The Housing Action Trust's Proposals for Its Area

Clause 50 – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 14th June 1988.

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Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle 1:45 pm, 14th June 1988

I beg to move amendment No. 89, in page 43, line 8, at end insert — '(1A) The statement shall include the trust's intended policy on—

  1. (a) the implementation of its duties under section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976;
  2. (b) adherence to codes of practice issued by the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission;
  3. (c) rents and service charges;
  4. (d) any planned programme of renovation;
  5. (e) the disposal of housing accommodation;
  6. (f)its response to management guidance issued by the Secretary of State; and
  7. (g)the programme through which the trust will discharge its duties and make arrangements for its dissolution.'.
We want some definition in the legislation of what a HAT will do and of its functions and its limitations. That is why amendment No. 89 is important. We want a statement of the activities of the trust to include its intended policy on the implementation of its duties under section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976. We do not think that the Government will disagree with that. Indeed, there was a major discussion on that issue earlier in our debates.

We want the trust to adhere to the codes of practice issued by the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission. That has been one of our major disagreements because, although the Government accepted the need for action under section 71 of the Race Relations Act, it was difficult to convince them that a trust should have some responsibility for equal opportunities. That does not surprise us because in all the legislation, including this legislation, the Local Government Bill and the Local Government Finance Bill, the Government have paid scant attention to equal opportunities and have legislated to prevent local authorities from being concerned about equal opportunities. However, we should like housing action trusts to be concerned about them and to take account of what the Equal Opportunities Commission has to say. That is important.

We want the rents and service charges policies of housing action trusts to be spelt out. The Government's definitions of market rents, affordable rents, fair rents, reasonable rents, assured tenancies and secure tenancies have always been rather nebulous. The Government have been moving the goalposts throughout the course of the Bill in respect of their definitions of rents. Although it may take a few years, they will return housing to the market place wherever they can and thus have a free market in housing and have high market rents which relate to what people can charge. So far as Ministers are concerned, the higher the rents the better.

However, because of the criticism, pressure and worries about the political consequences of that proposal, the Government have hedged their bets. They have talked about affordable rents in the housing association sector —whatever that means—and market rents in the private sector, and they have given some assurances about the nature and level of rents for council housing and housing estates taken over by private organisations. However, we have not had any assurances about the levels for housing action trusts and what they might be in the future, whether they will he affordable and remain fair, or whether they will he market rents and how quickly the Government's aim of market rents will be achieved. We would like the housing action trusts' intended polices to be spelt out when any HATs are declared.

The same is true of service charges. Basically that is a way of obtaining more rent than is allowed under the machinery to which any organisation must submit itself in respect of rent. If there are ways of charging higher rents through loopholes in respect of service charges, they should be spelt out and any abuse prevented. The Government should be sympathetic to that because they were keen to criticise any local authority that happened to be Labour-controlled and used service charges in connection with the right-to-buy provisions in the Government's legislation. We do not believe that service charges should be used in the legislation to allow HATs to charge what would be virtually higher rents than would otherwise be allowed in the legislation. We see no reason why the Government should not provide a policy statement in respect of HATs in that connection.

We want to know, in advance of publication, any planned programme of renovation proposed by a HAT. We want to know about the disposal of the housing accommodation. That is one of the great fears of many council estate tenants throughout the country. It is not just a question of HATs taking over or of picking a landlord and handing over an estate to a private body. It is also a question of what will happen eventually to the housing when the HATs are wound up and the private landlords want to sell to another third party. We are most concerned about any proposals for the disposal of accommodation after the period during which the HAT has been operating and has done the job that the Government set. We need to know about that.

We also need to know the HATs' response to the management guidance which was issued by the Secretary of State. We hear enough criticism about local authorities and responses are demanded from them on management guidance issues in the circulars issued by the Secretary of State. I imagine that the Secretary of State will give guidance to the HATs on management. We want to know what that guidance will be and what the HATs' response will be. As I have said, the programmes through which the trust will discharge its duties and make arrangements for its dissolution are major issues relating to exactly how the HATs will be dissolved.

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In a later amendment we will consider the rights of the residents in housing action trusts to he able to opt to return to local authority control if they want to do so. If the Government believe in freedom of choice, they should give freedom to the residents of the declared housing action trust areas to determine their long-term future once the HAT has completed the job that the Government have set it.

