HC Deb 26 July 1984 vol 64 cc1298-317

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, line 21, after "dwelling" insert by virtue of the designation in question

7.40 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)

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

Mr. Speaker

With this amendment we are to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 26 to 28 and 54.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we clarify the position of the rights of Back Benchers when Divisions take place this evening on Lords amendments in view of the Government's hope that they will be supported by a majority? Will we be given an opportunity to divide on those amendments in the event that Members believe that those amendments are sufficiently important to be divided upon? May we have an assurance at the commencement of the proceedings that, in so far as hon. Members have a right to divide, we shall be able to exercise that right in a perfectly normal and reasonable way?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman need not ask such a question. He knows that every Lords amendment is put to the House, and the Question is put from the Chair. If any hon. Member wishes to divide against it, that is exactly what may happen.

Mr. Ancram

These are lengthy but technical amendments to ensure that there is no overlap or conflict in the provisions in cases where the same dwelling house is subject to two designations, for instance, national designation under clause 1, and a local designation under clause 10. The principal amendment is this rather lengthy new clause. Hon. Members might find it helpful if I were to explain briefly the effect of the provisions in these cases of what might be called double designation.

There are four basic elements in the new clause. First, it deals with a case where an owner has applied for assistance under one designation, and has been notified by the authority that he is entitled to assistance by way of repurchase. In that case, the clause provides that he should not be eligible for assistance under any subsequent designation because obviously it would be pointless to allow the application to be processed in the normal way where it had already been decided that the house must be repurchased.

Secondly, the clause deals with the situation where a person is entitled to assistance by way of reinstatement grant and it becomes apparent to the authority that he is eligible for assistance under a subsequent designation. In that case, the clause provides that the authority should reassess the case in the light of the subsequent designation, and give the owner a further notice under clause 4(2) stating the form of assistance to which he is entitled. It would not be necessary for the owner to submit a separate application. Where assistance is also to be by way of reinstatement grant under the subsequent designation, the clause provides that fresh notices should be issued by the authority relating to the work required to make good the defect and to the amount of expenditure to be incurred. In such cases, the expenditure limit will be the aggregate of the expenditure limits applicable to each of the designations.

Finally, the clause makes provision for cases where an owner may be committed to, or has undertaken, work with a view to reinstatement under a first designation, and then becomes entitled to assistance by way of repurchase under a subsequent designation. In such cases, the owner is to be allowed to complete the work and receive payment for it.

I appreciate that this is a complex matter. I hope that I have been able to give the House some idea of how the scheme is to work where one dwelling might come within the scope of two separate designations.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Minister advise the House what opportunities there are for people to apply to local authorities for ex gratia grant payments from local authorities if they occupy dwellings that come within the provisions of the legislation in advance of the Bill receiving Royal Assent and being implemented? I was advised by Department of the Environment officials that ex gratia payments could be made by local authorities. Two of my constituents have applied for them.

Mr. Ancram

I shall look into the cases which the hon. Member mentions and write to him. I should like to be sure that he receives a correct answer.

These are complex matters. I hope that I have explained how the new provision will work and that the House will support it.

7.45 pm
Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

I am not satisfied with the Minister's explanation of the amendments. I am particularly worried about the effects of Lords amendment No. 1 which changes clause 1. Under the clause as it stands the Secretary of State may vary or revoke a designation, but no variation or revocation shall affect the operation of the provisions of this Act in relation to any dwelling if … it is a defective dwelling". The Lords amendment refers to a defective dwelling by virtue of the designation in question". That seems to limit the clause. Under the clause as it stands the Secretary of State cannot vary if a building has physical defects. According to the amendment, the Secretary of State will not be able to vary if the dwelling is defective by virtue of designation". I raised the problem of Smith houses on Report on 21 June when I asked the Government what they intended to do about the problem of Smith houses in Birmingham. I declare a constituency interest because there are several hundreds of Smith houses in my constituency. The same houses can be found in constituencies represented by Government Members. We have been waiting for a long time for a decision by the Government on whether such houses should be designated as defective dwellings under the Bill.

People have been led to believe by the Government and by the Birmingham city council that Smith houses will be designated, but whenever we have pressed the Minister he has dodged the issue. On 21 June the Minister for Housing and Construction assured the House that a decision about Smith houses would be made at the earliest opportunity. That was five weeks ago. The issue was raised twice in the House of Lords by Lord Graham of Edmonton. The Government had at least two opportunities in the other place to make an announcement.

Perhaps the Government have made an announcement in a press release, but I have not read anything in the local papers about it. I have read every issue of Hansard since 21 June in case the designation was announced in response to a written question, perhaps planted by a Government Member, but I have not seen anything about it.

I shall not be put off. I ask the Minister to make an announcement tonight. The problem affects not only Birmingham, but several other constituencies. People who have bought Smith houses in other constituencies have contacted me. In the last few weeks I have been told about houses sold in constituencies such as Aldridge-Brownhills and in Walsall.

The Minister has said that the problem is the material used for the foundation of Smith houses. We are aware of that problem. The use of untreated shale in the foundation of Smith houses built in Birmingham, and in my constituency in particular, is a contributory factor, but it is not the only reason for the defects in Smith houses. There are many other defects that cannot be attributed to shale. Those defects are affecting Smith houses in Birmingham and outside the city.

