HC Deb 04 March 1986 vol 93 cc217-20
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 2, line 17, at end insert 'provided that where the flat is part of a deck access block, or of a free-standing tower block having at least ten consecutive floors of tenanted accommodation the discount shall be 50 per cent.'

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this, it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 28, in page 2, line 20, after 'cent', insert 'provided that where the flat is part of a deck access block, or of a free-standing tower block having at least ten consecutive floors of tenanted accommodation the discount shall be 80 per cent.'.

Mr. Marlow

I apologise as a mere Englishman intervening in a Scottish debate before the massed ranks of Scottish Members of Parliament. However, I have not come totally from out of space—in fact, I have come bearing gifts.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on the Housing and Planning Bill. The Committee passed an amendment which increased still further the generous increases in discounts which the Government had put in the original legislation. The discounts which we have increased are those that should be available for people living in flats, in high rise blocks or in deck access accommodation. As we know from tenants in London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Cardiff and Plymouth who live in such accommodation, their mouths are watering in anticipation of increased discounts. I think that it would be totally unreasonable if the people of Scotland were denied similar opportunities. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will agree.

The amendment was passed. All parties participated in the debate and voted for it. The Labour party and the alliance supported it and five out of six Conservative Members who were not on the payroll supported it also. So the measure has a great deal of support in the House. It was a cross-party amendment.

As we know few flats have been sold. Many hon. Members are anxious that people should have the opportunity to buy their homes. A great number of houses have been sold, but not very many flats.

Discounts on flats and houses were in the past much the same. If somebody buys a house he has to pay the mortgage. He can pay other bills—maintain the house and insure it — but he is not forced to do so. lf, however, somebody buys a flat, he is forced each year to pay, in addition to his mortgage, insurance, maintenance charges, service charges and a whole range of other charges that are outside his control. It is perfectly right arid proper, therefore, that there should be a significantly higher level of discounts for the purchase of flats from local authorities.

A similar amendment was debated in Standing Committee on the Housing and Planning Bill. It was accepted and passed by the Committee. It is only right that the House should have a brief opportunity to discuss exactly the same amendment on this Bill.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I rise to support the amendment, for the fundamental reason that I believe that there should be consistency in the United Kingdom's housing policy and that a distinction should not be drawn between the rate of discount that applies in Scotland and that which applies in England and Wales.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

The hon. Gentleman says that he believes in consistency. Why, then, was that amendment passed without consultation with Scottish Members? It seems to have been passed by English Members and now they are trying to foist it upon US.

Mr. Shepherd

With great respect, there was a Scottish Member on the Committee. He was aware of the amendment and voted for it. The fact that other Scottish parties do not find that to be a convincing argument is not one with which I would necessarily agree. I should like there to be consistency throughout the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the right-to-buy legislation does not refer to flats, although they constitute 30 per cent. of the housing stock. However, sales of flats account for only 3 per cent. of total sales. If we cannot encourage the occupiers of flats to buy their homes, we shall end up with a completely unbalanced residue of housing stock. We shall be left with the most unsatisfactory form of housing.

Mr. Maxton

The hon. Members for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) keep referring to flats, but their amendment does not cover all flats. A distinction is drawn between certain flats and the flats which are covered by their amendment.

Mr. Shepherd

Substantial statistics were not available to enable us to identify the nature of the sales, but we reached cross-party agreement about those which it was identified are the most difficult to sell. That is why we focused upon the most difficult element, which we deemed to be those which are included in the amendment. For those reasons I support the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North.

Mr. Maxton

The idea that there must be consistency between what happens in England and Wales and what happens in Scotland on housing matters is complete and utter nonsense. If that were so, there would not be separate housing legislation. One Bill would cover the whole of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Northampton, North may believe that that is right, but no Scottish Members believe that that is right. The Bill contains major differences relating to the legislation that affects housing associations in Scotland compared with that which affects housing associations in England and Wales. There is no reason, therefore, why different discounts should not apply in England and Wales compared with Scotland.

I shall explain briefly why my Labour colleagues on the Standing Committee voted for the amendment of the hon. Member for Northampton, North. It was a wrecking vote. It was designed to wreck the clause and make it inoperable —[Interruption.] Conservative Members may deny that but if they read Labour Weekly they will see that that was exactly the argument that was put forward by my hon. Friends who were leading for the Opposition.

Mr. Shepherd

It may be that one should read Labour Weekly, but it might be helpful if one read the Hansard report of the proceedings in Committee. The hon. Gentleman would then be better informed about the views of his colleagues.

Mr. Maxton

I prefer to read Labour Weekly. Scottish members have opposed and continue to oppose the Government's increase in the discount for flats. The discounts for the sale of council houses are too high. If we are pushed to a vote tonight, we shall certainly vote against the amendment.

8.15 pm
Mr. Ancram

Having listened to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) I am amazed at his view that in order to find out what the Labour Party mean by their vote we have to read Labour Weekly rather than Hansard. However, it appears on the face of Hansard that many of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues supported my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) who have spoken in this short debate. His colleagues voted for an amendment of the type that is now before us.

I appreciate the concern of my hon. Friends about the need to increase flat sales. They know that the increase of 10 per cent. in the discount was precisely to achieve that purpose. Their argument in Standing Committee on the Bill was to the effect that they did not think that that went far enough. They wish a further incentive to be introduced.

The corresponding part of the Housing and Planning Bill has been amended, with the result that the provisions contained in the Bill that is before us today and in the Housing and Planning Bill are no longer identical. It would no be right in principle for tenants who live in similar houses to have a different entitlement to discounts in England and Scotland. Therefore we have tried to create consistency where no consistency previously existed. Our intention is to try to keep England and Scotland in step. Therefore we shall look again at flat discounts and bring forward—if necessary in another place—amendments to ensure that there is no divergence.

I do not, however, believe that these amendments are satisfactory, and in their heart of hearts my hon. Friends may believe that that is the case, too. I recognise the strength of the views that have been expressed on an all-party basis in Committee and also in the House in favour of an improved discount for flat dwellers. I join my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction in giving the House an assurance that we shall look carefully at how best to give effect to those views. In the light of this assurance, I hope that my hon. Friends will withdraw the amendments.

Mr. Marlow

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said and for the way that he has said it. I said in my brief introductory remarks that my idea was to give to Scotland the opportunity to have the same discounts as are now to be made available in England and Wales.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) feels that Scotland does not need the same opportunities. That is his point of view and he is entitled to it. However, he then went on to say why the amendment was passed and why it was supported in Committee by the Opposition. I have a slight advantage over the hon. Gentleman. I was there. An amendment previous to this amendment was moved by the Opposition Front Bench. It was to show the Opposition's concern about the sale of flats in areas that they defined as being areas where it was difficult to let.

The reason for this amendment being put forward and eventually accepted was that it was agreeable to the Conservative Back Bench and the Labour Front Bench. It was not a wrecking amendment. The hon. Gentleman would be well advised to read the Hansard report of the debate. He will find that there is a distinct difference between his housing policy and the housing policy of his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). The hon. Member for Perry Barr says that his housing policy is concerned with people rather than with dogma. His housing policy might therefore be in advance of that of the hon. Member for Cathcart. The time will shortly come when he will follow behind his hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr.

In view of what my hon. Friend said and the satisfactory commitment that he has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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