HC Deb 14 June 1988 vol 135 cc372-447
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I beg to move amendment No. 308, in page 41, line 18, leave out subsection (3).

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 87, in page 41, line 20, at end insert— '(4) If, as a result of consultation under this section, it appears to the Secretary of State that a majority of persons consulted under subsection (2) above are opposed to the designation of the proposed designated area, he shall not make an order under section 55 above designating the said area.'.

Mr. Spearing

This debate marks the entry of the House into part III of the Bill, which deals with housing action trusts. A more circumspect Government would have introduced a Bill for them alone. They are an innovation of such novelty that that would have been justified.

Clause 56 has to do with "consultation and publicity". Subsection (3), which my amendment would delete, is extraordinary. It states: Consultation undertaken or steps taken before the passing of this Act shall constitute as effective compliance with subsection (1) or subsection (2) above as if taken after that passing. Subsection (1) states: the Secretary of State shall consult every local housing authority any part of whose district is to be included in the proposed designated area. Subsection (2) states: Before making a designation order, the Secretary of State shall take such steps as appear to him best designed to secure that the proposal to designate the area in question is brought to the notice of persons appearing to him to be likely to be affected by the proposal. Subsection (3), which I seek to delete, effectively talks about steps taken by the Secretary of State at any time before Royal Assent. I take that to mean that steps that he may have taken even before this debate—there is no retrospective time limit here—shall count as if they had been taken after Royal Assent in compliance with clause 56, which might become section 56 of the new Housing Act. To that extent it is retrospective. Here we have a novelty, in that the Bill has a retrospective aspect. However, I would call it a prospective consultation legitimised by a retrospective power. I am glad to welcome the Secretary of State to answer the debate. No doubt he will tell us whether any consultations have already taken place that could be legitimised by subsection (3).

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend is proposing to ask the Secretary of State some questions. Perhaps he should remind him of the view that he held on the retrospective aspect of the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Act 1975. It would retrospectively have given relief to 11 Clay Cross councillors, but was opposed on the basis that, in general, retrospective legislation is wrong. It was opposed on that basis by the then Conservative Opposition, which included, I suspect, the present Secretary of State. It would be well to raise the distinction between that stance in 1975 and the Bill, in which the right hon. Gentleman makes not only lavish use of retrospection, but extremely unusual use of it, as my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Spearing

The Secretary of State is present in the Chamber and can answer that question. If there has been a lack of courtesy on my part on other occasions, the debate will show that I shall try to put legal matters in a de minimis fashion. The Secretary of State should tell us the justification for the combined prospective and retrospective quality of clause 56.

My hon. Friend properly reminds us of a matter of principle. The Opposition are quite rightly highly sensitive to any element of retroactivity. The Secretary of State is a parliamentarian and will agree with that. I am sure that in the past when he was in opposition he objected to any such proposal by the Government of the day. There must be a justification for such legislation. If there is not, the Opposition have a proper case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) referred to the Clay Cross councillors. For various reasons I supported that case, and the Secretary of State, in his winding-up speech, or now if he wishes to do so, must tell us what has forced him into introducing retrospective legislation. Such legislation can be justified, and my hon. Friend gave examples of how Governments might be driven into it by sheer necessity. I can find no reason for this provision in the Bill—the Secretary of State can correct me if I am wrong—other than economy of time. Without this provision, the consultations required by the Act, as it will he, could start only after Royal Assent.

All Governments undertake certain preliminaries. For example, feelers are put out, names are looked at and the constitution of the proposed quango is considered. The House should realise that we are talking about a quango, despite the fact that in an earlier phase of its activities the Conservative party tended to hunt down and destroy quangos. I do not think that anyone is opposed to the procedure that I have outlined, but the Bill specifically legalises it. The Secretary of State might wish to tell us the criteria that he adopted in deciding on this course of action.

6.45 am

The only reason that I can see for this provision is that it will get things moving more quickly. The Secretary of State will be able to start the consultations before Royal Assent. The procedure will be legitimised, and in that respect it is a double retroactivity, which the House should deplore in principle. That covers the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South. If the Secretary of State wishes to intervene before any of my hon. Friends do so, I shall gladly give way.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

No, later.

