors and not building surveyors. I have therefore no professional or material interest in part II of the Bill.

I wish to direct my attention to part I of the Bill. The debate affords hon. Members the opportunity to put under the parliamentary microscope the policies of the other parties. I look forward with interest to hearing the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright). I imagine that he will confirm that his party is in favour of the sale of council houses in the right circumstances. I agree with him wholeheartedly. I believe that the Social Democratic Party agrees with the Conservative Party. We have adopted the philosophy over many years that the sale of council houses breaks down the "them and us" attitude on council estates. It breaks down the attitude of two nations. It breaks down the social segregation that the Government inherited from the mongrel dogma of the Labour Government so excellently propounded by the hon. Member for Walsall, North.

I hope that the hon. Member for Woolwich, East will be able to confirm that the Social Democratic Party differs in this, as it does, no doubt, in other respects, from its Liberal alliance partners. I understand that the Liberal Party is opposed to the compulsory sale of council houses. As there is no hon. Member representing the Liberal Party in the Chamber at the moment, I am unable to receive direct confirmation of that.

One thing of which the House can be absolutely certain is that the Labour Party wishes to deny what the majority of people put above all things, which is the right to own their own home. Scratch below the surface of any Marxist or any fully paid-up member of the Militant Tendency and one will find two things. First—

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

Red blood—and two other things. If those people were honest, they would admit that they would love their son or daughter to win a scholarship to the local grammar school, but they are happy to troop into the polling booths at general and local elections and vote against the continuance of grammar schools. The second thing that they would love to have is the opportunity to own their own homes and to pass on the fruits of their life's labours to their children in years to come. However, at general and local elections they will troop into the polling booths and vote against that basic aim, ambition and aspiration of most working people. Therein lies the two-faced attitude of the Labour Party.

The Labour Party was happy to put in its last general election manifesto the fact that it seeks to bring about a fundamental change in this country's wealth in favour of working people. What better way is there to bring about a redistribution of wealth than by selling council houses? By selling council houses, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) eloquently said, one is unlocking the wealth that is locked up in bricks and mortar, which is reinvested and redistributed to provide homes for those in genuine need—the elderly, the disabled and those who really need the right to rent.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

The hon. Gentleman is saying that by selling council houses we are releasing new resources in order to build for those who really are in need. Will he remind the House how many council houses a local authority must sell to build just one new house? Has he read the Select Committee's evidence on that?

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

I have read the Select Committee's evidence. I am now a member of the Select Committee. As the hon. Lady knows, a large element of the cost of providing a new home is the cost of the land. One thing that the Government have done that no previous Government have done is to encourage local authorities sitting on urban derelict land, which local authority after local authority and Labour Governments have ignored in the past—the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) referred to that—to do something about the state of that land. That is the plight of the inner cities. There is urban desolation in inner cities because they have no soul. The people who live in them have no feeling of belonging or of living in a community. That is because they have no financial stake in the area in which they live.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman has said about the availability of land. I hope that he realises that when the Government force charitable housing trusts to sell prime homes in inner cities the social mix will be reduced in those areas. Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question that I asked him? How many council houses must a local authority sell to pay for one new home, taking into account all the discounts and everything else on which he says he has the information?

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

I am delighted to do so. I shall take the hon. Lady quickly through the cost—

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

I shall give the figure. I ask the hon. Lady to contradict me, if she chooses, from her own experience. The cost is between £12,000 and £15,000, because the Government have reduced the housing cost yardstick. They have abolished the Parker Morris standards and have enabled local authorities to build realistically on figures that will justify an economic rent.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

I have just done so. One cannot equate the number of houses that must be sold to provide a new council house because each house sold depends upon the amount of discount offered, which depends on the length of time the secure tenant has been in occupation. The hon. Lady is really asking how long is a piece of string.

I disagree with the provisions in the Bill on shared purchase. The principle of shared purchase is right, but the Bill proposes that when a local authority tenant buys under the shared purchase provisions he or she must buy first at a stake of 50 per cent. and then in tranches of 12½ per cent. I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction whether there could be some flexibility in that arrangement. What is the argument against one of my constituents who, for reasons of his own, wishes initially to acquire only 25 per cent. and then 12½ per cent. and another 12½ per cent. until ultimately, when his job prospects improve and he is promoted, he can acquire the full 100 per cent?

The Bill also provides for the right of Service men to acquire their own property. At the moment the period during which someone was a member of the Armed Forces is taken into account when his entitlement to discount is calculated but not when the right to buy is established. The Bill proposes that all periods spent as a member of the Armed Forces will count for the purposes of qualifying that person for the right to buy and for discount. That will be welcome to many of my constituents serving in the Staffordshire regiment, who are stationed at the Whittington barracks in my constituency.

I applaud the fact that the Secretary of State is taking powers in the Bill to act swiftly against any local authority that discriminates against a secure tenant who wishes to exercise his or her right to buy. Unfortunately, since the Housing Act 1980 some local authorities, mostly Labour controlled, have done their best to frustrate the wishes of decent law-abiding tenants to exercise their right to buy not only by imposing onerous conditions and unbearable service charges, to which the Bill refers, but in more subtle ways. Such local authorities push problem tenants into houses next door to those people. Repairs are delayed. The local authority says that because those people have exercised the right to buy it will make life as difficult as possible by not carrying out repairs to which they are entitled.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State acts swiftly when a tenant from, for example, Norwich or St. Helens reports to him that the local authority has taken two years to process his application to buy. I am sorry that the Bill does not give the Secretary of State greater powers, for example when a local authority takes three or four months to process a right-to-buy application or the district valuer takes three months to carry out the inspection and then a further two months to submit his valuation report to the local authority.

My right hon. Friend should have greater powers to enable those sales to proceed at the pace at which they would proceed if they were in the hands of suitably qualified lawyers and valuers in the private sector. My hon. Friend the Minister will tell me that the Housing Act 1980 provides for local authorities to pass out the legal and professional work to the private sector. However, the Act gives the local authority the discretion to do so. If the local authority has not processed the right-to-buy application within a specific period and the district valuer has not prepared his report and valuation and if, subsequent to receiving the report and valuation, the local authority does not make an offer within a specific period, my right hon. Friend should have the power to take over that function, instruct the private sector and enable the sale to proceed swiftly.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Dunbartonshire East

The hon. Gentleman appears to be saying that the officers of local authorities are acting improperly and are not fulfilling their statutory duties as laid down. That is not so. He has made an unfair attack on both assessors and the legal profession.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention, because he has given me the opportunity to bring to the attention of the House a case—I shall be bringing it to the attention of the House in an Adjournment debate tonight—handled recently by the local government ombudsman. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) is nodding his head, because he knows about the case to which I am about to refer, although I have not had the opportunity to remind him or my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) about it.

There is a classic case in the files of the local government ombudsman, who was invited by a secure tenant in Mid-Bedfordshire to examine the behaviour of a local authority which took two years to process the right-to-buy application. During that time the value of the council house that the tenant wished to buy increased by £1,400. The ombudsman recommended that the local authority should reduce the price by that sum. However, because the powers of the ombudsman are so limited, the local authority chose to take no action and the secure tenant had to pay £1,400 more for the property than he would otherwise have done. I hope that that satisfactorily answers the point made by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Hogg).

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Dunbartonshire East

The hon. Gentleman has referred to only one case that has been referred to the local government ombudsman. That is a rather limited number of people with whom he can find fault. The hon. Gentleman instead chose to make a general attack on both assessors and on members of the legal profession employed in local authorities. I am not satisfied that his argument is sustained by the example of one reference to the local government ombudsman.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

I am not sure whether the hon. Member is seeking to pursue the point because the Opposition Benches are fairly bare or because he has a genuine interest in the matter. I am happy to acquaint the hon. Gentleman with two further cases. One is set out in a letter from Mrs. P. M. Garrett of 2 Christchurch Gardens, Lichfield, dated 11 November. It reads as follows: Dear Mr. Heddle,Reference to the purchase of our council house, the District Valuer called on Monday October 18th, we have still not received a value. That was five weeks ago. I know we are not the only tenants hoping to purchase but four full weeks have passed.Contrary to Mr. Meehan's belief in his letter to you dated 13th October"— Mr. Meehan acts for the local authority in question— we were not immediately telephoned … the only call we received was in answer to my own call to them to find out if Mr. Meehan had received my letter which was posted two full weeks previous.We would like to thank you for the interest you have shown in our problem.

If the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East would like me to bring to his notice a further instance, I refer to the case of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. K. M. Brough. Their right-to-buy application was received by their Labour-controlled local authority on 31 March 1981. The right to buy was accepted by the council on 15 April 1981, two weeks later. The district valuer was instructed on 1 June—six weeks later. The local authority says that the reason for the dalay between acknowledging the right to buy and instructing the District Valuer was due to the volume of applications being dealt with at that time. Had the local authority passed the work to the private sector, the application could probably have been dealt with by return of post.

The district valuer's report was received on 5 August, nine weeks afer receiving the instruction. The local authority said: You will recall that the District Valuer had similar problems in dealing with the volume of applications at that time.

On 7 October, eight weeks later, six months after the tenant first submitted his application to buy under the Housing Act 1980, a formal offer was sent to Mr. and Mrs. Brough. That is why I have asked the Minister to consider whether the Bill is a little lenient with recalcitrant local authorities, and whether further teeth can be given to the Bill to ensure that ordinary working people and their families can exercise their democratic rights with expedition and not be frustrated by local authorities which are, like the hon. Member for Walsall, North, opposed wholeheartedly, root and branch, to the principle of extending wealth as far and as broadly as possible to as many working people and their families as possible.

A number of local authorities, when they have allowed their tenants to exercise their right to buy, have offered the tenants mortgage finance. Interest rates have fallen far and encouragingly in the past few months and are, we think, set to fall still further. However, tenants who have taken advantage of local authority mortgages are now paying 2½ per cent. more than they would if they had taken out a mortgage with a building society.

On a mortgage of £15,000 over 25 years, that means that the local authority mortgagor is paying £21 a month more than he would if he had taken out his mortgage with a building society. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Minister are doing all that they cart to encourage local authorities to encourage their borrowers and former tenants to transfer their mortgages to building societies, but more needs to be done.

Much has been made of the potential that must exist in the third arm of housing—the private rented sector—to pick up and satisfy the demand that still exists and which local authorities cannot cope with. We have heard much about the plight of the homeless. It is right that the House should consider this matter seriously and responsibly. We have homeless people largely because in protecting tenants against realistic rents, successive Governments have destroyed the market for private rented property. Today, barely 3 per cent. of all houses are privately let. No one in his senses would be a landlord, because artificially low rents and excessive protection for tenants have made house letting a game that no prudent investor would become involved in.

Shelter is the voluntary housing organisation that takes an interest in these matters. A leader in the Sunday Express says that Shelter states that house-building has fallen to its lowest peacetime level since the First World War. A major reason for this is that one whole segment of housing, which represented 85 per cent. of homes before that war, has been eliminated.For 60 years, politicians bought votes by keeping down rents by law. Landlords could not afford to repair houses so they fell into decay and, of course, none were built to let. Now we are paying the price of politically motivated meddling with the free market.

The Government have made significant strides since May 1979 to redress that imbalance by introducing council house sales, half and half schemes and improvement for sale, by introducing assured tenancies, shorthold tenancies, the tenants' charter and the computerised tenants' exchange scheme, by share purchase and by compelling local authorities to compile land registers to produce the land to build the homes. The Government have done more for the hopes and aspirations of more working people and their families than the Labour Government ever did. I commend the Bill to the House. It has my wholehearted support.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle 7:28 pm, 23rd November 1982

I am glad to speak after the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle), because he is obviously in as great a housing wonderland as the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman spoke a lot of housing twaddle, as I hope to demonstrate.

The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth and other hon. Members have suggested that the Labour Party is in favour of the State and against the individual, because it opposes the right to buy. I cannot remember any defence of charitable housing associations in "Das Kapital". I am sure that Andropov, let alone Stalin, could not have done a better job of destroying local government democracy and freedom than the Secretary of State. I cannot understand how we are supposed to be against the individual when we attack State interference in the rights of charitable housing associations and democratically elected local authorities.

I do not represent any housing association and I am not an adviser or consultant to any firms of architects or chartered accountants. The only interest that I have to declare is that I live in a house and represent an area in which the waiting list is growing dramatically and homelessness is increasing. In inner city Bootle and Litherland not 3 per cent. or 9 per cent., but 48 per cent. of the properties are owned by private landlords. The conditions that my constituents have to suffer and the harassment and disregard of their needs by those private landlands have to be seen to be believed.

