HC Deb 02 March 1973 vol 851 cc1887-912

Order for Second Reading read.

1.3 p.m.

Mr. Dick Leonard (Romford)

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

I have waited a long time for this moment, and council tenants throughout the country have waited even longer. This is the third successive Session in which I have introduced such a Bill, but it is the first time there has been a possibility of a Second Reading debate.

The Bill comes before the House with a great deal of support. Its sponsors come from all three major political parties; it has the support of all the leading tenants' organisations; and it is also supported by numerous local authorities, both Labour-controlled and Conservative-controlled.

The support which the Bill has received is not just of a verbal kind. When I first introduced such a Bill, under the Ten Minutes Rules, in April 1971, I was able to report that I knew of only four local authorities in the whole country—Liverpool county borough and the London boroughs of Camden, Lambeth and Southwark—which were implementing regular procedures for tenant consultation.

Since then, partly because of the publicity which the Bill attracted on the two earlier occasions on which it was introduced, there has been a considerable increase in the number of local authorities which have introduced schemes of tenant participation. More than half the London boroughs—including, I am happy to say, the London borough of Havering, which includes my own constituency—have introduced regular procedures of one kind or another, and both parties on the Greater London Council, the largest landlords in the country, have accepted in principle the need to introduce a scheme of tenant participation. The city of Sheffield, which has had a strong housing advisory committee since 1969, has recently strengthened its powers.

The developments which have taken place, and which are continuing, have been possible only because of the enthusiastic support of tenants' associations, which have grown rapidly, both in numbers and in organisational strength, over the past two or three years. In particular, the Association of London Housing Estates has been the driving force behind the major developments in the greater London area. Together with the Rowntree Trust, it has recently initiated a two-year research project which will monitor the progress of the schemes already established.

The evidence I have been able to present of solid progress, despite the absence of legislation, may lead some hon. Members who are sympathetic to the objectives of the Bill to question whether its passage is really necessary. It is true that the Bill does not compel any local authority to do anything which it does not already have the power to do. Some councils have, indeed, already gone a good deal further towards increasing tenant participation in housing management than the Bill proposes. But they are few, and the progress which has been made has been extremely patchy, with London councils proving in general more responsive than councils in other parts of the country.

I have received letters from tenants' associations in many different areas indicating a demand for participation which is not being met by the local authorities concerned. Unless participation is made mandatory it will be very many years before certain local authorities face up to their responsibilities in the matter.

As the pattern of local government is about to be changed radically outside the greater London area, this is a particularly apt moment for local authorities to be required to introduce a degree of tenant participation in housing management. The administration of housing is to be greatly altered, with the reduction in the number of housing authorities from about 1,200 to around 300, and there is a great deal to be said for the new authorities having written in, from the outset, a provision for their tenants to play an important rôle in the development of housing policy.

The Bill contains two principal proposals. Clause 1 provides that each local authority with housing powers shall establish a housing advisory committee, at least half of whose members should be council tenants and at least two elected councillors. The advisory committees could deal with such matters as repairs, caretaking, colour schemes for external painting, the layout of open spaces and the siting of children's play areas.

Subcommittees may be appointed at the council's discretion for particular areas and individual estates, and in the case of large estates they shall be appointed if 10 per cent. of the tenants or more submit a written request to the Council to that effect. The size of the committees, their method of appointment and their detailed functions would be left to the discretion of the local authority. This should allow for considerable variations to suit local needs and for later adaptations to the proposed new structure in the light of experience.

Some local authorities, such as Camden and Greenwich, have devolved certain management functions to local committees, and it will be open to authorities to do that under the clause.

Clause 2 provides that at least two council tenants shall be co-opted on to the housing management committee of each local authority. Councils already have the power to co-opt up to one-third of the membership of the committees, but very few appear to use the power. Once again, the method of selection will, under the Bill, be left to the discretion of the local authority.

Under Clause 3 similar provisions are made for the new town development corporations. New town tenants are in a similar position to those of local authorities, except that they have no part in electing their landlords, and it is clearly right that they should enjoy the same rights to be consulted about their home environment.

For too long council tenants have been denied the same rights as owner-occupiers, and even private tenants, and they have had much less say in the development of their home environment. The Bill is an attempt to ensure that they shall have equivalent rights to all other citizens and, in particular, that they shall have a say in the management of their own homes. Although I have consulted a large number of people, representatives of both tenants' organisations and of local authorities, in drawing up this Bill, I do not suggest that it is a perfect measure in its present form. I am very open to suggestions which might be incorporated in amendments during the Committee stage.

But I hope that hon. Members will feel that the case has been made out for a measure of this kind, that they will be impressed by the volume of support behind the Bill, and that they will agree to its Second Reading today.

