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

We have no immediate plans to do that, but we have it under review. I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's point.

We come back to the basic issue of choice, which is the theme of part I just as much as it is the theme of parts II and III. I hope that it will not be considered unsporting if I draw attention to the fact that both the Opposition spokesmen in the previous Session's Standing Committee on the Housing and Building Control Bill—Ann Taylor and Ted Graham—lost their seats at the election. The only other Front Bench Member on that Committee—Joe Dean, the former Member for Leeds, West—also lost his seat. However, I hope that that will not dissuade Opposition Members from serving on the new Committee. One wonders if the demise of those hon. Members had anything to do with the fact that they had the misfortune to act as the mouthpiece for the Labour party's opposition to this Bill and to the right to buy. I can think of few Socialist dogmas that can have contributed more to the defeat of the Labour party. It is a classic ilustration of the disregard which, for all its protestations, the Labour party holds for people's actual wishes and aspirations. That is not just my verdict, it is the verdict of some of the Labour party's more thoughtful supporters, recently sacrificed on the altar of dogma.

I quote the words of the former Member for Lewisham, West, Mr. Price, writing in the New Statesman on 17 June: One of the Labour movement's least agreeable characteristics has been a propensity, inherited from Beatrice Webb, to instruct the working classes, in humourless, educated tones, what is good for them. The former hon. Member for Derby, North, Mr. Whitehead, writing to The Guardian on 25 June said: We cannot go on concerned more with the ideological purity of the elect than with the hopes and ideas of the electorate. Listening to the debate today, I was reminded of another Labour comment on the last election: What people heard from us was not a single united voice but a series of discordant voices saying things that did not appeal to them at all—and sometimes saying them in tones which were utterly strident and unappealing. Those were the words of the present Leader of the Opposition in The Guardian on 24 June.

Those who are left in the Labour party who have some hope of doing better next time, could do worse than start to re-examine its policies on the sale of council housing. The Labour party talks a great deal about breaking down the barriers in our society and securing a fairer distribution of wealth, but that is exactly what the Bill does. It breaks down physical and social barriers in our towns and cities between one type of development and another and between one type of tenure and another, gives many thousands of families access to capital which they could never previously have hoped for and enables them to have a stake in our society.

In the Bill we are doing precisely what the Opposition profess to be in favour of, yet they voted against us. The Labour party's manifesto included a proposal that local authorities should be given the right to buy back council houses on first resale. That is a hopeless attempt to turn back the clock. Why should owners be prevented from selling on the open market at the price of their choice to the person of their choice? Do Opposition Members want to remove the new front doors, the new patio windows and the bright new paint in the interests of equality? Opposition Members want simply to return to drab, municipal conformity instead of the welcome diversity which is now breaking out on council estate after council estate.