I used to be chairman of the housing committee for the city of Manchester. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) will mention one of the developments to which I shall refer. I had been chairman for about three weeks only when the director of housing told me that he had just received a telephone call from a lady who said that a donkey was going past her front window. I asked "What is wrong with that?" He replied "She lives on the eighth floor." I asked "What have you done about it?" He said "We sent a mental health visitor to see her. A mental health visitor from the social services department was interviewing the lady when a donkey went past the window." I asked "What is happening?" The director of housing said "The man at the end of the deck is keeping a donkey in the back room during the day and is bedding it down at night in the well of the lift shaft." I asked "What are you doing about it?" He replied "We have got the woman a transfer, and the donkey is quite happy."

The problem is that there are no longer any houses to which to transfer people. They are all being sold. Those living in such accommodation do not want to buy, because they want to live in the very houses that the Government are forcing councils to sell. When I became the candidate for Bootle and attended my first advice bureau, my first case involved a housing problem. A woman said to me "I've got a problem." I said "What is it?" She said "It's about my roof." I asked her "What's wrong with it?" She said "I want one." That is the crux of the matter. She did not say that she wanted to buy a house or that she wanted share ownership. She said that she wanted not an assured tenancy, but a roof. The Government's proposals do not provide one extra roof. It is Government by housing gimmick.

The Government's proposals are unbelievable—for example, shared ownership. If someone cannot afford to buy his house, he is supposed to buy part of it—first the lavatory, and then the kitchen. It seems to be suggested that someone should buy half the house, pay a mortgage and rent the other half. However, there is a catch. The person who buys one half will not get repairs done on the other half. If he buys the front door, the council will not paint the back door. If he buys the back door, it will not paint the front door.

Have hon. Members ever tried to sell half a house? Sometimes people may want to move suddenly—for example, because of a death in the family. Have hon. Members ever tried to get a transfer out of half a house? Shared ownership schemes will not work, because they cannot work. It is the worst type of gimmick.

The Housing Act 1980 is amazing. For the purpose of buying a council house jointly with members of a family it defines "a family". Under that Act, a tenant can join as many as three members of his family to buy the house. They are entitled, in law, to a joint mortgage. It is amazing how far the Government will go to ensure that the public rented sector is destroyed and that the best houses are sold. The Government define "family" in that Act as follows: A person is a member of another's family within the meaning of this Chapter if he is his spouse, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece; treating—

  1. (a) any relationship by marriage as a relationship by blood, any relationship of the half blood as a relationship of the whole blood and the stepchild of any person as his child; and
  2. (b) an illegitimate person as the legitimate child of his mother and reputed father or if they live together as husband and wife."
The provision includes everybody except the goldfish and the budgie. It should be sent to the Home Secretary and enshrined in immigration legislation. However, the Government have double standards.

Can hon. Members imagine applying to buy half a house under the Bill? Let us imagine that one tenant, with three members of his family, buys half the house. Let us also imagine that he is the tenant of one half of the house and that three members of the family own the other half of the house. The tenant may have a row with one of the other members of his family. Does he have a right to ask that member to leave the half of which he is the tenant, which is rented? There is a legal and bureaucratic quagmire. Housing departments, already overworked because of Government-imposed staff cuts, will have to deal with such problems.

Perhaps I can draw a picture of a Department of the Environment shop run by the Conservatives. It will have advertisements saying "10, 20 or 50 per cent. off. Closing down sale." The Government are approaching a general election and they are offering give-away goodies. They are trying to force charitable housing associations to sell their houses to sitting tenants. What the Government are doing to the housing association movement is a scandal. We are witnessing the enforced sale of housing association properties.

I have an example from my area of the type of thing that happens when organisations that are set up as charitable bodies to build for rent for those in need are forced or cajoled to carry out a function for which they were not designed. I refer to selling houses to sitting tenants, building houses for sale and becoming involved in equity sharing schemes.

Merseyside Improved Houses has become involved in building prestige flats. There is growing concern whether MIH will be able to sell the prestige flats that it has been building in the past year in Formby, next to my constituency. Sefton, the local authority that covers my constituency, has loaned MIH over £750,000 to build the luxury block of flats. The flats in Formby are situated in Witchard Lane and consist of 28 two-bedroomed flats. The money has been lent from the capital receipts account of Sefton council. The council has kept that money from the sale of land and council houses. It hopes that the loan will be repaid when the association has sold the leases on those flats to those over retirement age.

I am referring to a charitable housing association that is supposed to be meeting need. The publicity by Ball and Percival, the estate agents handling the sale, shows that the leases are being sold at an average price of over £25,500, with public money contributing to that sale. The brochure states that the total cost of the scheme has been reduced by a Government grant of 30 per cent. Each flat is therefore being offered at 30 per cent. less than the cost of construction. It seems incredible that other developers are able to build flats more cheaply and still make a profit.

Leasehold schemes for the elderly are part of the Government's project to provide accommodation for those of retirement age. At those prices, it is certainly not accommodation for those in need. It is claimed that accommodation will be provided for those with limited financial resources who will benefit from selling a house that has become too large and expensive to maintain. The Government subsidy of 30 per cent. was meant to bring the cost of the flats to below 30 per cent. of the market value of similar accommodation in the area and therefore to provide decent accommodation for those who would otherwise be unable to afford it. That patently has not happened.

In addition to the cost of purchasing the lease, residents will be required to pay £250 each towards a sinking fund for future capital expenditure and will be required to pay the association in excess of £30 a month for running costs. Anyone who knows about the prices of property in Formby will know that £25,000 is high, even by Formby standards, and this figure is 30 per cent. less than the actual building cost. It is clear, therefore, that the cost of building each of these flats is in excess of £34,000.

A number of questions should be asked, let alone why a housing association set up to acquire, build and improve houses for rent got involved in the first place. First, will Merseyside Improved Houses be able to resell the flats and repay the money that it borrowed from Sefton ratepayers? It looks doubtful at the moment. Secondly, what is happening to the £60,000 that the association received from a London-based charity towards the cost of this scheme? Perhaps the Minister will say something about charitable moneys going towards schemes where compulsory sales are involved. Thirdly, why has it cost Merseyside Improved Houses so much to build these flats when other flats are being sold by builders in the area for less than MIH is charging, even with its 30 per cent. Government grant? Fourthly, why did Sefton council and MIH go ahead when they were told, even by the housing corporation, that the scheme was not vital? Was it pressure from the Government to become involved in such schemes because money was not being provided for building to rent?

That is just one example of how things get out of hand when charitable housing associations get involved in matters for which they were not intended. That is what the Bill will do to housing associations throughout the country. All that housing associations have been forced, against their will, to do by the Government will rebound in many areas on the housing associations and on the Government.

I believe that to some extent the housing association movement, charitable or otherwise, is part of the public rented sector, because 74 have received grants. The next Labour Government will have a duty to expand the movement's role in the traditional direction for which it was set up—the provision of accommodation to rent. To that end, the housing association movement needs to be democratised. It should be made more accountable by legislation to the tenants who rent from the housing associations and the people of the areas in which housing associations are active. Many of these housing associations are becoming large. That may be one reason for the Government's desire to force them to sell. For example, the MIH is bigger now than some of the local authorities—both in the money that it spends and in its housing activity in Merseyside. It operates in almost every district council area in Merseyside. Therefore, we need to legislate to democratise the housing association movement.

The Merseyside Improved Houses committee is a self-perpetuating oligarchy. It is not elected. Tenants have no say in who serves on it. When housing associations get large without any accountability, they become involved in unacceptable and undesirable activities.

Merseyside Improved Houses recently purchased Nos. 51 and 53 Merton Road, Bootle, from Sefton council. It plans to use the two houses to provide office accommodation for its staff in Bootle. The council sold the building to MIH for £50,000. At present the Bootle office of MIH is in Hawthorn Road, where about 20 members of staff are accommodated in extremely comfortable, fully carpeted, centrally-heated surroundings. It has spent more that £60,000 on the existing offices in Hawthorn Road during the past five years. The move to the new offices in Merton Road is part of a trend. The association has now spent more than £250,000 on its offices in Liverpool, Birkenhead and St. Helens during the past three years. When completed, its Bootle offices in Merton Road are expected to have cost more than £150,000—£50,000 to buy the properties and £100,000 to convert them into office accommodation.

Money for improving houses in the Bootle area is limited. Therefore, it is time that this aspect of the association's spending was fully investigated. What is wrong with the offices in Hawthorn Road? I go there regularly. Nothing seems to be wrong with them. How can MIH justify spending £100,000 on two houses in Merton Road, which the district valuer valued at £50,000? Will the district valuer say that the property is worth £150,000 when it is complete? I doubt that. Has MIH received Government permission to spend that money? Would not the money be better spent on Hartford Road, Field Road and the housing action areas in my constituency where MIH says that it cannot improve houses because of lack of funds? That is one example of what happens when a housing association gets large without accountability.

I am a great believer in the housing association movement and the Housing Corporation being used to ensure that houses are built for rent for people in need in areas where local authorities such as Sefton—usually Conservative-controlled—refuse to build council houses to meet the needs of those on the ever-growing waiting lists. It is because of my desire to see the housing association movement accepted by the Labour Party as an instrument of expansion of its housing programme after the next election that I have raised the subject of MIH, which in the past had a good reputation for acquiring and building properties to rent. I hope that it will get back on the right lines, and that it will not listen to the Government's pleas and blackmail to follow paths that are not part of its traditional role.

The Bill is part of a total Government strategy on housing. That was given away by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth when he talked about the private rented sector and the need for it to be revitalised. The 1980 Act was not a tenant's charter; it was a landlord's charter. It was legislation to weaken Labour Government Rent Acts, to get rid of security of tenure in subtle ways, and to allow landlords to charge more for the properties that they are renting to tenants. It was an attempt to revitalise the private rented sector. However, one can only revitalise the private rented sector by making people dependent on the private landlord, and people will be dependent on the private landlord only if they cannot gain access to one of the other sectors. So part of the strategy of pushing people on the market and depending on the private landlord is to destroy the public rented sector.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

As the hon. Gentleman referred to my speech, I want to ask him one question. When he talks about the private rented sector, does he agree that there is a role for a third arm? Those were the words that I used. Does he agree that there is a role for the building society movement? The 1980 Housing Act gave that movement the ability to provide homes to let, particularly in inner cities and dockland areas. The Abbey National building society, the Woolwich Equitable, and one or two others have done so.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

I am not aware of any private developers, building societies, or anyone else coming into inner city areas and building without a subsidy, direct or indirect, from local or central Government. In inner Liverpool, the land is being virtually given away to Wimpeys and Barratts. They are being subsidised to build houses for sale. Public subsidies are contributing to their profits. It is only when there are public subsidies or public intervention of some kind that the private sector comes near the inner city areas. It does not do so of its own volition.

I do not accept that there is a role for the third arm, if the third arm is meant to be the private landlord. I rejoice in the demise of the private landlord, and I hope that it will long continue. I believe that the next Labour Government will introduce policies to municipalise the private rented sector, so that it will slowly disappear.

An example is L. I. Reuben and Company Limited. Mr. Reuben is a large landlord. He has his offices on the third floor of Hepworth Chambers, 4 Church Street, Liverpool. He is a Rachman-type slum landlord. He lives in a mansion in Manchester, but he owns hundreds of slum properties in Merseyside, many of them in my constituency. It is scandalous that my constituents and others throughout Merseyside should suffer at the hands of this classic example of a private landlord. Mr. Reuben behaves in a fraudulent manner. He harasses tenants. He avoids his landlord's responsibilities for repair under section 32 of the Housing Act 1961, which was passed by a Conservative Government.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that I know of the case purely and simply from watching television. It was interesting that when the broadcasting authorities tried to interview him, he refused. We saw a picture of him covering his face and refusing to be interviewed. He has plenty to hide.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. What the television programme did not describe was the illegal nature of Mr. Reuben's activities and the contracts that he uses to con my constituents and others in housing need in Liverpool. The fact that people are dependent on such landlords shows what a shortage of accommodation there is on Merseyside and also illustrates the need for more council houses.

Photo of Mr Barry Porter Mr Barry Porter , Bebington and Ellesmere Port

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, I am well acquainted with the affairs and activities of Mr. Reuben. However, one must be fair to him. What he was doing was not illegal. He sold houses on a drip mortgage scheme to avoid an obligation as a landlord under the rent Acts. Is it not also fair to say that he has agreed to abandon that course of action as a result of pressure from Liverpool city council?

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Mr. Reuben's activities were illegal and contravened the 1961 and 1980 legislation. Nor do I accept that Mr. Reuben is keeping to certain undertakings which he gave to Liverpool city council. He seems to be continuing exactly as he did before—conning people into renting accommodation in the belief that they are buying it or will have the opportunity to buy some other property.

