Orders of the Day — Housing and Building Control Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:35 pm on 5th July 1983.

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Photo of George Young George Young Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment) 9:35 pm, 5th July 1983

The debate has been well informed, although of necessity somewhat similar to the debate that took place on Second Reading of the previous Bill towards the end of last year.

The speech by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was not one of his better speeches. He was well advised to withdraw his nomination as deputy leader of the Labour party on that form. He criticised the length of the Bill, but in part that is due to the need to block the loopholes that are being exploited by ingenious Labour-controlled authorities, which are seeking to deny tenants the rights that Parliament meant them to have. Instead of criticising the length of the Bill, it might be helpful if every now and then Labour Members criticised the abuses being perpetrated by Labour-controlled authorities, which deny tenants the rights that they are meant to have.

The right hon. Gentleman made several rather extraordinary statements. For example, having said that a local authority had to sell 10 houses to get the funds to build a new one, he concluded that this transaction reduced the housing stock. It does not—it increases the housing stock. He meant to say that it reduces the local authority housing stock. Labour Members seem to assume that if a local authority dwelling is sold, it disappears off the face of the earth. However, it is still part of the housing stock. People are living in it and it is meeting a need. Labour Members have to stop looking at housing policy through narrow-visioned and municipal spectacles.

If one of the depressing things today has been the inability of the Labour party to learn anything from what has happened in the past few months, the encouraging thing has been a series of maiden speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House, starting with that given by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), a constituency where I was interviewed in the late 1960s and decisively rejected. He spoke with enthusiasm for, and deep knowledge of Nottingham and mentioned two major employers, Raleigh and Players, and hon. Members who know me will know which of those two firms I prefer. He rightly identified our right-to-buy policy as contributing to his success in Nottingham and I am grateful for what he said about our right-to-repairs proposals. We look forward to hearing more from him.

He was followed by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond), who made another excellent maiden speech. His experience as a former leader of a local authority will be of great value to his party and the House, and I am sure that he will contribute to our proceedings during the local authority debates, of which there may be one or two. He spoke of the right to buy for the disabled, which was a point made by several other hon. Members. One has to remember that the disabled have rights as well and one must think hard before denying them rights that we have extended to their fellow citizens.

The hon. Member for Don Valley also spoke about his reservations on private certification and again, these points were echoed by other hon. Members. Certifiers have to be approved by the Secretary of State or by a body designated by him and the two basic criteria will be professional qualifications and practical experience. But they will also have to be independent. They will not be allowed to supervise work for which they are responsible in any other capacity. I see no reason to suppose that professional people in the private sector will act any less responsibly than building control officers in carrying out their duties. Many authorities already make use of private sector professional firms in various capacities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said that the proposed changes in the building regulations are welcome, and we propose that they will be simpler to understand. I shall look into the dialogue that he had with his local building inspector to see whether there was any unnecessary intrusion. I confirm my hon. Friend's perception that our right-to-buy policy is particularly popular among women voters—even those who are unable to exercise the right to buy themselves support the concern and the right.

The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) made a maiden speech as well, and spoke with affection about his predecessors. He criticised shared ownership as being difficult to understand, but at least 6,000 people have already participated in shared ownership schemes. Only this morning I was in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) opening another shared ownership scheme in Farnham Common and one that was heavily oversubscribed. Shared ownership provides an extra rung near the bottom of the ladder to enable people to get on the home ownership ladder earlier.

We also had a maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), who spoke without inhibition and without notes. Clearly, he is rightly proud of his constituency, and I am sure that his constituents are proud of him. We welcome his local authority experience. He also revealed an enormous knowledge of the National House Building Council—an experience which is not so much invaluable as, positively dangerous for Ministers on the Bill, as clearly he knows a lot more about the subject than my hon. Friend or myself. He commented on charitable housing associations, as did other hon. members. As my hon. Friend said in opening, we are giving the matter further consideration.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) spoke about the private rented sector. No one has done more damage to that sector than the Labour party, and for it to pose as the saviour of the private landlord or the private tenant is sheer hypocrisy. The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the right to repair. That right is, of course, an option. No one is compelling tenants. A scheme is already in existence in Havering. It is working well and saving the ratepayers of Havering an estimated £25,000 in its first year. The new clause is tailored to enable the Secretary of State to introduce by regulation a tenants' repair scheme. We shall fully consult local authority associations and other public sector landlords before introducing the secondary legislation. Thr real reason why the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury does not like it is that it is a threat to Islington's direct labour organisation. Much of what the hon. Gentleman said was paternalistic nonsense, saying that tenants were not be trusted with the repairs of their own homes. To my mind, that is Socialism at its worst.