HC Deb 19 May 1980 vol 985 cc201-10
Mr. Alton

I beg to move amendment No. 213 in page 1, line 12, leave out paragraph 1(b).

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take the following amendments:

No. 152, in page 2, line 1, leave out ' in either case '.

No. 153, in page 2, line 13, after ' tenant ' insert ' of that dwelling house '.

Mr. Alton

The amendment proposes the deletion of subsection (1)(b), which uses the words if the dwelling-house is a flat, to be granted a long lease of the dwelling-house ". It will be difficult from a maintenance and management point of view to have piecemeal forms of tenure in blocks of flats. The danger for local authorities is that large blocks of flats could be sold haphazardly, which would raise many difficulties for the authorities owning the remainder of those blocks. Some flats could be sold to individuals on long leases and others could still be occupied by short-term periodic tenants.

Schedule 2 provides some rules for the appointment of repairs and their costs, but there is only minimal provision for the upkeep of communal parts. It will be difficult for a local authority to maintain and repair a block of flats that is in the ownership of the authority and individuals as well.

I have examined the problem with officers of my own local authority and their conclusion is that it would be wholly impractical to maintain and operate blocks of flats on that basis, particularly the lighting and common areas, the maintenance and upkeep of lifts and all the other parts that will still be in common ownership under the local authority, with some individuals in the block holding their ownership through long leases. The practical problems will be very difficult to overcome. The Government have perhaps ignored the greatest opportunity that the sale of council dwellings has provided, namely the creation of more co-ownerships and co-operatives, which would be the ideal way of running large blocks of flats.

11.15 pm

Alternatively, it will be possible to sell off blocks of flats to private enterprise, particularly those such as Oak and Eldon Gardens, which the Department of the Environment agreed to demolish only a year ago. Before that demolition took place, other forms of tenure, through the opportunities that private enterprise can afford, should have been experimented with. Substantial help and financial incentive should be given by the Government, particularly in blocks of hard-to-let flats, for private enterprise to be involved in the ownership of the block if the local authority has failed to let that block to would-be tenants. Where blocks of flats are occupied by large numbers of council tenants, rather than selling them off individually, it would be far better to form tenants' committees where the tenants would have control and ownership of those blocks through co-ownerships or co-operatives.

Clause 1 is a retrograde step. I am convinced that it will pose enormous problems. It also suffers from the blanket solution mentality in dealing with a local authority's problems. I do not take the view that one local authority's problems will be the same as another's. It should be left to local authorities to decide what is best in their areas. I am convinced that the Government, by imposing their ideas on every local authority regardless of local circumstances, are undermining local democracy and are ensuring that housing authorities have even less control of their council properties and less interest in what goes on in their districts than they have at present.

Big Brother—this time in the shape of the Department of the Environment and the Minister for Housing and Construction—has decided to take away even more power from the local authorities. The Government will no doubt claim their mandate to sell council houses and flats and will say that they were elected on this platform. I remind them that local councillors were also elected on the same platform of whether they chose to sell council houses and flats in their areas. Some Conservative-controlled authorities decided not to sell their properties because in many areas it was recognised that was not the easy or glib answer to the housing problems of their district.

That is why this kind of legislation suffers from the inherent weakness of manifesto mouthings—this false premise of a mandate. This sort of stricture has to be fulfilled by imposing solutions on every local council, regardless of the local circumstances. It would be far better to allow local authorities to decide for themselves and to work out solutions to their problems. If they believe there is room to experiment with the sale of some council flats, let them try that. If it goes wrong at least we shall know before we have embarked on the same policy throughout the country.

The Minister should look at the implications and the possible pitfalls of the legislation before rushing headlong, willy-nilly into what could be a catastrophe for many local authorities. He should listen to the representations which have been made by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. He should listen to what Conservative councillors are saying to him. They say that in this Bill, and particularly these compulsory clauses, there lies a plethora of problems which local authorities will have difficulty in overcoming.

