Orders of the Day — Housing and Building Control Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:11 pm on 5th July 1983.

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Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds 5:11 pm, 5th July 1983

I was referring to people's aspirations. I am sure that the hon. Member agrees that many people want to own their homes. That is the heart's desire of the majority of young married women. The problem is how to do it. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He would like all first-time buyers to buy in the private sector. Fair enough. However, the only way for many people to become home owners is to purchase a council house and many people, especially women, feared that that option would be snuffed out.

Through this Bill, my hon. Friend is opening the door to another substantial advance towards a property-owning democracy. I am glad that he was able to confirm that nearly half a million people purchased their council houses during the previous Government or now have purchases in the pipeline. I should like him now to set a further target. Without confirming it at the Dispatch Box, I hope that he will regard 1 million sales as the right target while he is Minister for Housing and Construction. A target of 1 million is a nice round number. It would be a fitting one for my hon. Friend who is a competent and robust Minister. He could then go on to conquer other worlds.

During the general election campaign and at other times I have visited council houses. I have also found that many tenants become extremely irritated when something has gone wrong in the house and they cannot get the council to put it right. If it is a minor problem, I frequently tell them that they should do the repair themselves and not leave everything to the council; however, an elderly person or someone on an extremely small income has a larger problem if a window no longer fits or a wall starts to crumble. How unsatisfactory it is that months and sometimes a fair part of a year can elapse before the council gets round to doing anything. It is therefore entirely right that a Conservative Government should extend the tenants' charter to give tenants a right, under proper control, to have a repair made and to send the bill to the council. That will have two effects. First, it will enable the tenant to have the problem dealt with quickly. Secondly, it will reveal to elected members on the councils, when they start to receive some of those bills, that something is radically wrong with their council's arrangements for urgent repairs. It will help keep councillors up to the mark.

In an intervention, I asked my hon. Friend the Minister why he felt unable to offer the 60 per cent. discount to those who have lived in their council houses for 25 as opposed to 30 years. I know that he will consider that, in my absence, in Committee. It is worth pressing the point, however, because many council tenants who have occupied their homes for 30 years are, almost by definition, elderly and might not want to exercise their right to buy at such a late stage. If the full 60 per cent. discount were available—it is designed as an incentive — for 25 years, there may be a substantially larger number of people whom my hon. Friend would be able to help.

During his speech—I normally enjoy the right hon. Gentleman's speeches, but it was not one of his best, perhaps because he did not have quite as many quotations from The Guardian as usual—the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that the right to repair was a sick joke. When I tell my tenants in the Bury St. Edmunds constituency that proposals to enable them to have their repairs carried out more quickly are regarded by the official Labour party spokesman as a sick joke, they will conclude that it is the right hon. Gentleman who is a sick joke.

Over the past 20 years, under all Governments, but primarily led by the post-war Labour Government, national Governments, most local authorities and most building inspectors have presided over the construction of too many poor quality council homes. Whether they were the prefabs, the high rises or homes built in the new overspill estates that are damp and unsatisfactory, we all have some responsibility. But I am afraid that the principal responsibility must lie with the existing system of council house management by local authorites and over building regulations framed by central Government. It is refreshing that we are breaking that mould and moving in a new direction that will enable some of those errors to be put right.