Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 21st December 1983.

Alert me about debates like this

That, at this day's sitting, the Housing and Building Control Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour. —[Mr. Neubert.]

10 pm

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

In our election manifesto, we described the Housing Act 1980 as the biggest single step towards a home-owning democracy ever taken.

We also commented that it was the largest transfer of property from the State to the individual.

The Housing and Building Control Bill is another giant step in the Government's goal to make a reality of a nationwide property-owning democracy.

Under the Bill's provisions, we give 50,000 tenants, where the landlord owns only a leasehold, the right to buy. We give to 400,000 long-term tenants an entitlement to a higher discount, amounting to 60 per cent. after 30 years' tenancy. We reduce the qualifying period from three years to two years, which will enable another 250,000 tenants to exercise their right to buy. We have announced an extension of the right to buy to certain county council tenants, and that was preceded by a partial conversion by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), the former Shadow Environment Secretary, who said in Committee: The Minister, in stating categories, mentioned dwellings owned by county councils. I cannot honestly say in equity, if we are to have this legislation, that people living in dwellings owned by county councils that are not housing authorities … should not have the same right as those who live in properties owned by local authorities."— [Official Report, Standing Committee B, 25 October 1983; c. 257.]

I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said.

As the Bill has proceeded, we have even seen a partial conversion of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). When interviewed in the Local Government Chronicle on 9 December even the hon. Gentleman showed that the Labour party is anxious to get away from the disastrous policies that it advocated at the last election. The Local Government Chronicle recorded: Mr. Heffer, who stresses he is not opposed to owner-occupation, says: 'I would hope that by the next general election we have council house sales in perspective within a range of policies which people understand and see as sensible'.

One of the dramatic consequences of the first premiership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was that the centre of British politics was moved decisively to the right. It is not now the duty of the Conservative party—the hon. Member for Walton may even think that it is part of his duty—to occupy the middle ground. We have made a decisive switch, and are even attracting the Labour party to our policies, despite what occurred last night.

The Bill also gives new rights to buy for the elderly. We have included more public sector tenancies to count for qualification and discount purposes. We have taken new powers to ensure that local authorities must deliver to their tenants, promptly and efficiently, the rights conferred on them by this House.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

No, I think not.

We have conferred on the least well-off tenants the right to shared ownership.

We have not forgotten those who remain as local authority tenants. They will be given the right to repair and to more information about heating charges, and as the House knows, we intend to confer on them the right to exchange. We have updated and modernised our whole system of building regulations. The Bill marks a significant milestone towards our goal of extending choice and opportunity for home ownership, and I commend it warmly to the House.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton 10:05 pm, 21st December 1983

The interesting thing about the Bill has been that during the course of it a whole series of extra clauses have been added and there has not been proper discussion, debate or examination of many of those clauses. We have had two examples today. There has been a clear extension of the right to buy to a category that, until today, the Government had no intention of including.

In Committee a Conservative Member tabled an amendment to bring back the policy of selling houses built by charitable housing associations. The Minister stated that the Government would be looking at this proposal. Today I received a letter from him, and the House should know what was in that letter. It says: I am writing to let you know that, as you will have gathered from the Order Paper, the Government have decided not to propose such a new clause.

I thought that that was good, that the Government were being sensible, that they had clearly recognised that they were not likely to get the measure through the other place, and were recognising the strength of the argument However, the letter goes on: Instead, we are proposing to introduce a scheme that will enable tenants of charitable associations, whose dwelling had been provided with housing association grant and whose landlord has declined to sell voluntarily, to buy a dwelling on the open market within certain price limits either outright or on shared ownership terms with a discount funded out of housing association grants.

My hon. Friends and I think that this is scandalous. It is bringing back the previous suggestion in a different way, but none the less it will affect the charitable housing associations because it will be: funded out of housing association grants.

The letter continues: The new clause will be introduced in the House of Lords for technical reasons.

