HC Deb 25 July 1974 vol 877 cc1949-70

Lords Amendments further considered.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Where do we go from here? Is there any suggestion that the amendments should be taken together? That was the idea last night.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Reginald Freeson)

If it will help, Mr. Speaker, since there may be one or two matters which hon. Members will wish to query, perhaps it will be in order to consider the amendments by dealing with the Bill part by part.

Accordingly, I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendments to Part I of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

On a point of order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is this on Part I? With respect, the hon. Member is too late. I have put the Question. It has been agreed to.

Mr. Cunningham

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The difficulty is that the amendments are listed not according to the Parts of the Bill but by numbers. If an hon. Member wishes to raise a point, say, on Lords Amendment No. 84, how is he to know when that is reached? I have spent the past two hours looking at the Bill, and hon. Members will appreciate how difficult it is. Perhaps we might be told the numbers of the amendments involved in each Part of the Bill so that any hon. Member who wishes to raise a point on a specific amendment may know when it has been reached.

Mr. Speaker

That seems to be a very reasonable point of order. We have dealt with Part I. When we come to Part II perhaps the Minister will give some indication of the amendments involved.

Mr. Freeson

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in their said Amendments Nos. 1 to 9 in Part II of the Bill.

Mr. Paul Tyler (Bodmin)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My copy of the Bill, which is difficult to read, suggests that Part II comprises Clauses 13 to 27. I find it rather difficult to understand how the Minister can be moving Part II when Clauses 1 to 9—[HON. MEMBERS: "Amendments."]—are not listed in that way.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps the Minister will assist the House.

Mr. Freeson

I have my amendments numbered, and the way in which I moved the amendments was in accordance with the numbering in my papers. I can do no better than that.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

May I help the Liberal Party by giving the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) a volume that is numbered?

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Tyler

I refer to the new clause after Clause 26 which, I think, is numbered No. 6. My pencil mark, which has been much photocopied, is not easy to read. I refer to the new clause which appears on page 6. It is intended to follow Clause 26 which is in Part II of the Bill. It refers to the disclosure of interest by members of committees of registered 1965 Act associations. I should be grateful if the Minister would indicate whether I am in the right part of the Bill.

Mr. Freeson

I do not understand how Clause 26 can be in page 6 of the Bill. I find it difficult to make a quick reference on that basis.

Mr. Tyler

The paging in my volume does not seem to have any numbering. All I can do to identify the place is to point out that at the top of the page it says: Insert the following new clause after Clause 26. There is no number in my volume. [HON. MEMBERS: "Amendment No. 9."] I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House, but my volume does not have that number. Perhaps at this stage I should make the point that last night we were extremely grateful to the Leader of the House and to you, Mr. Speaker. I speak on behalf of other hon. Members who referred to the difficulties involved. It was difficult for back benchers to find their way through the papers. We have had the advantage of 24 hours to study the papers.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)

It is Amendment No. 9.

Mr. Tyler

I am told that I am referring to Amendment No. 9.

Mr. Speaker

It is a pleasure to see that Whips are sometimes of some use.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Gerald Kaufman)

To the great astonishment of myself and the House, I think that I am with the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) and that I understand what he is asking. If he will be kind enough to put his question it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we may be able to help.

Mr. Tyler

I am grateful to the Minister. I have had the assistance of the Government Whip but I still cannot find Amendment No. 9. My point is that it is difficult to identify what exactly a direct or indirect interest is in a contract. As I have declared in the many debates that we have had on the Bill, I have an interest as an adviser to the Royal Institute of British Architects. Solicitors architects and surveyors are very often members of housing associations and they may have an interest as professional advisers on a contract. Is that a direct or an indirect interest? This is an important point, because clearly we are introducing a new element into the way in which housing associations will operate. I should be grateful if the Minister could give some indication whether in those circumstances members should declare an interest.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think everybody in the House appreciates the enormous lengths to which the Government have gone to provide us with papers. I hope that between now and the resumption of our sittings in October we will not allow this situation regarding the printing of Parliamentary papers to continue. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is all over.") By interruption I am told that it is all over. If that solves the difficulty, that is fine. We must have our papers properly printed. If that had been the position tonight the difficulties which the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) has raised would not have arisen.

Mr. Speaker

That is rather a different matter.

Mr. Freeson

I am sure that the news will bring a smile to some faces anyway. Perhaps I can make it clear that the clause requires a member of a committee of a registered 1965 Act association—that is an association registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965—and also of a housing corporation to disclose to his fellow committee members any interest that he may have in any contract that the association has entered or proposes to enter, and makes it an offence for him not to do so. I hope that that will satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

Mr. Freeson

I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Lords in their Amendments Nos. 18–41 to Part IV of the Bill.