As far as I am aware, Mr. Reuben advertises in the "For rent" section of the Liverpool Echo. People go along to see him and he gives them a document, a copy of which I have here. It states: Unique opportunity to acquire a self-contained flat now and, if you want, a house in 18 months' time. Selected applicants will be granted early occupation of a self-contained flat on paying a deposit of £30, one calendar month's repayment, the appropriate administration fee of £12·50 and a certain amount for contribution towards property insurance. When 18 monthly payments have been made, or at any time thereafter, applicants have a choice of doing one of three things: they can return the keys, buy the flat or continue to buy it"— although when it comes to it they cannot—or they can move out and buy one of Mr. Reuben's houses.

Mr. Reuben then gets the applicant to sign a contract. It is that which, unlike the television programme, I consider to be illegal. It is a contract neither to purchase nor to rent. A property can be occupied under British housing legislation only by an owner, a tenant or a licensee. This is not a licence, so it is either a contract to purchase or a contract to rent. If it is a contract to purchase, the purchaser can deal with the property as his own in law, subject only to paying the purchase price as and when the instalments are due. All the clauses here about liability for repairs, which Mr. Reuben uses as a means of getting applicants to pay more money, even making them liable on eviction, are illegal.

If this is a rental agreement, the premium that is being sought is illegal under the Housing Act 1980. In any case, under this contract a vendor cannot in law impose conditions as to guarantors, which is what happens. If it is a contract it is defective because it refers to restrictive covenants which are not identified.

In clause 5 of the contract a premium is again demanded under the guise of an insurance premium of £150 per annum. That is illegal under the Housing Act. It is defective in other ways because it calls upon the purchaser to keep the property in good order and to leave it so on any cancellation of the contract. However, the contract cannot be cancelled; only set aside. It is an illegal contract. My advice to people who are being conned by Mr. Reuben is to take action under the housing Acts.

I have here the kind of letter that Mr. Reuben writes to tenants and ex-tenants. This is how he deals with them. It reads like one of Joe Maplin's letters to his holiday camp manager. The letter is from L. I. Reuben and Company Limited and it reads: Dear Sirs,We acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 25th June 1982 and having read the contents we wish to state here and now in the vernacular that you are not on. You have seen all the letters we have written to you so your letter of the 25th June in our opinion is from a stupid person or a devious one". That devious or stupid person has just been conned out of hundreds or thousands of pounds by Mr. Reuben.

Please read the following very slowly, with a ruler if needed. 1. Keys were never handed in. 2. Notice to quit was never accepted. Mr. Reuben had no intention of issuing a notice to quit. 3. The flat still contains furniture. We refer to our letter of 22nd June 1982, paragraph 2, which is reproduced for slow readers: PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT UNTIL SUCH TIME AS WE GET VACANT POSSESSION OF THE FLAT AND INDEED ACCEPT VACANT POSSESSION OF THE FLAT YOUR CLIENT REMAINS LIABLE FOR ANY VANDALISM THAT OCCURS."

There has been evidence that some of the vandalism has been carried out by Mr. Reuben's "heavies" after tenants have moved out, in order to increase their bill. The letter said: The matter is now in the hands of our solicitors". That letter is signed by L. I. Reuben and Company Ltd.

That is the kind of thing that goes on in the private rented sector yet the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter) had the audacity to talk about the unacceptability of public landlords. That sector is full of such people although perhaps not quite so bad. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) referred to a man who has just emerged in my constituency, renting properties and exploiting people.

The next Labour Government must reverse the Government's policies. We must stop the exploitation of people by private landlords. We must stop believing that property is something that people can invest money in and make a profit from. We must develop policies, unlike those in the Bill, which will revitalise the public rented sector and build low-rise council flats for rent. As Aneurin Bevan said, the best kind of rent control is nine people chasing 10 houses. We do not want a shortage of houses which can be exploited. We want a surplus. Labour's programme for jobs, our alternative economic strategy, requires a massive council house building and modernisation programme to get people back to work, to reflate the economy in a Socialist way and to meet housing need appropriately, without exploitation or public money being used for private gain. That is what the next Labour Government will do.

Photo of Mr Neil Thorne Mr Neil Thorne , Ilford South 7:59 pm, 23rd November 1982

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will speak on all three parts of the Bill but first on parts II and III. Therefore, I shall not immediately refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts), although I shall say a few words on the matter later.

I am a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) rightly said that that organisation is not in favour of all the proposals in parts II and III. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors does of course represent a large number of professional people who work in building control. I am not at all surprised, therefore, that they should be in favour of retaining the present arrangements rather than becoming privatised. I can assure the hon. Lady that when the Bill becomes an Act, those who are members of the Institution will ensure that it works in accordance with the will of Parliament.

If I may, I will refer to a number of points of detail. Clause 23 does not require the approved inspector to certify that the plans are correct and comply with the building regulations; that happens only if he is requested to do so by the owner of the building. That is wrong. The inspector should be required to certify the plans in the first place, because it is not unusual for owners of buildings and builders to go bankrupt during a development. When that happens, questions are raised about the refinancing of the project. If a certificate that the plans comply with the building regulations is not issued in the first place, an additional dimension will be added to the problems of redeveloping a site.

We all know of the anguish caused to adjoining owners and to the public generally when they see a building site half completed and left, on occasion, for many years. I have such a site in my constituency which has been half completed for about 15 years. I can assure my hon. Friend the Minister that it causes a great deal of annoyance to everyone involved, not least the adjoining shop owners who find great difficulty in overcoming the problem caused by a void area in the middle of a shopping parade. It would be wrong to allow that to be supported by the Bill, as it would if it did not require the inspector to certify that the plans complied with byelaws at the outset.

My second point concerns clause 34, which provides that the Secretary of State has power to approve and issue any document (whether or not prepared by him or by the body concerned) … At the moment, a number of bodies, including the British Standards Institution, can certify certain building materials. Although some of us may not always agree with the way in which this body proceeds, it is highly reputable and does a conscientious job. The belief that there could be a large number of other organisations—perhaps development associations for bricks, timber or something similar, which might in future acquire some authority to lay down rules and regulations which would be adopted by the Minister without further ado—causes concern in the profession. Such a position could raise a conflict of interest.

As the Government have been anxious to avoid conflicts of interest in other Bills, I hope that they will examine this matter carefully and will not proceed in this way without limiting such bodies most severely. A producers' organisation is not necessarily in the best position to give impartial advice on what the public should accept in the way of its products.

Clause 35 provides that where a disagreement takes place between a local authority inspector and a building owner the matter can be referred to the Secretary of State for decision but only where the matter is in compliance with the previously approved documents. This is probably far too narrow because there may be a sound reason for alterations to an existing proposal. It would be wrong if the Secretary of State were not in a position to decide the issue purely and simply on this technicality but it is important that he should be prepared to listen to any proposal that stems from a disagreement between the building owner and the local authority over the implementation of byelaws. I know that my right hon. Friend is anxious to reduce the work load on his Department by every possible means, but I am convinced that this proposal will raise more problems than it will solve. It should be considered carefully before a decision is made.

Under clause 38 the Secretary of State is required to consult the Building Regulations Advisory Committee. I understand that that consultation would be only on matters of a technical nature. However, the committee would be concerned about administrative and other matters as well as technical issues. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider this provision before the Bill is enacted. It is clear that there is a need to consult people of this calibre on these issues and not merely on narrow technical points.

I turn my attention to part I of the Bill. I agree very much with what my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) said about shared ownership. He suggested that it will be too restrictive if we start with the 50 per cent. provision. I also hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the possibility of starting with 25 per cent. There are many who would very much like to own their own property. Labour Members have been making much of the claim that ownership of property does not necessarily increase the overall stock. I do not agree with them. In my experience, when people own their own property they considerably lengthen the life of the property.

That is an important aspect of owner-occupation. Apart from increasing the housing stock, it is important to recognise the need to increase the life of properties so that the resources that are available can be used to build elsewhere. Therefore, it is important to have as many owner-occupiers as possible. The 50 per cent. requirement seems unduly restrictive. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will reconsider the issue and accept 25 per cent. as the starting point.

Labour Members still seem to believe that home ownership should be restricted to those who are especially affluent. This is entirely the wrong policy. The hon. Member for Bolton, West responded to my earlier intervention by saying that she believed that everyone occupying a council house should fall into the category of being poor. We have fewer than 20 million houses in Britain, of which more than 6 million are council houses. This tends to put about 15 million people into what she would consider as the poor category.

That is not fair and reasonable. Undoubtedly all these properties—those which have been built for local authorities and those built by housing associations originally for poorer people with the use of public money—should be available for purchase as those people become more affluent. The simple reason is that there is no mechanism available for turning people out of the property that they occupy. If Opposition Members were to argue that when council tenants reach a certain income—for example, the average wage of manual workers—they must leave their council houses or housing association premises and make provision for themselves, their case might be more forceful, but I have heard no Opposition Members use that argument tonight.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

Is the hon. Member aware that, because of Government policy on rent increases and the unrestricted amount of tax relief that owner-occupiers enjoy, the opposite is true? Owner-occupiers are subsidised more than council tenants. If the hon. Gentleman is worried about those who live in subsidised houses, he should advocate that people move out of owner-occupied houses, and into council houses that are not subsidised and leave owner-occupied dwellings to those who cannot afford to rent from the council.

Photo of Mr Neil Thorne Mr Neil Thorne , Ilford South

The hon. Member is wrong to say that there is no limit to tax relief allowances. There is a limit of £25,000 that many people believe should be raised. Furthermore, he does not fully understand that, whether or not a person pays a rent that is commensurate with the property that he is renting or whether he is buying a property, he desires to buy it because he wishes to make a contribution towards its maintenance and future use. Whether a person owns an interest in his property is of great importance to him. It is unusual for tenants to take as much interest in a property as an owner-occupier. One need only visit a council estate to see the way in which people who have invested in their own future have lavished time and money on their accommodation.

I welcome private ownership, and I hope that it will be enlarged again in the future. There is nothing wrong with private ownership. I applaud the fact that people now have a wonderful opportunity under the present Government to purchase their property at a discount, which takes into account the fact that the property has been let and is not with vacant possession.

Opposition Members have already asked whether properties in the private sector should be sold with discounts. Obviously the Opposition do not realise that owners have been selling their properties to their tenants for years and invariably give discounts to their tenants similar to those given by local authorities. In addition, the owners do not require the resale of the property back to themselves if their tenants move out a week later. The landlord has no pre-emption rights and on most occasions he was more than pleased to get half of the open market value for the property.

During the past 20 years, landlords have been extremely willing to sell to their tenants if they receive a realistic offer. An offer of 50 per cent. of the value was not unusual. That is not unreasonable, since under existing legislation and the present system of rent control, a sitting tenant has a special advantage if he wishes to buy the property. Undoubtedly, with the present tax relief and falling interest rates, one can now buy a property at a reasonable price and thereby invest in one's future without paying more than one pays in rent. Of course, one must take on the additional responsibility of maintaining the premises, but the Government should encourage such investment as much as possible because it will preserve the nation's accommodation. If we do not do that, property deteriorates.

The hon. Member for Bootle mentioned the donkey that marched past the flat on an eighth floor balcony and that was accommodated in the lift shaft at night. If that had happened in a block of flats where the majority of people owned their homes, an alternative arrangement would have been made because those people would have taken an immediate interest in the effect on the value of their property. There would have been no need to move the old lady because the other tenants would not have accepted the position. The hon. Gentleman sums up the difference in attitude between those who have a basic interest in the property that they occupy and those who believe that local or central Government should take on all their responsibilities and cares and deal with the matter on their behalf.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

The old lady who complained took an interest in her council property and looked after it very well, as did most of the other tenants in the block. However, they still did not wish to buy their flats but wished to transfer to council houses.

Photo of Mr Neil Thorne Mr Neil Thorne , Ilford South

If they used the incident to better their position and to move into council houses, that is a different matter. I assure the hon. Gentleman that many privately owned flats are well maintained. People are happy to live in them and have no desire to use any vehicle to move to a house. I question the way in which the properties are maintained, because those who live there do not have such a high personal stake as owner-occupiers. If one has a personal stake, one's attitude is different and one must ensure that the investment does not lose value because of the unnecessary and cavalier behaviour of other tenants. The Government must encourage the sale of council homes and are doing so.

The ownership of flats and houses and their purchase from housing associations is important. A technical point that I wish to get out of the way now is the sale of local authority and housing association flats that have 50 years to run on the lease. For houses the term is 22 years. What happens at the end of that time? I am not sure whether my hon. Friend believes that the much shorter 22 years for a house is acceptable whereas 50 years is required for a flat because the leaseholder may then be eligible, under the Leasehold Reform Act, to purchase the freehold. If that is his intention, I fully support the proposal. If, however, that is not the thinking behind the measure, it must be further examined, because if the occupier wishes to sell the premises he may find that only 10 or 15 years remain on the lease. That would raise problems with mortgages and the maintenance of the property, because the person who is interested in purchasing a property for cash will do so only on a short-term basis and the area would deteriorate quickly. That is contrary to the Government's intentions on the matter and I hope that my hon. Friend can reassure us.