1.11 p.m.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard) on bringing forward the Bill. He has been a pioneer in the House of tenants' participation in the management of their estates and he will know that his pioneering has met with some success as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition accepted some of his ideas in the important speech which he made in Newcastle-upon-Tyne a short time ago. I very much welcome my hon. Friend's proposals and hope that the Government will see their way to allow the Bill to go forward to Committee.

As I have told the House on many occasions, and I shall not hesitate to tell it on a number of further occasions, my constituency has particularly severe housing problems. It contains a very large number of council tenants. Many hundreds of council houses are being built, and others are planned. Therefore, the question of how the tenants of council houses, flats and maisonettes should have a voice in the management of their homes is of great importance to me because I get, and no doubt will get again tomorrow morning at my advice bureau, enormous numbers of complaints from tenants about the way in which small wants of theirs are disregarded and of suggestions which should be taken into account.

There is a considerable number of tenants' associations in my constituency, as in many other constituencies, which play a worthy and useful part in the life of the community, not only in dealing with questions of council house tenancy but in carrying out voluntary social work in their areas. For example, quite recently one of them organised an outing for old people. Some of them organise parcels for old people at Christmas. They go round the estates, see the problems of the estates and are able to bring to the attention of the authorities, local councillors and myself cases of neglect, illness and hardship which might otherwise slip through the social services net.

However, the reason for their existence is to deal with the problems of tenants. There are problems which local authorities like Manchester, with tens of thousands of council houses and other accommodation in their ownership, cannot always be aware of. Therefore, it is useful that they should be made aware of them. There is, for example, the need for repairs. People rightly feel that if there is something wrong with their houses—and this often happens in a new house where there are teething troubles—something should be done about it. Hon. Members will not be surprised to know that in my constituency and in Manchester as a whole dampness is a particular problem. This is something which the tenants' associations bring to my attention.

Some of the newer accommodation has lifts. In one case it was unwisely planned with exterior lifts. This happened when the authority was under the control of another party, but this is not the occasion to make party points. These exterior lifts are often fouled and they go out of order. Therefore, tenants have a part to play, and they play a part, in bringing matters like this to the attention of caretakers and the authorities.

There is a great need for playgrounds. It is a matter of immense sadness to me that in the less-well-off areas of my constituency young children are all too frequently killed in accidents because of the lack of playing facilities. A very sad accident happened only a short time ago when a young boy from Heywood House was climbing on to a railway line. As a result, housewives from the block of flats marched on the town hall demanding playing facilities for the children. It would be as well if tenants' associations had a more direct way of bringing to the attention of the authorities the crying need for playing facilities in my constituency.

There is the question of the planning of council estates. Often the estates are very good. Certainly those being built in my constituency include some very attractive houses and areas. But the question of the availability of facilities for people who live on the estates is often not thought out as well as it should be. In Coverdale Crescent—or Fort Ardwick as it is known locally because of its resemblance to a French Foreign Legion fort—there is no chemist's shop. Many old-age pensioners live on the estate and a lady in my constituency who acts in a voluntary capacity continually has to get on a bus and go into the centre of Manchester to have prescriptions made up for old people, who are particularly liable to all kinds of ailments.

There is a need for laundry facilities. I am sorry to say that a public house is to be erected behind the Brunswick Street estate, which is a very nice estate in my constituency. There are already far too many public houses in the area. I have no complaint about public houses and I pay occasional pleasant visits to them, but housewives in the area have told me that they would much prefer to have a municipal laundry rather than a public house built behind their estate. This is the sort of thing which could be taken into account if tenants had direct access to the housing committee.

There is the question of parking facilities, not only for the increasing number of tenants who own their cars but for visiting cars and delivery vans, which are a hazard to young people if proper parking facilities and laybys are not provided. I go so far as to say that I see no reason why tenants' representatives should not be consulted about the allocation of houses. In an area of great housing stress such as my constituency the allocation of houses is a matter of immense and strong feeling among those who wish to be rehoused or to get transfers and exchanges. There are sometimes strong feelings, which are quite likely misplaced, that there may be favouritism in the allocation of accommodation. I have never received any evidence of such favouritism, but if tenants knew on what basis allocations were made they would feel much easier about their chances of getting an exchange or transfer.

Above all, there is the feeling—and I am sure that many hon. Members are told about it when they visit housing estates in their constituencies—that people are not being given information. One cry which I hear over and again in clearance areas and housing estates is "We do not know. If only they would tell us. We could bear with the situation a little longer if only we knew what was to happen to us". Along with the cry "We don't know" there is also the cry "We are not listened to". People are becoming increasingly impatient at not being given information to which they feel entitled and at not having their opinions and views, strongly and validly held, heard in areas of authority where they ought to be heard.

I therefore hope that the House will allow my hon. Friend's Bill to go forward and that it will be speedily enacted.

1.20 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Reginald Eyre)

The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard) is well known to be a diligent champion of tenants' rights. I thought that his speech by way of introduction of the Bill was most interesting and revealed a close and sympathetic understanding of the practical difficulties which are faced by tenants, often living on very large housing estates, and particularly those living in the densely populated areas of our large cities.