I make no apology for raising the matter again tonight. We are still waiting for the announcement that we were promised would be given at the earliest possible opportunity. The Minister said in the debate on 21 June that he would have "a further word" with me later. We have certainly had casual conversations, but I am still waiting for an announcement. Casual conversations in New Palace Yard and expressions of sympathy will not cut much ice with my constituents who have bought defective houses.

I hope that we shall hear an announcement tonight, although I would not describe it as being given at the earliest opportunity if the Minister announced tonight that he had designated the Smith houses. I shall thank him if he does so on behalf of my constituents; but I shall make the point that he has made the announcement at the last possible opportunity.

Sir Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)

I associate myself with the doubts about the amendment that have been expressed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis). I follow him in saying to the Minister that there is concern in the city of Birmingham about this enormous problem. More than 500 owner-occupied Smith houses are suffering from defects.

As the Minister knows, the BRE report was received in December last year. From our examination of the report, we are sure in Birmingham that the Smith houses there qualify under clause 1 to be accepted within the national scheme, because of their defective design and construction.

My hon. Friend the Minister was kind enough to come to Birmingham on 25 May. He visited several defective Smith houses in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan) and in my constituency in Hall Green. Earlier, the Minister was good enough to visit houses in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King).

We know that the Minister is very much aware of the problems, but when he replied to the hon. Member for Hodge Hill on 21 June he said that the decision must take account of whether the defects were common to the Smith houses as a class, or whether the problem was local.

The Minister may be helped by knowing that defects in Smith houses in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) are similar in nature to the defects of the houses in Birmingham. I feel sure that that will help the Minister to decide the main question to which he referred on 21 June. Consequently, I hope that when he replies he will be able to say that, in the circumstancies, a decision to designate the Smith houses in Birmingham as one of the groups coming within the national scheme will be coming shortly.

I do not want to speak at undue length. I know that, as a result of the Minister's visit and the representations that have been made to him, he knows well the serious nature of the problems affecting houses in Birmingham. I hope that the Minister will be able to reply in the reassuring terms that I have asked of him, especially having regard to his knowledge of the problems.

Mr. David Gilroy Bevan (Birmingham, Yardley)

I should like to follow the queries of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) by referring to the proposal to amend the wording of clause 1.

The wording will remain substantially unchanged, but the point in question is the designation of properties. That designation is all-important to my constituents in Yardley and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Hall Green and Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) and the hon. Member for Hodge Hill. We have been patient about awaiting the pronouncement of my hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Construction. It is significant that it was at this time a year ago that I approached my hon. Friend to ask about this very point. I had been allowed to raise the matter on an Adjournment debate, when I questioned the structural nature of Smith houses.

The report that my hon. Friend was kind enough to authorise and that we all awaited bore out the contention that not just local strata of clay cause sulphate growth and that there were generic problems in this type of housing regardless of the geographical area in which the houses were built. It was found that there was structural steel in those properties, in the shape of carrying handles that interwove and therefore became a structural feature between the blocks that they supported. There were other defects.

I should like to ask the Minister whether he feels that those houses come within the designated type of property, the first type of property that was investigated—that is, properties of reinforced steel. I hope that my hon. Friend can now say that our constituents will be entitled to compensation in the same way as the owners of other houses in the main group so far affected.

The Minister was good enough to inform the House that numerous houses—about 28 types—including Boot and Wates houses, were subject to remuneration and would come within the designation of the clause. I should like to ask what the effect of the amendment is.

My hon. Friend was also good enough to visit my constituency in Yardley as well as the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green. He diligently sought out Smith houses, including the house of Mr. Kyte, but first he went by accident to a Boot house opposite that Smith house. I pointed out to my hon. Friend that the Smith house was in abysmal condition compared with the pristine condition of the Boot house that he visited by mistake.

It would be appropriate if at this time we could finally know whether Smith houses are included and subject to designation and whether they will be automatically on the pay-out list for refurbishment or purchase by the local authority. I would deeply appreciate it if at this time, just before the recess, all of us could go home to assure our constituents, who are worried beyond any measure of doubt, and have been worried for a long time, that the amendment means that Smith houses will be eligible for the proper and correct compensation under the designation and that it will be automatic compensation after the procedures have been gone through, and not at the discretion of the local authority.

8 pm

Mr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I am very concerned about the clause because it results from legislation by the Government that was not properly thought out. Having been elected in 1979, the Conservative party, with its dogmatic zeal, was very keen to introduce legislation allowing people to buy their own council houses.

I should like to make it clear that I am not against people buying their own council houses, provided that the stock of council houses is maintained and that waiting lists are kept down. When the Government introduced legislation allowing people to buy their council houses, theydid not, apparently, look beyond the first two or three years. It is now becoming evident that some people who bought their council houses are now unable to sell them because of defects that were not apparent at the time that the valuations were made and the contracts entered into. That happened with the Airey houses which are within the designation.

If people have substandard Airey houses they can look forward to some redress. It is by no means clear that everyone who lives in an Airey house will benefit from the provisions or that the repairs will be done 100 per cent. The construction of Airey houses is well known to hon. Members. Some of the defects are very hard to find. In some cases the houses are of such poor quality that no amount of repair and redress can make them suitable. Even if an Airey house has been repaired and is structurally sound, there is still a stigma attached to the house and it is more difficult to sell than a house built on more traditional lines.