The 50 years for flats is itself short. I know that there are problems about extending the Leasehold Reform Act to flats, but I hope that something can be done to reassure people here as well, because 50 years does not leave a great deal of time. If a mortgage runs for 20 or 25 years of that, the lease will then become very thin. I hope, therefore, that some comment can be made on what is likely to happen at the end of that period.

I especially welcome this part of the Bill as in an Adjournment debate on 19 April this year I raised the case of Mr. and Mrs. J. Reed of 135 Thorold Road in my constituency. Mr. and Mrs. Reed were on the council waiting list for many years, hoping to be able to obtain a council house. Unfortunately, as they had no children, their priority was not high and they had no immediate prospects of securing such accommodation.

The local authority—the London borough of Redbridge—had always been anxious not to create a vast council estate that would take over the whole area as it felt that it was important to have other forms of tenure. It was anxious that it should encourage as many owner-occupiers as possible, for the reasons that I have already given. It also felt that people who could not purchase could go some way in that direction by becoming tenants of a housing association. The borough and the Housing Corporation therefore lent money to various housing associations with a view to providing accommodation as an alternative to council housing or purchasing in the private sector.

At the last general election, the Conservative manifesto made it clear that the Conservatives proposed as soon as possible to give the right to buy to council tenants and tenants of housing associations. That was a matter for great rejoicing by many people, not least my constituents. Mr. and Mrs. Reed had been extremely conscientious tenants. Unlike so many, they had spent a good deal of money on the premises that they occupied. I believe that they invested considerably more than £2,000 some time ago on improvements such as double glazing. That was to the benefit of the property as a whole. It was also a further reason why they were especially pleased when they heard of the Conservative proposal and overjoyed when the Conservative Government were returned in 1979.

It was extremely upsetting for Mr. and Mrs. Reed then to find that they could not purchase their home under the 1980 Act because they were tenants of a housing association which, although it was not a charity, operated under the charitable rules. Naturally, they hoped that things would be sorted out as soon as possible so that they would have the opportunity to purchase the property, I expressed their anxiety during my Adjournment debate, and since then I have had further discussions with Ministers.

I had hoped that in this Bill we should have the answer to their problems because they were tenants of a housing association with charitable status. They moved into their accommodation in 1970 and became tenants of the Trinity housing association which has now been taken over by the East London housing association. That puts a different complexion upon it. I understand that the automatic right to purchase is being given only to those people who have moved into accommodation which was purchased by housing associations after 1974.

It would be wrong to exclude those people who are living in accommodation, purchased with money provided by the local authority and the Housing Corporation, whenever that purchase was made. The Government's intention always has been that those people who wish to purchase their property should be enabled to do so provided that the funds came largely from the public exchequer. In this case the money was provided by both national and local government exchequer in the main, and therefore I hope that the Minister can assure me that the provision will apply also to my constituents. I can see no difference between their position and that of those who occupy accommodation built after 1974.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

(Mr. Bernard Weatherill): Order. The Front Bench spokesmen wish to start their speeches at 10 minutes past nine. Four hon. Members have been waiting most of the day. Will those hon. Members bear that in mind when they make their speeches?

Photo of Mr John Cartwright Mr John Cartwright , Greenwich Woolwich East 8:27 pm, 23rd November 1982

I agree with the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) that owner-occupiers invest a great deal of time, effort and cash in looking after their homes. Owner-occupation is an important and attractive tenure for many people. However, we should recognise that it is not possible for everyone to be an owner-occupier. I wish that some hon. Members opposite would display a little interest in those people who will never be able to buy their own home.

The right-to-buy principle has caused a good deal of excitement in the House. I voted against the 1980 legislation, not because I had any ideological hang-ups about selling council houses, but because I objected to the principle of compulsion. In an ideal world the sale of council houses would be a matter for local decision. The position varies from area to area, and while it makes perfect sense to sell council property in some areas it may be a disastrous policy in others.

Before we had this continual party dog fight, it was something that was looked at on merit. There were always Labour councils that sold council houses and some very prominent members of the Labour Party took advantage of that. A former member of the Tribune group in the House was one of those who did. There have been Tory councils that did not sell because they did not believe it to be in the interests of ratepayers. Unfortunately, the issue has now become completely politicised and is not judged on its merits. Conservatives will sell; Labour will refuse overwhelmingly to sell.

I do not believe therefore that we can go back to local decision. We must retain the right-to-buy legislation but with a number of changes. I should like to see a provision that enabled a local authority in a housing stress area to seek a suspension of the right to buy for a limited period if evidence could be produced that sales would adversely affect housing in its area. Our present blanket arrangements need some flexibility. Equally, I want to see an increase in the supply of rented housing from sources other than local authorities—in particular, from sources trying to attract institutional investments. We must reduce the current dangerous polarisation between owner-occupation and local authority renting.

As there is a general right to buy, it ought to be applied as fairly as possible. We all know that practical problems have arisen from the 1980 legislation. Some intending purchasers are unreasonably excluded, others who have the right to buy are unfairly treated by the procedure. I welcome those parts of the Bill which seek to sort out the anomalies.

I welcome the provisions in clause 1 relating to the tenants of leasehold properties. I accept that practical problems are associated with those provisions, but they are right in principle.

I give a more cautious welcome to the shared ownership lease principle. Part buying and part renting can bring owner-occupation within the grasp of lower income families. This has a considerable part to play in the private housing market, particularly when used by housing associations. I have no objection in principle to using this provision in the purchase of council houses, but as the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) reminded us, it will clearly add to the administrative problems in housing departments. It will raise a number of complex issues, especially when district heating systems and arrangements for other services are considered.

I fear that this will be a happy hunting ground for local authorities that are reluctant to see the provision work. It will need determined tenants to achieve shared purchase in some local authority areas.

I wish to concentrate my remarks on clause 5 and schedule 3, which deal with service charges. To begin with, I should like to comment on the tactics employed by the London borough of Greenwich. Greenwich, under Labour control, has done all that it possibly can to deter tenants from buying their homes. First, there was the traditional delay in processing the applications. Once that was out of the way, there was a denial of any programmed decorations or anything but essential repairs for tenants who had the effrontery to submit a right-to-buy application. From then on, their decoration and repair applications were blacklisted.

There was also the delightful idea that the council would refuse to sell the garage to anyone who brought a council house. Even when the garage was in the garden of the property, the council tried not to sell it. It has now been argued out of that, but the council is refusing to sell garages that are not within the curtilage of the property being sold.

Tenants who buy their houses find that after many years of renting a garage they cannot continue to do so. They are then placed at the back of the queue and are in the ridiculous situation of seeing the garage that they have given up stand empty for months while the council tries to let it to someone else.

Those pressures have been applied not against property speculators, developers or Rachman-like landlords, but against ordinary working people, many of whom have been Labour voters or Labour Party members all their life. Those are the people who are being victimised by the London borough of Greenwich. The problem came to a head over the selling of flats and maisonettes. Labour Members argue with considerable justice that the policy of selling will cream off some of the best houses and the local authority will be left with the undesirable flats and maisonettes.

Why, then, did the London borough of Greenwich not leap at the prospect of selling flats and maisonettes? Initially, it said that it would love to do so but could not because there was no agreement on service charges. It said that the local authority associations were involved in negotiation with the Department of the Environment about service charges. We discovered that that was untrue.

The council then said that it would love to sell, but unfortunately could not find a way through the practical problems of dealing with the lease and the service charges. We pointed out that neighbouring authorities had solved those problems and were selling. The council then agreed to sell. It started to process applications in the spring of this year. Potential buyers of flats and maisonettes were shocked by the level of service charges for which the council asked. I shall give examples of those first year charges.

For a two-bedroomed maisonette in Abbey Wood for the year in which external decoration falls, the service charge is £523 a year. That falls to £173 in years when external decorations do not take place. A two-bedroomed flat in beautiful downtown Plumstead would cost £608 in a year when decorations are due and £258 in other years. A two-bedroomed flat in Charlton would cost £1,989 a year when decorations take place and £1,639 when they do not.

The height of stupidity was reached with regard to the Rockmount estate in Plumstead. This is mainly 10-storey blocks of two-bedroomed flats. The council said that it thought that the service charge on those flats would be about £3,500 a year. Those are only the first year charges. They are payable in advance on completion and would rise annually, as the council points out.

Taking on that type of commitment would put tenants in jeopardy for the rest of their lives. They would have tremendous difficulty reselling their flat or maisonette with that type of millstone around their necks.

It is not surprising that intending purchasers have been forced to back out. They were not trying to cream off the most desirable properties. They were merely trying to buy flats and maisonettes in not particularly sought after areas.

We then tried to find out the details of the service charges. We discovered after much hard work—the details were not volunteered by the local authority—that some elements of the service charges were doubtful. Some people were being asked to pay service charges for facilities that they had never used and, in some cases, did not even know existed. They included laundries and play areas a long way from where they lived. They were also to be charged for services that are used by the general public—estate roads, amenity greens, community centres, and even street lighting. Those are examples of facilities that intending purchasers were asked to pay for if they had the temerity to try to buy council property.

Some of those problems also affect those who are trying to buy houses. The charges are not so large, but people are still having difficulty in finding out the details. In many cases, they are not discovering the full impact of the service charge until just before the sale is completed.

I therefore welcome clause 5 and schedule 3, which are aimed at limiting the extent of the charges to what is reasonable in terms of cost. They also provide a basic right of information.

I return to the point that I made during the Secretary of State's speech. I asked how real would be the protection for those who succeeded in purchasing property. Who will decide what is a reasonable charge? Who will settle what is a reasonable standard of work for which the owner-occupiers must pay? I hope that the Minister will not tell us that action in the county court will settle those matters. We are discussing ordinary council tenants who do not have the resources to take on a powerful local authority in the courts.

I shall now comment on clause 2, which deals with charitable housing associations. Like other hon. Members, I declare my interest as a former member of the board of management of the London and Quadrant housing trust. I am still a shareholder in that trust. I strongly object to what is proposed in clause 2. Housing associations are voluntary bodies, not Government agencies that may be instructed. The fact that they receive Government grants does not alter that position. As other hon. Members have pointed out, private landlords receive grants, yet they will not be faced with their tenants having the right to buy.

Moreover, there is a legal duty on charities to get the best possible price for any assets that they sell. It is for the charities themselves to decide whether such a sale is beneficial. The Government are creating an extremely dangerous precedent by forcing sales that are against the wishes of the charity—and at substantial discounts.

Most important of all, there is an urgent need for more choice in the availability of rented accommodation. We should provide more sources than merely local authorities for rented housing, especially in large cities. That is where charitable housing associations have some valuable property. The Notting Hill housing trust, the Peabody trust, the Battersea Churches housing trust and many others provide vital housing stock in stress areas. All are under threat as a result of this legislation. This clause is a retrograde step. It is not justified on the basis of the facts. It is based purely on political dogma. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have put down an Instruction to the Committee on this part of the Bill. We shall do our best to remove this clause in Committee.

I agree with those hon. Members who say that the Bill is largely irrelevant to the major housing problems. It is no answer to the fact that we are not building sufficient new homes to meet the growing need. Nor is it any answer to the fact that the existing housing stock is deteriorating to a worrying degree. It will not help to provide sufficient choice in rented housing. However, with the one glaring exception of the threat to charitable associations in clause 2, the Bill is not positively harmful. It will do some good in dealing with anomalies. It merits unenthusiastic support. That is what I propose to give it.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Greenwich Woolwich West 8:41 pm, 23rd November 1982

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), although I cannot support his objections to certain parts of the Bill. Many of my constituents also suffer severely under the policies of the obnoxious Greenwich council majority group. No longer can it be claimed that the Greenwich council is serving its people in the manner that it did when the hon. Member for Woolwich, East was its leader or even when Arthur Capelin served as leader until earlier this year.

The present Greenwich Labour group is doing its best to trample ordinary people into the ground, even to the extent that it has been criticised by Ken Livingstone. I talked to Ken Livingstone during a debate at the Cambridge Union a few days ago. I put to him the case of a 47-year-old man who, for the past 20 years, has been looking after his mother in their council house. They had voluntarily given up a four-bedroom home to move into a two-bedroom house 14 years ago. The council had therefore obtained 28 bedroom years, if I may use my own jargon.

As soon as the mother died Greenwich council said that the man must be compulsorily moved. I believe that the council took that harsh and unfeeling attitude because the mother and son together had applied to buy and the council had not responded within the four weeks, which is the requirement under the Housing Act 1980. The case has since been pursued in the county court.

I do not wish to argue the merits because the judgment is not yet known. If care in the community means anything, it means encouraging people to accept family responsibilities and to keep elderly people in their own homes. they should not be penalised by an instruction to move when they have spent many years—in some cases 20 years—helping their families. Ken Livingstone condemned the action. I. condemn it. I hope that Greenwich council will reverse its policy as soon as possible whatever the outcome of the court case.

