HC Deb 26 June 1969 vol 785 cc1874-80

Amendment proposed: No. 162, in line 18, leave out 'at a low rent' and insert— 'and modify section 9(1) of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967; to amend section 28 of the Housing Subsidies Act 1967'.—[Mr. Skeffington.]

Mr. Graham Page

This being the last Amendment, it does a little more than clarify. It is an Amendment to the Long Title, and I think that the hon. Gentleman ought to explain a little more why it is there.

Mr. Skeffington

The Amendment is consequent upon the new provisions in relation to long leases, which were not in the Bill on Second Reading. It is, therefore, necessary to tidy the matter up by referring to it in the Title.

Amendment agreed to.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Greenwood

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

I should like to thank the House for the great help that it has given during the passage of the Bill, and it is a great privilege to be able to move the Third Reading.

We have had a number of extremely useful debates on the Bill. I thank hon. Gentlemen opposite, because I know that they have had to work under great difficulty for many days. I think that they have made many constructive suggestions which have improved the Bill. I am grateful, too, to my hon. Friends on this side of the House, and also to the draftsmen and the officials who have worked so hard to try to give effect to the wishes of the Committee, and then of the House.

I think that everyone will agree that the Bill has been improved in the course of its passage through the House, but it has not changed in its main features. It is doing the same things, but, I think, doing them more effectively, and perhaps more justly than was the case before. I do not want to outline the various changes which have been made in the course of the debates that we have had. They are important, but we have had an opportunity of discussing them, and I do not think that I need stress them on this occasion.

What I should really like to say is quite brief. First, I hope that when the Bill becomes an Act it will produce first-class improvement work, and not the rather second-class improvement work which is all that has been possible under the financial provisions which have existed so far. I think that the mistake which some of my hon. Friends have made is that they have been thinking still in terms of the kind of improve- ments which were possible under the old provisions.

I hope that everyone who has an opportunity to do so will visit the little Urban District of Whitworth in Lancashire, where the Leavengreave scheme for turning old houses into new homes has been put through as a result of co-operation between the urban district and the Ministry of Housing.

Perhaps I could tell the House quite briefly what that scheme involves. I ask hon. Members to picture a site which was bounded by a disused railway on one side, and a polluted river on another. It had a derelict mill at one end, and a corporation refuse heap to add to the joys of the scene. It was a site which I think would have daunted the most adventurous and enterprising of pioneers.

In the middle of it were three rows of back-to-back houses. The council first tore down the middle row. It then took the two outer rows and knocked the houses through so that they ceased to be back-to-back, and became single houses going right through the block, well above Parker Morris standards. The council then sand-blasted the exteriors, and modernised the interiors. Where the middle row stood, there are now gardens, and trees, and seats. The whole scheme is an outstanding example of what will be possible within the financial framework envisaged by the Bill.

If my hon. Friends are still critical of some of the proposals in the Bill, I hope they will realise that that is the kind of improvement work that we want to see taking place in the future. I hope that Leavengreave will be repeated all over Britain in the years to come. The tenants of these houses at Whitworth had to face very substantial increases in their rents, but I did not find anybody who complained of that. Indeed, I think the general feeling of people is that they do not mind paying increased rents provided they feel that they are getting value for their money.

We have tried throughout our discussions, as I said earlier, to strike the right balance between justice to the landlord, and justice to the tenant. I do not suppose that we have succeeded in satisfying every possible demand in that respect; but I hope that the House will give me and my hon. Friends credit for having tried to achieve that, sometimes under difficult circumstances.

The subject of residences for students was mentioned on several Amendments in Committee. I said at the time that there is no reason in law why these residences should not be provided by housing associations, as defined in the Housing Act of 1957, and by housing societies, as defined in the Housing Act, 1964. As the House will know from a recent answer by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, he is studying carefully the proposals sent to him for student co-operative dwellings. I am in close touch with him about these proposals.

In addition to the problems of undergraduates and single students generally, there can be special problems for married students, particularly married graduates, and their families. These can often be met by associations and societies catering for general housing need. I will consider carefully whether more can be done, but it would be misleading the House if I did not explain, as I so often have to do when considering new policy suggestions, that they have to be examined in the context of housing priorities and competing demands for resources.

I should like once again to thank the House for the help it has given, and to say with what pleasure it is that we shall speed the Bill on its way to another place.

11.52 p.m.

