Orders of the Day — Housing and Building Control Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:56 pm on 5th July 1983.

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Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury 5:56 pm, 5th July 1983

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. That is one of the many imprecise parts of the clause, which is ill thought out and which will act to the detriment of tenants.

The clause will have decimate local authority repair services. There are authorities — that for my constituency is one—which are trying valiantly to improve the standard of their repair services. They are already being hit by block grant penalties because they are having to employ more workers to improve the standard of repairs and to set up area repair teams. They will now face a further decimation of their work forces as a result of the Bill.

The clause offers no protection at all against unscrupulous private contractors. Anyone who knows the building industry—clearly the Minister does not—knows that there are many unscrupulous private contractors around. Many tenants will be caught out by the clause, thinking that they are getting a good repair for a fair price. They will find that not only is the repair bad and the price unfair but that they are losing their right to call on the council. The clause will affect many people.

There are, of course, a few sensible right-to-repair schemes operating in the country. Far and away the best scheme is that operated by a Labour-controlled authority in the London borough of Brent. It offers proper safeguards to tenants. There is an approved list of contractors. There are agreed time periods in which the local authority has the opportunity to carry out the repair. After that a tenant has the right to call in one of the approved contractors. If a tenant does so, he does not have to pay. The provisions in the Brent tenancy agreement have encouraged extremely good standards in terms of time and quality from the local authority's repair service. The Government would have been much better advised to consider the system operated by the London borough of Brent, instead of grabbing at a garbled version of that operated by the London borough of Havering in their haste to push forward these provisions.

Therefore, the Bill is quite inadequate in the following three areas of policy: the right to repair, the right to buy, and building control. The Government claim that it is a charter for tenants but for the reasons that I have given, it clearly is not. Time and again Conservative Members stress that the Bill will extend choice—that great green sward of unctuous freedom on to which the Minister squelched at the beginning and conclusion of his speech. In a very limited way, it may extend choice and freedom for those tenants who wish to exercise the right to buy their dwellings, but it offers nothing to the many tenants who naturally and rightly want to own their own homes, but who do not want to buy the dwellings in which they live. They are by far the majority, yet the Bill offers them nothing. Moreover, it offers nothing to those who want to continue renting.

Yet again, in the supposed name of freedom, the Government propose to emphasise the existence of two nations within our country. There are two nations in housing: the home owners and the tenants. The Bill will only deepen that divide. That is why it is a bad Bill and despite all the fine words uttered by Conservative Members, I shall continue to fight it.