HC Deb 27 July 1977 vol 936 cc619-21
10. Mr. George Rodgers

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about his proposal for a charter for local authority tenants.

Mr. Freeson

I expect to receive representations in response to the consultation paper, amplifying the proposals con- tained in the Green Paper, which I shall be issuing shortly.

Mr. Rodgers

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many local authorities with responsibility for housing are neglecting essential repairs and maintenance of council house property? Does not he think that this is outrageous, particularly in view of the fact that public expenditure cuts are being used as an excuse? Will he take steps to meet this situation by introducing a tenants' charter as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Freeson

I deplore any attempt by local authorities to cut down on the standard of maintenance and repairs. There can be no justification for it in terms of public expenditure constraints, because the controls that we have been imposing in recent times have related to capital expenditure and not to revenue programmes, to which my hon. Friend refers. On the question of the tenants' charter, it is certainly the case that those local authorities that are encouraging tenants' management schemes and tenant participation in various aspects of management are able to maintain higher standards and encourage higher standards. This will be an important aspect of the tenants' charter that we shall be seeking to implement. There is no reason at all why a number of the proposals discussed in the Green Paper cannot and should not be implemented now by local authorities. I have been spending a great deal of time in the last three years as Minister encouraging local authorities and housing associations to do just that.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Does the Minister agree that the first essential of a council tenants' charter—in the view of council tenants, not politicians—is the chance for tenants to buy their own houses or flats?

Mr. Freeson

No, that is not the first point put to me as a local Member of Parliament, as an ex-member of local government, or as a Minister. If one were to give a choice—this is difficult because it varies from one area to another—far more emphasis is placed on the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) than on the point made by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg).

Mr. Corbett

Will the charter apply to tenants of commissions for new towns and development corporations? Will my right hon. Friend consider whether, in the charter, encouragement can be given to local authorities to make it easier for tenants of public property to transfer or exchange?

Mr. Freeson

On the first point, it will be our general intention to apply the ideas set out in the proposed tenants' charter to the tenants of all public sector property. A number of aspects of the tenants' charter will be equally applicable to tenants of private landlords, to whom we shall come in due time. The point that my hon. Friend is making will be taken on board as we proceed with the transfer of new town estates to local authority ownership in the coming years.

Mr. Eyre

Does the Minister remember that when a council tenants' Bill, introduced by Conservatives, was voted down by the Government, the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for housing then gave an assurance that the Government would introduce a Bill on similar lines? Will the Minister undertake that such a Bill will be included in the next Session of Parliament?

Mr. Freeson

I can no more give that undertaking than, if the House had voted in favour of his Bill, the hon. Gentleman could have given an undertaking that a place would be found for that Bill in the queue of Private Members' Bills.