We understand that, having starved local authorities of resources by cutting housing investment programmes and subsidies for the housing revenue accounts, the Government feel guilty about the fact that local authorities which could have solved the problems of many of those council estates have been starved of the resources to do so. As a result, social problems have developed on those estates as well as problems with the fabric. We understand that, because the Government feel guilty about that, they have declared these HATs which will pump resources into the rundown estates. As the Government have been party to running down those estates, they want the housing action trusts operating so that they can deal with the problems of those inner-city estates.

Having done that, there is no reason why in the future, once the job is done, and once the resources have been poured in, the local authority and the tenants should not have a say in their long-term future and in the type of tenancy under which they live. Tenants should have a say in whether the local authority should be their landlord. Again, if Conservative Members really believe in choice in housing, they will support that proposal and our amendment.

As I have said, the amendment is wide-ranging and covers many policy areas for which HATs will be responsible. Whether they like it or not, the Government, or the HATs when they are established, must address those issues. It is right and proper that the House of Commons should put down its requirements now in the form of amendments if the management of the estate is to he taken over, often against the wishes of the tenants.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

The argument is not about our objectives but about whether the Bill meets those objectives. The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) has stated that he is keen to see the objectives set out clearly and in detail. We believe that clause 59 achieves that. Clause 61 makes it clear that the statement which the HATs must produce should cover the HAT's proposals with regard to the exercise of its functions in that area. There is a clear requirement that housing action trusts should set out their proposals in relation to their responsibilities when drawing up that statement. Many of the items included in the amendment need to be addressed in the statement. We do not believe that it is right to set that out in advance and in detail on the face of the Bill, because the situation may be different in different HATs and we should wait to see what appear to be the proper priorities for the first statement from a HAT.

Opposition Members are anxious, as we all are, to keep an eye on the progress of HATs. That is why we are, in the first instance, committed to publishing our management guidance for HATs, which was welcomed when we made the commitment in Committee. Secondly, HATs will be subject to the corporate planning system which will annually review their progress against individually set performance measures. Thirdly, HATs will produce annual reports to be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

Fourthly, we have fulfilled the commitment that we gave in Committee and have brought forward the amendment, which was welcomed generously by the hon. Member for Bootle, about giving the National Audit Office access to HATs. Taking that together with the extensive consultation requirements that are being placed on the HATs, HATs will be subject to close public scrutiny. By their nature, they will be subject to close scrutiny locally and in this place, and that is right.

We would have to resist amendment No. 89 if it were pressed. I hope that, when the hon. Member for Bootle looks at the battery of constraints that we have placed on HATs, he will believe that we have met at least some part of his concern.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

We are not happy with the Government's response, although we accept that there have been some minor concessions. We should like the details to be spelt out in the Bill. Because the Government have not gone far enough, we will press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 136, Noes 189