Mr. Cryer

The point that I was making to my hon. Friend was that, as he rightly said, there are instances when retrospective legislation is justified. However, that was not the argument that was used in 1975 by the then Conservative Opposition, when they wheeled out the shadow Attorney-General to say that retrospective legislation was not justified on any occasion. They said that by passing retrospective legislation the House was on the edge of the slippery slope to Fascism. The wheel has turned full circle. They have abandoned the stance that they adopted on retrospective legislation in 1975 in order to persecute 11 councillors and are using it not only in the Bill, but lavishly elsewhere.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because the remarks of the then shadow Attorney-General, to which he referred, reinforce our demand to be told the criteria that have been used in this instance. If the proper criteria for retrospective legislation do not exist, to introduce such legislation is to set out on the slippery slope to Fascism. We shall wail with interest to hear the Secretary of State's criteria. I was not a member of the Committee, but I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was hauled over the coals for using the word "Fascism", but here we have a possible justification for its use, based on the comments of a former Attorney-General. We shall be interested to hear the Secretary of State's justification in principle for introducing retrospective legislation.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

Is this not just another example of double standards on the part of the Secretary of State, bearing in mind what happened in the 1970s? It is typical of the right hon. Gentleman's double standards, because he advises people to allow the green belt to be developed, provided that the development is not in his back yard.

Mr. Spearing

That is a separate topic, but I do not know whether the Secretary of State has considered retroactivity in legislation, although retroactivity in respect of the green belt is being canvassed. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out yet another anomaly, and we look forward to the Secretary of State's justification for this in principle.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the significant difference between the proposed action in 1975 and what is proposed here is that the action of the Labour Government was intended to give relief to citizens, whereas this action is intended to ensure that the Government can grab power prematurely?

Mr. Spearing

We can expect this Government's legislation to be the opposite of the purposes and objectives of the Labour party. In this case, it is retrospective application to public property. I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that public property is not the property of any one political party. We may disagree about the extent of public property and the degree to which it is advisable to have such property, but I think we all take the view that public property as such is a trust to be handled or disposed of with due regard to the benefit of the nation as a whole, and especially those who may be affected by any disposals.

I want to make a little progress on the whole question of consultation. Earlier subsections refer to the area designated for a housing action trust. We cannot talk about an area without saying what will happen in it. The area of a housing action trust—if there is one—will be designated in a statutory instrument, and it will depend on what it is intended to do inside the area.

It is important to the scope of the debate to understand that consultation is not just about geographical areas, but is also about what happens inside them. The Government are taking legal powers in this clause and in clause 55 that will make a great difference, and there must be consultation about that. It is not just a matter of going to local people—the Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong—and saying, "We want to draw the boundary here."

The Government will have to consult about how the HAT will be formed, what it will do, and what plans and provisions it will execute. After all, a housing action trust sounds like a good idea. We are all in favour of housing, we are all in favour of action to obtain better housing and we are all in favour of trusteeship. Therefore, the HATs might, on first hearing, appeal to those in need of housing or living in conditions that need improvement. I think that we have something in common with the Secretary of State. We want improved housing, and this provision is his way to achieve that. He will consult not only about the boundary, but about what goes on inside it.

Amendment No. 87 goes further and takes in the proposed designated area, and says that the Secretary of State shall not make an order under section 55 above. Clause 55 sets out the scope of and the way in which a housing action trust will be established and the factors that the Secretary of State must take into account when he is determining its area. It would be impossible to ignore the purposes of the HAT.

We are talking about consultation and I have established that that is not only about the area but is also about the purpose and the activity. It is also about the manner in which it is to be conducted. I draw the attention of the House to what happened during the first meeting of the Committee when the Minister, who has been on duty all night and is now taking a well-earned rest, said—

Mr. Bradley

It is not a well-earned rest.

Mr. Spearing

Perhaps it is not a well-earned rest, as the Minister is producing obnoxious legislation, although he personally may not be obnoxious.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

My hon. Friend is too nice.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend says that I am too nice. I find that politeness usually pays, except on rare occasions. If I lose my temper, I find that it does not pay, and I do all that I can not to lose my temper in this House.