We heard the hon. Gentleman spell out the aims of his Bill and I shall not hesitate to agree that those aims are good and praiseworthy. It must be right to try to develop the means of ensuring that those who are governed have a greater say in the running of affairs which affect them. In this as in other fields good communications between the two parties to the arrangements are extremely important.

To turn for a moment to the speech by the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), he is also well known to be diligent in raising many matters relating to tenants, and he des- cribed a number of excellent practices which apply in certain parts of his constituency. I was delighted when he referred to arrangements for outings for older people. He went on to describe many of the difficulties which tenants in his part of the world have experienced concerning repairs and rising dampness, difficulties with exterior lifts and various unpleasant practices. I well understand the points he was making. My own constituency in Birmingham includes large council estates, some of them pre-war, some of them of recent construction and including high-rise dwellings. Many of the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman referred can be found in parts of the city of Birmingham. I hope that local authorities will pay regard to many of the points that the hon. Member for Ardwick made. Great sensitivity and great effort are required to arrange for the management of these estates in a satisfactory way. I particularly agreed with the point the hon. Gentleman made in support of the general principles enunciated by his hon. Friend the Member for Romford about the supply of information. It is very important indeed.

However, there are a number of reasons why, in the area of local authority and new town housing management, I have reservations about imposing these aims on those bodies as the Bill would do—imposing a formal requirement to involve their tenants in a specific way. We must remember that the general management, regulation and control of local authority dwellings is vested in the authority under Section 111 of the Housing Act 1957. The provisions of the Bill would not change that, but authorities might justifiably feel that their ability to carry out their duties under that section would be impaired by the very provision which seeks to make a contribution to good management.

I would ask the hon. Member for Rom-ford whether there is not a risk that a statutory obligation on authorities and tenants would defeat the admirable object and aims of his Bill. It seems to me that any kind of consultation arrangement for tenants depends for success on its voluntary nature, certainly the voluntary nature of the adoption of these methods of consultation, because voluntary agreement implies that both sides have shown co-operation and understanding. There is no guarantee that those primary characteristics of good communications would develop if the arrangement were formalised or imposed. Instead—I would emphasise this—of authorities dealing directly with their tenants we might well find that the need to involve the housing advisory committee would bring unnecessary formality, which the hon. Gentleman wants to avoid, into the handling of everyday matters and would very probably have the consequence which he would seek to avoid of causing delay and frustration.

We all know that in many places associations of one sort or another of council tenants exist to make their views known to the landlord and this, I believe, they do effectively. In other places things have gone further and some authorities, as the hon. Member for Romford mentioned, and mainly in London I think, have set up advisory or consultative committees where they and their tenants get together for precisely the purposes proposed in Clause 1 of the Bill.

I was very interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's reference to development in this respect in the borough of Havering where, he said, regular procedures of one kind or another have been introduced. As the hon. Gentleman fairly admitted, there is nothing in law to stop such schemes or to prevent them from spreading to every housing authority area in the country. Indeed, the Government would welcome the spread on a voluntary basis of practices which would lead to better participation and more effective consultation, all within the declared aims of the Bill. Indeed, for many years successive Governments have encouraged housing authorities, in circulars and by other ways, to ensure that they have good arrangements for consultation with any organisations which their tenants choose to establish.

The hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, referred to regular procedures of one kind or another at Havering. It seems to me that there is a considerable range of ways in which the desirable aims of the Bill can be implemented by local authorities, and boroughs with tenant involvement at council level have set up arrangements for tenants to have joint decision-making powers on some issues.

It is interesting to look at examples of systems of participation which are running now in London. In 1971 Camden set up four district management committees which were treated as subcommittees of the housing committee with some executive functions. These committees, based on the areas of the borough's district offices, consist of six councillors and three tenants with various officers and non-voting tenants in attendance. Their executive functions include estate amenities and open space maintenance within a certain allocated budget —large-scale repairs costing £1,000 to £3,000, the encouragement of social activities and meetings with tenants' associations, inspection of properties within the area, and interpretation on a district basis of the council's broad policy on housing management. In addition, these committees can advise on any matters on which tenants feel that their views would be of assistance to the council, including caretaking services, tenancy rules and problems arising from redevelopment.

The tenants are elected by the local tenants' associations in a general meeting The councillors—all ward representatives in the area—include members of the housing committee and the building works and services committee. The officers attending include representatives from the town clerk's department, the central housing department and the local housing district office. The committees meet every two months and are open to the Press and general public by decision of the committee. Two of the committees have co-opted representatives of voluntary bodies in the area.

