HC Deb 02 November 1976 vol 918 cc1287-307

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 4, line 23, leave out "has" and insert "have".

7.35 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Guy Barnett)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

With this we may discuss Lords Amendments No. 2, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12.

Mr. Barnett

These are drafting amendments designed to ensure that the Bill is consistent in using the plural form when referring to districts and corporations.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords Amendment No. 2 agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 5, line 5, after "scheme" insert ,in addition to the matters referred to in section (Right of tenants to purchase dwelling houses) of this Act,

Mr. Guy Barnett

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may discuss Lords Amendments No. 4, 25 and 26.

Mr. Barnett

The Opposition have sought to amend the Bill at every stage of its passage throughout both Houses so that it provided for new town tenants to have some kind of power to buy the houses in which they were living when the new town housing stock was passed to the local authority. The Opposition have striven hard and the Bill has returned from another place with a new clause.

It is an odd provision which is so out of keeping with the rest of the Bill as to require an amendment to the Long Title. It is out of keeping with the moderate and considered approach of the Bill which concerns the responsible management of a considerable slice of the public sector housing stock by public authorities. It is out of keeping with the rights of local authority tenants who will not be affected by it. It is out of keeping with the future responsibilities of the local authorities to which these assets are being transferred, and it is also out of keeping with the rights of new town tenants at large since it will apply only to those who are affected by housing assets transfers.

That the amendment has been repeatedly moved at almost every stage of the Bill demonstrates that the Opposition are preoccupied, if not obsessed, with the sale of council houses. They have taken every opportunity, however marginal or misconceived, to indulge that preoccupation. The Bill has placed the Opposition in a dilemma. They want to push sales, but the Bill is mainly about something else—the future management of new town houses. The Opposition can find no better vehicle for their proposals. Their amendments would produce an arbitrary and peculiar statutory right to purchase for certain tenants in certain places at certain times.

On each occasion that such an amendment has been proposed, we have had to point out a number of difficulties in the drafting. We have never wished to make too much of this, because Oppositions inevitably have difficulty in drafting an amendment free of any defects. Nevertheless, it is a matter of some interest that each time the amendment has been moved it has contained defects.

I believe this to be the result of two factors. First, fundamentally the amendment does not belong in the Bill. Secondly, I believe it extremely difficult to provide in legislation a statutory right for people to purchase the house in which they live, let alone to do so when a transfer of houses from new town corporations to local authorities is taking place. In view of that, rather than concentrate on the amendment I intend to deal once again with the Government's policy on sales of corporation and council houses as a whole, which is the real point at issue.

We on the Government Benches are opposed to the indiscriminate sale of publicly-owned dwellings. Our belief is that sales are not an end in themselves.

Rather, in any considered policy, the selling of council or corporation houses should he the consequence of an overall approach to housing, an approach moreover, which goes beyond the public sector's contribution. The selling of council houses and new town rented dwellings is only one part of the whole picture of the local housing requirements and should be seen as such. Any decision as to whether to sell should be considered in the light of the contribution which it would make to meeting those requirements and the effect it would have on the capacity of the local authority to provide good, attractive housing for those who have to look to their local council for a home.

Indeed, I am particularly worried about the degree to which the amendment would pre-empt the right and duty of the local authorities that will acquire these considerable assets to consider and apply their future housing policy. They will take on a considerable responsibility. Certain local authorities may wish to make certain dispositions in the light of the consideration of the housing needs of their areas. Together with many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I would want to rely on the perception of a democratically-elected local authority, chosen to represent the district, to make the right dispositions to meet the housing problems and needs of its area.

I can see great advantage in the Bill in so far as for the first time in the areas about which we are talking it will be possible for a local authority, once the transfers have taken place, to look at its area comprehensively. In the very nature of things, that has not been easy as long as management has been split between the new town corporation and the district council that has built houses of its own accord.

It follows that where it is clear that in a particular district the public sector stock is more than adequate to deal with pressing housing needs it will be right to sell, provided that the terms are realistic and do not involve a loss to the public purse. The number of such localities will increase as further progress is made in eliminating housing shortages. That is why we have relaxed the ban on sales in new towns. We agreed with the new town development corporations that sales could be resumed in those new towns where this would be without detriment to those who could not afford to buy a house.