In Committee, the Minister said: For the first time, central Government are asking, as an experiment, whether there is a role for them, taking the responsibility through Parliament for the way in which the money is spent, while trying to help reverse some of the worst dereliction." [Official Report, Standing Committee G; 9 February 1988; c. 767.] Of course we want to reverse the worst dereliction. The Minister used the word "asking", but, in the terms of the clause, it is not just a question of asking the House, but of consulting the people concerned.

I want to emphasise the phrase "as an experiment". The question whether the housing action trust is an experiment came up quite frequently in Committee.

Ms. Primarolo

indicated assent.

Mr. Spearing

I see my hon. Friend nodding. I recall the Minister saying, "Let's try that and if it works, we'll extend it," but I do not see anything in the Bill about an experiment. The Minister may claim that it is an experiment and it may be presented as an experiment to the first people who will be consulted, but there is nothing in the Bill that states that it will be limited to six areas, the figure quoted in Committee. That is an idea for an amendment in another place. The Report stage of a Bill is all about scrutiny and asking questions. Unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately—I was not on the Committee, but the Report stage enables us to consider what Ministers have said and what the law states.

My first question to the Secretary of State is therefore a retrospective one about the principle of the matter. My second question is simply whether it is an experiment. Whether it is an experiment determines the management of the consultation and the responses that people will give. People in a particular area may already have been approached, as may a council in a particular area or prospective members of a housing action trust. The list of the good and the great is perhaps being consulted to try to find appropriate persons to exercise those functions. Those people will want to know whether it is an experiment.

If one starts off with a range of proposals for areas A, B, C, D, E, F and G and they work, the Government will come back for more. There is nothing in the Bill that says that they cannot do that, although perhaps there should be, if it is an experiment. One cannot reverse the consultation when it has taken place. If the housing action trust transfers property from a borough council to private ownership—that is the purpose of this part of the Bill—and it does not work, is there a provision in the Bill for the position to be reversed? I understood that an experiment was measurable scientifically and, if it did not work, one could adjust the circumstances and start again from scratch. I do not believe, therefore, that this is an experiment.

My third question to the Minister is whether we can be assured that, when such consultation is carried out about housing action trusts, it will not be put across to prospective tenants or councils as an experiment. Will it be clear that it could be a permanent arrangement for that area? If that is so, the legislation would be irreversible. I hope that the Secretary of State can give us that assurance and tell us that what the Minister said in Committee about asking for an experiment is not correct.

Ms. Primarolo

On his point about experiments, does my hon. Friend agree, first, that it is dangerous to experiment with people's homes when, as he began to point out, the experiment is not based on any fair assessment or consultation, and secondly that, if the Government want experiments in relation to housing, they should run a control group, such as a local authority, which would be funded to the same extent as the housing action trust and which would cover the same type of housing and they same number of housing units. Then, at the end of the HAT's life, which we understand will be about six years, the Government should compare how well the local authority has performed compared to the Government's experiment. That would go some way to meet my hon. Friend's point.

7 am

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, because such things could well take place in Bristol or, indeed, anywhere else, and I shall come to that in my next point. It could be an experiment such as my hon. Friend has outlined. It could be a direct comparison of methods. The Government are saying that they wish to improve housing stock in areas where many repairs and much social reconstruction is needed and there should be more than one way of doing that. If the Government were really interested in experiments, they would do just what my hon. Friend has said.

I want to get on to my next point—

Mr. Cohen

Will my hon. Friend give way before he gets to his next point?

Mr. Spearing


Mr. Cohen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I return to his point about the Secretary of State bringing in the great and the good to run some housing action trusts. As my hon. Friend knows, the great and the good do not come cheap. Such people have been appointed by Secretaries of State on other occasions—and, indeed, by this Secretary of State—and the bill has been expensive for the public purse. I cannot see any mention in the Bill of how that cost will be met or whether the House will have to consider a separate money order to pay for it. Would my hon. Friend like to comment on that point?