Although Airey houses are within the designation, there are many other houses which are not. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) referred to the Smith houses which are not within the designation. Surely there is inequality in that respect. If the Government apply principles or laws to one set of people, I should have thought they would be keen to apply those laws or principles to everyone. Why should some people be incapable of benefiting from the legislation?

When people have council houses valued, the valuation is not particularly lengthy or thorough. The valuer will spend 10 or 15 minutes in looking round the house. Valuers are busy people and have not got all day in which to look at council houses, so that, if a house appears to be the same as the others in the street, they will simply decide to value the house at £X thousand. Valuers do not necessarily go into every nook and cranny to see whether a house is in good order.

What happens, then, to people who, having bought their council houses, suddenly find that there is a serious structural defect that was not obvious to the valuer when he looked round a typical council house? There are houses which do not fall into any particular class but which people have bought only to find that they are disadvantaged later by being unable to sell them. The people concerned may wish to retire or to go to a different part of the country, but because they have council houses which are not in the designation they are not able to sell them.

One would have hoped that the Government would, certainly at this late stage, come back to the House with a Bill which did not have glaring inequities in it. I would have expected to find some degree of generosity, with the Government being prepared to look at each individual case. Could not some funds have been provided by the Government to help people in the circumstances that I have outlined?

If that is not done and the Government insist on accepting these amendments, some people will be disadvantaged. A new class of citizens will be created—people who have bought council houses but who cannot move from them. It is a new form of feudalism, as we had with tied cottages for agricultural workers. In this case the Government are performing the role of the squire and are saying, "We shall not move you because it will cost us more money. Therefore, you must stay in your tied cottage or house although it may have structural defects. You can reduce the value by 50 per cent., or knock £7,000 off its price—you can even make a loss on the house—but you still cannot sell it."

I do not wish to continue for too long, because the evening is young and we still have 65 amendments to discuss. Will the Government do a little more for those individuals who will suffer and who must have a grievance, because people who have bought Airey houses will nearly always be recompensed, but those who live in Smith houses or in other houses with defects will not benefit from the legislation? It is clearly iniquitous, and it shows that the Government are not worried about whether people buy council houses. They are more concerned with political dogma and with winning general elections. They promised people a carrot, so that they believed that they would benefit. Some have benefited, and I welcomed the Government's increase in the discounts from 50 to 60 per cent., because the more discounts that are given to people who live in council houses, the more wealth will be redistributed. That is a good thing.

If these amendments are accepted, a category of people will believe that others in similar positions will have been looked after by the Government but that they have not. The Government must be generous and say, "We shall think again. We shall try to tidy the amendment so that everyone is treated equitably." However, they may say, "We are not worried about this. All that we care about is political dogma, and as long as the Bill gets on the statute book, we shall have done our duty." I await the Minister's reply with interest.

Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, West)

I had not intended to speak to this amendment—

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

Sit down then.

Mr. Durant

—but I wish to mention the designation—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I distinctly saw an hon. Member representing the Government, and also the payroll vote in the House, turn to an hon. Member speaking during our debate and heard him ask him to sit down. That raises substantial constitutional issues. If an hon. Member, elected to the House by the people of the country, is subjected to intimidation from a Front Bench spokesman or a Government appointee—in effect, a Minister—surely the hon. Gentleman who is asked to resume his seat during his speech should bring an allegation of contempt against the hon. Member who issued the request.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

I do not think that a point of order arises. The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House for a long time, and he will know that representations are made to hon. Members. The Chair knows nothing about those representations, and I am glad that it is not involved.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You say that the Chair is not involved, but I distinctly heard a statement being made by a Minister to a Conservative Back Bencher, in the Chamber, requiring him to sit down. Many of us have decided over the past few months that this Government need firmer and more strenuous opposition, because it has come to our knowledge on a number of occasions that statements such as this are being made to Conservative Back Benchers and indirectly to my hon. Friends. We believe that it is for the Chair to intervene and give a ruling, arising from what has happened here today. It is important that, during our proceedings tonight, every hon. Member who wishes to speak is not prevented from speaking, and that clearly is a matter for the Chair. In the event—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. If he is referring to the amendments with which we are dealing, he can rise with the hope of catching the eye of the Chair. This matter is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Further to that point of order. The issue that I raised in my point of order does not necessarily relate to the amendment. It can equally relate to the proceedings of the House. I am saying that a Minister is in default of the procedures of the House by turning to his hon. Friend and requiring that he resumes his seat. This matter requires a ruling from the Chair. In the event that you feel that, in the circumstances, it is not possible for you to make a ruling, I ask that Mr. Speaker be asked to attend the House to rule, so that the position is clarified.

We have heard a Conservative Member being asked to take his seat during the course of a debate, when he had risen to speak on an amendment that he felt was sufficiently important, in so far as he is representing his constituents, to warrant his intervention. I ask you to rule, not about anything that I may wish to say on an amendment, but on a procedural matter that I have raised —the question of the rights of Back Benchers to speak freely on the Floor of the House, and not be intimidated.