It is our policy within the public sector to ensure that locality by locality, a balance is maintained between the desire for extended owner-occupation and the needs of those for whom owner-occupation is not the right or even a possible form of tenure. We have therefore advised local authorities when contemplating sales to make a careful assessment of their own situation, and in particular of the need for rented accommodation and how the supply to meet it can best be achieved.

That is the kind of responsibility that will rest with the district councils when the transfer schemes have been completed. I am anxious to see them shoulder that responsibility. I do not want to see their ability comprehensively to appreciate the problems minimised as a consequence of the amendments.

7.45 p.m.

The new clause would undoubtedly cut right across this approach. In considering the needs of its district, a process which the presence of the new town will have made all the more complex, the local authority would be hampered by the anomaly that some tenants had, by law, a power to buy their homes, while others, for very good reasons, had not been given the chance to do so.

Therefore, the new clause would distort the options available to a local authority to which new town houses are to be transferred. It could even pre-empt those options and deprive existing tenants of receiving authorities of the chance that the authorities could otherwise give them to buy their homes, because in some places selling on a small scale might be acceptable while massive selling would not be acceptable. Why should the law give some tenants what in practice would be an unfair preference over others?

The Opposition have had a good run for their money. Perhaps I should say "the Tory Opposition", because the new clause and the associated amendments were carried only because of predominantly Tory votes in another place. The Opposition have made their point. This House has consistently and wisely rejected what their amendments seek to do. I am confident that it will do so again now.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

The Minister said that the Opposition were obsessed with the sale of council houses. It seems to me that the Minister and his party are obsessed with enforcing their view against the wishes of those who live in the area concerned.

During the passage of the Bill the Government have said from time to time that they are not opposed to owner-occupation. The new clause, for all its possible defects, gives them an opportunity to show that that is so in practice.

What is wrong with giving those who live in new town houses the right to buy their own homes? The Minister told us today that that right would be out of keeping, because it would not apply to local authority tenants. I should like all local authority tenants to have the right to buy their own homes, but the Bill is limited to new towns, and therefore the amendment provides the statutory right for those in new towns to buy their houses on the transfer of the assets.

The Minister said that the Government had been flexible, but, through Whitehall, he is telling the Runcorn Development Corporation that it may not sell a single house to a tenant even if he wishes to buy. The hon. Gentleman talked about the elected local authority being given the opportunity to make decisions and said that the amendment would take away that opportunity by giving, instead, a statutory right to buy. What the Government are doing, not by legislation but by directive, is to tell the new town development corporation "You may not sell houses, even if you wish to".

I stand firmly by the view that I have expressed many times during the passage of the Bill, that those of my constituents who wish to buy their new town houses should be entitled to do so. I have no reason to believe that the development corporation's view has changed in any way since its chairman, with the chairmen of the other development corporations, pressed on the Government the desirability of their being able to sell new town houses if they wished. I do not see why the Runcorn Development Corporation should not be able to sell new town houses to tenants who wish to buy.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

What is the waiting list in Runcorn for the tenancy of a development corporation house? Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that if houses were sold to sitting tenants it would lengthen the waiting list, because the houses thus sold would go out of the pool of available housing?

Mr. Carlisle

I do not accept that. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a substantial waiting list for houses in Runcorn New Town because it is an attractive town and there is a demand from people to live there, but it is wrong to say that the effect of the clause would be to lengthen the waiting list. Those who want to own the houses which they now rent have no alternative accommodation. There is no other stock in the area for them to buy. If they have changed their jobs and moved to the area, their only opportunity lies in buying a house in that new town. I believe that people should have the freedom of choice to buy such a house if they wish. I am not saying that they should be forced to buy, but merely that they should have the opportunity to do so. That is also the view of the Runcorn Development Corporation.

Nobody would dispute that there is now a desire for owner occupation, particularly among young people who wish to own their own houses. We must remember that the new towns are largely populated by young people. In a time of inflation young people wish to take advantage of contributing to a capital asset that will help them to fight that inflation.