Division No. 357][2.5 pm
AYES
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Allen, GrahamHardy, Peter
Alton, DavidHarman, Ms Harriet
Archer, Rt Hon PeterHaynes, Frank
Armstrong, HilaryHenderson, Doug
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Home Robertson, John
Barron, KevinHood, Jimmy
Battle, JohnHughes, John (Coventry NE)
Beckett, MargaretHughes, Roy (Newport E)
Beith, A. J.Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Bell, StuartJones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Blunkett, DavidKirkwood, Archy
Boyes, RolandLamond, James
Bradley, KeithLeadbitter, Ted
Bray, Dr JeremyLitherland, Robert
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Lloyd, Tony (Stratford)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)McAllion, John
Buchan, NormanMcAvoy, Thomas
Buckley, George J.McCartney, Ian
Caborn, RichardMacdonald, Calum A.
Canavan, DennisMcFall, John
Clelland, DavidMcKelvey, William
Coleman, DonaldMcNamara, Kevin
Cousins, JimMcTaggart, Bob
Crowther, StanMadden, Max
Cryer, BobMarek, Dr John
Cummings, JohnMartin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Dalyell, TamMartlew, Eric
Darling, AlistairMaxton, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)Meale, Alan
Dewar, DonaldMichael, Alun
Dixon, DonMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Doran, FrankMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Duffy, A. E. P.Moonie, Dr Lewis
Dunnachie, JimmyMorgan, Rhodri
Eastham, KenMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Evans, John (St Helens N)Mullin, Chris
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)Nellist, Dave
Fearn, RonaldOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)O'Brien, William
Flynn, PaulO'Neill, Martin
Foster, DerekOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fyfe, MariaParry, Robert
Galbraith, SamPatchett, Terry
Galloway, GeorgePike, Peter L.
Garrett, John (Norwich South)Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Godman, Dr Norman A.Primarolo, Dawn
Golding, Mrs LlinQuin, Ms Joyce
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Radice, Giles
Randall, StuartThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Redmond, MartinTurner, Dennis
Reid, Dr JohnWall, Pat
Richardson, JoWallace, James
Roberts, Allan (Bootle)Wareing, Robert N.
Rooker, JeffWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Ruddock, JoanWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Sedgemore, BrianWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Sheerman, BarryWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Short, ClareWilson, Brian
Skinner, DennisWinnick, David
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Soley, CliveWorthington, Tony
Spearing, NigelWray, Jimmy
Stott, RogerYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Strang, Gavin
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)Tellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Frank Cook.
Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
NOES
Adley, RobertGardiner, George
Alexander, RichardGarel-Jones, Tristan
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelGoodhart, Sir Philip
Allason, RupertGorman, Mrs Teresa
Amos, AlanGorst, John
Arbuthnot, JamesGrant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Green way, Harry (Ealing N)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Ashby, DavidGregory, Conal
Baldry, TonyGriffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Grist, Ian
Bellingham, HenryGrylls, Michael
Bendall, VivianHamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Benyon, W.Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnHanley, Jeremy
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterHannam,John
Boscawen, Hon RobertHargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Boswell, TimHarris, David
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)Haselhurst, Alan
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Hawkins, Christopher
Bowis, JohnHayward, Robert
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesHeathcoat-Amory, David
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Brandon-Bravo, MartinHind, Kenneth
Brazier, JulianHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Holt, Richard
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Hordern, Sir Peter
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon AlickHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Burns, SimonHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Burt, AlistairHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Butler, ChrisHunter, Andrew
Butterfill, JohnIrvine, Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Jack, Michael
Carrington, MatthewJackson, Robert
Carttiss, MichaelJanman, Tim
Chapman, SydneyKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Chope, ChristopherKey, Robert
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Kirkhope, Timothy
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Knapman, Roger
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Conway, DerekKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Critchley, JulianKnowles, Michael
Day, StephenLang, Ian
Devlin, TimLatham, Michael
Dickens, GeoffreyLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Dorrell, StephenLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLilley, Peter
Dover, DenLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Durant, TonyLord, Michael
Eggar, TimLyell, Sir Nicholas
Emery, Sir PeterMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Evennett, DavidMalins, Humfrey
Favell, TonyMarland, Paul
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Fookes, Miss JanetMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Fox, Sir MarcusMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gale, RogerMellor, David
Meyer, Sir AnthonySmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Miller, Sir HalSoames, Hon Nicholas
Mills, IainSpeller, Tony
Miscampbell, NormanSpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Stanbrook, Ivor
Montgomery, Sir FergusStern, Michael
Moore, Rt Hon JohnStevens, Lewis
Morrison, Sir CharlesSumberg, David
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)Summerson, Hugo
Moss, MalcolmTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Neale, GerrardTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Nelson, AnthonyThatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Neubert, MichaelThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Townend, John (Bridlington)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Trippier, David
Patnick, IrvineTwinn, Dr Ian
Pawsey, JamesViggers, Peter
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWaddington, Rt Hon David
Porter, David (Waveney)Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Powell, William (Corby)Waldegrave, Hon William
Redwood, JohnWalden, George
Rhodes James, RobertWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Riddick, GrahamWard, John
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Roe, Mrs MarionWatts, John
Rossi, Sir HughWells, Bowen
Rost, PeterWhitney, Ray
Rowe, AndrewWiddecombe, Ann
Rumbold, Mrs AngelaWilshire, David
Ryder, RichardWinterton, Mrs Ann
Sackville, Hon TomWolfson, Mark
Sainsbury, Hon TimWood, Timothy
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Young, Sir George (Acton)
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Tellers for the Noes:
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. David Maclean.
Shersby, Michael
Sims, Roger

Question accordingly negatived.