Mr. Durant

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, remind the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that Conservative Members do not need instructions from him on how to behave. We make our own decisions as to whether or not we shall speak, and we do not need to be instructed by him on that either. Therefore, I believe that this is not a point of order for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Ian Gow)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was sitting on the Treasury Bench when it is alleged that words were used by one of my hon. Friends. No one sitting on the Treasury Bench sought to give any advice to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Durant). If such advice had been given, my hon. Friend would probably have disregarded it. In so far as any advice was tendered to my hon. Friend, it was tendered by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). He sits on the same side of the House as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If I understand the feeling in the House, it would be to the advantage of all of us if we got on with the debate.

Mr. Durant

I rise to speak on behalf of my constituents, and that is what I am here to do. That is what Parliament is about. I do not need the hon. Member for Workington to tell me where my duty lies.

Before I was interrupted by the hon. Member for Workington, I said that I had not intended to raise this matter on this clause. As there has now been discussion about designation, I wish to make an important point for my constituents. I have studied the Bill carefully. On page 2, clause 1(4) says: The Secretary of State may vary or revoke a designation under this section". I understand that completely. He will publish that designation in the London Gazette, and that is provided for under clause 1(5)(a). On what terms will my hon. Friend the Minister decide the designation? Whose advice will he take and how might a new designation be introduced? A number of my constituents are at present in other houses which at this stage have not been designated, and they are concerned. There is no evidence that their houses are defective, but if defects become apparent they should like to know how they can be designated.

8.15 pm
Mr. Campbell-Savours

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me. I have been informed that a clear undertaking was given to the citizens of Birmingham immediately prior to last year's general election. I wish to address my remarks in part to that undertaking and to ascertain to what extent the Government, having given that undertaking, are now required to be far more positive and forthcoming about the concessions which some may feel are being given in the Bill.

During the general election constituents throughout Birmingham were promised by their Conservative candidates that the Government would look favourably on the inclusion of Smith houses in any legislative changes.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

I had the honour to be a Conservative candidate in Birmingham during the general election, and I just wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is putting words in my mouth. I cannot recall making such a commitment, and I am not sure whether any of my colleagues did so. On what evidence does the hon. Gentleman base that assumption?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman says that as a candidate in Birmingham he did not make that statement. I hope that the Minister will not prevent him from speaking, because the hon. Gentleman has the same right to speak as the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Durant). I had to rise to my feet to exercise the rights of the hon. Member for Reading, West and to defend his interests—

Mr. Durant

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I crave your indulgence as Deputy Speaker in charge of the Chamber. I do not seek to be defended by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I am perfectly capable of making my own case. When the hon. Gentleman interrupted me, I was already on my feet. It is, I believe, an effrontery to the House for the hon. Gentleman suddenly to take on the role of defending Back Benchers.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The only person who is stopping me from speaking is the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who is the only nobbler in this House.

Mr. Roger King

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Workington said that somehow I had been persuaded not to make a contribution in the debate. I was not persuaded in any form whatever and, therefore, resent his suggestion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The House will realise that hon. Members are raising points of argument in the guise of points of order. It would be very much better if hon. Members were to try to catch my eye and to make their contributions in debate.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) said that he was not persuaded. That is a curious construction of words, because it suggests that attempts were made to persuade him. That only confirms my point—that to some extent Conservative Members are being prevented from expressing their views—

Mr. Roger King

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has again stated—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have dealt with a number of points of order. It would be very much better for our proceedings if we were now to have an orderly debate. There is plenty of time and I shall do my utmost to call any hon. Member who wishes to speak.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Member for Northfield rises like a trout on the Tay after the fly. If he wishes to stay this evening, I shall present him with many flies which will be well laid, and I hope that he takes and bites them.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Reading, West. He knows that I would not wish to offend him. If I have, he must accept that what I said was in the spirit of our debate. I am sure that he knows precisely what I mean.

The hon. Member for Northfield is aware that during the general election certain statements were made, especially in the Northfield constituency. The information has come from many sources. Labour supporters who attended the election to help the Labour candidates spoke from public platforms and drew attention to the undertakings from Conservative candidates. I understand that it was believed that the Government would concede the case after the general election. I am informed that an inquiry was set up, investigations carried out and conclusions reached. That showed that there were defects.

The constituents of the hon. Member for Northfield want to know whether he believes that the Government are responding to those investigations in a reasonable manner and whether they accept that the properties should be designated in the Bill. I understand that the properties will not be designated, and some of us must, therefore, express reservations about that part of the Bill. Indeed, we feel strongly on this matter and may divide the House to express our concern about the Government's failure to make the necessary concessions.

Many local authorities and housing groups in the Birmingham area have expressed great dismay and displeasure at the news that the Government have not yet decided whether they will designate Smith houses, in this or any other Bill, as one of the groups that would qualify for the national scheme. It is more than a year since the Government accepted the need for an investigation into Smith houses. They did so under pressure not only from my hon. Friends but from Conservative Members. I am sure that the hon. Member for Northfield at that time, when it was more politically opportune, was vociferous in his support of designation. It appears that he is not so strenuous tonight in the interests of those who own Smith houses.

At that time we were told that the problem affected many people throughout the Birmingham area and in other parts of the United Kingdom. Many hon. Members said that there was all-party agreement when the Government announced at Easter 1983 that there would be an investigation by the Birmingham research unit—

Sir Reginald Eyre

The hon. Gentleman is referring to a national body, which has nothing to do with Birmingham—the Building Research Establishment.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I thank him for correcting me. None of us is too proud to admit that on occasions we need correction. I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman has successfully done would have been done by those writing the Official Report.

