Consultation and Publicity

Part of Clause 50 – in the House of Commons at 9:45 am on 14th June 1988.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North 9:45 am, 14th June 1988

I agree with my hon. Friend, who is right to point to what is in effect a new form of double taxation. It is a remarkable invention of the Tory Government. A local authority retains the debt charges on the transferred estates, which are paid to the City—and they are considerable, running into millions of pounds—the housing action trust is established with a right to dispose of and sell such assets as it sees fit, and once it has subtracted the considerable salaries of the HAT members money will be transferred back to the Government. Local people, from a declining rate base, because of the abolition of domestic rates and the imposition of the poll tax, and on a declining income base, are expected to pay the debt charges of an estate that they have built, which is handed over to a HAT, which can sell it on to a bunch of property speculators, who can winkle out poorer tenants to create a paradise for the upwardly mobile so beloved of the Tory party.

If anyone doubts that that process can happen, I advise him to visit council house blocks in Wandsworth, which were built by the London county council before the war In a determined effort to solve London's housing crisis. They have now become city homes for part-time dwellers who mess about on the stock exchange during the week. That is not what those houses were built for or what public money was spent for, yet that is what they are now used for. There is a direct correlation between that process of creating double housing for the wealthy and people sleeping in cardboard boxes under Charing Cross arid Waterloo stations every night. That is the sort of society that the Secretary of State loves to live in. He loves to drive in his chauffeur-driven car past those people sleeping on the streets because they cannot afford anywhere to live in his meritocratic Britain. That should be treated with contempt.

To add to that arrogance, the Government do not even propose properly to consult people on the transfer of their area to a HAT. The Secretary of State will impose a HAT on an area, he will listen to the local authority view, proceed to ignore it, as in the case of Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Newham when the LDDC was established, and proceed wih the HAT.

Despite the best efforts of the popular newspapers to deny people information about the Bill and the dangers of HATs, a whole new network of information has developed of people in tenants associations, housing organisations, and campaigns to inform other council estates of just how dangerous this legislation is for them.

After Second Reading I wrote to every tenants association in my constituency explaining the Bill, what I considered to be the dangerous points of it, and offering to meet them to discuss it. Anyone who has been involved in work with tenants associations will know that normally a meeting is not a high point in life. Often only a small number attend, unless there is a particular problem on the estate. There have been massive meetings on every estate. They were not clamouring for an alternative landlord or for a property company to run their estate. They were asking what they could do to keep them out and prevent a HAT, what form of consultation was open to them and how they could influence the Secretary of State. I have to explain that we shall do everything that we can to demonstrate our total opposition to the imposition of HATs, but that the legislation is so established that a quango will be set up with the approval of the Secretary of State. My constituency has experience of such quangos and it has no public representatives in any elected position other than those from the Labour party. The Conservative party, however, has managed to contrive a sympathetic majority on the health authority by bringing in people from outside. That is the model that the Government will seek to copy if they are allowed to establish HATs.

A local development company wants to undertake some work around Finsbury Park, to adapt the Rainbow theatre for other things and to develop a shopping and industrial complex nearby. When the company, CIL Ltd., put forward its proposals it decided that it would also like to take over the Six Acres and Harvist estates. They were to be used partly to provide car parking for those using the local shopping facilities. That company's plans represent a precursor of my idea of a HAT and who it intended to serve. It was interesting that there was a massive turnout of the residents of the estates at public meetings. They told the developer that they did not want him to run their estates. Although the residents had many complaints and problems with the local authority's management of the estates, they understood that when an elected local authority was running the estate they could get at councillors and at the local authority. They had some influence.

Many of the residents had previously lived in private rented accommodation and they knew full well that once the management of an estate was transferred from a local authority to a trust and then on to a property company they would have no influence. They were determined to stay with the local authority, despite the contemptible way in which that authority has been treated by the Government, who have continually cut resources for housing repairs, improvements and developments.

Three blocks are in the process of being rehabilitated on the Six Acres estate, but the Secretary of State has now refused to sanction the order to rehabilitate the fourth block. That has created an apartheid system because the residents of the three blocks will enjoy reasonable housing but that will be denied to the residents of the fourth block.