I hope that when the Government get to that stage the House of Lords will turn that clown.

Contrary to what the Minister was saying, this is a bad Bill. The main reason for this is that it is irrelevant to housing and building needs. It is just one further example of the dogmatism of the Government—a dogmatism that puts the interest of people making profits first and the needs of the people second.

As the Minister pointed out, I have said that the Labour party is not against, and never has been against, people buying their own homes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members are laughing and clearly do not understand that millions of people who voted for the Labour party in the last election are home owners, and understood that very well. We have said repeatedly that we are against people buying their homes in areas where there is still great housing need.

The sale of pensioners' homes is another issue that has been sprung upon us. The result of the policy is that homes will be removed from the housing stock that are possibly required more than any other group of homes. Local authorities are always having to search for pensioners' homes to meet the needs of the elderly. However, the Government have adopted the policy of selling these homes. That is the result of their dogmatic attitude.

The Bill includes the right-to-repair provisions. The Opposition are in favour of the right to repair. That is stated clearly in the Labour party's manifesto and we fought the election with that statement in it. The right to repair is clearly our policy. However, we want a genuine right to repair. In Committee we tabled amendment after amendment that would have created a genuine right to repair but not one of the amendments was accepted by the Government. Instead, we have something very different from a genuine right to repair.

We wanted tenants to have the right to have repairs effected, if the local authority failed to do so, by outside contractors and then to have the right to send the bill to the authority for it to pay the full cost up to a certain level. That amendment was not accepted. The tenant will now have to pay and then seek payment from the council. This may result in court arguments and there will be genuine delays and real hardship. This is a recipe for repairs not being carried out. We have pointed to examples within authorities that operate that sort of policy. Tenants need local authorities to have efficient and effective repair services. The Bill will destroy the direct labour organisations that are good and efficient and, in our opinion, part of the Bill is designed to do that.

It is surely important both to the local authority and the tenant that work is carried out with the highest possible quality of workmanship. Surely no hon. Member can deny that in his locality modernisation schemes have sometimes been carried out by cowboys and that the "modernisation" has caused more problems than those which arose before the properties were supposedly modernised. We felt that that problem could be overcome by the proposals that we submitted. We believe that all disputes should go to a housing tribunal. We welcome the concession that the Minister has made but we believe that the Government could have accepted our amendment.

Part II may not be considered by some to be as important as part I, but it provides a further example of the Government's privatisation policy.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Exactly. It fits in with their whole privatisation policy. This part of it may not be as spectacular as the selling off of Britoil, the telecommunications industry or the aviation industry, but it could have serious consequences for the construction industry.

Cmnd. 8179 deals with the future of building control in England and Wales. It states: The present system of building control produces safe buildings in which fire and serious structural failure is rare. This is not in question.

If it was not in question why do the Government need to bring in this part of the Bill and the so-called approved inspectors? It is interesting that it will not apply in Scotland, because the Scottish people turned it down flat. If it is not to apply in Scotland, why do we need it here? Is it not true that there could be a breakdown of public health and safety as a result of the Government's policies—and worse, that it opens the way for corruption? We asked a number of questions, but we got no satisfactory answers to those questions.

Then there is the question of insurance coverage. We heard nothing from the Government today about this matter. We were told in Committee that if no agreement were reached with the insurers, the Government would not go ahead with this part of the Bill. We do not know. Have they reached agreement? We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke and it is not good enough.

The real problems in the building and construction industry are outlined in the document "English house condition survey 1981", which is a Report of the Physical Condition Survey".

I shall quote just one paragraph: In 1981 there were 18·1 million dwellings in England; of these 1·1 million were unfit. 0·9 million lacked basic amenities and 1 million required repairs costing more than £7,000. Allowing for the overlap between these categories the total number of dwellings in poor condition was 2 million.