As I say, there was all-party agreement at Easter 1983 about the need for an investigation into a number of systems and that Smith houses should be added to the list. Up to then, it was not thought that Smith houses would be included. We on these Benches — I am sure that many Conservative Members felt the same — were disappointed with the report on Smith houses, which came out, significantly, a few weeks after the report on other types of system built houses, because it did not deal with Smith houses in the way that we had hoped.

Six months have elapsed. The Government have had sufficient time in which to reach a decision on the matter. Indeed, the people in places such as Birmingham—who believe that the Government owe them a decision in view of the promises that were made of the likelihood of a decision being made in their favour—feel that sufficient time has elapsed and that the Government should now reach a decision.

On Report, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) sought undertakings from the Government, but the Minister dodged the question. When pressed to say what would happen to Smith houses, he said that he was still considering whether they should be included in the mandatory scheme and added that he expected to reach a decision following a visit to Birmingham later in the year.

Time has passed, no decision has been forthcoming and we are still waiting for the Minister to make up his mind. There is still time for him to do that. It might be possible for him to introduce additional legislation.

Mr. Terry Davis

Additional legislation is not required. The Minister need only make an announcment. He announced the other types of houses to be designated either through a written answer or a press notice, and the information was made available to hon. Members. He could make a similar announcement tonight from the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for clarifying the position. The people of Birmingham will be pleased to know that it is a simple matter for the Government to change the arrangements and ensure that their property is included. I think I see the Minister indicating that he wishes to intervene. I hope that he will make the concession which my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill is seeking.

Let us not forget that while the delay continues, people in Birmingham and elsewhere who bought these houses are living in a state of uncertainty about the future. The Government repeatedly refer to the importance of owner-occupation, claiming that it leads, among other things, to greater output and effort. I cannot believe that they wish to impede those who, having purchased these houses, want to improve them to ensure that any stigma that may attach to them is removed at the earliest opportunity.

8.30 pm
Mr. Gow

It may help the hon. Gentleman, and may even curtail his speech, if I say that I understand the anxiety expressed by him and by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis). Alas, this is not an easy decision. If it had been, it would have been made earlier. However, the hon. Member for Hodge Hill has expressed deep anxiety about the matter and I can tell him that I shall be announcing a decision on Smith houses before the end of the month.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

We have been debating the matter for nearly an hour.

Mr. Terry Davis

The Minister said that he will make an announcement before the end of the month, which is five days away. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be better if the announcement were made in the House tonight, so that if that decision is not a favourable one the Minister could be cross-examined by Birmingham Members on both sides of the House? Our suspicions are bound to be raised by the fact that the Minister says that he will not make a statement today, but wishes to make it in a nook-and-cranny way.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I had not been as suspicious as my hon. Friend of the Government's motives. However, my hon. Friend may be right in saying that the Government intend to make an announcement during the recess.

Mr. Gow


Mr. Terry Davis

The Minister said that he will make the announcement before the end of the month and we have decided to rise on 1 August. Therefore, the decision will be announced before the recess, but I fear that the announcement will not be made in the Chamber which, in view of the pressure exerted by hon. Members, would be the most appropriate forum. If the decision were a favourable one, I imagine that the Minister would have curtailed the debate by making that favourable announcement tonight. His refusal to do so suggests that it will not be a favourable decision.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I was elected to the House only in 1979, but I have studied the work of the previous Labour Government and, although once in a while they strayed from the good way and published decisions in written answers, they came to accept that there was a need for oral statements on the Floor of the House in the name of open government. In the past few years, there has been a return to the bad old ways. Written answers are supposed to satisfy hon. Members. The Minister said that the reply would not be made during the recess and we must therefore assume that there will be a written answer on Tuesday. What good is that?

Mr. John Fraser

The House is discussing designation and the expenditure by a local authority of many millions of pounds which may not be subsidised by the Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extraordinary that we cannot be told the decision on 26 July but that we shall be told, in a nook-and-cranny way, by 31 July?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

My hon. Friend is right. It is extraordinary, but we all know what the decision is likely to be. If it were to be favourable to the people of Birmingham and other parts of the country, it would have been announced during the debate. It has taken us an hour to elicit from the Minister the statement that he is likely to give us a written answer on Tuesday next week. We shall have no opportunity to question him on that statement. It is an affront to our procedures.

If the House were sitting all next week hon. Members could raise points of order and object about an important statement being made in a written answer. They will be objecting to the fact that the Minister is issuing by means of a written reply a major statement which affects the lives of hundreds of people in Birmingham. Surely in our society, which values individual freedom and in which the rights of small groups of people must be fully protected, Ministers are big enough to stand at the Dispatch Box and to face the wrath of my hon. Friends, in the event that we had to object to the Government's decision. Perhaps, having heard my hon. Friends' comments today, the Minister will wish to reconsider his position. Perhaps in the light of those comments he will feel it wiser to make the announcement today. If he does not do so, he must tell us why we are being required to wait for 120 or 130 hours for a statement which could just as well be made now.