I appeal to the Minister not to rush into this legislation dogmatically or in a doctrinaire way—in the way he might say that Opposition Members did so frequently in the past. I appeal to him not to impose one set of standard rules and say that this is the textbook by which we shall now operate, replacing the little red book by the little blue book, not solving any fundamental problems, but forcing on local authorities the sort of strictures which are not solutions in reality.

I urge the Minister to think again before imposing these measures on local councils.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

It is difficult to speak against an amendment when the mover has for 90 per cent. of his time made remarks with which one agrees. I share the view of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) that the Government are wrong in forcing local authorities to sell council accommodation when they do not want to sell it. The Government are wrong in forcing some Conservative local authorities to sell certain types of accommodation which previously they felt it was wrong to sell. I agree with the hon. Member that discretion should be left with local authorities. However, it is difficult to support an amendment which, if carried, would exclude from the provisions for right to buy the compulsory sale of flats and would keep in the legislation the compulsory sale of houses.

One of the main objections that I and other Labour Members have to the legislation is that by forcing councils to sell council accommodation we are merely forcing them to sell the best accommodation; that in reality very few flats will be sold and that mostly the best houses will be sold.

On 15 January, in the Second Reading debate, the hon. Member for Edge Hill quoted the statistics for Liverpool. He said that there were, 80,000 council houses or units of council accommodation, including houses and flats, in the ownership of the city of Liverpool, and that 3,899 of them were empty. He used the fact that that number of units were empty to justify the need for Liverpool to sell council houses. He justified the Liberal-Conservative policy in Liverpool of selling council houses, and he pointed out that 1,200 houses have been sold. What he failed to mention was that the 1,200 were the best houses—low-rise council houses in the best areas of Liverpool, where people want to live—and that the 3,899 that were empty were empty flats.

Mr. Alton

Not all those properties are empty flats. I can take the hon. Gentleman to properties in the road adjacent to where I live where there are two houses owned by that local authority which have been empty since 1964. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will know of other examples.

Mr. Roberts

Considering that the hon. Member for Edge Hill was the chairman of the housing committee for some time, it is interesting to have his admission that the houses were kept empty from 1964.

Mr. Alton

The hon. Member—I am sure unintentionally—has misled the House. While I was chairman of the housing committee in Liverpool we passed plans—he will be pleased to know this—to pull down those houses because of their bad state. Since there has been a Labour-controlled administration, the number of empty properties in Liverpool has risen by 1,000.

Mr. Roberts

In the Second Reading debate, the hon. Member for Edge Hill also pointed out that the two houses which had been empty since 1964 had been municipalised and were miscellaneous properties outside the existing housing stock. He was criticising that fact. We are really talking about purpose-built council housing. This Government stopped municipalisation, and I regret it. I also regret that local authorities municipalised houses and then kept them empty, but if they were in such a state that they needed to be demolished, perhaps that was why they were empty. But that does not alter my point that of the 1,200 council houses sold in Liverpool out of the 80,000 houses, the vast bulk were low-rise houses in nice areas where people wanted to live. The flats were not sold.

What we are saying from the Labour Benches is that the enforced sale of council houses will cause social divisions. The best houses will be sold. The local authorities will be left with only the worst in their ownership. This will cause the stigmatisation of the public sector. It will also mean that families living in the kind of flats the hon. Member for Edge Hill describes will be made prisoners for longer than ever in those flats because they will not be able to transfer to the house and garden they desire because those properties have been sold. [Interruption.] The facts speak for themselves. The national statistics show that the number of flats sold is negligible. The Tory GLC has sold the best houses, not flats. The GLC started to sell vacant houses by slowing down on transfers of families from flats to houses in order to be able to sell the houses. The best houses will be sold, but the flats will remain, not least because of the many legal difficulties and other problems.