Mr. George Cunningham

I wish to speak in relation to Amendment No. 31—new clause "Notification of notices to quit and disposals of housing accommodation, etc."—although there are other amendments relative to the matter I have in mind. It is not a specific point. It relates to priority neighbourhoods generally. Priority neighbourhoods are a new concept provided for in a number of the amendments. We were told on Second Reading of the Bill that the Government intended to bring forward a new concept, which was then spoken of in terms of safeguard areas or control areas additional to the housing action areas originally provided for in the Bill and in the precursor of the Bill, the Housing and Planning Bill. However, it was not possible to move that proposal in Standing Committee in this House and it was only in the House of Lords that this concept was finally inserted in the Bill.

The proposal for the new priority neighbourhoods is an important matter. Why priority neighbourhoods should be called neighbourhoods and action areas called areas I do not know. It is merely part of the confusion which is littered through the Bill and illustrates the woolly thinking behind the Bill which I remind the House was not a Labour Bill but a Conservative Bill which was left on our doorstep. Instead of strangling it at birth we picked it up and adopted it.

It would be useful to have an indication from the Government of the case for these priority neighbourhoods. My right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for the Environment, in the Second Reading debate on the Housing and Planning Bill—the precursor of this Bill—in the previous Parliament spoke strongly and rightly of the undesirability of creating a patchwork solution to the problem of housing in stress areas. He thought it a pity that the previous Government should be creating housing action areas in addition to the general improvement areas. Now we are to have general improvement areas, housing action areas and priority neighbourhoods. Different powers will be applied in each of those areas or neighbourhoods. A general improvement area may not be contiguous to a housing action area but on the other hand we cannot have a priority neighbourhood not contiguous to a housing action area. My borough of Islington will find it impossible to draw the lines in relation to the areas. There will be higher improvement grants available in some districts within these areas as against other districts which will not qualify. Boroughs will have to say to some ratepayers, "You cannot have a higher rate of improvement grant because you are not in a housing action area or a priority neighbourhood".

Local authorities will find it impossible to draw any rational line to reflect these areas. The reason that I put my views on this matter on record when this new concept is introduced into the Bill is that the Government will shortly regret having accepted this patchwork approach to the problems of distress areas. I hope that the Minister can give us the justification for the priority neighbourhoods and confirm that if after, say, a year, it looks as if there is something in my criticisms, the Government will not feel that they have to stick to the legislation which we are so hurriedly passing but will be prepared to come back to the crossroads and go up the other road, which would mean giving local authorities general powers which they will be able to exercise anywhere in their areas according to their concept of what is required.

Mr. Freeson

To take the last point first, there is no shortage of general powers for local authorities in housing and related matters. What has been missing over many years is a coherent approach, especially in the older, twilight areas. Having listened carefully to my hon. Friend, not for the first time on this subject, I believe that that is what he seeks to establish. That approach is to treat these areas as a whole, rather than in the fragmented fashion in which we have treated them in the past—both Government and local government. There is no shortage of general powers. It is the way in which powers have been organised in the past which has shown what I consider to be a central failure of policy over many years.

I accept that the priority neighbourhood concept does not go far enough towards achieving the more coherent approach to tackling the older inner city areas, but, unlike my hon. Friend, I believe that it is a start. It would have been more desirable—here I think we are on common ground—had it been possible to start from scratch, to produce a more wide-ranging Bill to deal with urban renewal in a far more comprehensive and coherent way.

But we judged when we came to office that a long time had been spent in consultation with local authorities and housing associations, that people throughout the country had been waiting for some time for what was then called the Housing and Planning Bill and that it would have been wrong to delay taking action in this field for many more months while we studied the matter and then consulted upon our ideas about a different or more extensive Bill. This is why the Bill was introduced as an edited version of the last administration's Bill.

From the outset, I have tried to see how the original Bill could be recast in this one to introduce at least the beginnings of the more comprehensive approach which I wish both Government and local government to follow. It is a limited start, but it is the right one and if it is used properly the priority neighbourhood concept will produce the opposite of the fragmentary approach which my hon. Friend rightly criticises.

10.30 p.m.

I shall for a few moments explain how I visualise that working. We shall be considering the criteria for the establishment of such priority neighbourhoods, the way in which they can best be organised and dealt with in some detail in due course, I hope not too long from now. There will be follow-up circular advice and personal contact between the Department and local authorities in order to get the concept moving.

Basically the Bill does two things. It enables local authorities to operate a notification procedure on property transactions which until now we had considered applied only to housing action areas, much more limited areas of our towns and cities. It does this on a much wider scale and it extends, although to a very limited degree, the basis of compulsory purchase orders where they are necessary in the old areas.