Another constituent, a woman of 57, has received similar treatment. It is the sort of behaviour that we have come to expect of Greenwich council. The sooner the council changes its ways or is curtailed by the law the better. I shall look forward, if I serve on the Committee, to pressing my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench to do more to make clear our intention under the 1980 Act.

I have as many examples as the hon. Member for Woolwich, East of the behaviour of Greenwich council. A tenant was told that he could not buy his garage and therefore applied to the council for permission to construct a garage in the garden. In giving permission, Greenwich council said that the cost would be £1,000. That sort of behaviour strikes me as unreasonable. I shall be interested to discover if any Labour Member supports Greenwich council in what it has done.

I shall not enter into the argument about whether it is right that councils should be required to sell. In a borough that is built up, there is no way in which the tenants of Greenwich can share in the general movement towards owner-occupation without using compulsory powers making local authorities agree to voluntary purchase by people of their council homes.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, East talked about service charges. In my constituency there are many cottage estates. We hope that they will be mixed in ownership as well as in residence. People got council houses because they were in need. Since then the financial circumstances or family circumstances of many of them have changed and many choose to buy. When they try to do so they discover that Greenwich council is charging them for the use of launderettes that are open to everyone and are not confined to people on the estate and that they are asked to pay for the upkeep of greens when, until the council took that attitude, it had been assumed by everyone that the cost of maintaining such facilities was borne on the rates.

If Greenwich has a claim, I hope that the Bill will dispose of it. If not, I shall table amendments and I shall try to persuade my hon. Friends to accept them. If the charges were previously carried on the rates, the council does not have the right to impose them now. The council does not have the right to require someone who lives on the ground floor or in a ground floor and first floor maisonette to have the outside of his home redecorated by the council. That is unnecessary when a man could do it himself, using a ladder.

Greenwich is one of the worst local authorities in the country. Its actions are at variance with the wishes of individual members of the Labour Party. I suspect that they are at variance with the wishes of most Labour members of Greenwich council. It is time to do something about that.

Photo of Mr Joseph Dean Mr Joseph Dean , Leeds West

Who voted for them?

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Greenwich Woolwich West

It is right that we should take legislative action. I shall follow up the point that was made by the Opposition Whip, the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean), who is now consulting his diary after talking more than he is supposed to. He asked who elected those people. The answer is that few people support them.

Those who are members of the Labour Party in Woolwich, West should do two things. First they should find out from individual Labour councillors why they are taking their present attitude and why they appear to hate ordinary tenants who want to exercise the normal ambition of owning their own home. If they find that the local Labour Party will pay no attention to them, they should then stop paying contributions to the Labour Party and, if they are members of a trade union, they could contract out of paying the political levy and join one of the alternative parties that wants to make sure that the people of Greenwich have a chance of owning their own homes.

I shall give one example of people who want to own their own homes. A family in my constituency has a handicapped child, who can live with them. There is a reasonable chance that the child will be able to go on living in the home in which it has been brought up, in the community, and with community support, after the parents have died. The parents do not want to put the child at the risk of being compulsorily transferred by Greenwich council. We have seen examples of people who are hale and hearty suffering from the threat of being moved. For good reasons those parents want to continue living in their own home. They want to own it so that they can leave it to their child without let or hindrance, by making sure that the major costs for the house have been paid. However, Greenwich council takes the attitude that it will not go along with those ordinary wishes.

Many other things could be said about Greenwich council. I think that it would be a good idea if I were on the Committee. I warn my hon. Friend the Minister that we have not gone far enough. We have not gone far enough on the matter of secure tenants who move into short-life accommodation because they want a larger home and then go back to ordinary council housing. The Bill does not account for the time in between when they are living in what is supposed to be short-life accommodation. That period could be 10 years. So many anomalies need to be dealt with when we are dealing with a council such as Greenwich.

I hope that when Labour Members come to speak on Committee they will have the guts to stand up and condemn their political colleagues on Greenwich council for doing things that no reasonable person could justify. Greenwich council has not tried to justify anything that it has done. It has just said that it opposes what is going on.

There is one small point that is not covered by the Bill, and is not likely to be. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said a short time ago that she would make no adjustments to mortgage relief while she was First Lord of the Treasury. It is important that she changes her mind. It is important that we concentrate housing help at the time that it is needed, both in terms of mortgage interest relief and of provision of council homes, and that we try to have a system to help council tenants to buy their own homes, if they can afford to do so. People who are owner-occupiers, having received their first mortgage, should have a system that encourages them to pay off as soon as they can. We need to get away from the system that gives greater housing help under mortgage relief to those who are higher paid and receiving relief at the higher rate of tax.

It may be thought politically unacceptable to say that, but I have said it many times in the House—if one wants to keep a secret one has only to say it in the House—and I shall go on saying it. I hope that I can persuade my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to change her mind rather than having to give up her position before I am successful in my battle.

Photo of Mr Jock Stallard Mr Jock Stallard , Camden St Pancras North 8:52 pm, 23rd November 1982

I listened attentively to the Secretary of State and, apart from one short break, I have been present throughout the whole debate. I confess that I have become more and more depressed as the evening has worn on by what I have heard.

The Bill is probably the Secretary of State's and the Government's last chance to say anything important about the worsening state of our housing stock, both public and private, and to announce plans to do something about it before the general election. However, I am afraid that they must have muffed that chance. The Bill as it now stands, and the Secretary of State's opening speech, must seem to many people outside the House, as well as to my right hon. and hon. Friends, to be out of context with, and almost irrelevant to, the real issues facing those of us concerned with housing.

I have been shown today just how far away from the problems that affect thousands of people are the Secretary of State and many of his right hon. and hon. Friends. The Secretary of State said that one should get out and meet the people to see how pleased they are with the measures in the Bill. What rubbish. I constantly meet people, as most hon. Members do, and I do not know many who would share the right hon. Gentleman's feelings about the Bill. On the contrary, I find that the effect of all this talk about selling council houses and the weight behind the propaganda worries people.

In my constituency people become frightened that the more talk there is of selling more and more council houses, the longer and longer becomes the wait of those who are distressed and desperately need the only type of accommodation they will ever get. If the Secretary of State came among ordinary folk he would find that they are disgusted with, and contemptuous of, this cynical propaganda in which the Government are indulging in this and other Bills before the general election. It is almost as though the Government are writing their manifesto and, at whatever cost, are determined to give a much-needed boost to the statistics of council houses that have been sold and are up for sale.

Listening to the Secretary of State's speech, it was difficult to believe, from my long experience of London, that within a few miles radius of the House thousands of people are living in appallingly substandard conditions in what is left of the private sector—short—let properties or hard-to-let dwellings. Some are without basic amenities and others have only shared toilets and bathrooms, with all the problems which that entails. I am not aware of any desire on the part of those tenants to waste their money on buying their hovels. There is no clamour from them to buy these substandard properties.

However, these properties need improvements. If anything, the Bill could have made provision for improving the standards of housing of these tenants if the Government were serious about tackling the problems. Many people are homeless. Families are homeless. As the housing stock rapidly deteriorates and as unemployment increases, the homeless figures also increase, particularly in inner London as more and more people come to the capital seeking work.

The more fortunate of these people are living in bed and breakfast accommodation—like refugee camps—until such time as the resource-starved local authorities can help them. The time taken to give such help is becoming longer and longer as resources become smaller and smaller and the problems become bigger and bigger. To suggest that we should speak to the people and find out how delighted they are with the Government's housing policy is a travesty of the facts, as most of us know from our constituencies.

Only yesterday, I received a letter and a pamphlet that pointed out the extent of condensation and damp in our housing stock. The pamphlet's authors estimate that 2 million post-war dwellings are seriously affected by condensation. That figure does not take account of pre-war dwellings or conversions, so the true figure must be much higher than that. The problem is not being treated at all—let alone as urgently as it should be. The Bill could have contained provisions that gave assistance to local authorities and others to tackle that problem.

I had hoped that the building control provisions and the regulations to be introduced could be extended to tackle the problem. I understand that all hon. Members received the pamphlet, which contains examples of problems in fairly new dwellings. In one London borough I understand that the houses are only sever years old. Houses now stand empty and boarded up because they have been rendered uninhabitable through condensation and damp. The situation is becoming worse and should be given high priority.

I hope that the Secretary of State will have another think about extending existing clauses, or introducing new clauses or regulations to deal with the urgent crisis in large hostels. That point has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor). Not five miles from the House, hon. Members will find Arlington House, which is a huge hostel with 1,066 beds. In a recent report it was described as the largest and worst slum in Camden. Men live in cubicles 5ft by 7ft—35 sq ft. As has been said, they live like battery chickens. The local authority's minimum standard is 70 sq ft. The controlling company, Rowton Hotels, has made substantial profits from the miserable circumstances of its tenants and has used the bulk of its profits to invest not in better hostels but in more expensive hotels.

According to the figures that I have received, Arlington House generated pre-tax profits in 1981 of £280,000 on a turnover of £860,000, and £350 was ploughed back into improvements. In the past 11 weeks, workers at that establishment have been on strike for more wages. They are also residents in the hostel. They earn the princely sum of £26 for a 48-hour week, excluding the cubicle and the cost of some food. I should add that food in that hostel is sometimes dearer than the food sold in the House. Those who can least afford it are expected to buy it.

The employers have reacted by sacking the strikers and taking them to court for possession of the cubicles. Needless to say, they have gained the necessary court permission and the whole panoply of State machinery—the police, the bailiffs, the Black Marias and so on—are being assembled to evict 40 men later this week, without any regard to the consequences for them but as a warning to those who dare to ask for more in that Dickensian institution. The owners have also intimated their intention to quit the hostel business, thus creating more misery and uncertainly where it can least be endured. I know that they will want to get out, because the business is no longer profitable. The place is in such a mess and needs so much money to put it right that they want to slide out and leave the problem to someone else. There is no more profit in it for them.

I am worried about the condition of the hostel and the men who live there. I am not aware of any clamour by the residents of the hostel to buy their cubicles. Nor am I aware of any provision in the Bill that would allow them to do so, although I should not be surprised if someone were to suggest one in Committee. I am aware, however, of the urgent need for the Government to intervene and to provide money to assist local authorities and housing associations to buy these hostels, so that a properly planned, phased programme of improvement, replacement and adjustment to densities can take place. That is what I want. I would invert the process and allow housing associations to buy large as well as small hostels, because they and the local authorities are the only bodies which can manage this type of accommodation.

I want the Minister to tackle one other matter before the Bill goes to Committee, and that is the need for the enactment and enforcement of stricter standards of fire precautions, repairs and amenities in houses in multiple occupation. The subject was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West in opening the debate from the Opposition Front Bench. I am aware of the Minister's appreciation and understanding of the problem and of the steps that he has already taken, but we are entitled to demand that he takes the opportunity afforded by the Bill to improve still further the regulations governing these matters. He will know that the limitations of size—at present 500 square metres—cover only the large hostels, and that many of the fire tragedies in recent years have occurred in smaller units not covered by regulations.

The Minister will know, too, from previous debates on this subject, that 52 people died in recent years in houses in multiple occupation as a result of fires, and hundreds more have been rendered homeless. We need legislation now to impose higher standards of fire safety, prevention of overcrowding, enforcement of repairs and adequate standards of amenity and management in all multiple-occupied premises. That would have been a perfectly good reason for introducing a housing Bill at this stage. Such provisions could still be included in this Bill between now and the Committee stage. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will respond favourably to my proposals and bring forward, before the Committee stage, suitable Government amendments to deal with the problems that I have mentioned.

Photo of Mr Robert Litherland Mr Robert Litherland , Manchester Central 9:02 pm, 23rd November 1982

I shall be as brief as I can in the short time that is available.

In opening, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) told us what it was all about. The sale of housing association accommodation should not surprise us. It is a dogmatic approach and a progression of the Government's policy to hive off the lucrative sections of public housing in their quest for privatisation. No public asset is safe from their clutches. The process will continue, and it should not surprise us.

The Government's gluttony towards public assets is insatiable. The sale of council houses was the Government's attempt to buy the votes of council tenants by offering the best in public housing at giveaway prices. The private sector has failed miserably to meet the housing needs of people, especially in inner city areas. This latest extension of the Government's policy, which will affect the housing associations, is an admission of defeat.

The Government's housing policy has been a disaster, as has been already said in this debate. They have the worst house building record since the mid-twenties, while thousands of construction workers languish on the dole, and millions of house-building bricks are stockpiled and remain unused, and thousands wait on waiting lists throughout the country. The Bill will not provide one extra home. It is just another gimmick at the expense of the people who desperately need homes, as housing waiting lists continue to grow, and hopes of decent accommodation diminish.