I am informed that a similar arrangement is just getting under way in Hammersmith. There are four area housing boards seen, in effect, as subcommittees of the housing committee. Each board is to have eight or nine councillors, including ex officio, the chairman and vice-chairman of the housing committee, and four tenants. The boards may authorise expenditure within a certain set sum—I am not sure that the amount has yet been decided—for improvement and maintenance and the general amenity of housing estates. The boards may also consider matters of management and maintenance relating to the dwellings and welfare of tenants, except—this is a major proviso—with regard to rent policy and tenancy allocation. I mention particularly the difficulty about tenants and allocation because the hon. Member for Ardwick stressed the problems which arise in that respect.

Greenwich has just set up a joint management committee which applies to only one estate, recently acquired from the Greater London Council, which is considered to have many special physical and social problems. The committee, which is seen as a subcommittee of the housing committee, consists of six councillors, members of the housing committee, three tenants representing the estate tenant association, and three additional tenants who may attend meetings but not vote. The committee may discuss all matters of estate management but has no executive powers at present, and no finances have yet been allocated to it. That is a different basis from Hammersmith. However, the Committee may make recommendations to the housing committee, and this plan may be extended to other estates.

In contrast to these schemes, two boroughs last year introduced plans for tenants to sit on housing committee meetings as observers but with no voting powers. In Wandsworth two tenants chosen by a borough-wide advisory committee may attend meetings of the full housing committee and the management and development subcommittees to keep a watching brief on the outcome of matters raised at the district and borough housing panel meetings. In Hillingdon—where the scheme began in September 1971—three tenants will sit on the housing committee to advise on all matters of council housing management and development plans. It has not yet been decided how the tenants will be chosen. The arrangement is seen as complementary to an advisory committee for management issues which already exists.

The second type of participation mechanism is the advisory committee, which may be on a district level or borough-wide, or both. Two boroughs have two-tier systems. Wandsworth has four district housing panels and one borough housing panel set up early in 1972. Bexley has seven or eight local committees and one central committee still in the planning stage. In both boroughs the local committees are expected to advise on strictly local management problems, while the central committee may discuss more general issues pertaining to the borough as a whole.

The local committees are composed of councillors who are either housing committee members or representatives for that local area, and tenants chosen by the local tenant association. In Bexley the central committee will consist of housing committee members and one representative from each local committee. In Wandsworth it consists of one representative of each tenant association in the borough, the chairman and the vice-chairman of the housing committee, the chairmen of the four district panels—all councillors—and minority party representatives to make equal representation.

Two boroughs last year set up plans for district committees only. I am informed that in Lambeth there are five area panels and in Newham there will be six district tenant liaison groups. These consist of members of the housing committee—which is called the Town Planning and Housing Committee in Newham —ward councillors and tenants. In Lambeth there are four tenants to represent each area, whereas in Newham each tenant association in the area may send three tenants to the committee meetings.

The Lambeth panels differ in conception from all other advisory committees, in that they are expected to recommend specific projects, including capital improvements for their area, and to suggest priorities between them. It will be seen that this is an important participatory responsibility. The recommendations are subject to the council's approval—and we understand that must be so—but there is some expectation that the advice will be followed if possible. Such projects include central heating, modernisation, garages and landscaping, and the sums involved are not small. For 1972–73, £250,000 was set aside by the council for these purposes. It has not yet been decided how the total sum allocated by the council will be apportioned between the areas, as their needs are seen as varying—a difficulty which seems to be inevitable as soon as problems and resources are considered on an area basis.

That difficulty emphasises the management responsibilities of the duly elected council and its housing committee. Conflicts of interest can arise in these important matters between areas within the total area represented by the local authority.

The single, borough-wide, advisory committee is the most common arrangement for district participation in management and occurs in seven boroughs, all in outer London. I give the type and date of commencement of the committees: Hillingdon, a joint consultative committee, 1965; Lewisham, a joint consultative committee, 1965; Harrow, a joint consultative committee, 1968; Sutton, a joint consultative committee, 1970; Bromley, a tenant liaison committee, 1971; Haringey, a tenant advisory and consultative committee, 1972; and Hounslow, a municipal housing advisory committee, 1972. The committees tend to meet quarterly. In Sutton they meet twice yearly and in Haringey every six weeks on the committee cycle. They are composed of councillors, generally members of the housing committee, and tenants. In most cases the tenants are chosen by individual tenants' associations.

In three boroughs—Hillingdon, Lewisham and Sutton—they are chosen by borough-wide federations of tenant associations in the area. Officers of the housing department generally attend these meetings, and officers from related departments—for example, the borough engineer's and treasurer's departments—may on occasion be called in.

In Hounslow the committee is composed, in addition to tenants and councillors, of two representatives from the staff of the housing department—one manual and one lower-grade officer—and representatives of various voluntary organisations in the borough: each Council of Churches, the Community Relations Council, the Hounslow Trade Union Council, the Action Committee for Hounslow, the Housing Federation of the Royal British Legion and the local liaison group of Shelter.