More than that, however, it will provide, in time—and this is where the follow-up work will have to be carefully prepared—a basis for local authorities, trying with our backing to integrate some of the separatist fragmentary action now taken on housing and urban matters within local and national Government. We want to get areas treated as neighbourhoods and communities rather than as different bits and pieces with individual problems.

This will require extensive and concerted use of existing powers as well as the new powers of local authorities in these definable areas. It will in time lead, I hope, to a much greater integration of different kinds of service in the old areas going well beyond limited matters of housing with which the Bill and my wing of the Department are strictly concerned.

There could be consultation with the Department of Education and Science at national level. There could be local consultations between education and housing authorities and planning and social service departments. A good deal of work is being done on this in local government. Urban studies are already in hand. The object is to move increasingly towards what I have described as the "total approach" to the treatment of old areas. The move will be away from the vertical, fragmentary approach of the past, instead treating housing, schooling, amenities and general environmental matters, and social services in an interrelated fashion, properly programmed for neighbourhoods. "Neighbourhood" is the correct term, because we are trying to move towards the concept of community action as distinct from vertically separated services in local or national Government.

This is the beginning of something which, if followed through by local and central Government action, could produce a considerable challenge to politicians concerned with the problems of our older urban areas. It will provide an opportunity in time for a genuine community-based approach rather than an approach based on separate services. Even if my hon. Friend does not agree that this will achieve what I am suggesting, I hope that he will agree that we have the right objective. I am confident that this method can and will work.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

The House is grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his very clear explanation of the priority neighbourhoods. Am I right in thinking that the local authorities can themselves declare a priority neighbourhood without any interference from central Government, that it is for them to decide and not for the Secretary of State to designate?

Mr. Freeson

It will not be for the Secretary of State to designate. We shall issue guidance and criteria, and there will be constant follow-up work. As was originally visualised, even in the previous Government's Bill in connection with housing action areas, where information is given to the Secretary of State which leads him to believe, after due consideration, that it was inappropriate to declare a priority neighbourhood or a housing action area, he will be able, as it were, to undeclare it.

I also visualise as the priority neighbourhood concept gets under way areas in which local authorities, with our backing, can programme a series of housing action areas and general improvement areas over a period of years, or tranches of years, instead of just picking bits of areas at random, as has been constantly the practice, so that we move from one point to another on a district basis, trying to relate what we are doing in an integral way, as I have described.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.

Mr. Freeson

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in Lords Amendments Nos. 69–80 in Part VIII.

Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford)

I should like to say something, and ask a question, about Lords Amendment No. 78, which introduces a revised version of the new clause amending the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. I warmly welcome the clause, which was introduced in its original form in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Homsey (Mr. Rossi). It carries out an undertaking given by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, from the Opposition Front Bench in this House as long ago as 1966. It is a belated amendment of a patent injustice in the 1967 Act, for which I have been campaigning for many years.

The clause raises the rateable value limits on the right of leasehold enfranchisement. It does not remove them, but at least it raises them to a level which will take care of all the many cases of long leaseholders in my constituency who have so far been debarred from enfranchisement.

For these reasons, I warmly welcome the new clause, but I have one question. What is the significance of the date 18th February 1966 in the new clause? It is not the same date as appeared in the original version of the new cuause as introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey in Standing Committee. If I may have an explanation of that date, I will not delay the House further.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

Perhaps I can help the House here. I believe that the distinction is that in the original new clause the date was the date of the White Paper which introduced the concept of leasehold reform, whereas the date which now appears is the date on which the Act became effective.

Mr. Tyler

I fear that my copy still does not have the number of the Lords amendment. It is new Clauses 102B, 102C, 102D and 102E to which I wish to draw attention. I think they immediately precede the new clause to which the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) referred, and deal with listed buildings subject to compulsory purchase orders. I think they constitute a completely new element in the Bill which we did not discuss at any stage in this House.

If I am right, I hope that the Minister may be able to give us a little more guidance about the exact purpose of these new clauses. I have for many years been concerned about the apparent difficulties which local authorities find themselves in if they have a change of mind. It may be that these new provisions are simply designed to make it possible for them to deal with changes of mind.

Mr. Freeson

Did the hon. Gentleman indicate the number of the Lords amendment?

Mr. Tyler

I am sorry, but mine is an early edition of this document. I got it at 10.15 p.m. yesterday, only five minutes after it arrived. It is not numbered. It is on a page originally numbered 21, which has been crossed out, with the number 45 substituted.

Perhaps I may pay tribute to the compilers of this document. We all appreciate the extraordinary difficulties they have worked under. While last night I criticised the way in which the business had been brought forward to the House, I think that the physical compilation of this document is a marvellous work of art. I pay tribute to the way in which, under considerable strain, people responsible put this document together.