The housing associations in Manchester have complemented local authority housing at a time when people cannot afford to buy. It is all right for the Government to say that interest and mortgage rates are coming down, but that is not the real question. It is the purhasing power that controls the market. With 4 million people unemployed, the purchasing power is not available. The Bill will be detrimental to such people's aspirations as more houses are taken out of the rent pool.

In my constituency there is an estate built by a company in the Bison Group, Northern Concrete Ltd. It is a system-built package deal—a monstrosity with a deck access design built only 11 years ago. Three weeks ago the city council brought in the demolition squad and it is now being demolished. There are 1,000 jerry-built, damp-ridden flats which have been a disaster and a scandal. They were a sheer waste of the tax payers' and ratepayers' money. We have not sold one dwelling on that estate. A thousand families must be rehoused, adding to the strain on Manchester city council's waiting list. The housing associations will assist the Manchester city council to alleviate that problem. Any reduction in their stock of rented property will only add to the problem.

Conservative Members have talked about inner city areas having no soul because of a lack of financial interest. They live in cloud-cuckoo-land. The people in my inner city area are not all Members of Parliament, consultants or professional people. There are about 30 per cent. unemployed. My advice bureau is full of people on social security. Those people cannot buy houses and it is they who need rented accommodation.

We have built such people a new Jerusalem, the maisonette land and so on. Now it is falling round their shoulders. We want proper traditional housing in bricks and mortar. In Manchester, the best houses that have been built by direct works are now subsidising the system-built rubbish that is falling down. The estate at Wellington Street, Beswick, is one reason why the Bill should be opposed.

Housing on that estate is inadequate and nobody in their right senses would purchase such dwellings. Living in them denies them that opportunity, and to reduce the overall housing stock by including housing association properties diminishes their chance of better housing. Who is responsible for the rapid deterioration of the estate and the latent defects? Responsibility for designing and building must ultimately lie with the designer and builder.

Much clarification of the Bill is needed. There should be further consultation with the appropriate bodies before changing to a system of private certification. The Royal Institute of British Architects considers it essential that the law on liability for latent defect should be amended and the recast regulations made available before any recommendations relating to any form of certification can be put to its members. Therefore, the Secretary of State does not have the support of the RIBA.

The burden of liability must be clarified. It would appear that time is unlimited. How can a person be expected to underwrite for all time a building the construction and design of which he has no control over? What insurance cover would be adequate to cover the cost of major projects? Will the eventual outcome be a switch away from the expert bodies on building regulations that we know towards the insurance companies? It would be a brave independent person who took on the task of issuing certificates for a building project with liability unlimited in time. Some areas of the Bill require greater study and consideration before change is envisaged. Some clauses require clarification.

The RIBA is concerned that its previous recommendations have been ignored by the Secretary of State. It recommends that suitably qualified private and professional practitioners be allowed the option to self-certify building works, whether it be in part or whole, or alterations to existing buildings. It also refers in its recommendations to suitable insurance. Here again, there is an element of doubt.

I shall give, for example, the hypothetical case of an architect who has worked all his life in the public sector, possibly with a local authority, and is due to retire. He may feel that he would welcome the opportunity to do certification work, as he is a suitably qualified and competent practitioner. However, at his time of life, he might feel that he should limit his involvement to five years or so—a limited time of involvement with an unlimited time of risk. How would a retiring public sector architect be able to cover the cost of a major claim? Would his successors take on the risk? Would an insurance company give him the unlimited cover?

If a disaster occurred, there should be a reasonable body which accepts liability. For an independent person to be responsible, suitable insurance would have to be provided. The Bill is extremely vague on this point. Successive public health legislation has made the building control system rather cumbersome. If change is to be made, greater thought and consultation must take place.

Photo of Mr Edward Graham Mr Edward Graham , Enfield Edmonton 9:11 pm, 23rd November 1982

I regret very much that time did not allow my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Hogg) to contribute to the debate. He sat through the debate from its beginning. It is evidence of the interest of both sides of the House that, unfortunately, he was squeezed out at the end.

I begin by commenting briefly on the speech of the Secretary of State, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard). The Secretary of State invited Labour Members to go outside among the people and talk to them in the real world. He said that a social revolution was going on that, apparently, Labour Members had not seen. Credentials have been paraded publicly and honourably from both sides of the House. Opposition Members have declared interests nothing greater than membership of housing associations or the fact that they are owner-occupiers or involved in housing. Conservative Members have declared their interests as architects, as estate agents, as members of development companies, as members of the Conservative Central Office at some time in the past, as directors of house building associations and as surveyors. A variety of qualifications have been paraded during the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor), in a forceful and successful speech, exposed substantially the yawning gaps which have been revealed in the Bill during the debate. It has been mentioned time after time, not only by Labour Members but by Conservative Members, that elements of the Bill have not been thought through. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West dealt effectively with the attempts of Conservative Members to deride the genuine concern of Labour Members for those in housing need and for public safety.

We cannot divorce the thrust of the Government's intentions in the Bill from their broad philosophy and strategy across the whole area of housing endeavour. Historians will look back on the case made out for the Bill in the present housing crisis as a joke in the worst possible taste. It fails completely to measure up to the needs of the people. It sets out to give those who already enjoy a home and a good landlord, or a good landlord-tenant relationship, the opportunity of a free gift—the accrued and enhanced equity of the home in which they live—even though this has been created by others as well as themselves. The Bill chooses to do this at a time when there are millions of families in desperate housing need. They have been made to suffer as a result of the Government's cuts and restrictions.

The second Tory housing goal in the Bill is a continued attack on the public service. The first part of the Bill seeks to promote and encourage greed. The second part seeks to reward those in the private sector who profess to have an interest in the health and safety of those who occupy a building or who pass by a building. In reality, their prime interest is to make money out of the building to the detriment of long-standing, well-tested and respected procedures.

The Bill has been foisted on the House and the country but it has been shown to be unloved and unwanted. It has been insufficiently thought through and it is a monument to a cynical disregard for advice that has been tendered. That advice has been ignored or emasculated and tendered as consultation.

The housing association movement, for cogent reasons, is greatly distressed by these proposals. First, the peg used by the Secretary of State to act so destructively towards housing associations is their receipt of public funds. However, private landlords have had millions of pounds of public money to use to improve their properties. The Bill does not provide private tenants with the right to buy. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) drew attention to the hypocrisy and imbalance of the Government's policy. Housing association grants are eventually repaid so why should the Government change the rules in the middle of the game? What gave the Government the right to apply retrospective conditions?

Secondly, it is a disgrace for the Government to attack charitable housing associations. Until the introduction of the Bill, a charity has been obliged to sell its assets at the best possible price and only when disposal would be financially in its interests. I trust that the Minister will tell the House how he can square these primary objectives with provisions that force charities to sell their assets. I hope that he will recognise that charities have obligations and responsibilities in perpetuity. They act as custodians for the tenants of today and for tomorrow's homeless and disadvantaged.

I have been advised by Hackney charitable associations—the Under-Secretary and I listened with great care and concern to their representations only the other day—that in Hackney, charitable associations provide 7,000 units of low-rent accommodation to those in housing need, most of them being those in need of rehabilitation. The total stock is increased by 300 units a year. If the take-up of the right to buy is the same as the local authority right to buy, 50 per cent. of the annual output will be lost through sales in the first year after the Bill's enactment. This will mean that the associations will cease to be able to achieve a significant impact in providing accommodation of the sort that is most needed. The capacity of associations generally to offer help to those in the greatest need who are on borough waiting lists by means of nomination will be curtailed. Staffing levels will become unplannable and it is more than likely that properties bought by tenants will be in good condition and relatively maintenance-free while the rest will be left for housing associations to take up.

The London borough of Enfield has no claim to be different from many other councils. Like many other local authorities it is saddled with a Tory majority. Last month, Enfield council was told that the positon was getting worse. The housing committee reported to it: There are more applicants competing for a dwindling stock of vacancies … We are becoming almost entirely dependent on 'incidental' vacancies in the existing housing stock, now that the new programme is almost at an end. In 1979, new build in Enfield—a Tory borough under a Tory Government—was 321 and in 1982, it was 44. Vacancies from all sources in 1979 were 1,999 and in 1982 they were 1,443. The waiting list in 1979 was 5,483 and in 1982 it was 7,292—an increase of 1,809.

If I were asked by the Minister whether my interest, legislation, and public money should be consumed in ensuring that those who are already well-housed should be given the opportunity to buy, or whether time and money should be spent to those on the waiting list, I should not spend the resources on those wishing to buy council houses.

Enfield authority controls the Klinger estate in Edmonton—referred to more than once tonight—where the Tory GLC decided to sell the houses that were built for rent, with the connivance of the local Tory council. The recession caused by the Government led them to abandon the plan and now the properties will be rented.

Whatever benefit it might bring to those who decide to buy their own homes, the first part of the Bill will be a disaster for the housing association movement. I am especially worried about the effect of clause 20 onwards. The proposals in parts II and III are a grave threat to the standing and integrity of health and safety in construction terms.

Two main themes form the basis of the Government's advocacy of this part of the Bill. First, the Secretary of State is anxious to ensure high standards. Through the clause, the Secretary of State asserts that he wishes to ensure high standards and the reputation of local authority officers who will preserve high standards of integrity and a comprehensive oversight of health and safety standards. However, in pursuit of the Government's declared long-term aims to introduce self-certification, regardless of the lack of evidence to support such a policy, that part of the Bill seeks to destroy the present long-respected system.

I again ask the Minister to produce the evidence, to which he has alluded more than once in correspondence, that shows that a substantial majority favour the proposed legislation. I shall produce evidence of those who oppose the Bill and the Minister has a duty to name those who are in favour of it. To be fair to the Minister, he has not been too dismissive of the functions of local authority building inspectors. It is right that he should acknowledge their crucial role in co-ordinating a whole range of services. Local authority building control authorities do not operate in isolation. They work closely with architects, fire brigades, environmental health officers, solicitors, engineers, education, social services, planning and finance. Local authority building inspectors liaise with outside bodies, including private architects, contractors, house owners, developers, builders, the GPO and national utilities. A crucial role performed by the local authority is as a repository of local records—plans that give details of building and construction for many years, which have proved invaluable to architects, surveyors and builders. What is to replace this comprehensive service that has always been available and very useful, other than the rights or slogans of individual organisations? Where is the evidence that the present system is inflexible, time-consuming and insensitive to builders' needs?

Where is the evidence that there is an overwhelming demand for such a change? The second main theme in parts II and III is to maximise self-regulation and to extend the privatisation of public safety standards. What is at present a service for the public good will be turned into an opportunity for private profit. That response by the Tory Party to the small minority of builders and designers who do not understand the regulations and who, rather than trying to comply with them, complain of their existence, is a sell-out and a betrayal of public trust.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

Did the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) speak to any builders or designers before he decided to use such hard words?

Photo of Mr Edward Graham Mr Edward Graham , Enfield Edmonton

I do not have permission to mention their names tonight, but I have spoken to local building control officers and to local builders. They do not object to the fact that the building regulations must be amended and radically brought up to date. However, we object to the dilution of those regulations as well as the abandoning of the public to the mercy and incompetence of self-certification. We cannot sacrifice consistency of interpretation and application.

The Secretary of State called for national standards and consistent enforcement. That will never be achieved with a mixture of public bodies, private individuals, professional practices and other organisations being involved in building control. When commercial and financial pressures prevail, the Secretary of State should worry about the independence of certifiers. The only way in which safety standards can be maintained is to have a democratically accountable building control service.

As to the role assumed by the National House Building Council, although there are some complementary functions, there is little duplication. The local authority has a statutory responsibility for public health and safety. The NHBC provides a 10-year insurance cover to house buyers and employs inspectors who make only limited visits to private sector sites. Those inspectors do not ensure compliance with building regulations. The local authority building inspectors must establish whether a building has been built in accordance with its requirements. The NHBC has no experience in housing conversion work and is restricted almost exclusively to low-rise housing.

Many other areas, such as mixed developments, high-rise private sector housing and energy conservation do not come within the ambit of the NHBC. However, most importantly—I was glad that the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) referred to it—the training and qualifications required are inadequate. Local authority inspectors are trained, not only in general work, but in inspecting buildings and ensuring that they comply with the regulations. They come from the building trade and have great experience. Will the Secretary of State prescribe which examination of which professional bodies are sufficient and whether further examination to prove competence in building control is necessary? Reference was made to the eminent qualifications of architects, engineers and surveyors, but they are not sufficient and must be topped up with other qualifications.

There was also reference to the need to clarify building insurance. If the Bill becomes law, we shall move from a position of almost absolute liability guaranteed by the public sector to reliance on the private insurance market. The greatest anxiety is caused by the liability for dereliction by approved inspectors. The proposals are a recipe for confusion, litigation and delay. The Institute of Municipal Building Management has no doubts about the Bill and states: In practice the provisions of the Bill will be unworkable, much of what is proposed would be uninsurable, and at the end of the day, authorities would be left to pick up the pieces.