The Government, in refusing in general terms to permit development corporations to sell new houses, are, for dogmatic reasons, stultifying the desires of those people. It is only Socialist dogma that prevents people who wish to do so having the opportunity to buy these houses. I hope that such an opportunity will shortly be afforded to them.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I have some feelings of trepidation about New Clause A because I see both sides of the argument. I agree with the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) that waiting lists play a large part in the attitude of local authorities towards the selling of their houses. My own local authority, which has a Conservative chairman, has concluded that it should not sell council houses, because the waiting list grows monthly.

However, in respect of the situation in the new towns, I believe that the Opposition's view is more correct than the Government's view. I made inquiries of a number of new town chairmen and found that most of them wished they could sell houses in their towns. The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) said that although there were waiting lists in the Runcorn area, there were not alternative houses available in the private sector for would-be purchasers to occupy. We believe that it would be much better if local authorities gave cash grants to council house tenants to enable them to move into the private sector where houses are available, so that the council properties thus vacated were left for members of the lower income groups to move into. Obviously that makes sense.

I agree with the Minister that these matters should preferably be left with the elected authorities, which is where the decisions should be made. I am sorry to hear that the Government have not yet given the flexibility to new towns to sell. Apparently, if that is correct, Runcorn has been forbidden to sell its houses.

Mr. Guy Barnett


Mr. Ross

No doubt we shall hear more about that later. Is it a fact that the authorities at Milton Keynes and Stevenage can sell their homes? Is it now Government policy that they are entitled to do so, if they wish?

Mr. Guy Barnett

I thought that that position was very clear. The former Minister for Planning and Local Government had a conference with new town chairmen at which agreement was reached whereby new town corporations, whose housing list waiting periods were less than three months, and where there was an obvious desire to sell a number of corporation houses, could put proposals to the Minister to enable them to make sales. I understand that two new town corporations have already taken advantage of that situation. However, it was suggested that the district council should be consulted before such a decision was put to the Minister. The Government do not operate an inflexible policy against sales by a corporation.

Mr. Ross

We have not yet had a final decision. Schemes have been put forward, but we have not yet heard the outcome. That is the present position.

I believe that the clause brings the matter to a head. I see no objection to sales of new town houses. It seems to me that there should be a discount, that these houses should not be sold below cost, and that there should be restrictions to that end.

Sir Thomas Williams (Warrington)

I understand that the Opposition are suggesting that authorities should induce new town corporations to sell houses if they wish to do so. That is a different proposition from what is contained in the Lords amendment. The amendment seeks to insert New Clause A, providing that a scheme shall include the statutory right for a tenant of a dwelling house to purchase". If all the Opposition are seeking is that the corporation, if it so wishes, shall have the choice of selling, it is a wholly different position from that adopted in the Lords amendment. Does the hon. Gentleman dissent from that point of view?

Mr. Ross

No, I do not dissent from it, but up to now the fact is that the Government have not come clean on this subject. They are saying, "Yes, basically where waiting lists are short the new town corporations should be entitled to sell, but they must put up schemes to the Minister". We have not yet heard what has happened in the case of those who have presented schemes.

These provisions bring the matter to a head. I would rather there were no statutory rights, because I believe that the matter should be left to local authorities. I believe that, once the transfer has taken place, it is better for the new authorities to deal with the situation. The Government are dragging their feet, and in this instance I believe that the Opposition have got the balance right.

I am worried that there is no provision in the clause for local authorities to step in and repurchase. Nevertheless, I believe that the whole matter is something of a red herring. With mortgage rates of 12¼ per cent. and 12½ per cent. people will not be so anxious to buy their houses. I understand that in Slough the local authority is seeking to sell its houses but that the take-up is relatively slow. I do not think that there will be a rush for these homes while money is so dear. The experience in Stevenage some years ago was an unhappy one, because people who had purchased houses at flexible rates found the figure rising to as much as 14 per cent. and eventually returned to the local authority with the plea "Please buy my house back."