The terms of reference of these committees tend to be fairly vague, namely "to consider matters of common interest", although some tend to stress their rôle of facilitating smooth and efficient housing management. In Sutton, for example, the terms of reference include the consideration of all circumstances calculated to promote the efficiency of the housing management services of the council and circumstances tending to reduce efficiency or in any way to interfere with the satisfactory working of these services. As for the type of issues raised at such meetings, it is interesting to consider the minutes of one advisory committee meeting in Sutton. Discussion was held on the following matters: methods of choosing tenant representatives to the committee; expression of disappointment by tenants at a council decision on a matter raised earlier; a report by a housing officer on plans to improve dwellings on one estate; rent assessments under the proposed fair rent legislation; parking of lorries; transfer of GLC housing to the borough; allocation of rate income between the council's various services; methods of rent payments; review of the conditions of tenancy; concern by tenants at the need for a proposed playground, a matter raised by the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick; problems of public transport for a particular area—that can give rise to strong feelings—and fencing between a school and adjacent houses.

This list shows the range of problems likely to be discussed from overall policy issues like fair rents to specific local practical problems like lorry parking and fencing. It also shows how tenants might point out local problems which are likely to arise, for example about a playground and its proposed location, as well as the extent to which non-housing issues can be brought up. There may be reference to the allocation of rates, problems of public transport services, and so on.

Three boroughs have informal arrangements for regular meetings with tenants to discuss general problems. These may, in effect, be similar to the advisory committees which I have described, but there is no formal advisory function and the discussion groups are less institutionally formalised.

In Waltham Forest representatives of the Confederation of Council Tenants' Associations meet regularly with councillors and officers to discuss specific issues. In Barnet biannual meetings are held involving three or four representatives from each tenants' association, various officers and the chairman and vice-chairman and occasionally other members of the housing committee. In Southwark similar meetings are held with similar representation, except that the tenants may be from both Southwark and the Greater London Council properties situated in the borough.

The borough council—this is a complication in the London area—cannot help GLC tenants with specific housing problems—this aspect of participation is under careful consideration—but it can refer such problems to the appropriate GLC officers.

In this brief survey of activities in the London area there are two matters to which I should like to refer related to arrangements for regular discussions between tenants' representatives and housing department officials. In Merton the housing manager meets regularly on the committee cycle—that is to say, every six weeks—with the chairman, vice-chairman of the tenants' co-ordinating committee which represents the borough's tenants associations. If on later consideration it is found that particular problems require wider discussion, a meeting is set up with members of the housing committee. Similarly in Barking representatives of individual tenants' associations meet regularly with housing officers, again on the committee cycle, to discuss problems which may then be taken to housing committee members.

In all boroughs with no formal or informal means of tenant participation officers and councillors tend to meet tenants both individually and at association meetings, as need arises, to discuss specific grievances. Hon. Members from their constituency experience well know that this can be a valuable function of the local elected councillor.

A few boroughs appoint officers whose sole task is liaison with tenant associations, although these tend to be difficult posts for the individuals concerned since the officer may have divided loyalties between the tenants and management when there is conflict between them. Other boroughs have suggested that local estate officers are more effective in dealing with tenant association problems and requests because of their familiarity with local issues.

I have tried to review some of the means of participatory consultation which have developed in recent times in the London area. Before proceeding to examine in more detail some of the points made by the hon. Member for Romford in introducing the Bill, I shall refer briefly to the more general background of this matter.

I remind the House that as far back as 1952 a subcommittee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee said in "Living in Flats" that tenant associations could provide a link between tenants and management, with the association as a meeting ground between tenants' representatives and the chairman of the housing committee and management staff. It believed that the authorities should encourage the formation of representative organisations through which tenants could play a responsible part in the development of the life and well-being of an estate. The departmental circular issued then No. 10/52, sending "Living in Flats" to the authorities, said that the Minister concurred in its views and recommendations.

The second relevant report, "Councils and Their Houses", was published in 1959. This effectively endorsed the 1952 report and said that where a local authority had accepted the principle of joint consultation with tenants' associations or community groups a better understanding of the points of view of each side had resulted. The practice of periodic meetings to discuss matters of general policy and matters affecting the well-being of an estate was cited with approval. The committee recognised that the attitudes of local authorities to their tenants' associations tended to vary according to the circumstances which gave rise to their formation. I stress that point because it is extremely relevant to the purpose of the Bill——

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

Between the 1952 report and the 1959 report, how many councils acted on the recommendations of the Minister contained in the 1952 report? Is the Minister in a position to give the House the comparable references to the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee?

Mr. Eyre

It is difficult for me to reply immediately and with complete accuracy to that request for information. I shall see whether detailed information can be supplied to the hon. Gentleman because I want to be as helpful as possible.