The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) keeps tabling questions about the cost of answering parliamentary questions. No doubt a parliamentary question will be tabled next week in the name of the Minister's parliamentary private secretary. Or, indeed, the question may have been tabled already. If the Minister would tell us now that the houses are to be included, the expense of a question could be avoided and, furthermore, there would be no need for a Division. I am obliged to divide the House only because the Minister refuses to reply to my intervention.

Dr. Marek

Is it not possible that the Government are holding back the statement because they intend to designate perhaps only half or two-thirds of the houses, and they wish to avoid discussion here? It would be predominantly Labour authorities which would be torn between doing what was right for their citizens and making extra designations which they had to pay for, thus creating extra problems for themselves. Is it not possible that the Government relish the prospect of such developments in the latter part of the year, or am I being too cynical?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) is not known for his cynicism. He sees matters in a clear and straightforward way. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill, he does not address himself to the cynicism of the Government. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill is wrong about the Government. We must live in hope.

Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether the hon. Member for Northfield has been required to table the necessary parliamentary question which the Minister may answer next Tuesday. If he has, I hope that the burghers of Birmingham will be told that it was the Labour Members who pressed the Government on this matter and that when we asked the hon. Member for Northfield to put the case for this concession to be made for the hundreds of people who own such houses, he kept his seat.

After a curious visit from the Minister, who went to sit beside him, the hon. Member for Northfield kept his seat. The hon. Member must feel that he cannot defend the position of the Government. No doubt he will defend it publicly in the newspapers in Birmingham next week. The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends must remember that their constituents are among those who own these houses, which suffer from defects of all sorts. My hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill has referred to people with failing eyesight who have to cope with the problem of wavy floors. They have trouble focusing on the floors, which are wavy as a result of constructional defects. If the Minister gives a negative response next week, people with failing eyesight will have to continue to suffer from the problem of their wavy floors.

There are other people who are tied to their properties because they cannot sell them. I believe that there is no market for these properties until the Government intervene.

Mr. Terry Davis

The market is reduced.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

We all remember when, last year, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who was then the Secretary of State for Employment, told us that people should get on their bicycles and go looking for work. We all know, however, that mobility of labour is dependent on housing mobility. We are merely asking the Government to respond to the demands of people, especially the unemployed, who want to move but cannot because of the Government's intransigence.

When the Minister replies to the debate next week in the form of a written answer, he should ponder over his pen about what he is doing for people who want to move. By refusing the change he will be telling them that they cannot move because the Government believe that the money should be spent on tax concessions for stud farmers. We all remember the stud farming debate of a few weeks ago. It was disgraceful that capital transfer tax concessions should be given to stud farmers. Throughout the Budget, tens of millions of pounds have been given away to minority interests, most of which are hardly represented in our constituencies.

Mr. Durant

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should be grateful if you would remind the hon. Gentleman that we are dealing with a Lords amendment. I urge you to bring him back to the subject.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that the hon. Member for Workington will not wander into stud farms.

Mr. John Fraser

My hon. Friend would not be well served if he did.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Indeed. We are considering an amendment that is a most effective result of the activities of another place. I hope that the Minister will note the protests of my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill. I shall have to divide the House on this important issue. I shall do so with slight reservations, but the Minister, by answering in the form of a written reply, is abusing our procedures.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Last November the Minister made a statement naming 28 types of defective building. Many of us have problems with such buildings in our constituency. In my area, we have the Reema type. On that occasion we were able to question the Minister about the Building Research Establishment report and what the legislation would do to help. Surely the Minister should answer questions now if he was referring only to the Smith type of housing.

8.45 pm
Mr. Campbell-Savours

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I hope that the Minister will make a statement today giving the Government's reasons for excluding that type of housing. Unusually, I was not present when the earlier statement was made, but I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill questioned the Minister about exclusions. Clearly he expected the Government to give way and grant his constituents that concession. What are the Government afraid of? Why will they not make the announcement today and thus avoid wasting time on Divisions simply to show the people of Birmingham and elsewhere how unsatisfactory the Government's attitude has been? We could avoid all that nonsense if the Minister would be more forthcoming. At the very least, will he assure us that a clear undertaking will be given in the written answer?

Mr. Terry Davis

It may not even be a written answer. It may be a press release.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

In that case, the Minister had better tell us today exactly how he intends to make the statement.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call Mr. Peter Bruinvels.

Mr. John Fraser

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be in order to move, That the debate be now be adjourned?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No, I am not prepared to accept that motion. I have called Mr. Bruinvels. I shall, of course, call the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) if he wishes to participate in the debate in due course.

Mr. Bruinvels

I shall be brief as my hon. Friend the Minister has made it clear that there is to be a statement, no matter what its form, about the position of Smith homes. There are 500 such homes in Leicester, East. The problem is especially worrying on the Netherhall estate on which many of my constituents have bought their homes and are anxious to have reassurance and compensation as soon as possible.

Leicester has had many housing difficulties in the past few years. In the constituencies of my two colleagues, though not in my own, there have been considerable problems with Boot homes. My hon. Friend the Minister visited Leicester recently and saw at first hand the difficulties experienced by the owners of those homes. At that time, however, the problems of the Smith homes had not yet come to light. Perhaps on his next visit my hon. Friend the Minister will come and see some of those homes, too.

