HC Deb 24 April 1986 vol 96 cc551-6

Amendments made: No. 154, in page 158, line 36, at end insert—

'1986 c.5. Agricultural Holdings Act In Schedule 14, paragraph 1986 25.'

No. 155, in page 158, leave out lines 45 and 46.

No. 156, in page 160, line 42, column 2, at beginning insert 'Control of.

No. 157, in page 160, line 55, column 3, after 'In', insert 'Part II of.

No. 158, in page 161, line 5, column 3, at beginning insert Section 3(2).'.

No. 159, in page 161, line 8, at end insert— 1968 c.14. Public Expenditure and In Schedule 3, in para-Receipts Act 1968. graph 6, the entry relating to section 355(8) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947.'.

No. 160, in page 161, line 15, at end insert— 'In section 53(4), the words— under section 54 of this Act". '.

No. 161, in page 161, line 43, at end insert— 'In section 247(1)(d), the words from "in" to "grants".'.

No. 162, in page 162, line 10, at end insert— '(a) in part I, the reference to sections 237, 238(1) and 239;.

No. 163, in page 162, line 17, after '25', insert 'and 60'.

No. 164, in page 162, line 18, at end insert—

'paragraph 10 of Part II of Schedule 2.
1984 c.27. Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 In section 129(1)(d) the words from "(including" to "in the inquiry)".'. — [Mr. John Patten.]

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. John Patten.]

10.23 pm
Mr. John Fraser

We have debated the Bill vigorously, especially clause 5 and other objectionable provisions, but on other clauses we have acted constructively. We hope to see legislation on the Nugee committee recommendations absolutely guaranteed next Session. We have secured some improvements in the law on improvement grants for flats and we have made a significant contribution to co-operative involvement by tenants. We welcome those parts of clause 6 which will give tenants a greater say in their management and greater control over their environment.

We have opposed those parts of clause 6 which were aimed simply at private management for private profit, but the Government amendment, which they hope to reinforce in another place, will virtually guarantee council tenants a veto on privatisation over their heads.

A number of matters which should be in the Bill are not. It represents missed opportunities, because it is largely about the management, rather than the provision, of housing. Our criticisms, not least in the debate on Tuesday, of the gross inadequacy of housing provision remain as forceful as ever. The Bill does nothing to improve the supply or the quantity of housing.

There are two things that I should like to see in the Bill when it returns from another place. One most important matter is in relation to homelessness. There has recently been a court decision to the effect that the homeless persons legislation only requires a local authority to make provision for the homeless and not to provide housing. That interpretation of the law is nonsensical. I hope that the Government will undertake to amend that aspect of homelessness law in another place. There is also the question of interpretation of section 91 of the Housing Act 1985. There is some misunderstanding about whether that section makes a tenancy assignable or simply capable of assignment.

The other matter that the Bill does not deal with satisfactorily is the problem of the inner city. Of course, there is the urban regeneration grant. We discussed that matter constructively in Committee. However, although there has been a period of quiet and the inner cities have been hibernating over a long winter and a cool spring, the Bill's attempts to deal with the inner cities and urban regeneration are not nearly sufficient to tackle the problem.

I represent an inner city constituency. There are over 3,000 unemployed school and college leavers in my borough. That is not untypical of the situation in many city areas. In other words, three battalions of young appear to have lost the struggle before they have started the fight. The effects of such a level of unemployment flow back into the schools and demoralise the entire community.

Lambeth has a problem that has been repeated in Handsworth and other inner city areas—the virtual impossibility for some businessmen of insuring their premises. There can be no greater disincentive to setting up a business than finding that you cannot get insurance cover to protect it. That is a very serious symptom of the problems of the inner city.

Poverty continues to increase as well as unemployment, and the measures in the Bill in that area are mere pinpricks. We shall have to return time and time again to the question of finding a more effective way of dealing with problems that could easily be resurrected as the weather becomes warmer. I am most concerned about the inadequacy of the Bill, in housing and inner city terms, to provide the resources to meet the undoubted problems that still exist.

