HC Deb 25 June 1974 vol 875 cc1311-5
Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

I beg to move Amendment No. 69, in page 2, line 27, at end insert: 'subject to consultation with the relevant local authority'. There is some concern, especially among the larger authorities, about the extension of powers that the Bill gives to the Housing Corporation. If those extended powers mean that more houses will be built where they are needed, I shall be satisfied, but I should like an assurance that the houses will be built and that they will be built where they are needed.

Under the 1957 Act, local authorities were able to make grants and loans to housing associations, and the Act included nomination rights so that the houses provided could be let as may appear to the local authority to be expedient in view of the needs of their district. The Housing Corporation will not have knowledge of the needs of each council's area. 'There is no obligation on the cor poration to consider the housing needs of an area. Having two authorities with the same duties operating in the same area and under no obligation to consult each other could lead to a duplication of administration and information and be wasteful of resources.

The Under-Secretary of State, who is to reply, knows the complications of assessing the housing needs of a district like the city of Manchester, which we both represent. It is an immensely complicated task, which cities particularly have great difficulty in assessing. I accept that both the Housing Corporation and the local authorities can be required by the Secretary of State to consult each other. However, I can think of no case where that consultation should not take place. Therefore, the requirement for consultation should be written into the Bill. I urge my hon. Friend to make sure of that consultation under any Secretary of State, not just the present one, by supporting the amendment.

Mr. George Cunningham

I support the amendment.

The borough of Islington recently had experience of a case where a housing association, based not locally but in the north of England, had had consultation with the Housing Corporation for some period, but it was only at a very late stage that the borough discovered that, as a result of those proceedings, the housing association had acquired an extensive property within its area.

It is not right, especially when a borough has a close relationship with housing associations, provides them with a great deal of assistance, is co-operative and has a zoning arrangement under which housing associations are allocated to parts of the borough, that in those circumstances, or perhaps in any circumstances, the Housing Corporation, which is a public body, should operate behind the back of the local authority, which is how the local authority in this case saw it.

We are giving the Housing Corporation extended functions, which we hope it will use responsibly. I suggest that one element in acting responsibly in this sphere is acting in consultation with the local authority. The amendment does not call for agreement by the local authority. Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine circumstances in which we would hope that the corporaton would overrule and go against the views of a local authority. However, it ought not to act in the way that I described earlier without advance consultation with the local authority concerned. Therefore, I hope that the Government will be prepared to accept either the amendment or the content of it and to bring forward their own amendment at a later stage.

Finally, I should like to make one related point. Because of the extended functions of the corporation it is even more important that its board should include people with experience of the work of housing associations. That is not the position at the moment. Recently I asked the Minister a question about this matter. His answer suggested that only one member of the board has direct experience of housing association work. If the corporation is to have friendly relations with the housing associations it must have more people with housing association experience appointed to the board. When the composition of the board comes up for review I hope that the Minister will give effect to changes along those lines.

Mr. Kaufman

After the fantasies which emanated from Kensington and the solicitude of the Opposition Front Bench for wealthy leaseholders, it was a relief to listen to my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) and Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) who talked about the serious and genuine problems of inner city areas.

Having had the privilege of listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury in Committee, I know that he will forgive me if I say that I especially welcome the accent of Manchester in this debate, because the problems there are very different from those in inner London and the views of those who wish to have security of tenure removed from people living in inner London.

I assure both my hon. Friends that, in asking my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton not to press his amendment, I am not doing so because I reject the arguments that they have put forward. If we thought that the results which they want would not be forthcoming, we would, even though the amendment is technically defective, have been prepared to see whether we could adapt it. Tie results that my hon. Friends wish to see will be forthcoming without the incorporation of the amendment.

I shall not trouble to go into arguments against the technicalities of the amendment. It would be easy for me to spend some time describing why the amendment is technically defective, but my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton would have every right to say, "If the only argument against the amendment is its technical defects, it is up to you, with the aid of your civil servants, to iron out those defects." That is not the argument that I wish to advance.

First, I should like to reassure my hon. Friend about his misgivings on the nomination rights. Local authorities will continue to have nomination rights if they continue to lend. It will be for them to make the choice. There is no need for an association to switch to borrowing from the Housing Corporation if it continues to receive co-operation from the local authority by way of loans. I am sure that local authorities, which are conscious of their civic responsibilities—as both the city of Manchester and the London borough of Islington are—will take that into account.

8.30 p.m.

Local authorities have been assured that it is the intention of the Housing Corporation to consult and to co-operate fully with local authorities. Lord Goodman has stated publicly that that will be the case. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could, if necessary, use his powers of direction to see that they do so. In the light of this, a statutory requirement to consult, in the manner proposed in my hon. Friend's amendment, is for that general reason unnecessary. He may find this more convincing. He implies that every Secretary of State may not be like this Secretary of State. No doubt the further implication would be that no Chairman of the Housing Corporation would necessarily behave as Lord Goodman has said he will behave. I assure the hon. Member that this amendment is also unnecessary.

In so far as the corporation is exercising its powers to provide dwellings or hostels it will have to obtain planning consent and will have to refer to the local authority in connection with building regulations, sewerage and highway controls. The crux of the matter is that cooperation with local authorities is not something that can be enforced by legislation, even were we to legislate.

If the corporation is to make the sort of progress and contribution to solving housing problems which is intended and which my hon. Friends clearly expect, it will find it essential to consult local authorities on many aspects of its work at a number of points connected with each development.

In the light of that, I ask my hon. Friend not to press his amendment.

Mr. Marks

In view of the assurances of the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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