I now have a different copy, which the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) has kindly supplied me with, but unless I am quite blind I cannot find a number on the amendment, but the page number is 45, containing new Clause 102B.

Mr. Michael Morris

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe we have already dealt with this amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Murton)

Perhaps the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) will not mind waiting a moment. Has the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) found his place now? It is Lords Amendment No. 70.

Mr. Kaufman

Although we are having some numerative trouble, perhaps I can endeavour, to the best of my limited ability, to assist the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) on the matter he is concerned about. It is a principle of some importance.

Mr. Michael Morris

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If an item has been dealt with, it has gone; if it has not, it has not.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is within the group. We are dealing with it within the group. There is no objection to going backwards, if I may put it that way, provided we do not leave the group altogether.

Mr. Kaufman

I am somewhat astonished at this disharmony among the Opposition of national unity. The hon. Member for Bodmin and the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) between them have a majority of 188. I should have thought that they should get together in their mutual interest rather than quarrel in this unseemly way.

10.45 p.m.

Perhaps I could revert to my attempt to explain the principle to the hon. Member for Bodmin. I had the opportunity of explaining this during Second Reading. We have the absurd position whereby local authorities can make compulsory purchase orders and go through all the procedures, after which some irresponsible citizen, such as myself, seeks to get buildings of architectural interest listed and succeeds in doing so.

This makes a nonsense of the compulsory purchase order because the local authority, even when it has had the order confirmed, cannot proceed sensibly with its planned redevelopment because of the listed buildings. I am happy to say that in my constituency my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State listed two admirable 17th century cottages which the Manchester City Council wished, most irresponsibly, to demolish. It was a particularly irresponsible act because they contained several very good Labour voters.

It seemed to us, and it was accepted by the House on Second Reading and by the Committee, that it was wise to give a local authority the chance to escape from the nonsense in which it had been placed through giving it a power to apply for the revocation of the compulsory purchase order. We decided that there should be a limited period from the time when the Act came into force because clearly if, after that time, there was no such limit, all planning would be nonsense, blight would spread like a plague over our cities and no kind of urban planning would be possible.

We therefore decided to limit the revocation power to a period of three months I believe, after the Act came into force. That is the point of what we are trying to do. I hope that this makes matters clear to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Tyler

Could the Minister make clear whether provision for public participation, as under the 1971 Act, apply in cases such as this? If there any change in the arrangements?

Mr. Kaufman

So far as I recall from my studies of the Bill there are no changes. There are no added powers for the public to take part. We do not provide any kind of new long-stop ability for the public to intervene after the Secretary of State had made his decision. This would make a nonsense of the Minister's decisions.

Mr. Graham Page

I am well aware of the difficulties here. Indeed I had experience of them on many occasions when I was a Minister, particularly in Manchester. The problems arise when the local authority or a private developer is hoping to proceed but at the last moment a building in the development area is listed and the whole development is brought to a standstill.

Would the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that it will still be possible to have second thoughts about this? Can he confirm that there is no obstruction in the Bill to listing at any time? Do the amendments give the local authority the ability to have second thoughts about compulsory purchases?

May I also ask the Minister about the clause headed "Compensation." I can not say that I have read it in detail. It is Amendment No. 75 on page 57. I am not quite certain where this comes into the scheme of the amendments ranging from Amendment No. 69 to Amendment No. 78. Evidently at some stage someone gets some compensation for the revocation of the compulsory purchase order or of the listing. I am not sure which it is. I hope that the hon. Member has some brief before him to deal with this. Until he nods I will go on talking.

Mr. Kaufman

We are in some difficulty with the numbering. Would the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to repeat the numbers?

Mr. Graham Page

It is Amendment No. 75 on page 57. The marginal note is "Compensation". There are a lot of cross-references in the Clause, and I am not sure exactly who is getting compensation for what. I imagine that it has something to do with the cancellation of compensation upon revocation of an order. It may be that if a building is listed late in the process of development the local authority is to be relieved of the responsibility of paying compensation. Will that cause hardship to someone who has been inconvenienced by the imposition of a compulsory purchase order?

Mr. Kaufman

I give the right hon. Gentleman an immediate assurance on his first point. The provisions which we are inserting into the Bill will in no way interfere with the possibility of late listing. As a passionate lister, I would strongly disapprove of any such interference with the right to preserve historic buildings. Indeed, I wish that we could insert a further long-stop to allow second thoughts even after the Secretary of State has given his consent.

On the right hon. Gentleman's question about compensation, the aim is to pay a sum which meets the difference between the value of an unfit house and the market value which is appropriate to a house which is to be improved and not demolished.

Question put and agreed to.

  1. Schedule 3
    1. cc1961-8
  2. Schedule 9
    1. cc1968-70
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