The merit of this proposal is that it brings finality to the matter. If the Government will not take action the tenant will have the power to force an authority into selling. In present housing and financial circumstances there has to be a much greater changeover to private occupation and tenant management. There have to be schemes enabling people to take a far greater share in the maintenance of their homes. This will all come out in the Housing Finance Review, which we hope to see in about a month's time. I think that, on balance, the Opposition have it right.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)

I had not intended to speak, but, as in previous debates on new towns, some strange things have been said during the course of the exchanges, and I have therefore been prompted to rise. The most curious thing is the suggested amendment from their Lordships. Because they may take leave of their sense there is no reason why we should follow suit. I agree with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who began by saying that there might well be a need for discussion of the whole question of council houses being sold to tenants. But has that got a place in this Bill? That is what the issue is about.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) is right to refer to the question of flexibility. I am sure that he will agree with me that when we are trying to ensure the passage of a piece of major legislation relating to the transfer of assets from the development corporation to the council—a massive exercise—we should not be hampered by the political knock-about that we have seen on previous stages. This does not help those who live in new towns.

A number of hon. Members who are present tonight represent new towns. On every occasion that we debate this subject we fail to produce the clarification that it is suggested is required. Nothing is brought to a head. This means that we are letting down our people because of this political knock-about. I have no time for this, irrespective of the side of the Chamber on which I am sitting. New towns are precious to me, as they are to other Members. There are many things that we need to put right in new towns. We must ensure that we get a proper, integrated approach to housing and jobs. We ought to look more seriously at the development of unemployment in new towns. In my new town there is 10 per cent. unemployment, and I am worried about it. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I appear to be less than tolerant of any excursion into the realms of politics.

Basically we need to use our resources and energies to solve these problems. The Minister has rightly said that there is an element of flexibility. If people feel strongly about this they should take it further with the Minister. At the same time, the main element of concern in this Bill must centre round vesting date, when the local councils will take over responsibility for this major area of operation involving staff and the transfer of houses. In my constituency I am being asked at what date everything goes over to the local council. That is a fundamental question. There are others of the same nature. It does not help our credibility as Members of Parliament or assist with our concern for new towns if we constantly raise a question that is totally irrelevant to the state that we have reached with new towns.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

The hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) is quite right to say that new towns are precious to hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. It is because they are precious, because we are concerned about those who live in them and because the Bill has to do with the transfer of assets that it is appropriate for us to consider the options for those who are affected by the transfer. We have to ask whether they should be transferred into council housing or be given the option to become owner-occupiers.

I return to the Government's observations on this Lords amendment, an amendment which the Under-Secretary was right to say has been changed a number of times since it was originally moved in this House. It has been changed because we have tried ad infinitum to meet the points of Government comment and criticism. It was changed in the other place at least once to meet the Government's wishes. It is a sad reflection that if the Government wanted to meet us they could have removed the technical deficiencies and ensured that the amendment was correct.

What we have seen is a rearguard action on the part of the Government, attempting to shore up what they see as their interests in public housing. The Government have consistently said that, in their view, if the amendment were carried we would be restricting the flexibility of district councils in their housing management. Council housing today is probably the most inflexible area in all our housing stock. We all know that a person in a council house will hang on to it because he will be unable to get a transfer unless he is particularly fortunate in his advertising and manages to exchange with someone in another part of the country. It is pretty difficult to move within a housing authority area even where waiting lists are short. People will not move. They believe that they have an asset and they want to hang on to it.

If we are honest, we know that part of the unemployment problem rests on the fact that people are not willing to leave their council houses. Far from encouraging flexibility, it is in the nature of council housing, more than new town housing, to create inflexibility. In the other place the Government Minister said: Need should be determined locality by locality in the light of housing needs and conditions."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13th July 1976; Vol. 373, c.255.] We all know that the housing waiting list is a notoriously poor indication of need in an area. I am surprised that an organisation like Shelter should so recently have devalued its case on the housing cuts by using the waiting list as an indicator of need.

We are here dealing not with local authority housing but with Government housing. This is housing that has been created by Government funds to set up a new town or provide jobs in a new area. On the whole, the investment has not been made by the local authority. I and other hon. Members have consistently suggested that local authorities should not have to make any investment. The Government have met us in large measure by making sure that the costs of development were borne by the Government. We are not denying anything to a local authority. In transferring the assets to local authorities, we are providing them with a bonus. We are not giving them anything that they had necessarily as of right.