That is the real problem. There is also the fact that, according to the "BMP forecasts" of the National Council of Building Material ProducersThe cut in cash resources available for public housing investment in Britain in the 1984–85 financial year will force councils to cut back on new commitments.

That is what the Government should concentrate on—building decent homes for our people, carrying out modernisation and repairs, and dealing with multi-storey blocks which are in a state of decay. Those are the problems.

This is a worthless Bill. It does not advance the interests of our people one iota. We therefore intend to vote against the Bill.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South 10:19 pm, 21st December 1983

I count it a privilege, and I hope I always will, to speak in this place in a debate that is particularly relevant both to my constituency and to the city that has been my home for 31 years.

It was a privilege to be a small part of the Standing Committee, whose minutes I believe are a tribute to the finest piece of social legislation for many a year. The privilege was somewhat tempered by the enjoinder to still our tongues lest we provoke the Opposition. I apologise to my colleagues for disobeying that enjoinder this evening.

In a properly managed housing authority there should be no conflicts of interest between the duty to manage the public housing stock, the 1980 Act and the proposed legislation. The conflict is only one of the misconceived notions that all citizens are best served as tenants of the state, bolstered by the misuse of statistics on housing waiting lists. The desire of the Labour party—and today the Liberal party as well — to reverse the wish of ordinary families to own their homes was repeated in one form or another throughout our proceedings in Committee. We heard it again tonight in what was nothing less than a wrecking amendment which, happily, the House rejected.

Today, the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) drew on national statistics with a seeming disregard for what his eyes and ears must tell him are not always what they seem to be. For example, he used the totality of waiting lists and sought to reduce, if not completely to emasculate, the right to buy.

In my city's housing waiting list as at 22 September this year, the figure stood at 13,893. That list is a necessary tool of management, but in that 13,893 are included our own tenants who live in under-occupied four-bedroom accommodation, our own tenants with children in flats, our own tenants in houses who wish to move into flats and our own tenants under-occupying other than four-bedroom accommodation. It even includes people seeking an exchange. It also includes applicants from other districts and service personnel. That is not a waiting list as it is understood by most reasonable people. In the hands of the Labour party it is completely misused, as we have seen today.

The hon. Member for Norwood and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) both spoke about sales of the best houses — [Interruption.] Mr. Speaker, I have never obeyed my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), and I shall not now. I was saying that both hon. Members spoke about our selling the best houses. I commend to the House the following statistic. In Nottingham, of the last 2,500 homes sold, 16 per cent. were built pre-war and 64 per cent. between 1945 and 1973. I question whether that is the sale of the best houses.

We have a £200 million debt in our city on housing alone. I suggest that it is a sensible process to reduce that debt and so hold down the rents of our tenants.

We are still happy with the 60 per cent. discount, however we look at the calculations—[Interruption.] I hope that the House will forgive me if I read the note which has just been passed to me. It says: The Scots have to catch the sleeper.

I give in.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:24 pm, 21st December 1983

I shall not give in, but I shall he a good deal briefer than those hon. Members who have spoken so far.

There are a few goodies in the Bill. There are, for example, a few advantages that tenants will have when the measure becomes law. They will be entitled to a bit more information about heating charges. They will have the possibility, as a last resort, of the right to repair and the possibility of other benefits in regulations that we are told will come. However, there is a great deal that tenants will not have, and we on the Liberal Bench will also vote against the Government, though not because the Minister for Housing and Construction does not understand my party's policy on the right to buy. The hon. Gentleman showed tonight that he understood it very well. At least he appreciated that we believed that local government had a role to play in making important decisions.

The sad fact is that, although the Government are concentrating on extending the right to buy here—not something that we oppose in principle at all—and adding to the rights of tenants there, they are presiding over the greatest increase in homelessness, the greatest decrease in housing investment and the most massive accumulation of problems of disrepair and of rundown estates that any Government have been responsible for since the war. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Happy Christmas:] The Government could be doing so much, but they do so little. It is a sign that the Government want to wash their hands of the nation's housing problems. The tragedy is that millions of people will suffer from their lack of care and concern. We shall oppose the Bill's Third Reading.

