HC Deb 01 March 1978 vol 945 cc462-4

3.32 p.m.

Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to improve the status of tenants of council houses; to make provision with respect to their security of tenure and to facilitate transfers of tenancy; to provide opportunities for such tenants to participate in matters affecting their interests; and to make certain other administrative improvements. In seeking the leave of the House to introduce a council tenants' charter Bill, which aims to raise the dignity and status of council tenants, I have in mind particularly the circumstances which now apply in many large towns and cities throughout the country.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House, representing constituencies in heavily populated urban areas, will know from the evidence of their advice bureaux and postbags of the constant flow of complaints from tenants about delays in getting repairs done, about the unsatisfactory nature of repair and maintenance work when it is done, of frustration over the system of allocation of tenancies which fails to take account of family needs, and of even more frustration over the difficulty of securing satisfactory transfers of tenancies.

Those urban areas where vast impersonal council estates have been developed provide some of the worst examples, through State agency domination, of the crushing effect upon individuals of large-scale bureaucratic management. However hard councillors and officials may try, administrative problems and failures inevitably flow from the size and nature of the task undertaken.

In some large local authority areas, council estates comprising more than 100,000 houses are managed by a single authority. In my judgment, and as a result of my experiences, it is beyond the capacity of the present system for these huge estates to be administered in a really humane way, taking proper account of the needs of tenants. Control on these estates is too much by officialdom and not enough by individuals.

The situation adds seriously to the all-too prevalent feeling on the part of many people of being anonymous, of not belonging, of not mattering enough as individuals, and this feeling is a root cause of the social instability in our large towns and cities. The Bill will make a start in improving a housing system which, as the crude shortage of housing is brought to an end, cannot be accepted as satisfactory for the years ahead.

Sales of council houses will, of course, improve the position for those families able to undertake purchases, but that aspect is not my concern today. For those continuing as tenants, the Bill otters, first, the elimination of petty and unjustified restrictions and regulations imposed upon council tenants; second, permission to take in lodgers and keep domestic pets, subject to reasonable safeguards; third, in return for the acceptance, where appropriate, of responsibility for minor repairs, the grant of reasonable freedom in the alteration and decoration of the interior and exterior of their dwellings, including the choice of colour of their own front door.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

As long as it is red.

Mr. Eyre

The Bill offers, fourth, improved security of tenure for tenants carrying out agreed structural improvements and modernisation of their dwellings; fifth, and very important, the inclusion of tenants in the formulation of estate management policies to improve the environment of their own estates, including play areas and community facilities.

In my view, this would best be achieved by dividing up vast areas of council housing along natural boundaries into the neighbourhood areas referred to in the Bill. With an informal system of representation, people living in the neighbourhood areas would, as applies now with many residents' associations, have closer contact with councillors and local officials, and thus greater participation in the management of their affairs. Officials now operating too often from the centre would in this way gain better knowledge of what is happening in the streets and roads of the neighbourhood.

A neighbourhood system would stimulate efforts for self-help, the planting of trees, and recruitment of leaders for voluntary organisations serving the needs of young and old. It would also strengthen neighbourhood feeling to counter vandalism and anti-social behaviour and give support to good tenants seeking better conditions in their own localities.

The Bill also aims at improving facilities for exchange of tenancies, where much greater account must be taken of family circumstances, such as the desire of a mother with children to live nearer her parents for mutual support and care.

Finally, the Bill seeks to establish a national council house exchange scheme, which is much needed in these times of massive unemployment, to assist people who are moving from one part of the country to another to get work.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Reginald Eyre, Sir William Elliott, Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg, Mr. Anthony Steen, Mr. Fred Silvester, Mr. Robin Hodgson, Mr. Andrew MacKay, Mr. Peter Bottomley and Mr. Ian Grist.