Mr. Newens

I am having difficulty in following the hon. Gentleman's argument. He said that waiting lists were not reasonable indicators of housing need. I find that difficult to understand. Then he went on to talk about locality. Surely he is aware that, for example, the London satellite new towns were built in part to deal with the housing problems of those who lived in London. Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that waiting lists provide a good indication of housing need in an area. How can he justify the position he has taken up?

Mr. Morris

I have been the chairman of the housing committee of a London borough. I have reviewed the list on occasions when I was chairman, and whenever that was done we found that about 10 per cent. of those on the list were dead and that at least 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. had moved elsewhere. It must be remembered that the list is open to everyone. It is not necessary to prove housing need to go on the list. The hon. Gentleman and I could put our names on such a list. Such lists are not a good indication of need. The sooner the hon. Gentleman and his party understand that, the sooner we will begin to face up to the housing problem.

The Government have consistently said that there would be enormous administrative problems in arranging for a statutory right to sell at the point of transfer. We have heard about problems of specification, loan debt, compensation payments and sensible management, for example. The Opposition take the view that it is the job of the officers and those concerned with transfers to ensure that they meet the public's need and make arrangements to suit the public.

The Government, have said that it would be unfair to certain tenants if they were denied the statutory right to buy at the time of transfer. For instance, someone living in Crawley might have the right to buy at the time of transfer while someone living in my own town of Northampton might be denied that right. It is said that it would be unfair for Crawley to be given such a right while the people of Northampton were denied it. I do not think that is a realistic argument.

I also question whether the time that the Government envisage between the transfer of first, second and third generations of new towns will be as long as they have suggested. It seems to all my hon. Friends as we have gone through the months of debate on this subject that the Government's objections have been getting weaker and weaker. We started in May, when the Government were resisting the sale of any form of new town houses anywhere. In the summer we had the statement from the Secretary of State who was formerly masterminding the Bill that in certain circumstances he would allow the sale of new town houses. The Government have said that they are not against owner-occupation. The country awaits the day when they will say that they are for owner-occupation.

In considering the positive reasons for the amendment, I shall place on record one or two of the background facts. First, it is a pity that the Bill will get on the statute book rather later than we had hoped. It left Committee in May and was held up. It did not reach another place until 29th June. Consideration was completed in another place inside a month—namely, on 22nd July. I believe that the Opposition in both places have done their job in welcoming the Bill in principle, considering it in detail and moving the amendments that they consider right. The delay—there has been a delay—does not necessarily reflect on the Ministers now occupying the Govern- ment Front Bench but reflects on the Government's management of business in general. I hope that we shall have a statement from the Minister that in no way will there be a change from the original schedule.

When considering the amendment, it is worth reminding ourselves of the extent of sales in the past before the right hon. Gentleman put down the chopper. In 1971 there was the sale of 2,700 units. In 1972 15,500 units were sold and 7,200 were sold in 1973. It is relevant that against the total background, especially the present financial situation, we have seen a significant cut-back in public sector housing this year. It is a cut-back that I personally welcome, but its significance should be noted. It has been cut back from a forecast of 110,000 per annum in May 1976 to 90,000 for 1977 in August 1976. That is the latest forecast, and, as we all suspect, it may well be cut again. That is a 20,000 cutback, saving about £200 million, on top of which there are the restrictions on new towns and housing associations.

Another background factor in considering the merits of the amendment of which it is right we should remind ourselves is that about 53 per cent. of the homes in England and Wales are owner-occupied and about 31 per vent. are in the public sector. It is also right that we remind ourselves that about 75 per cent. want to own their own home. It is our job to mirror that desire.

Why have we pressed the amendment so strongly? We have done so because the tenants in the new towns want it. I shall quote from the Cullingworth Report. It is no good the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) shaking his head in dissent. It is the most recent definitive evidence that we have about the desires of tenants in new towns. I am setting out not my prejudices but the desires of new town tenants.

Mr. Newens

What date is it?