Mr. Chapman

My right hon. Friend the Minister made some extraordinarily generous remarks about amendment No. 66. I appreciate very much what he said. I should also like to comment very briefly on Government amendment No. 36, which was inspired, I believe, by an amendment that I put forward in Committee. I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing that simplified planning zones should not be created in national parks, conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty, areas of special scientific interest or—to add a final rider—green belt areas. I have the privilege to be the president of the London Green Belt Council. The amendment is a great advance and will give immense reassurance to environment organisations concerned with the conservation of our countryside.

The Minister courteously informed me, after I moved an amendment in Committee about the demolition of listed buildings and the relevant procedures, that he would introduce an amendment, on the lines that I suggested, in another place. I hope that he will take into consideration the words of the chairman of English Heritage and the joint committee of various organisations concerned with conserving, in an intelligent way, our architectural heritage. I was not responsible for designing any part of that heritage, but I believe that if we can conserve it, untold future generations will benefit. We have had very constructive Committee and Report stages, with active and intelligent participation from hon. Members on both sides, which has, indeed, improved the Bill.

10.29 pm
Mr. Cartwright

I agree with the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) that, in its housing application, this is a Bill about management. But unlike him, I do not complain about that. Given the state of housing management, it is important to approach some of the problems that flow from that.

The interesting factor has been the degree of agreement across the political divide as to the ways in which housing management can be improved. The encouragement of housing co-operatives is one obvious example of that. The Bill makes a useful contribution towards making that idea a reality and towards giving people more control over their homes and their environment. I welcome the degree of agreement achieved over the need to encourage assured tenancies and to try to find new forms of rented accommodation to meet the need that clearly exists.

The urban regeneration grant may not make a dramatic contribution to the problems of our inner cities, but it should not be despised. It is worth having, and I welcome it. However, I am somewhat more sceptical about simplified planning zones. I should welcome them if they made a contribution, but I shall wait to see whether the fears that I and other have expressed are founded or whether the simplified planning zones make a bigger contribution than we expect.

I certainly endorse what the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) has said. We have had some very useful debates on the Bill, and both sides of the House have co-operated to make it a better Bill. I pay tribute to the Minister for his sensitive handling of the Bill and for the way in which he has responded to constructive proposals and has returned with ways of meeting our objectives. He has not always met them in full, but he has honestly and sincerely tried to take our views into consideration. That has greatly helped the Bill's passage.

10.31 pm
Mr. Winnick

The Bill should not go to the other place wihout its critics once again making their position clear, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) has done.

The Bill does not help to provide a single new dwelling. Incidentally, I am glad that the Secretary of State is now present. There is a formidable housing crisis. Thousands of families have no accommodation of their own, and live with their relatives or friends, or, as we know, in bed and breakfast accommodation. There is a huge waiting list of people who need to be housed. Many families in my constituency are housed in multi-storey blocks. They do not want to buy their flats, but they would like the opportunity to transfer to houses. That point has been made time and again to me and, I would have thought, to many hon. Members by their own constituents.

Earlier, the Minister said that he wanted to nail the lie that tenant security was being undermined. But the security of many council tenants is certainly being undermined as a result of the Bill, because it is intended that a local authority should be able to sell to the private sector. It will be up to the court to decide and so on, but that will not offer much protection to those tenants. The Bill is obsessed with privatisation. For example, there is the clause that deals with the privatisation of council estates. I took a deputation to see the Under-Secretary of State and they were seen by civil servants. The Rosehill estate in Willenhall in my constituency is desperately in need of modernisation. At long last there is a chance of that estate being modernised. These are pre-war dwellings. Last summer, I went around with a senior representative of the Department of the Environment who saw for himself the conditions in which my constituent's live on the estate.

To foot the bill of modernisation, the council is being effectively blackmailed into agreeing to sell off at least 20 houses and some open land on that estate before the necessary finance is authorised so that Rosehill can be modernised. That is an illustration of the Government's obsession with privatisation, and their desire to privatise many dwellings in the public sector.