We want to see the abolition of the enforced right to buy on all council accommodation. An amendment which exempts flats and allows local authorities to sell the best houses—or forces them to do so—but does not force them to put flats on to the market will worsen the position. It will merely give legal form to what is likely to happen anyway. The amendment should not be passed. If we are to have the right to buy, let us have it for flats as well as houses, then the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We shall see whether this Government's legislation and the £1 million publicity campaign the Minister is mounting will persuade people to live in the Oak and Eldon Gardens, the Hulme Fives and the Fort Ardwicks. We shall see whether it persuades them to be enthusiastic about buying their flats. I do not believe for one minute that it will. I believe that the Minister will be proved wrong. There are not thousands of flat dwellers throughout the country eagerly wishing to buy their flats. There are hundreds of thousands of flat dwellers wishing to be transferred into the very housing that this legislation will cause to be sold off. The amendment will exacerbate the position, particularly in Liverpool, as it will give statutory backing to what is already happening with a Conservative-Liberal majority.

Mr. Stanley

The House will want to be aware of the scope of this amendment moved by the hon. Member for Liverpool Edge Hill (Mr. Alton). It would have the effect of taking out of the right-to-buy provisions approximately one-third of all council tenants in local authorities and new town tenancies. About 30 per cent. of all local authority new town tenancies are flats. That effectively means that 1½ to 1¼ million tenants would be taken out of the right-to-buy provisions. Hon Members will want to note that it was the official spokesman for the Liberal Party who proposed this. If public sector tenants are to be given the right to buy it would, in our view, be wrong to discriminate against those who live in flats rather than houses.

The hon. Member for Edge Hill said, no doubt anticipating what I would wish to say, that one could ignore the manifesto. That is a happy—or unhappy—position for the Liberal Party, which has not been concerned with the point since the 1930s. We certainly regard ourselves as being under a firm commitment to the electorate which returned this Government to office last May. We said clearly that we would wish to extend the right to buy to flats as well as to houses. I do not know how many people in flats wish to buy them, but we have had a number

of letters from people who wish to buy and I know that many of my hon. Friends have sent such letters to me from people who live in flats and are anxious to be given the opportunity to buy. We made it quite clear at the general election last year that the right to buy would extend to flats as well as to houses, and we have no intention of going back on that commitment now. I ask the House to reject the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 6, Noes 268.