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Morris

The report was published near enough 10 years ago; the Committee reported in 1968. Since that time the desire for owner-occupation has increased considerably. As an example I shall select two towns at random in page 67 of the report—namely, Crawley and Stevenage. Both towns serve the London area and are probably of greater relevance to the majority of Members in the Chamber. When tenants were asked how many believed that development corporation houses should be sold, 75 per cent. were positively in favour and 16 per cent. gave a qualified "Yes", while 9 per cent. were against in Crawley and 7 per cent. were against in Stevenage. That was in 1968. If the Government honestly felt that the attitude had changed, the least they should have done before presenting the Bill would have been to carry out a further attitude survey in those towns.

I am willing to wager that the attitude has not changed one iota. Labour Members know that just as well as my hon. Friends and myself. If we take into account the stock of public housing in the new towns and take the older towns of Stevenage and Crawley as reasonable examples in 1968—in this instance I concede that the figures may be a little out of date—it emerges that in 1968 only 11 per cent. of Stevenage was owner-occupied and 26 per cent. of Crawley. Those percentages are so far away from the national average and from the desires of the majority of people in the new towns that the House has a real obligation to ensure that owner-occupation is increased to somewhere near the national average.

We must remember that those who live in the new towns are no different from those living in other areas. They are ordinary people who want the ordinary things of life. We need to speak plainly in the House. We need to say plainly that it is our job to meet their aspirations, not to put difficulties in their way. We need to understand, as I am sure the majority of Labour Members appreciate, that people want a house with a garden. I think we all accept that. On the whole, that is what they want. The vast majority want to control their own home. They do not want a tenancy agreement and rules and regulations. They want to shut the front door and know that they are in their own home and will not have busybodies interfering with them. People want those conditions because they offer some independence of mind and some peace and quiet. They want the absolute security of tenure that will give them and their families a sense of freedom.

The majority of people in this day and age, or at any other time, want to benefit from any growth that takes place in the economy. There has been all too little growth in the past two years, but they want to benefit from any growth that takes place. They also want to benefit from any increase in the value of property. They want to have the benefit of the tax relief on mortgage interest, and that is no bad thing.

It is our job to ensure that public money is spent wisely. Probably we have all read with a gasp the report of a recent House Committee that upwards of £1,000 million was misspent by the Government in general. Labour Members know that selling is financially attractive. Indeed, the Secretary of State admitted that selling would be financially attractive. That is because at present levels we are not covering repairs and maintenance, let alone making a return on contribution on houses now being built.

The average rent for a three-bedroom five-person house in Northampton is £7.34 and the average cost rent is between £40 and £50. Therefore, it is costing the average taxpayer about £2,000 per annum per dwelling for new property now being built.

Mr. Newens

And the hon. Gentleman wants to sell the old ones.

Mr. Morris

I want to sell them all. Whichever way we look at the issue, whether it is in terms of newly built local authority housing versus the first-time purchaser or any other situation, the local authority house is costing us about £1,300 in subsidies compared with the first-time purchaser's mortgage relief costing us £290. If our proposals make sense to the tenant and if the Government believe, as they should, that they make financial sense to them, they should recognise that their responsibility is to use central Government money wisely.

We want to press home on the Government how important it is that they should use this money wisely. All the evidence suggests that we should take every opportunity to encourage people to buy. Transfer of these new towns is an ideal time. Then there are economies of scale, as the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) can confirm, in terms of the production and transfer of deeds. The process is simpler then. The survey I have referred to showed that there are worries among the tenants about the prospect of becoming council tenants, and it is morally right that we should, on transfer, give them the option to buy or to become council tenants.

By our amendment, no one would be compelled to buy. If a tenant did not want to buy, he would not be forced to do so. But it would give the opportunity to those who wanted to buy to do so. It is not too late for the Government to change their mind. The Government were ready to slap on a ban in 1974, and they are beginning slightly to relax it now. The facts are irrefutable. The tenants want what we propose, and it would be financially beneficial to the public, who invested the money in the first place. Labour hon. Members know, too, that the move towards greater owner-occupation is in everyone's interest, if not in the Labour Party's interest. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the amendment.

Mr. Guy Barnett

The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) made some astonishing statements, one of them about the unreliability of the housing list. As any London Member knows—and the hon. Gentleman must know it, too—the vast majority of the people on the housing list are there for very good reasons. We are not on it. People in such positions as ours would not be on a housing list. Naturally there are people with a greater claim and with greater need than others. The point that the hon. Member was making is irrelevant to the one that we have been trying to put throughout the Bill on this issue.