The Lords amendment is clearly welcome for people with homes of other types, but I very much hope that the Smith houses will be designated under clause 1 at an early date. There is concern throughout the country that those homes have not yet been included. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister cares passionately about this problem. Unlike the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), I do not care how my hon. Friend announces this help and hope so long as he makes the announcement.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bruinvels

We should be grateful that there is to be an announcement by the end of July.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Hon. Members

Give way!

Mr. Bruinvels

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre) explained carefully what was going on.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Hon. Members

Give way!

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It seems clear to me that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) is not giving way, at any rate at this moment.

Mr. Bruinvels

My hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green carefully and succinctly explained the difficulties experienced in Birmingham. I hope that in my short speech I have been able to put forward the concern that is felt by hon. Members and by the people living in Leicester, East who desperately need help. They should not be penalised in any way for having opted to buy their homes or, indeed, blamed if they have not bought their homes. I know that the Bill as amended by the Lords amendments will be acceptable to my constituents, and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to include Smith homes in clause 1.

Mr. John Fraser

I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned. I do so because of the quite extraordinary—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman by saying that I am not prepared to accept the motion. If he wishes to intervene in the debate, I will of course be prepared to call him.

Mr. Fraser

Of course I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This seemed to be a comparatively uncontroversial set of amendments until the intervention of the Minister a few moments ago informing us that he will be making an announcement about the designation of Smith houses before the end of the month. We are at the tail end of a Session and at the tail end of a Bill. We are concerned about the designation of a number of houses in Birmingham that are defective as a result of the use of shale in them and the coming apart of the walls. There is no political or party point in this matter. Concern has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about these homes. It seems extraordinary to have an announcement from the Minister that he will say something about the designation of Smith homes by 31 July when the House is sitting on the evening of 26 July. That seems to be holding the House in contempt, not in the technical sense of the word, but by dealing with second class houses in the way that some other people deal in second hand cars. That is not good enough.

There is an essential difference between the designation of houses under clause 1 and the designaion of houses under clause 10. If they are designated under clause 1, the local authority—in this case Birmingham,—will receive subsidy at the rate of 75 per cent. of the loan costs if the houses are repurchased by the local authority, or at the rate of 90 per cent. of the servicing costs of the reinstatement grant.

If the Minister decides that designation will be left to Birmingham council under clause 10, no subsidy will be attracted to Birmingham as a result of that designation made by that local authority. In an area that has considerable housing problems with substantial incursions into its housing investment programme, this is a matter of importance. Millions of pounds are involved in capital expenditure, and hundreds of thousands of pounds are involved in subsidy.

It seems to be holding the House in contempt not to be able to make an announcement tonight about Smith houses rather than wait at the latest until Tuesday 31 July. This is not a new matter. As I understand it, a delegation of Members of both parties went to see the Department of the Environment about these matters prior to the last election, and the expectation was created in Birmingham and in Northfield that Smith houses would be designated. It is true that the Minister has referred Smith houses to the Building Research Establishment. The report has come back from the establishment.

All the evidence is before the Minister to enable him to make the announcement tonight. I ask him to think again. I am sure—at least I hope—that he intended no discourtesy to the House in saying that he would be making an announcement before the end of the month. We are perfectly prepared to accommodate him by agreeing to adjourn proceedings for a short time so that he may consult his colleagues. He can make a telephone call. He has a number of telephone conversations with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who seems to be directing a large part of housing policy. It would be possible to make arrangements to contact other hon. Members in the Department and to make an announcement to the House before the end of these proceedings.

It is important for the Minister to tell the House about Smith houses and designation in general because people are waiting with bated breath to know when the Bill will bite. The Bill cannot come into force until the commencement order is made, and even then it will have no effect until designation. The designation triggers the procedure for operating a purchase notice.

We do not know when designation will take place. It is important for people who want to move, perhaps from one part of the country to another, to be certain about when the Bill's provisions will be operated, particularly since the Minister has already announced that 26 classes of dwelling will be designated in due course.

The time of designation is also important to local authorities because the moment that designation occurs there will be an incursion into their housing investment programmes for the current year. They are already under severe constraint as a result of the announcement made on 18 July.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Does my hon. Friend recall the comments of our former hon. Friend who represented Birmingham, Northfield—Mr. Speller—who repeatedly drew attention to the problem in the Birmingham area? Should not a tribute be paid to Mr. Speller for the work that he did? I hope that the present hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) will join us in the Lobby to express his support for what we are doing.

Mr. Fraser

I pay tribute to Mr. Speller, who was a good and valued colleague in the House. I do not know what his successor will do, but I hope that we shall go through the Lobby together in support of the Bill which we want put on the statute book. The hon. Gentleman could serve his constituents, and follow the tradition established by Mr. Speller, by pressing the Minister to make an announcement in the House tonight rather than making it in some other way before 31 July. If the hon. Gentleman cares for his constituents and has the same integrity as his predecessor, he will leap to his feet and demand that an announcement be made tonight rather than next week.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) said that the Bill will provide relief for people who purchase their council houses, but that it continues the inequity of giving no rights to those who remain tenants of local authority housing. The problems of local authority tenants will be made worse as a result of the announcement on 18 July.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham said that he supported the sale of council houses when funds can be reinvested. We are told that capital receipts from the sale of council houses will be put into new housing. On 18 July local authorities which accumulated capital receipts before the financial years 1981, 1982 and 1983 were told that they were debarred from doing that. The electors and local authorities have been defrauded.