Photo of Mr John Powley Mr John Powley , Norwich South 10:25 pm, 21st December 1983

I shall endeavour not to detain the House as long as other hon. Members. However, some of the tenants of Norwich city council will eternally thank the House for enacting one clause, in particular, of the Bill. Norwich local authority found a loophole in the Housing Act 1980 which meant that any tenant wishing to have a mutual exchange had to do so by way of assignment, and thereby lose his right to buy the house that he exchanged into. That was a disgraceful act on the part of that supposedly responsible local authority.

I am very pleased to welcome that clause in the new 1983 Bill, because it removes that penalty and returns to the tenants of Norwich city council the possibility of buying the homes that they so dearly want.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 238, Noes 152.

Division No. 120][10.28
Adley, RobertBulmer, Esmond
Aitken, JonathanBurt, Alistair
Alexander, RichardButler, Hon Adam
Amess, DavidEutterfill, John
Ancram, MichaelCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arnold, TomChalker, Mrs Lynda
Ashby, DavidChapman, Sydney
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Chope, Christopher
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Baldry, AnthonyClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Clarke Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyCockeram, Eric
Bellingham, HenryConway, Derek
Berry, Sir AnthonyCoombs, Simon
Best, KeithCope, John
Bevan, David GilroyCouchman, James
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnCritchley, Julian
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnCrouch, David
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Body, RichardDicks, T.
Bonsor, Sir NicholasDorrell, Stephen
Boscawen, Hon RobertDouglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Bottomley, PeterDover, Denshore
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Dunn, Robert
Boyson, Dr RhodesDurant, Tony
Braine, Sir BernardDykes, Hugh
Brandon-Bravo, MartinEdwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Bright, GrahamEggar, Tim
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonEmery, Sir Peter
Brooke, Hon PeterEyre, Reginald
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Fallon, Michael
Browne, JohnFavell, Anthony
Bruinvels, PeterFenner, Mrs Peggy
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.Finsberg, Geoffrey
Budgen, NickFletcher, Alexander
Fookes, Miss JanetNewton, Tony
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Normanton, Tom
Forth, EricOnslow, Cranley
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanParris, Matthew
Fraser, Peter (Angus East)Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Freeman, RogerPatten, John (Oxford)
Gale, RogerPawsey, James
Galley, RoyPollock, Alexander
Garel-Jones, TristanPowley, John
Glyn, Dr AlanRaffan, Keith
Goodhart, Sir PhilipRenton, Tim
Goodlad, AlastairRhodes James, Robert
Gow, IanRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Grant, Sir AnthonyRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Greenway, HarryRidsdale, Sir Julian
Gregory, ConalRifkind, Malcolm
Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Ground, PatrickRoe, Mrs Marion
Gummer, John SelwynRossi, Sir Hugh
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Hanley, JeremySackville, Hon Thomas
Hargreaves, KennethSayeed, Jonathan
Harris, DavidShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Harvey, RobertShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hawkins, C. (High Peak)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hawksley, WarrenShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hayes, J.Shersby, Michael
Hayhoe, BarneySilvester, Fred
Hayward, RobertSims, Roger
Heddle, JohnSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Henderson, BarrySoames, Hon Nicholas
Hickmet, RichardSpeed, Keith
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Spencer, D.
Hind, KennethSpicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Squire, Robin
Holt, RichardStanbrook, Ivor
Hooson, TomStern, Michael
Hordern, PeterStevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Hubbard-Miles, PeterStewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Hunt, David (Wirral)Stokes, John
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Stradling Thomas, J.
Hunter, AndrewSumberg, David
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasTaylor, John (Solihull)
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Johnson-Smith, Sir GeoffreyTemple-Morris. Peter
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Terlezki, Stefan