It is not the housing list that is of concern here; it is the average waiting period, which is a very different thing. It is the average waiting period not of anyone who happens to put himself on the list, but of very carefully worked out categories of people—and that means, as far as the new towns for London are concerned, Londoners in need. That is the issue with which we are concerned.

I recognise the Opposition's enthusiasm for home ownership, which is shared by most, if not all, those on the Government side of the House. No matter what the hon. Gentleman says, we are keen on home ownership. I make that statement clearly because some people suggest that we simply do not mind it, or are not against it. On the contrary, we are in favour of it. But we recognise also, as Government and party, that we have a responsibility to people in London and other major cities who live in housing need—for example, the elderly and disabled—and for whom the right housing cannot be found in the areas in which they live but can be found in new towns.

If there is a dogmatic attitude it is that of the Opposition. We have taken a flexible attitude, designed, as far as possible, to equate the needs of those who are in desperate straits with the natural desire, which we want to encourage, of people to own their own homes.

That is reflected in our sales policy, about which there has been a good deal of misunderstanding among hon. Members opposite. The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) told us that his new town was apparently forbidden to sell houses. Without advice, I do not know precisely what the waiting period situation is there, but if it is less than three months, and if the new town corporation wishes to do so, it can do what, for example. Milton Keynes and Northampton have done—obtain consent for the resumption of sales of houses in its area.

Mr. Carlisle

Perhaps the word "forbidden" was a little unfair. The corporation did not achieve the criteria laid down by the Government.

Mr. Barnett

That is precisely the point I am making. I am grateful for what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. These are the criteria that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture tried to observe when he was Minister for Planning and Local Government, and which the Government continue to try to observe.

The hon. Member for Northampton, South raised the question of the current delay which he says is taking place in our consideration of the Bill. I do not think that his case is tenable. An attempt was made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison)—who even went to the extent of writing to The Times because that newspaper appeared to agree with the Government rather than with him—to show that the delay in the Bill was the consequence of action by the Government rather than by the Opposition.

I do not want to get involved in that argument, but I want to be generous to the lion. Member for Northampton, South. There may be a case for certain elements of delay. Perhaps the original plans to get the first transfers going next year could have been difficult in the light of such considerations as the commitment of staff and the drawing up of transfer schemes. On the other hand, as the Bill now appears, and with the plans that we now have, I think that it will almost certainly be possible to effect a considerable number of transfer during the coming year, with a view to seeing that they take place early in 1978.

So, if the matter can be generalised, perhaps one of the side effects of the delay, whosever fault it was, is to give at least first generation new towns the chance to draw up transfer schemes and make proper arrangements for staffing, and so on, with the result that we can hope to see proper transfers taking place at the end of the first three months of 1978. But I can do no other now than again recommend that we disagree with the Lords amendment.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 171, Noes 160.

