HC Deb 23 November 1977 vol 939 cc1511-3
12. Sir George Young

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he has for establishing a tenants' charter.

Mr. Freeson

The proposal for a tenants' charter for public sector tenants was set out in the housing policy Green Paper earlier this year. The details of the separate elements in the charter and the arrangements for giving effect to them are the subject of a consultation paper which has recently been issued to the local authority associations and all other interested parties.

Sir G. Young

Can the Minister say whether a tenants' charter will be included in the proposed housing Bill, and, if not, why not?

Mr. Freeson

No, it will not be included. Apart from anything else, the consultation process will stilt be taking place when we introduce such a Bill. The Bill proposed, as stated in the Queen's Speech, relates to particular assistance for first-time buyers and not to tenants' charter matters.

Mr. Stoddart

Is the Minister aware that I welcome very much his intention to bring forward some sort of tenants' charter? Will he give us an assurance that he will ensure that tenants are free from some of the bullying bureaucracies with which they have had to contend in the past? Will he also ensure that the discrepancies between the exchange' arrangements of one town and another are rectified, because some are completely absurd at present?

Mr. Freeson

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent translation, and welcome his maiden question, for some time anyway. I do not think that we have to await legislation, as indicated in the original Question, before embarking on improvements to tenants' relationships with local authorities and housing associations. We issued guidance and consultation material to local authorities on this matter, following a review by my advisory group in the Department, which I hope will produce results in the intervening period. I do not think that I can tell the House more at this stage about the second point that my hon. Friend raised. However, we are concerned about improving the national transfer and' exchange arrangements operating between local authorities.

Mr. Welsh

Is the Minister considering a tenants' charter which will include the right of the tenant to buy his own council house?

Mr. Freeson

We have made it perfectly clear that we do not favour the indiscriminate sale of council houses. I refer the hon. Member to the policy statement that we made on this matter in the Green Paper.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams

Is the Minister aware that the tenants' association in London is deeply concerned about the workings of the housing transfer system which works against certain categories of tenant? Does his Department give any guidelines to local authorities in this respect?

Mr. Freeson

We do not give guidelines singularly in this respect, but this is one issue which is the subject of examination by my advisory group. It is a matter with which I am deeply concerned, along with other aspects of allocation policy. I believe that greater flexibility is needed, and a growing number of local authorities are embarking on initiatives in this field to make the arrangements much more flexible than they were in the past. I am glad of the support of hon. Members in pushing down this road.

Mr. Rossi

Will the Minister say why it is necessary at this stage to consult local authorities on the tenants' charter when this matter has been debated for so long and there is general agreement on both sides of the House about the need for such a charter to protect tenants from the paternalism of local authorities? Will he assure us that he will consult tenants' associations and give a firm undertaking that the charter will include security of tenure for council tenants?

Mr. Freeson

There is tenants' representation on the advisory group to which I have referred. In the last two or three years there have been more moves than ever before in the local authority and housing association fields, as well as in the burgeoning co-operative housing field, to involve tenants in the management and running of their estates and properties. We are consulting because that is the democratic thing to do, and we are concerned that the elected local authorities owning considerable estates are consulted in these matters because they are entitled to such consultation.