Mr. Spearing

It is important that there is consultation with the prospective members of such organisations and, no doubt, the question of remuneration will arise. However, I have a feeling that the Secretary of State has tabled an amendment—

Mr. Ridley

indicated assent

Mr. Spearing

I see that the Secretary of State is nodding. His amendment to, I believe, one of the schedules, deals with the conditions with which members of housing action trusts have to comply. It is an important provision, as it excludes any secondary income which might be gained from the fact that people are members of the housing trust. If I looked at the selection sheet I could tell my hon. Friend when the amendment arises, but I shall not do so at the moment. However, it is in another group of amendments and I hope that he will raise the matter at that point because it is an important point of principle.

The question that I now want to turn to in relation to consultation is, where is the consultation to take place? We are being asked to authorise retrospective consultation but we do not know where it will take place. I refer to column 768 of the Committee proceedings, when the Minister was asked where the experimental estates would operate. We were still talking about experiments at that stage. Hon. Members asked, "'Where?"', and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) asked, "When?". The Minister replied: The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) is in cheerful form this morning, but I must not refer to him, because that stops him from being sedentary. From a sedentary position he asks "When?" The answer is, before the Bill leaves Parliament. While it is before Parliament we shall bring forward our proposals. There will then be a prolonged opportunity to debate them in both Houses. In Committee the Minister was constantly asked where these housing action trusts—the notional six or more—were to be, and he declined to tell the Committee. I have quoted a typical exchange.

The Secretary of State may already have in mind the location for the consultations. Unless my amendment is accepted, the House will give retrospective authenticity to the consultations, although we do not know the location. The Minister's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South was: The answer is, before the Bill leaves Parliament. That is all right—there is just the Third Reading in the other place and then we discuss the amendments, if any, from the other place, which is some time in the future. Therefore, that point is covered. Not covered is the Minister's last sentence: There will then be a prolonged opportunity to debate them in both Houses."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 9 February 1988; c. 768.] "Them" clearly refers to housing action trust areas which have been nominated by the Secretary of State. I do not know what "prolonged opportunity" there will be to discuss the proposed areas where consultation is taking place, unless the Secretary of State announces the location. Unless he does that, we will not know where consultation is taking place now or where we are retrospectively authorising it by law.

Mr. Tony Banks

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that one of the areas which we have heard will possibly be designated as a housing action trust affects his constituency and some estates in Canning Town. The Newham Recorder says that discussions appear to have been taking place between the local prospective Conservative candidate James Fairie, who met Patrick Rock, private secretary to Government housing minister William Waldegrave, to start discussing a Housing Action Trust. My hon. Friend should realise that consultation might be occurring in his constituency without him as the Member of Parliament being informed, not to mention the local council.

Mr. Spearing

I take my own practice and say that I do not always believe what I read in the newspapers That is the most charitable interpretation I can make of that report, which I recall reading. My recollection is that there was some publicity and that there had been a request from some people. I recall that later—my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West may confirm this—some people wrote to that newspaper to say that they had been taken to a meeting and it turned out to be not what they were told it was.

I hope to refer later to an area in my constituency which might be a prime candidate for a housing action trust, because there are eight tower blocks, all empty. I am being "invited"—the term often used in these instances—to legitimise consultation about which I, the borough council and some of the people affected know nothing.

I put this to the Secretary of State as one of the dangers: if we pass the legislation as drafted, he will be given the legal right to consult some people but not necessarily all who are affected. The House is asked at the behest of the Secretary of State to legitimise consultation with persons unknown at the choice of the Secretary of State—we are not even told now who they are—and then is asked to make such partial consultation legal.

Does the Secretary of State consider that to be a proper use of power in a parliamentary democracy? It may be right for the House to give power for consultation after Royal Assent, and then the Secretary of State can choose whom to consult and the order of consultation, later to announce whom he has seen and what their responses have been. But as the Bill is drafted, we are giving the right hon. Gentleman a different power, a power which reflects somewhat the atmosphere mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South. I suggest to the Secretary of State that it goes beyond the line of which he as a parliamentarian would approve.