Division No. 365.] AYES [8.27 p.m.
Armstrong, Ernest Hardy, Peter Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Ashton, Joe Harper, Joseph Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Hatton, Frank Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Bates, Alt Heffer, Eric S. Newens, Stanley
Bean, R. E. Horam, John Oakes, Gordon
Blenkinsop, Arthur Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Orbach, Maurice
Boardman, H. Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Ovenden, John
Bradley, Tom Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Palmer, Arthur
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hughes, Roy (Newport) Pavitt, Laurie
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hunter, Adam Perry, Ernest
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Buchan, Norman Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Canavan, Dennis Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Richardson, Miss Jo
Cant, R. B. Jeger, Mrs. Lena Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Robinson, Geoffrey
Cartwright, John John, Brynmor Roderick, Caerwyn
Clemitson, Ivor Johnson, James (Hull West) Roper, John
Cocks, Rt Han Michael Jonas, Alec (Rhondda) Ross, Rt Hon w. (Kilmarnock)
Cohen, Stanley Jones, Barry (East Flint) Ryman, John
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Jones, Dan (Burnley) Sandeison, Neville
Concannon, J. D. Judd, Frank Sedgemore, Brian
Corbett, Robin Kaufman, Gerald Selby, Harry
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Kelley, Richard Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Kerr, Russell Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Lambie, David Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Dalyell, Tarn Lamborn, Harry Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Deakins, Eric Lamond, James Sillars, James
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Leadbitter, Ted Silverman, Julius
Dempsey, James Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Skinner, Dennis
Doig, Peter Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Small, William
Dormand, J. D. Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lyon, Alexander (York) Spearing, Nigel
Duffy, A. E. P. Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Spriggs, Leslie
Eadie, Alex McCartney, Hugh Stallard, A. W.
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) McDonald, Dr Oonagh Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) McElhone, Frank Stott, Roger
Evans, loan (Aberdare) MacFarquhar, Roderick Strang, Gavin
Evans, John (Newton) McGuire. Michael (Ince) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Faulds, Andrew MacKenzie, Gregor Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston) McNamara, Kevin Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Madden, Max Tomney, Frank
Ford, Ben Magee, Bryan Torney, Tom
Forrester, John Mahon, Simon Urwin, T. W.
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Freeson, Reginald Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Ward, Michael
Ginsburg, David Mendelson, John Watkinson, John
Golding, John Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Weitzman, David
Gourlay, Harry Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Whitlock, William
Grant, John (Islington C) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Wigley, Dafydd
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Molloy, William Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Moonman, Eric Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Wilson, William (Coventry SE) Woof, Robert TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Wise, Mrs Audrey Wrigglesworth, Ian Mr. Donald Coleman and
Woodall, Alec Young, David (Bolton E) Mr. Ted Graham.
Arnold, Tom Hampson, Dr Keith Parkinson, Cecil
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Hannam, John Pattie, Geoffrey
Banks, Robert Hawkins, Paul Penhaligon, David
Beith, A. J. Hayhoe, Barney Percival, Ian
Bitten, John Holland, Philip Peyton, Rt Hon John
Biggs-Davison, John Howell Ralph (North Norfolk) Prior, Rt Hon James
Body, Richard Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hunt, John (Bromley) Rathbone, Tim
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Hurd, Douglas Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Hutchison, Michael Clark Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. James, David Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Brotherton, Michael Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Jessel, Toby Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Budgen, Nick Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Bulmer, Esmond Jopling, Michael Rost. Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Burden, F. A. Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Sainsbury, Tim
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Kimball, Marcus St. John-Stevas, Norman
Carlisle, Mark King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Scott, Nicholas
Chalker, Mrs Lynda King, Tom (Bridgwater) Scott-Hopkins, James
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Knight, Mrs Jill Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Clark, William (Croydon S) Knox, David Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Clegg, Walter Lamont, Norman Shepherd, Colin
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Langford-Holt, Sir John Silvester, Fred
Cope, John Latham, Michael (Melton) Sims, Roger
Costain, A. P. Lawrence, Ivan Skeet, T. H. H.
Crouch, David Lawson, Nigel Speed, Keith
Crowder, F. P. Le Marchant, Spencer Spence, John
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Lester, Jim (Beeston) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Sproat, Iain
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Luce, Richard Stanbrook, Ivor
Drayson, Burnaby McCrindle, Robert Stanley, John
Durant, Tony Macfarlane, Neil Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Stradling Thomas, J.
Farr, John Marten, Neil Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Fisher, Sir Nigel Mates, Michael Tebbit, Norman
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Mather, Carol Temple-Morris, Peter
Fookes, Miss Janet Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Fox, Marcus Mayhew, Patrick Tugendhat, Christopher
Freud, Clement Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Mills, Peter Viggers, Peter
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Miscampbel1!, Norman Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Glyn, Or Alan Moate, Roger Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Gorst, John Montgomery, Fergus Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) More, Jasper (Ludlow) Wall, Patrick
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Morgan, Geraint Walters, Dennis
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Mom's, Michael (Northampton S) Weatherill, Bernard
Gray, Hamish Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Wells, John
Grieve, Percy Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Griffiths, Eldon Nelson, Anthony Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Neubert, Michael
Grist, Ian Newton, Tony TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Grylls, Michael Onslow, Cranley Mr. W. Benyon and
Hall, Sir John Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Mr. John Corrie.
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Pardoe, John

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords Amendment No. 4 disagreed to.

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