Orders of the Day — Housing Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:36 pm on 30th November 1987.

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Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West 11:36 pm, 30th November 1987

I think that everyone has paid tribute to the shade of Aneurin Bevan today, and I pay tribute to the splendid quotation that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) tossed into the pudding. If rent control consists of more supply than demand, that is exactly what the Government would wish to endorse.

I may have lost count, but I believe that I am the 30th speaker in the debate. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will forgive me if I do not take up every argument that they have advanced. Apart from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, no Privy Councillors have contributed to the debate, and it seems that we have progressed quite a deal faster as a result.

We have heard three excellent maiden speeches, and everyone, including the hon. Member for Bootle, has paid tribute to those who delivered them. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) is a strong supporter of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. French), a near parliamentary neighbour, spoke of the pressure on housing in areas that are economically successful and the delay that is still to be found in implementing the right-to-buy policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) spoke also of that delay. We shall be introducing provisions in the Bill to meet the arguments that my hon. Friends have advanced. As the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has said, Labour-controlled councils have sold council houses over many years, and have done so efficiently. I wish that the leaders of the Labour groups that have done so would bite the leaders of others who seem not to listen so attentively.

It is ironic that the hon. Member for Bootle is claiming, rather like Russian scientists in the Stalinist era who claimed to have discovered everything, including gravity, to have discovered the policy that led to the sale of council houses. The Labour Government's circular 70/74 advised that it was "generally wrong" to sell council houses. However, the Labour Opposition have now endorsed the right to buy, so they are coming along.

There was little in what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said was wrong with the present system with which I and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends would disagree. The hon. Gentleman was eloquent and accurate when he spoke of his direct experience and described the failures of Governments both Labour and Conservative, and both central Government and local government, in design, architecture and planning during the 1950s, 1960s and on into the 1970s. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the houses that Liverpool city council are building, or altering, on the Speke estate, for example, are fine. The design is far better than that of past housing.

I know that the hon. Member for Walton will not consider it anything other than a compliment if I describe him as an old-fashioned Socialist who believes that the problems must be solved by state provision above all, perhaps even state provision alone. The divide came between him and Conservative Members and, indeed, among some of his hon. Friends on how the new communities that we all want to build should be built. We say by partnership and plurality of provision, by owner-occupation as well as state provision. That is the sort of thing that the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) described in the estate that he mentioned. That sort of estate carries through the principles of Estate Action — that used to be called UHRU in my Department—and the priority estates programme and so on. That seems to us to be the way forward. That point was also made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) in what I thought was an extremely positive speech. We need plurality of provision if we are to avoid the grand mistakes of the past. Those mistakes were made by some people saying "numbers at all costs"—the hon. Member for Brent, South made that point—and others saying that we should centralise according to a pattern.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) has a long expert background in all these matters. He made an extremely constructive speech on the way in which one can solve some of the problems at community level. Even among some of the poor housing that we built in the 1960s, if the community strength is revived—he is an expert in doing that by the co-operative route, but there are other routes—some of that housing can be made tolerable. He has taken me to places in his constituency where that is being done. The hon. Member for Newport, West made the same point.