Division No. 313] AYES [11.30 pm
Howells, Gerafnt
Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Penhallgon, David
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Mr. Alan Beith and
Mr. Clement Freud.
Adley, Robert Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Grylls, Michael
Altken, Jonathan Clark, Sir William (Croydon South) Gummer, John Selwyn
Alexander, Richard Clarke, Kenneth (Rushclltfe) Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)
Ancram, Michael Cockeram, Eric Hampson, Dr Keith
Arnold, Tom Colvin, Michael Hannam, John
Aspinwall, Jack Cope, John Haselhuret, Alan
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelttiome) Corrie, John Hastings, Stephen
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Costain, A. P. Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Critchley, Julian Hawkins, Paul
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Crouch, David Hawksley, Warren
Banks, Robert Dickens, Geoffrey Heddle, John
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Dorrell, Stephen Henderson, Barry
Bendali, Vivian Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Dover, Denshore Hicks, Robert
Best, Keith du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)
Bevan, David Gilroy Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Bitten, Rt Hon John Durant, Tony Hooson, Tom
Biggs-Davison, John Dykes, Hugh Hordern, Peter
Blackburn, John Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Blaker, Peter Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Body, Richard Eggar, Timothy Hunt, David (Wirral)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Elliott, Sir William Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fairgrieve, Russell Hurd, Hon Douglas
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Faith, Mrs Sheila Jenkln, Rt Hon Patrick
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Farr, John Jopllng, Rt Hon Michael
Bright, Graham Fenner, Mrs Peggy Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Brinton, Tim Finsberg, Geoffrey Kaberry, Sir Donald
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Fisher, Sir Nigel Kimball, Marcus
Brooke, Hon Peter Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) King, Rt Hon Tom
Brotherton, Michael Fletcher-Cocke, Charles Knox, David
Brown, Michael (Brlgg & Sc'thorpe) Forman, Nigel Lamont, Norman
Browne, John (Winchester) Fox, Marcus Lang, Ian
Bruce-Gardyne, John Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Latham, Michael
Bryan, Sir Paul Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Lawrence, Ivan
Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick Gardiner, George (Reigate) Lawson, Nigel
Buck, Antony Gardner, Edward (South Fylde) Lee, John
Budgen, Nick Garel-Jones, Tristan Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Bulmer, Esmond Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Lloyd, Peler (Fareham)
Butcher, John Goodhew, Victor Luce, Richard
Butler, Hon Adam Goodlad, Alastalr Lyell, Nicholas
Cadbury, Jocelyn Gorst, John Macfarlane, Neil
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Gow, Ian MacGregor, John
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gower, Sir Raymond MacKay, John (Argyll)
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Gray, Hamish McNair-Wllson, Michael (Newbury)
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Greenway. Harry McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Channon, Paul Grieve, Percy McQuarrie, Albert
Chapman, Sydney Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Madel, David
Churchill, W. S. Grist, Ian Major, John
Marks, Kenneth Pawsey, James Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Marland, Paul Percival, Sir Ian Stradllng Thomas, J.
Marlow, Tony Pink, R. Bonner Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Pollock, Alexander Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)
Marten, Neil (Banbury) Porter, George Tebblt, Norman
Mates, Michael Price, David (Eastleigh) Temple-Morris, Peter
Mather, Carol Proctor, K. Harvey Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Maude, Rt Hon Angus Raison, Timothy Thompson, Donald
Mawby, Ray Rathbone, Tim Thorne, Neil (llford South)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Thornton, Malcolm
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Rees-Davies, W. R. Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mayhew, Patrick Renton, Tim Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Mellor, David Rhodes James, Robert Trippier, David
Meyer, Sir Anthony Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Trotter, Neville
Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Ridsdale, Julian van Straubenzee, W. R.
Mills, lain (Meriden) Rifkind, Malcolm Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Miscampbell, Norman Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Viggers, Peter
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Waddlngton, David
Moate, Roger Ross, Wm. (Londonderry) Wakeham, John
Monro, Hector Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Waldegrave, Hon William
Montgomery, Fergus Scott, Nicholas Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Moore, John Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Morgan, Geralnt Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Wall, Patrick
Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth) Shelton, William (Strealham) Waller, Gary
Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Ward, John
Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Shepherd, Richard (Aldrldge-Br'hills) Watson, John
Murphy, Christopher Shersby, Michael Wells, John (Maidstone)
Myles, David Silvester, Fred Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Needham, Richard Sims, Roger Wheeler, John
Nelson, Anthony Skeet, T. H. H. Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Neubert, Michael Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton) Whitney, Raymond
Newton, Tony Speed, Keith Wickenden, Keith
Nott, Rt Hon John Speller, Tony Wlggin, Jerry
Onslow, Cranley Spence, John Wilkinson, John
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire) Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Page, John (Harrow, West) Sproat, lain Winterton, Nicholas
Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham Squire, Robin Wolfson, Mark
Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire) Stalnton, Keith Young, Sir George (Acton)
Parkinson, Cecil Stanbrook, Ivor Younger, Rt Hon George
Parris, Matthew Stanley, John
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Steen, Anthony TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Patten, John (Oxford) Stevens, Martin Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Pattie, Geoffrey Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Mr. Anthony Berry.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendments made: No. 1, in page 2, line 3, after ' security ' insert ' of a first mortgage '.

No. 2, in page 2, line 20, at end insert ' and (c) this subsection is subject to subsections (4) to (5B) below '.

No. 3, in page 2, line 33, at end insert— ' (5A) In determining whether the condition in subsection (3) above is satisfied in the case of a person who is, or of persons one of whom is, a previous purchaser, a period counts as a period during which the previous purchaser or his spouse was a secure tenant only if it fell after the completion of the previous purchase or, if more than one, the last of them. (5B) In subsection (5A) above "previous purchaser" means a person who has exercised the right to buy or the right to purchase conferred by Part I of the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 on a previous occasion (whether he has exercised it alone or jointly with another person) and "previous purchase" has a corresponding meaning.'.—[Mr. Stanley.]

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