I see no reason why we should refrain from criticising, or why Labour candidates should not warn tenants up and down the country of the likely effect of the legislation in the near future. What is required is the opposite of what the Bill offers. Increased public investment in houses is required, and the opportunity once again for local authorities to be in a position to build.

It has been estimated that fewer than 30,000 council dwellings will be started this year. I wonder whether the Secretary of State is proud of that. Many council dwellings need to be modernised and local authorities should have the financial means of carrying out the work.

For all those reasons, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that we are justified in opposing the measure. It will go through because the Government have their majority, but we shall do what is necessary. We shall tell the country what is at stake. I have no doubt at all that many people will be even more determined to vote Labour as a result of this measure.

Mr. Marlow

I give the Bill my blessing. It is a tremendous Bill. It gives great hope and opportunity to many people who are not living in the best of circumstances. It gives them a better opportunity to buy their flats and to manage them.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the tremendous way in which he ran the Committee and the business this evening. I extend my thanks to the main protagonists on the Front Bench opposite the hon. Members for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright). It was the most positive and stimulating Committee on which I have had the pleasure to serve.

I am only sorry that the bad fairy had to turn up, with the spiteful remarks that he has recently made. I can assure him that this beautiful Bill will live and survive. If anyone is going to prick his finger it will be him.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Following the blessing of the Bill by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), if will be difficult to make excessive remarks.

It was not for want of interest that the Liberal party was not represented on the Committee. It was a small Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) spoke for the alliance. He attended on every occasion, or on all but one occasion. He was a regular attender, participant and contributor. We pay tribute to him for that.

Some things remain to be said. The Government came to office saying that they would make Britain the best-housed nation in the world. They have so fundamentally failed in their policy that the Bill will not do more than bring occasional improvement and hope to some people.

There are good signs. People are beginning to accept and recognise the need for co-operatives, and, as I said on Report, we hope for more. Improvements have been made in relation to service charges. An amendment was passed on Report in relation to improvement grants for blocks of flats where work has so far not been possible. Those are certainly improvements.

I hope, as the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) said, that before the Bill completes its passage through both Houses it will be able to accommodate something to amend the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) and which the judgment in the case of Puhlhofer v.Hillingdon Borough Council has shown to be defective.

The Act does not give homeless people any security of decent accommodation in the way that it was thought it did until the House of Lords judgment.

I end with a reflection which is very much a daily vision in a constituency such as mine. Unless the Government do something that moves away from the two policies of privatisation and deregulation of housing and planning we will sadly see the creation of two nations. We need a much more serious attack than the Bill is providing.

My constituency contains the London Docklands Development Corporation and the Southwark council area outside the LDDC. In one area we see people in depressing council accommodation, often in tower blocks, many of whom cannot be adequately housed. In the other area we see people enjoying the benefits of the deregulated docklands corporation, where properties are changing hands at exploitative prices for figures in excess of £175,000, grossly abusing the entitlement of many other people to a decent share of housing in London. It puts up the price of land and drives away people who have a right, because they are local to communities such as ours in the docklands, from the places that are their own.

The result convinces me that the magic of the marketplace, as the former Minister responsible for housing used to call it, does not provide the answer. Only if people have control, participation and shares in their communities and housing, and in the planning of their areas in a democratic way, where everybody, no matter what his status or income, has an equal chance, will we begin to house our nation and plan for it properly.

There are some good things, but the fundamental failure of the Government to address the malaise of the inner cities and beyond has not been remedied by the Bill. I regret that and hope that the Government realise their derogation and dereliction of duty. With every month that passes their administration causes problems for many areas of Britain from which they will find it difficult to recover.

Mr. John Patten

At this stage I wish only to thank those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have said kind words about the ministerial team on the Bill. I would also like to thank those hon. Members on both sides of the House who improved the Bill so much in Committee and on Report.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.