Mr. Peter Walker

I thank the Minister for the kind things he has said about the way in which the Opposition have tried to make constructive improvements to the Bill. I said on Second Reading that our object was to make constructive suggestions and I am grateful to him and his colleagues for the way they have listened to, and often accepted, those suggestions and for the courteous replies we have received. We had a long Committee stage and three days on Report, which is long for any Bill, but they have been days well spent, and substantial changes have been made which will improve the Bill.

This is an important Measure for a number of reasons. The first is the Government's recognition of the need to allow reasonable rents to be paid for properly maintained and repaired properties. The Bill does not add anything financially to the present housing programme, because the £40 million expenditure which is expected to be reached by 1972, when the Bill comes into operation, is taken from the existing budgets for general housing programmes. It is right to emphasise improvement and I hope that the publicity which the Government give to these facilities will be successful and considerable. What all hon. Members fear who hope that the Bill will be successful in its main purposes is that thousands who could take advantage of it will not do so because of lack of publicity. I hope that local authorities will do everything possible to bring these facilities to people's attention.

I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned student housing, but I am disappointed that he has not dealt with this problem in the Bill. If he had accepted an Amendment of ours, greater progress would have been made and there would have been a considerable contribution to solving the housing problems around universities.

Finally, I express my appreciation to my hon. Friends who have worked with me in Committee and on Report. The Opposition has not quite the same facilities of assistance and research as the Government and we would all agree that my hon. Friends have put forward a whole string of Amendments which were well thought out and which have meant a considerable amount of work on their part. They have worked hard improving the Bill in the interests of the housing of the nation.

11.55 p.m.

Mr. R. W. Brown

While I also wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend upon having introduced the Bill, I must, even at this stage, voice some fears which a number of my hon. Friends have about the whole subject with which the Measure is designed to deal.

The local authority in my constituency has taken note of the Bill and has urged it on its way, if that is the right phrase to use. It has already proposed that from next Monday it will cut back on the number of houses to be built so that it may construct 1,400 of the type of dwellings covered by the Bill. Along with this proposed cut back one must consider the people who will be displaced and the already enormous number of people who are waiting for accommodation.

It all adds up to the fact that my council, with which I have been in daily contact on this subject, is completely unable, unwilling and incompetent to re-house my constituents. The future looks black for the people of Shoreditch and Finsbury.

I naturally congratulate my right hon. Friend upon having introduced a Measure for which we were asking 10, 13 or more years ago. The then Government refused to recognise the seriousness of the problem. The Conservatives first introduced the 1954 Act, which was described as "a mouldy turnip". They then brought in the 1957 Act, and that led to the Milner Holland Report. They were aware of the facts before the Milner Holland Committee was set up—we had given them all the information they needed—but they merely delayed.

While this Bill is being introduced some time after the Labour Party has come to power, it was vital for it to be introduced, and I therefore congratulate my right hon. Friend on having the courage to deal with this problem. However, I fear that we are legislating in the face of local authorities which do not have experience of the problems which the Measure is designed to tackle. They are not even aware of what we were pressing 10 or more years ago.

I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to look carefully into the facts, for the borough councils of, for example, Hackney and Islington will implement the Bill not for the purposes about which my right hon. Friend has spoken but as a device to evade their responsibility for housing the people of their areas. I have grave fears on this score. I have forwarded to my right hon. Friend information about the establishment of what I believe to be spurious housing associations. In an intervention I spoke of Conservative councillors forming themselves into groups for this purpose. They have no experience of this problem. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] There is no reason for hon. Gentlemen opposite to call me to order. We have debated at length the whole question of housing associations.

There is a piece of land in my constituency which was in the ownership of the council. There was a change of council and that land has been offered to a housing association, to which the council will give the money to purchase the land. The housing association will then build on it according to the council's authority, so to speak, and, when the construction is complete, the council will be given 100 per cent. nomination.

What is this sort of thing all about? Who will gain, apart from separate architects, quantity surveyors, housing managers and so on? Only today I made another attempt to find out the details of the Canonbury Housing Association. I have traced it to Porden Road, Brixton, but when one telephones that address one finds that it is a construction company. Somebody should delve further into this matter to discover just who these people are and what is involved.

I beg my right hon. Friend to make sure, certainly in my part of the world, that if approval is given to housing associations, the facts are checked. I trust that he will delve deeply into the devious attitudes which some councils are taking. Instead of giving priority to housing associations, we should ensure that local authorities tackle the real issues, such as the families with five, six and seven children living in two rooms. That is happening in my constituency now, and neither my local authority nor the G.L.C. seem able to do anything about it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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