Arising from those circulars there is no doubt that there was a growing recognition of the need to develop participatory functions. Throughout the country a number of councils became increasingly aware of the importance of this matter. I cannot speak from experience of what happened in Scotland—the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) will know that far better than I do—but I imagine that a similar process began to develop north of the border.

I was saying that the committee recognised that the attitudes of local authorities to their tenants' associations tended to vary according to the circumstances which gave rise to their formation, and the approach of the associations might differ widely, as we have seen from the report I have just given of developing circumstances of consultation in the various London boroughs. However, the committee recommended that, whatever the starting position, the authorities should treat associations as responsible bodies and seek to secure their confidence and co-operation. Circular 24/59 sending this report to the local authorities commended the report to them for consideration.

The most recent advice to local authorities was given in a 1968 circular on increases in rents. The hon. Member for Greenock will remember that circular, I have no doubt. It said that local authorities should improve their arrangements for dealing with complaints from tenants and for consultation with tenant organisations on rent matters and housing management generally.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I remember the circular intimately. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking now for 35 minutes, but I am sure he will come to this point quite soon. I have no doubt that he intends to accept the Bill. Will he include the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard) embracing Scotland as well as England and Wales?

Mr. Eyre

The hon. Gentleman must allow me to make my speech. I do not think I have been speaking for quite as long as he suggests.

Some authorities had good arrangements of this kind and all authorities were urged strongly to consider what more they could do to ensure that tenants were able to make their views known to their councils in those ways and to have their suggestions or complaints heard and dealt with in a sympathetic way. That sets out the main principles of approach with which we are all agreed.

In Clause 2, however, the hon. Member for Romford seeks to require each housing authority to co-opt to its housing committee at least two tenants of council-owned houses. As he fairly conceded, this course is already open to any local authority wishing to take advantage of it. I think that all hon. Members present have considerable experience of local authority matters in their constituencies and we all know the extent to which the local authorities operating in our areas have complied with this suggestion and have used this power to co-opt the tenants of council-owned houses to their housing committees.

Section 102 of the Local Government Act 1972, which replaces Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1933, provides for any local authority committee other than a finance committee' to include people who are not council members.

I do not think that the case has yet been proved for making the co-option of tenants on to housing committees mandatory any more than it has in respect of any other committes dealing with special services. This is a matter for individual judgment but it is also a matter in which a council's own judgment must prevail. It is an important matter.

The Bill refers to new towns, and the hon. Member for Romford also made reference to them in his speech. We have a somewhat different situation in the new towns. Essentially, however, there is provision for tenant co-operation in management, including housing management, in two ways. It starts at an early stage when the Secretary of State is expected to draw on local knowledge and experience when appointing members of a new town corporation, and great care is taken by means of consultation to try to get the most suitable people appointed to new town corporations.

Schedule 2 to the New Towns Act 1965 says that the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of securing the services of one or more persons resident in or having special knowledge of the locality in which a new town will be situated. In established new towns this may include people who are corporation tenants.

Secondly, when a new development corporation is appointed it is advised to take the earliest opportunity to appoint a social development officer, which is a very important post. One of the main duties of this officer is to encourage the growth of voluntary associations and to establish lines of communication between the residents and the development corporation and generally to ensure that conditions making for the maximum satisfaction of the tenants are achieved. The effect on new towns, however, would be a minor feature of the overall effect of the Bill and these new towns are in any event in a rather special situation. It is the principle of the Bill as it bears on the large number of local housing authorities and their tenants that we must be concerned with.

We have always held the view that the central Government should not unnecessarily interfere with local government in the day-to-day running of its affairs. I know that on occasion hon. Members on the Opposition side have charged us with acting otherwise, and I know that they have often asserted the wrongness of Government interference with the conduct of local government affairs. The view that the central Government should not unnecessarily interfere with local government in the day-to-day running of its affairs is one of the principles which form the basis of the relationship between central and local government in this country.

Mr. Kaufman

In that case will the hon. Gentleman withdraw the Housing Finance Act?

Mr. Eyre

The hon. Gentleman makes that plea a little too late because, as he knows, the Act is in implementation in almost every area throughout the country. As he also knows, it is becoming increasingly recognised by local authorities with very serious housing problems that they benefit under the terms of the Act because it enables them to deal realistically with their problems.

Mr. Kaufman

I therefore put it on record that the city of Manchester has some of the greatest housing problems in the country but does not acknowledge that it gets any benefit at all from that iniquitous piece of legislation.

Mr. Eyre

I know that the hon. Gentleman stoutly asserts that view and it may be that Manchester does not acknowledge the benefits of the Act. But I think that time will prove that Manchester—which, like my own city of Birmingham, I know has serious housing problems—will be better able to solve them within a reasonable time as a result of using the resources available under the Act.