I urge the Minister to reconsider his decision, unlock money in local authority coffers and make an announcement about Smith houses which have caused so much concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

9 pm

Mr. Gow

I hasten to reply to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). I hope that I do not need to assure the hon. Gentleman or the House that I would never knowingly or willingly commit any discourtesy to the House.

I made an announcement a short while ago about a decision whether to designate Smith houses under clause 1. The decision is not straightforward, because it can only be taken formally after—indeed, I may add, if—the Bill receives Royal Assent.

Mr. John Fraser

That is synthetic.

Mr. Gow

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he will listen to me.

My right hon. Friend announced in a written answer the names of the 28 types of house that he has decided to designate under clause 1, if the Bill receives Royal Assent. The reason that I cannot tell the House tonight what my right hon. Friend's decision will be is that my right hon. Friend and I have not yet made a decision. A decision will be made and announced before the end of the month after I have had a meeting with my advisers on Monday next, at which a final decision will be taken about the matter. A decision will be announced to the House in the same way in which we announced previously the 28 types of designated houses.

At the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre) I visited Birmingham and looked at several Smith houses in his constituency, and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), and for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan). I mean no discourtesy to the House, Mr. Speaker. An announcement will be made before the end of the month. My right hon. Friend and I will be accountable to the House for our decision.

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

The House divided: Ayes 170, Noes 6.

Division No. 437] [9.02 pm
Alexander, Richard Body, Richard
Amess, David Boscawen, Hon Robert
Ancram, Michael Bottomley, Peter
Arnold, Tom Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Ashby, David Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Aspinwall, Jack Braine, Sir Bernard
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Bright, Graham
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Brinton, Tim
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Browne, John
Baldry, Tony Bruinvels, Peter
Barron, Kevin Burt, Alistair
Batiste, Spencer Butterfill, John
Bermingham, Gerald Carlisle, John (N Luton)
Berry, Sir Anthony Cash, William
Bevan, David Gilroy Chapman, Sydney
Bidwell, Sydney Chope, Christopher
Biffen, Rt Hon John Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Needham, Richard
Conway, Derek Nellist, David
Coombs, Simon Newton, Tony
Cope, John Nicholls, Patrick
Craigen, J. M. Norris, Steven
Crouch, David Oppenheim, Phillip
Currie, Mrs Edwina Osborn, Sir John
Dixon, Donald Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Dorrell, Stephen Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Dover, Den Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Durant, Tony Pike, Peter
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Emery, Sir Peter Powley, John
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Price, Sir David
Evennett, David Proctor, K. Harvey
Eyre, Sir Reginald Raffan, Keith
Fallon, Michael Rhodes James, Robert
Fookes, Miss Janet Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Forman, Nigel Rifkind, Malcolm
Fox, Marcus Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Freeman, Roger Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Gale, Roger Roe, Mrs Marion
Goodlad, Alastair Rossi, Sir Hugh
Gorst, John Rowe, Andrew
Gow, Ian Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Greenway, Harry Sayeed, Jonathan
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Harvey, Robert Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hayes, J. Shelton, William (Streatham)
Heddle, John Skinner, Dennis
Heffer, Eric S. Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Henderson, Barry Soames, Hon Nicholas
Howard, Michael Speed, Keith
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Spencer, Derek
Hunt, David (Wirral) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Hunter, Andrew Stanbrook, Ivor
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Stern, Michael
Jessel, Toby Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Kilfedder, James A. Stradling Thomas, J.
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Sumberg, David
King, Rt Hon Tom Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Lawrence, Ivan Temple-Morris, Peter
Lester, Jim Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Lilley, Peter Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Thorne, Neil (IIford S)
Lord, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Luce, Richard Tracey, Richard
Lyell, Nicholas Trippier, David
McCurley, Mrs Anna Twinn, Dr Ian
McKay, Allen (Penistone) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Waddington, David
Maclean, David John Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Madden, Max Walden, George
Major, John Waller, Gary
Marland, Paul Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Mather, Carol Watson, John
Maude, Hon Francis Watts, John
Merchant, Piers Whitfield, John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Wolfson, Mark
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Wood, Timothy
Montgomery, Fergus Yeo, Tim
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Tellers for the Ayes:
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Mr. Ian Lang and Mr. Michael Neubert.
Murphy, Christopher
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Wareing, Robert
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Tellers for the Noes:
Hancock, Mr. Michael Mr. Tony Lloyd and Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.
Marek, Dr John

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Were the consequential amendments taken with Lords amendment No. 1?

Mr. Speaker

They will be taken when they are reached. There were no consequential amendments to Lords amendment No. 1. There are no amendments grouped with the Lords amendments; they will all be taken later individually in due course.

Mr. John Fraser

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At one point I asked whether I could move, That the debate be now adjourned. That was ruled out of order by Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I understand and accept his ruling.

During the course of the last Division, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) tabled a question asking the Minister to make a statement to my hon. Friend before the end of the month about the designation of Smith houses. Would it be in order for the Minister for Housing and Construction to give the House an undertaking tonight that he will answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill and not make an announcement to the House in any other way?

Mr. Gow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I repeat to the House and to the hon. Gentleman the assurance that I gave earlier, and I repeat in exactly the form for which the hon. Gentleman asked the assurance that he seeks.

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