The insurance industry has told me that it is crucial that we obtain clarification today and in Committee on a wide range of matters. A number of questions are already the subject of consultation or correspondence with the Minister. I remind the Minister of some of the questions that must be answered for the benefit, not just of the insurance industry, but of others such as ourselves and our constituents who will be affected.

Until such time as a market is created for the kind of insurance cover that is required, what statutory backing will there be for the aggrieved or injured party? As present cover is restricted in both time and scope, it would be wholly inadequate and would not relieve the certifier of legal liability. What is proposed? Will the Bill make insurance of the building compulsory by statute? In the view of the industry, that would raise fundamental issues.

Does the Minister concede that some form of group insurance arrangement is crucial if some of the problems of individual insurance are to be avoided? Does he recognise that the fixing of minimum indemnity limits is crucial and must form part of the legislation, that any insurance arrangements would be subject to financial limits, and that commercial insurance cannot be expected to provide protection comparable with that provided by the local authorities?

I shall deal briefly with consultation. The president of the Institute of Building Control Officers said in the winter 1982 issue of the institute's journal: Despite the fact that the consultation on private certification indicated that virtually no one was wholly in favour of its introduction, the wording of the Bill shows that little heed was taken of any response the Department received.

What is intended in respect of the exemption of minor works? A whole new horror story and disaster awaits whole communities when the Secretary of State slashes yet again at the legal framework of protection for householders. An earlier consultation paper suggested there should be total exemption from building control of domestic and other small garages, domestic porches and outbuildings, agricultural buildings, and industrial plant buildings, with no deposit of full detailed plans. In my view, that would be madness.

Who are the majority said to be in favour of these philistine proposals? The Minister must tell us today. He must be aware of the severe criticism, ranging from outright condemnation to substantial reservations, that has reached him from so many sources. I remind him of some of them. There was criticism and rejection from the National Federation of Housing Associations, the Institute of Building Control Officers, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and other local authority associations, the Institute of Municipal Building Managers, the National Association of Local Government Officers, the Consumers' Association, the insurance industry, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Greater London Surveyors Association and the Institution of Structural Engineers.

We shall be told, of course, that the proposals are supported by the National House Building Council—surprise, surprise!—by Costain, Wimpey, Wates and other organisations of that kind, as well as by a myriad of small builders, all anxious to wriggle out of the present irksome restrictions that are clearly designed for the public good.

The Secretary of State began his insidious campaign against the protection of the public in building and construction more than three years ago at the Institute of Housing conference on 27 June 1979 when he categorised his targets in the following manner: I am looking at this because I am determined that the construction of housing and of all other buildings shall be freed of petty, unnecessary and bureaucratic restrictions. Since then, the Secretary of State has waged war against the public sector in favour of the private sector. Where there have been no windmills to tilt at he has invented them and knocked them down with synthetic vigour. He has invented sham faults with fanatical zeal. The Secretary of State is a phoney. He has presented hopeless and dangerous proposals in the Bill that will cause untold harm to our environment and for generations to come.

The Secretary of State has invited comments and then ignored them. He has caused fear and apprehension across the spectrum of interested and caring people. He is storing up disasters which will be buried today only to emerge in the future. He has failed the nation to serve his friends. The Bill is a monument to his crass stupidity which should be rejected with contempt.

I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to join me in voting against the Bill.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction) 9:35 pm, 23rd November 1982

Contrary to the impression created by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), there is substantial support for our building control proposals, as I shall show. The House will be aware that there are two distinct and important strands to those proposals. One is the recasting of the building regulations and the other is private certification. I should like to deal with them separately. There is no doubt or dispute in the construction industry that reform of building control and the recasting of the regulations is long overdue.

I was interested in the remark by the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) when he acknowledged that the reform of the building regulations was overdue. I disagreed, however, with virtually everything else he said. The building regulations have become exceedingly complex and long. They run to more than 350 pages of secondary legislation. They are exceptionally difficult for the construction industry to use, as was brought out in the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham).

There is an imperative need to bring the building regulations up to date. They abound with anachronisms. On page 177 of the building regulations a detailed, legalistic description is given to the building industry of how it should construct earth closets in the second half of the twentieth century. That shows the need to bring the building regulations up to date.

The hon. Member for Edmonton suggested that there was a serious difference of view within the construction industry as to whether the building regulations should be brought up to date. We have had 128 responses broadly in favour of the Government's proposals and only 12 against. The bodies in favour included the AMA, the ADC, the RIBA, the RICS, the NFBTE, the House Builders Federation, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Structural Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institute of Building Control Officers and the Society of Chief Building Control Officers among others.

Photo of Mr Edward Graham Mr Edward Graham , Enfield Edmonton

If there has been some confusion in which I have played a part, I apologise, but I do not believe that is so. I was not making a point about the building regulations. I said more than once that there was general agreement that the building regulations needed to be brought up to date. We want to know who is in favour of self-certification proposals.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making it clear that he recognises that there is overwhelming support for a large section of the Bill that deals with the recasting of the building regulations.

The Opposition have suggested that the proposals represent a risk to health and safety. I cannot accept that anything in the proposals does that. The Government's position has been set out unambiguously and emphatically in the White Paper "The Future of Building Control in England and Wales". Paragraph 7 makes it clear that The Government consider that the essential purposes of the Regulations should remain the preservation of public health and safety. Health and safety considerations have always been, and will remain, uppermost in our minds in considering the future of the building regulations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), in a constructive and excellent speech, referred to the desirability of having as much similarity as possible in the building regulations throughout the United Kingdom. As he will be aware, the Bill refers to England and Wales, and for a long time the building regulations in England and Wales have been separate from those in other parts of the United Kingdom. I draw his attention to the statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland on 11 November about his own plans to recast the Scottish building regulations, and he emphasised that he would be doing so having in mind the proposals for England and Wales.

Northern Ireland has its own separate system, and is represented on the BRAC committee. I welcome and endorse what my hon. Friend said about that committee. It has provided, and still does, an important source of advice from a group of experts and highly qualified people. That committee has played an important role in advising us on the recasting of the building regulations.

Contrary to what the Opposition have said, and although there is controversy in this sphere, there has been support for our private certification proposals. They have been strongly welcomed by the House Builders Federation, and there is no doubt that low-rise house building is particularly suited to private certification. The CBI has responded favourably to the principle of private certification, as has the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Bodies such as the Association of Consulting Engineers and the Chartered Institute of Building, although they see difficulties arising from the law on liability for negligence, have also expressed general support for the concept of certification.

My hon. Friends the Members for Chipping Barnet and for Melton (Mr. Latham) both referred to liability and insurance. I cannot hold out any prospects of dealing with the law on liability in the Bill. Those matters fall within the jurisdiction of the Lord Chancellor. I can, however, emphasised that the Law Reform Committee has already consulted on the basis of limiting the period of liability for latent damage. Although I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the committee, it is clearly an open question whether the present legal liability position will endure. I should stress that it would not be right to conclude that the option of private certification—and it is only an option—cannot be used with the law in its present state.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) said that no insurers had shown an interest in providing appropriate insurance. I assure him that that is not the case. The British Insurance Association has pointed out that already in the United Kingdom there is a limited market for the provision of a form of defects insurance for commercial properties, although the BIA acknowledges that that will need to be expanded.

The National House Building Council, a body approved as an insurer by the Department of Trade, has told us that it will widen its current insurance protections for buildings that it certifies. I am glad that the BIA has said of NHBC's arrangements: We agree that the NHBC arrangements appear to provide the framework for a satisfactory way of dealing with this area of building work". One insurance company has written to us specifically drawing attention to a policy that it is already operating, which for a single premium provides cover to the building owner for 10 years from completion in respect of structural defects and subsidence. There is no doubt, therefore, that even within the existing legal framework, the NHBC is willing to act as a certifier of low-rise housing. Some defects insurance is already available in the commercial sector, as well as the normal form of professional indemnity insurance which is already widely used by professional practices.

My hon. Friend the Member for Melton asked whether the insurance requirements would be attached to the building or to the certifier. We have deliberately made both possible and both may be used. The key consideration is that whichever is used, or whichever combination is used, there should be a satisfactory means of recourse for the building owner.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) asked about fees for local authorities if they had to take over a building. There is no need for a fee provision because the fees payable for work will be included in the fee arrangements under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

The proposals on recasting the building regulations command widespread support in the construction industry and the building control authorities. With regard to private certification, the NHBC is ready to come forward as a certifier with insurance proposals for low-rise housing. The insurance industry is already considering how it can produce satisfactory cover for building owners.

I shall now deal with the right-to-buy provisions. It is interesting that the Opposition have been anxious—no doubt reflecting the success of the right to buy—to point out that they do not oppose the sale of council houses. An interesting distinction between not being against the sale of council houses but opposing the compulsory sale of council houses has been drawn. Conservative Members know that that is a disingenuous stance as it means that every tenant in a Labour-controlled area has no prospect of being able to buy his council house. The evidence is clearly demonstrated by what happened under Labour councils. Virtually no Labour council has sold council houses voluntarily. As a result of the right to buy legislation, any number of council tenants have had the opportunity to buy for the first time.

Even outside Labour-controlled areas, the Labour Party, having read its policy documents, is committed to removing the options from those tenants who have them and ending sales at discounts.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that confirmation. The Labour Party has also said that it will oblige council tenants to sell their houses back to their councils when they sell. That has been stated clearly. That removes the council tenant's right to sell his house or flat at the price of his own chosing.

The Bill makes three major extensions to the right to buy. One group that will benefit is those in leasehold property. That will be welcomed strongly by those who live on land that is held on leasehold by the local authority. It is long overdue. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) that the leasehold enfranchisement provisions will apply to houses. That is the reason for the 22-year minimum length of lease for houses.

I cannot accept Opposition Members' criticisms of the proposals with regard to charitable housing associations. We are simply extending the right to buy to dwellings that have been publicly funded by housing association grant—funded in exactly the same way as dwellings that are owned by non-charitable housing associations where the right to buy already exists. 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.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

May I make just one point?

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

No. I have given way a great deal, and I should like to continue. I understand that some people in the housing association movement are opposed to giving the right to buy to the tenants of charitable housing associations.

We have heard nothing from Labour Members about the position of tenants themselves. We have heard any number of arguments from those who represent the housing associations as landlords. To redress that balance, I should like to cite one letter that I have received in the last few days—[Interruption.] Hon. Members are not interested in hearing about the position of tenants. I have received a letter from the Dartwood tenants association in Leeds. It reads: Following a meeting of our tenants association, I have been asked to write to you to say we think you should reject the appeals of the charitable housing associations who object to giving their tenants the equivalent right to buy and we would wish you to proceed. We are writing as there will no doubt be considerable pressure to change this. We believe that giving us the right to buy will improve the quality of living". No real arguments have been put forward by Opposition Members against this proposal.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The Minister has made it clear that he is not giving way. He must be allowed to proceed. It is the right of any hon. Member to continue, if that is his wish, when he has the floor.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

Another area extended by the Bill is that of shared ownership. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) asked if the minimum 50 per cent. threshold for a shared ownership sale could be reduced. The threshold can be altered by an order under schedule 5 to the Bill. It is not necessary always to continue with the 50 per cent. threshold.

The remaining right-to-buy provisions of the Bill deal mainly with ways in which Labour councils have sought to obstruct and to deter tenants from exercising their legal rights. I recall the speech of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) on Second Reading of the 1980 Housing Bill when he purported to give a blow-by-blow account of the obstacle course that was supposed to be going to be created by the Bill and that the tenant would have to complete before he succeeded in exercising his right to buy.

The real obstacle course for tenants has not been created by the Bill. It has been created by Labour councils that have used every possible device to try to stop or dissuade council tenants from exercising their legal rights. Some Labour councils have engaged in what I can only describe as non-stop harassment of tenants trying to buy their homes. This was revealed vividly in the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) and the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright).

Some of the harassment has taken a petty form, such as refusing to give tenants even the statutory right-to-buy application form, refusing to tell tenants when they have made a trivial mistake in filling in the form and giving the form back to the tenant with no explanation. There are councils that have stopped repairs to homes where tenants have applied to buy. There are councils which say that they will not give their normal discretionary improvement grant to those who have had the nerve to exercise the legal right to buy their homes. There are councils which have deputed members of their staff to try to persuade council tenants to abandon their applications. Happily, they have proved singularly unpersuasive.

There have been much more serious instances of obstruction with which we shall be dealing in the Bill. There are councils that have refused to process perfectly valid right-to-buy applications. My right hon. and hon. Friends can be assured that in every case that has come to our notice we have made the council proceed with such sales. There are councils that have served invalid completion notices. In one case, the tenant had not even got the legal documents to complete the sale. We shall be dealing with that in the Bill.