Jones, Robert (W Herts)Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelThompson, Donald (Calder V)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Key, RobertThorne, Neil (Ilford S)
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Thornton, Malcolm
Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Thurnham, Peter
Lamont, NormanTracey, Richard
Lang, IanTrippier, David
Lawler, GeoffreyTrotter, Neville
Lawrence, IvanTwinn, Dr Ian
Lee, John (Pendle)van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Lester, JimViggers, Peter
Lightbown, DavidWaddington, David
Lilley, PeterWakeham, Rt Hon John
Lloyd, Ian (Havant)Waldegrave, Hon William
McCurley, Mrs AnnaWalden, George
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Walker, Bill (T'side N)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Waller, Gary
Maclean, David John.Ward, John
Macmillan, Rt Hon M.Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
McQuarrie, AlbertWarren, Kenneth
Major, JohnWatson, John
Malins, HumfreyWatts, John
Miller, Hal (B'grove)Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Morris, M. (N'hampton, 5)Wheeler, John
Moynihan, Hon C.Whitney, Raymond
Murphy, ChristopherWilkinson, John
Needham, RichardWolfson, Mark
Wood, Timothy
Woodcock, MichaelTellers for the Ayes:
Yeo, TimMr. Michael Neubert and
Young, Sir George (Acton)Mr. Archie Hamilton.
Younger, Rt Hon George
Alton, DavidHolland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Anderson, DonaldHome Robertson, John
Archer, Rt Hon PeterHoyle, Douglas
Ashdown, PaddyHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Ashton, JoeHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Hume, John
Barnett, GuyJohn, Brynmor
Barron, KevinKilroy-Silk, Robert
Beith, A. J.Kirkwood, Archibald
Bell, StuartLamond, James
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Rsd'sh)Leadbitter, Ted
Bidwell, SydneyLeighton, Ronald
Boyes, RolandLewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Litherland, Robert
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Loyden, Edward
Bruce, MalcolmMcCartney, Hugh
Caborn, RichardMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)McNamara, Kevin
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)McTaggart, Robert
Clarke, ThomasMcWilliam, John
Clay, RobertMadden, Max
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)Marek, Dr John
Cohen, HarryMartin, Michael
Coleman, DonaldMaxton, John
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Maynard, Miss Joan
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)Meacher, Michael
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Meadowcroft, Michael
Corbett, RobinMichie, William
Corbyn, JeremyMikardo, Ian
Cowans, HarryMilian, Rt Hon Bruce
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Craigen, J. M.Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Crowther, StanMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Cunliffe, LawrenceMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Nellist, David
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)O'Brien, William
Deakins, EricPark, George
Dewar, DonaldPavitt, Laurie
Dobson, FrankPenhaligon, David
Dormand, JackPike, Peter
Douglas, DickPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dubs, AlfredPrescott, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Radice, Giles
Eadie, AlexRedmond, M.
Eastham, KenRees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Evans, loan (Cynon Valley)Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Robertson, George
Fatchett, DerekRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Faulds, AndrewRogers, Allan
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Rowlands, Ted
Fisher, MarkSedgemore, Brian
Flannery, MartinSheerman, Barry
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Foster, DerekShore, Rt Hon Peter
Foulkes, GeorgeShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Fraser, J. (Norwood)Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldSkinner, Dennis
George, BruceSmith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Godman, Dr NormanSmith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Golding, JohnSoley, Clive
Gould, BryanSpearing, Nigel
Hamilton, James (M'well N)Strang, Gavin
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Straw, Jack
Hardy, PeterThomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Harman, Ms HarrietTinn, James
Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithTorney, Tom
Heffer, Eric S.Wainwright, R.
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Wareing, RobertYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Wigley, Dafydd
Williams, Rt Hon A.Tellers for the Noes:
Winnick, DavidMr. Frank Haynes and
Woodall, AlecMr. Don Dixon.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.