Local authorities derive strength from the kind of independence to which I have referred in the running of their day-to-day affairs—an independence which would be to some extent penetrated by the terms of the Bill. The local authorities derive strength from this kind of independence, which will itself be strengthened as reorganisation takes effect. In the matter of management, regulation and control of council housing, the law makes it clear where responsibility is placed. I would be reluctant in the present state of knowledge to tell the local authorities how exactly they should carry out that responsibility. I would be even more reluctant to do it by statutory means.

I now want to refer again to the list of descriptions I gave of the circumstances of developments in the consultative process in certain boroughs in and around London. They vary enormously, and I again stress that after careful thought I would be reluctant in the present state of knowledge to tell local authorities how exactly they should carry out the responsibility that the hon. Member for Romford seeks to impose upon them. I would be even more reluctant to impose the obligation upon them since it is not yet fully matured and defined. I would be even more reluctant to impose it upon them by statutory means. It is fair to say that there is a belief that additional participation by tenants in the management of the estates on which they live automatically leads either to improved management by the council or to greater satisfaction on the part of the tenants, but this has yet to be proved by experience.

All the really significant steps towards tenant participation in the fullest sense have been taken comparatively recently —in fact, largely during the last two years, as I have tried to make clear in some detail. We in the Department of the Environment are taking a great interest in these schemes as they develop. We believe them to be very important. We believe it to be very important that we should find the right means of developing effective consultation so that genuine progress and improvement in standards should ensue.

As we heard earlier, the pioneers have mainly been London authorities. It is interesting to note that by spring last year 19 boroughs had set up schemes—I have not referred to all of them—and that since then others have followed suit. But there are signs that the movement towards a greater participation by tenants in management is gathering momentum in other parts of the country, particularly in our larger cities and especially, I believe, in Liverpool.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Romford and other hon. Members generally welcome that process. The great thing about these schemes is that while their aims may be broadly similar, the ways in which the people concerned seek to achieve those aims, their methods of working and the degrees of co-operation which have been achieved vary from place to place. With all humility, I think it should be recognised that we do not have a complete answer about the best form of consultation.

There are many different thoughts and opinions. I believe that as this experience develops momentum a lot of ideas will change. Probably many of the better systems will develop, and I think we shall learn a great deal from what is now going on. The Government believe that this kind of experimentation is of great value in these early stages—because we are at the early stages of developing an effective consultative system. The indications are that many of the schemes which have been tried so far are proving their worth, but I do not think we can yet go so far as to say that they deserve to be models for the rest of the country.

The people who are experiencing real participation at first hand say, for ex- ample, that the traditional antagonism between landlord and tenant is being lessened, that the council's work is being made easier and that tenants are no longer angry and dissatisfied. All this may be true, and I hope it is, as I am sure the hon. Member does. But I feel that a proper evaluation of the situation needs to follow a considerably longer period of trial and will then require a great deal more research than has taken place so far.

I ask the hon. Member to accept that this is a very carefully considered opinion, developed after a lot of sympathetic thought about the proposals in the Bill. So I urge the House to allow much more testing and examination of the whole idea before we say that this is what needs to be done and that this is the right way to do it.

I summarise the Government's attitude. We are naturally concerned to ensure that local authority housing management is effective and that landlord and tenant relations on council estates are good. We would like authorities actively to encourage their tenants to take an interest in how their estates are run and to discuss matters of general policy and matters affecting the well-being of an estate. Above all, authorities should ensure that tenants are able to make their views known to the council and that suggestions and complaints are dealt with in a sympathetic way. But we feel also that local authorities should be left to work out with their tenants what sort of arrangements are best suited to the needs of their own areas, because circumstances vary greatly throughout the country. Only by this method can we expect to see emerging effective and sensible practices which have been tried and proved and, most important of all, have the support of all concerned.

As time goes on we shall learn more about the various experiments that are being tried and we shall see how they are working out in practice. In this connection I welcome the fact that the Rowntree Trust has recently provided the money for a two-year research project to be carried out by the Association of London Housing Estates into the whole future of tenant participation. The hon. Member for Romford referred to this work, and I think he agrees that it is important that this study should be carried out in order to try to develop the right system which we can then extend throughout the country.

After another year or so, with this accumulated knowledge coming to hand and with reports from local authorities in London and elsewhere which are making practical attempts to develop a better system of consultation, the Government will be ready to review the position reached in consultation with the local authority associations—I think that all hon. Members, knowing the importance of taking account of the feelings of local authorities in this matter, will readily agree that we should have full consultations with them before deciding the methods of consultation to be developed, and certainly before imposing upon them any precise method or means of consultation such as the Bill proposes—if, after proper consideration of all these matters, the evidence suggests that the effort would be worth while.

I believe that the evidence will show that to be so, and I urge the hon. Member for Romford and all hon. Members to consider the necessity of good procedures and of having necessary consultations with local authorities about how the best ideas are to be implemented, having regard to the varying circumstances of local authorities in different parts of the country.