There are councils that have been trying to impose unreasonable service charges and unduly restrictive covenants that would put a former council tenant as a home owner in a worse position, for example in his right to improve his home, than if he had remained a council tenant. We shall return to both those points in the Bill.

There has also been the singularly odious practice of Norwich city council holding to ransom tenants who wanted exchanges by allowing them to get an exchange only if at the same time they gave up their right to buy. The Bill will make that practice illegal, as the House has been informed. Those forms of obstruction and browbeating are an unacceptable way to treat individual citizens who are simply exercising the legal rights that have been given to them by Parliament.

Some authorities have treated their tenants unacceptably. I received a letter from a council tenant in Sheffield. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The letter is telling. The tenant wrote: From the people of Sheffield who have applied for the Right to Buy here is a cry for help. My husband and I put our names forward in November 1980, one month after this had become law and we are still waiting.

I should like to be able to help that couple to obtain their legal right to own their home. I am ready to do so instantly but I cannot do so because of the next devastating sentence in that lady's letter, which reads as follows: I wish to make this plea anonymous otherwise we may get reprisals and that would make our chances of ever owning the house nil. It is a dismal reflection on the Labour Party that people are afraid even to disclose their names when exercising their legal right to buy.

However, the political enthusiasm of the Labour Party for denying council tenants the right to buy seems to evaporate with remarkable speed when certain individual council tenants who happen to be prominent local members of the Labour Party come to decide as individuals whether they should buy their own houses. Over the past two years it has been interesting that the determination of the Labour Party to repeal the right to buy has been exceeded only by the determination of Labour councillors to make certain that as council tenants they buy their houses while Tories are still in Government and the going is good. They produce many interesting reasons for that.

For example, when the Labour vice-chairman of the housing committee in Swindon applied to buy his council house he decided to put his best foot forward and declared: I am doing the Council a favour by buying my house.

In Bassetlaw, the Labour chairman of the housing committee, who is strongly opposed to the sale of council houses, was shot down in flames by his admirable wife who declared: Don has his opinions but so have I. I am not having him bringing politics into the house. We discussed the situation, had a vote and Don was outvoted three to one.

An equally staunch lady emerged in North Tyneside in the person of battling granny, Labour councillor Mrs. Mollie Brown, who when threatened with the sack for buying her council house hit back and said: The rest can resign but I won't. She reminded two of her Labour colleagues that they had already bought their council houses 10 years ago.

Last but by no means least in the rush in the Labour Party to exercise the right to buy we have none other than the election agent at the last general election of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). [HON. MEMBERS: "Hooray."]

It is clear that even without the extensions of the right to buy in the Bill, our expectations of the demand for the right to buy will be more than fulfilled. By the end of September over 400,000 council, new town and housing association dwellings had passed into home ownership during the Government's period of office. The right to buy is having a dramatically beneficial effect. It is giving council estates greater variety and appeal. It is giving individual families greater housing choice, financial security and mobility.

The right to buy is one of the most far-reaching and beneficial social revolutions of this century. It needs to be extended still further. The Bill will enable that to be done. I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 320, Noes 203.

Division No. 14][10.00 pm
AYES
Adley, RobertBiggs-Davison, Sir John
Aitken, JonathanBlackburn, John
Alexander, RichardBlaker, Peter
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBody, Richard
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBonsor, Sir Nicholas
Ancram, MichaelBoscawen, Hon Robert
Arnold, TomBottomley, Peter (W'wich W)
Aspinwall, JackBowden, Andrew
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne)Boyson, Dr Rhodes
Atkins, Robert(Preston N)Bradley, Tom
Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E)Braine, Sir Bernard
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone)Bright, Graham
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Brinton, Tim
Banks, RobertBrittan, Rt. Hon. Leon
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBrocklebank-Fowler, C.
Beith, A. J.Brooke, Hon Peter
Bendall, VivianBrotherton, Michael
Benyon, Thomas (A'don)Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n)
Best, KeithBrown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)
Bevan, David GilroyBrowne, John (Winchester)
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnBruce-Gardyne, John
Bryan, Sir PaulHampson, Dr Keith
Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A.Hannam, John
Buck, AntonyHaselhurst, Alan
Budgen, NickHastings, Stephen
Bulmer, EsmondHavers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Burden, Sir FrederickHawkins, Sir Paul
Butler, Hon AdamHawksely, Warren
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Hayhoe, Barney
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Cartwright, JohnHeddle, John
Chalker, Mrs. LyndaHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Chapman, SydneyHicks, Robert
Churchill, W. S.Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hooson, Tom
Clegg, Sir WalterHordern, Peter
Colvin, MichaelHowe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Cope, JohnHowell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)
Cormack, PatrickHowell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Corrie, JohnHowells, Geraint
Costain, Sir AlbertHunt, David (Wirral)
Crawshaw, RichardHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Critchley, JulianHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Crouch, DavidIrvine, Rt Hon Bryant Godman
Cunningham, G. (Islington S)Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Dickens, GeoffreyJenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Dorrell, StephenJenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Dover, DenshoreJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardJohnston, Russell (Inverness)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Durant, TonyJoseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Dykes, HughKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnKing, Rt Hon Tom
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Kitson, Sir Timothy
Eggar, TimKnight, Mrs Jill
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Knox, David
Eyre, ReginaldLang, Ian
Fairbairn, NicholasLatham, Michael
Fairgrieve, Sir RussellLawrence, Ivan
Faith, Mrs SheilaLawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Farr, JohnLee, John
Fell, Sir AnthonyLe Marchant, Spencer
Fenner, Mrs PeggyLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Finsberg, GeoffreyLester, Jim (Beeston)
Fisher, Sir NigelLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir CharlesLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fookes, Miss JanetLoveridge, John
Forman, NigelLuce, Richard
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanLyell, Nicholas
Fox, MarcusLyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Fraser, Rt Hon Sir HughMabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Fraser, Peter (South Angus)McCrindle, Robert
Freud, ClementMacfarlane, Neil
Fry, PeterMacKay, John (Argyll)
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Macmillan, Rt Hon M.
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Garel-Jones, TristanMcNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMcQuarrie, Albert
Ginsburg, DavidMadel, David
Glyn, Dr AlanMajor, John
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMarlow, Antony
Goodhew, Sir VictorMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Goodlad, AlastairMarten, Rt Hon Neil
Gorst, JohnMates, Michael
Gow, IanMawby, Ray
Gower, Sir RaymondMawhinney, Dr Brian
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Mayhew, Patrick
Grant, John (Islington C)Mellor, David
Gray, HamishMeyer, Sir Anthony
Greenway, HarryMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Grieve, PercyMills, Iain (Meriden)
Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds)Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)Miscampbell, Norman
Grimond, Rt Hon J.Mitchell, R. C, (Soton Itchen)
Grist, IanMontgomery, Fergus
Grylls, MichaelMoore, John
Hamilton, Hon A.Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)Smith, Dudley
Mudd, DavidSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Murphy, ChristopherSpeller, Tony
Myles, DavidSpence, John
Neale, GerrardSpicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Needham, RichardSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Nelson, AnthonySporat, Iain
Neubert, MichaelSquire, Robin
Newton, TonyStainton, Keith
Normanton, TomStanbrook, Ivor
Nott, Rt Hon JohnStanley, John
Ogden, EricSteel, Rt Hon David
Onslow, CranleySteen, Anthony
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.Stevens, Martin
Osborn, JohnStewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Page, Richard (SW Herts)Stradling Thomas, J.
Parkinson, Rt Hon CecilTapsell, Peter
Parris, MatthewTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Patten, Christopher (Bath)Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Patten, John (Oxford)Temple-Morris, Peter
Pattie, GeoffreyThatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Pawsey, JamesThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Penhaligon, DavidThompson, Donald
Percival, Sir IanThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Peyton, Rt Hon JohnThornton, Malcolm
Pink, R. BonnerTownend, John (Bridlington)
Pitt, William HenryTownsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Porter, BarryTrippier, David
Prentice, Rt Hon Regvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Proctor, K. HarveyViggers, Peter
Pym, Rt Hon FrancisWaddington, David
Rathbone, TimWainwright, R.(Colne V)
Rees-Davies, W. R.Waldegrave, Hon William
Renton, TimWalker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Rhodes James, RobertWalker, B. (Perth)
Ridley, Hon NicholasWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Ridsdale, Sir JulianWaller, Gary
Rifkind, MalcolmWalters, Dennis
Rippon, Rt Hon GeoffreyWard, John
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)Watson, John
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)Wellbeloved, James
Rodgers, Rt Hon WilliamWells, Bowen
Roper, JohnWells, John (Maidstone)
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Wheeler, John
Rossi, HughWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Rost, PeterWhitney, Raymond
Royle, Sir AnthonyWickenden, Keith
Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.Wiggin, Jerry
Sainsbury, Hon TimothyWilkinson, John
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.Williams, D. (Montgomery)
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)Winterton, Nicholas
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Wolfson, Mark
Shelton, William (Streatham)Wrigglesworth, Ian
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Young, Sir George (Acton)
Shepherd, RichardYounger, Rt Hon George
Shersby, Michael
Sims, RogerTellers for the Ayes:
Skeet, T. H. H.Mr. Carol Mather and
Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)Mr. Anthony Berry.
NOES
Abse, LeoBuchan, Norman
Adams, AllenCallaghan, Rt Hon J.
Allaun, FrankCallaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P)
Alton, DavidCampbell, Ian
Anderson, DonaldCampbell-Savours, Dale
Archer, Rt Hon PeterCanavan, Dennis
Ashley, Rt Hon JackCant, R. B.
Ashton, JoeCarmichael, Neil
Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)Carter-Jones, Lewis
Bagier, Gordon A.T.Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd)Clarke, Thomas (C'b'dge, A'rie)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyCocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N)Cohen, Stanley
Bidwell, SydneyConcannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertCook, Robin F.
Bray, Dr JeremyCowans, Harry
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill)Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cryer, BobHaynes, Frank
Cunliffe, LawrenceHeffer, Eric S.
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n)Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Dalyell, TamHolland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Home Robertson, John
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Homewood, William
Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)Hooley, Frank
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Hoyle, Douglas
Dewar, DonaldHughes, Mark (Durham)
Dixon, DonaldHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Dobson, FrankHughes, Roy (Newport)
Dormand, JackJanner, Hon Greville
Dubs, AlfredJay, Rt Hon Douglas
Duffy, A. E. P.John, Brynmor
Dunnett, JackJohnson, James (Hull West)
Eadie, AlexJones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)
Eastham, KenJones, Barry (East Flint)
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)Kilroy-Silk, Robert
English, MichaelLambie, David
Ennals, Rt Hon DavidLamond, James
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Leighton, Ronald
Evans, John (Newton)Lestor, Miss Joan
Ewing, HarryLewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)
Faulds, AndrewLewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Field, FrankLitherland, Robert
Fitch, AlanLofthouse, Geoffrey
Flannery, MartinLyon, Alexander (York)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMcCartney, Hugh
Ford, BenMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Foulkes, GeorgeMcGuire, Michael (Ince)
Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMcKelvey, William
Garrett, John (Norwich S)McMahon, Andrew
George, BruceMcNamara, Kevin
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMcWilliam, John
Golding, JohnMarks, Kenneth
Gourlay, HarryMarshall, D(G'gow S'ton)
Graham, TedMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Grant, George (Morpeth)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Martin, M(G'gow S'burn)
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Hardy, PeterMaxton, John
Harman, Harriet (Peckham)Maynard, Miss Joan
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMeacher, michael
Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)Snape, Peter
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)Soley, Clive
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Spearing, Nigel
Moyle, Rt Hon RolandSpellar, John Francis (B'ham)
Mulley, Rt Hon FrederickSpriggs, Leslie
Newens, StanleyStallard, A. W.
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonStoddart, David
O'Halloran, MichaelStott, Roger
O'Neill, MartinStrang, Gavin
Palmer, ArthurTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Park, GeorgeThomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)
Parker, JohnThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Parry, RobertTilley, John
Pavitt, LaurieTinn, James
Pendry, TomTorney, Tom
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Prescott, JohnVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Price, C. (Lewisham W)Wainwright, E. (Dearne V)
Race, RegWalker, Rt Hon H. (D'caster)
Radice, GilesWardell, Gareth
Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)Watkins, David
Richardson, JoWeetch, Ken
Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Welsh, Michael
Roberts, Allan (Bootle)White, Frank R.
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)Whitehead, phillip
Robertson, GeorgeWigley, Dafydd
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Rooker, J. W.Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H(H'ton)
Rowlands, TedWinnick, David
Ryman, JohnWoodall, Alec
Sever, JohnWoolmer, Kenneth
Sheerman, BarryWright, Sheila
Sheldon, Rt Hon R.Young, David (Bolton E)
Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Short, Mrs RenéeTellers for the Noes:
Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)Mr. Derek Foster and
Silverman, JuliusMr. George Morton.
Skinner, Dennis

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).