Orders of the Day — Housing and Building Control Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:48 pm on 5th July 1983.

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Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West 5:48 pm, 5th July 1983

This must be my lucky day for not only have I been called to make my maiden speech, but I have been allocated a desk. To have both on the same day is more than I could possibly have expected.

I was interested to hear the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien). as I know his area well and spent some time there not long ago helping to prepare a report on the infrastructure deficiencies of the Wakefield area. Although I concur with what he said about its having advantages over other areas, many projects remain to be completed.

I pay tribute to my predecessor, who is now my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell). He has been extremely helpful to me, both in the House and in the constituency. He will long be remembered for the part that he played in transforming the plans for phase 1 of the Hemel Hempstead hospital into reality. Lest it be thought that I shall be short of advice, I am sure that I shall be able to rely, in a bipartisan way, on advice from the new hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), who was previously the Member for my constituency, from my noble Friend Lady Davidson and from another predecessor, James Allason, outside this place, who I am sure will be only too willing to help me.

I do not know why Hertfordshire, West has its present nomenclature. Under its previous guise, when 55 per cent. of the constituency was in Hemel Hempstead town, it was called Hemel Hempstead. Now that 75 per cent of it is in the town of Hemel Hempstead, it does not seem to warrant the same consideration. The new name somehow conveys the impression of broad acres, which is not an entirely true reflection of its composition. Of course, there are many beautiful villages in my constituency, as well as the market town of Tring, but the vast majority of it is the highly successful new town of Hemel Hempstead — and successful it is, largely because its industry has been based, not on the old and large dying industries, but on the new-wave industries of the future, particularly high technology. It also has the advantage that many of those industries are in the small business sector, rather than among the giants. As a result, its distribution of employment has been beneficial to the whole area and has resulted in one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

I am happy to speak about housing and building control, because I have taken a considerable interest in it for some years. I cannot hope to emulate the 31 years in local government of the hon. Member for Normanton, but I am in my eleventh year in local government, and I have been involved in housing matters for most of that time. I have also had the privilege of working as head of research for the National House Building Council. The building controls provisions of the Bill are, therefore, of great interest to me, as I have seen as first hand the work that has been done by the National House Building Council and how the example that it has set has spread abroad and been adopted in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and many other places.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to timber frame houses. May I point out that the National House Building Council brought out its practice note on timber frame houses long before anything was done in that respect through building controls. There is much to learn, therefore, from the voluntary sector, particularly when, as in the case of the National House Building Council, it reflects the membership of building societies, the professions, unions, builders, and the consumer movement. It is a most useful body on which to build—if I may be permitted to use that pun.

The other aspect of the Bill is of supreme importance to my constituency, having, as it does, a near equal split between public sector and private sector housing, despite the purchase of some 3,000 houses over the past few years by tenants taking advantage of the right to buy. Many tenants will benefit from the increased discount, reflecting their length of tenure. Many of the first tenants in my constituency, after moving out from the east end of London, moved into the homes that they now occupy, and I am sure that they will look forward to the opportunity to buy those homes.

However, that does not apply in other pans of my constituency. Tenants of charitable housing associations, of whom I have many, are not in the same position. very much welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction said, and I hope that on the next occasion it will be a little less opaque, because I have received many letters on this subject — indeed, more than on any other subject. The letters fall into two categories. Many tenants cannot buy, simply because the housing association concerned refuses to sell. Others complain that although their charitable housing associations have conceded the principle of sale, they are still dragging their feet after four years and refusing to give a price. Surely the House cannot legitimately place any family in that situation, putting them at a disadvantage compared with their neighbours. In many of these cases, the housing association houses are identical to the council housing across the street or round the corner, and the people rightly feel that they are being discriminated against. I hope that something will be forthcoming to encourage them in their just desire to own their own homes.

I have listened to Opposition members talking about the loss of housing stock. One gets the impression that my constituents will blow the houses up as soon as they have bought them. The point is that those houses will remain part of the housing stock. We are talking only about tenure. Our policy represents the most significant redistribution of wealth and power that this country has seen this century. Moreover, I welcome the increased consumer advantages that it brings. The many families who have bought are able to carry out improvements to their houses and cultivate their gardens in the knowledge that that will benefit them and their families. It also has an effect on the neighbours who have not bought. As a result, areas of Hemel Hempstead have been transformed by the council house sales policy.

I, therefore, commend to the House this most important measure. The right hon. Member for Gorton made great play of the fact that it is a long Bill, but it can be as long as my hon. Friend the Minister likes, as long as he makes sure that all the shenanigans that we have seen by Socialist authorities are stamped out and that people such as my constituents can do what they have always wanted to do, and that is to own their own homes.