For the present, however, the Government do not accept that it would be right for Parliament to impose upon councils and their tenants a uniform pattern of consultation, a pattern which, as the considerable evidence from London shows, does not as yet command widespread support but which can nevertheless, as the law stands, be adopted on a voluntary basis by all local authorities which desire it. If local authorities wish to implement these schemes, they are able to do so under the existing law.

If Parliament were to impose an obligation in this respect upon local authorities, I honestly believe that there would be a danger of defeating the objective of creating better landlord and tenant relationships between councils and their tenants. I therefore say to the hon. Gentleman that although I agree with the aim behind his Bill, I believe that it is premature in the nature of its proposals. I ask him to consider withdrawing the Bill, because I believe that if he takes account of the points I have made he will agree that the system of consultation is not well enough formed to cause the House to say that a method could effectively and properly be imposed upon local authorities.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider withdrawing the Bill upon the basis I have described, namely, that there will be a further review of this matter after the evidence from the Rowntree Trust study and the development of practical experience is forthcoming. If the hon. Gentleman is not able to withdraw the Bill, I shall have to advise the House to reject it.

2.14 p.m.

Mr. Leonard

I ask for the leave of the House to speak again.

I appreciate the great trouble which the Minister has taken in coming to the House this afternoon and speaking at such length. I appreciate, too, his sympathy for and great knowledge of tenant participation in management, and I am glad that he has put on record in much greater detail than I was able to do what the various London boroughs have done to provide methods of consultation with their tenants. It is, however, fair to say that tenants in London boroughs are not uniformly happy about the arrangements that have been made and that, on the whole, the more far-reaching the arrangements for consultation that have been provided, the more satisfied the tenants have been.

I think that a fairly basic difference has emerged between the Minister and myself. The hon. Gentleman has indicated a strong preference that the adoption of procedures of consultation should, at least for the time being, be left entirely on a voluntary basis. Bitter experience in a variety of matters has shown that where that happens the lively, progressive, responsive authorities provide facilities for their tenants, while others which are less imaginative and less progressive do not. The situation is fine for people who happen to live under a progressive local authority; too bad for those who do not.

The normal process in legislation affecting local government is that for a number of years services are provided on a permissive basis and are then made mandatory in the interests of those who live in the less enterprising authority areas. If the Government find the voluntary principle so excellent, I join my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) in wishing that they had followed it with regard to council house rents.

The Minister expressed the fear that local authorities would be forced into too narrow a mould in their provision of consultative procedures if the Bill were adopted, but the Bill bends over backwards to be flexible and in moving its Second Reading I said that I would be prepared in Committee to be extremely forthcominig in considering amendments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick gave strong support for the principle of the Bill based upon his wide experience of the problems facing tenants in the city of Manchester. I particularly appreciated his view of the support which our right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in a recent speech gave to the general principles of the Bill. Everything said by my hon. Friend reinforces the need for a Bill of this nature, not in two years' time, but now.

Question accordingly negatived.

I am disappointed at the Minister's response. He promised that a review would be undertaken in about two years' time on the basis of the experience of the small minority of local authorities which have formal procedures in operation and the study to be undertaken by the Association of London Housing Estates with the assistance of the Rowntree Trust. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would at least undertake to send out a further circular to all local authorities encouragiing them to set up systems of tenant participation.

The Minister having failed to do that, I am in some difficulty. The other sponsors of the Bill are not present. I do not blame them for that. This is the third Bill on today's Order Paper and it was by no means certain that it would be reached. It is difficult for me to take the responsibility upon myself but, in view of the sparse nature of the Minister's response, I have no alternative but to ask the House to support the Second Reading of the Bill.

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

The House divided: Ayes 31, Noes 33.

Division No. 75.] AYES [2.20 p.m.
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Atkinson, Norman Kerr, Russell Roper, John
Booth, Albert Leonard, Dick Sandelson, Neville
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Lipton, Marcus Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Silverman, Julius
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Mackenzie, Gregor Weitzman, David
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) O'Halloran, Michael Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
English, Michael Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Gilbert, Dr. John Pardoe, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Pavitt, Laurie Mr. Gerald Kaufman and
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Perry, Ernest G. Mr. Phillip Whitehead.
Heffer, Eric S. Rankin, John
Atkins, Humphrey Gummer, J. Selwyn Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Bell, Ronald Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Scott-Hopkins, James
Biggs-Davison, John Kilfedder, James Shersby, Michael
Buck, Antony Kirk, Peter Simeons, Charles
Chichester-Clark, R. Lane, David Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Tilney, John
Dean, Paul Longden, Sir Gilbert Tugendhat, Christopher
Drayson, G. B. Money, Ernie Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Emery, Peter Onslow, Cranley
Eyre, Reginald Page, John (Harrow, W.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fortescue, Tim Pym. Rt. Hn. Francis Mr. Kenneth Clarke and
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Ridsdale, Julian Mr. Paul Hawkins.
Grieve, Percy