What applies in my area might apply in any other constituency; there are housing problems in Bristol, in the north of England, in Yorkshire and in Sheffield. We hear about consultations relating to urban development corporations. There could be all sorts of consultations all over the place, and we are being asked to give them retrospective legitimacy.

I come to the effects that such a housing action trust might have, for those effects will vary greatly according to the type of area that is designated. In the London docklands area, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West and I know well, the differential between the existing value of an empty property and a similar occupied one is extremely wide; I am told that it is a ratio of three or four.

Thus, the disposal increment which a housing action trust could get by disposing of a void—if somebody dies, moves away from housing which they inherit, or buys or gets from the local authority—is great. If it then puts it on the open market, which the Bill suggests it should, the people coming in will be confined to a relatively narrow income group.

But in other parts of the country—I shall quote an example from Liverpool when we debate a later amendment—where such an effort has been tried, the differential between the existing value and empty value has been much less. So the impact of a housing action trust will vary greatly from one place to another. That is why, during the consultations, we must know the different effects in different areas, because they will vary greatly throughout the country.

We are aware of the overheating effect of south-east England. The Secretary of State will be well aware of that because of discussions that are taking place on various fronts. He must concede that the effects in Newham, Hackney, Southwark, Greenwich or anywhere east of the City will be vastly different from what will happen in, say, the outskirts of Liverpool or Newcastle. So the consultation exercise must be different—because the effects will be different—and the Minister must say how the consultation will be varied in accordance with those changes.

My next point on consultation deals with the purpose of the housing action trust. I will not go too deeply into this because it will arise when we debate later amendments to this part of the Bill. 7.15 am

When people are to be consulted about this, the purpose of the housing action trust will be very much to the fore and they will want to know exactly what will happen. Of course, the purpose of the trust is multiple. I emphasise one part of it which is covered by clause 58(3): For the purpose of achieving its objects and exercising the powers conferred on it by subsection (2) above, a housing action trust may—

  1. (a)acquire, hold, manage, reclaim and dispose of land and other property;
  2. (b)carry out building and other operations;
  3. (c)seek to ensure the provision of water, electricity, gas, sewerage and other services; and
  4. (d)carry on any business or undertaking".
We will come to the merits of that later. If I were to deal with them now, I should properly be ruled out of order.

I am concerned about the degree to which the intentions of any one housing action trust will be part of the consultation. It is no good saying to a housing action trust, "We will repair this and give you a certain amount of security," if all the houses are to be sold when they become vacant, or if a factory is to be built, or if the housing action trust, which will be a planning authority, has in mind various plans for designating a change of use. I do not know how the Secretary of State intends to tackle this. Will he go along with a blank sheet and say, "This will be possible."? The Secretary of State will have powers of direction. Will he give the housing action trust a complete blueprint so that it knows exactly what he has in mind? Unless he does that, how can people respond?

All the good things which are to happen might be presented, but the other things might not be done if we had a less liberal, less civic-minded, less public-spirited Secretary of State. I will not concentrate on how far those admirable qualities are embodied in the Secretary of State. It is a matter of relativity, but suppose we had a Secretary of State who exercised his powers too liberally or in too Right-wing a way, what would the poor consultees say? They might say, "We were told that we would get this, this and this, but not that we would get that, that and that later because so-and-so is now Secretary of State".

The Secretary of State cannot prevent that. He is not legislating for the Government or for himself alone; he is legislating for posterity. These powers are enormous. He cannot give assurances about what will happen. He is asking us to say that the housing action trust can do anything it likes, so long as it is not stopped by him. Similarly, he can tell the housing action trust to do just what he wants. The more one thinks about this, the more one's mind boggles at the possibilities.

How far can consultation be of use? The powers are so wide that we must ask whether any form of consultation, even if the Minister provides the details that he has in mind, can be consultation in the best sense of the word.

Unless the Bill's scope is drastically altered, the consultation will be worthless, because nothing is known about what might happen afterwards. Later, I shall give the example of a similar organisation which was introduced with high ideals, and which was sold to the public as having marvellous objectives. Even the Chairman of the Select Committee was taken in. It turned out to be something very different, as I shall prove. If that can happen with an analogous body, it can happen with an action trust.

This matter goes to the heart of citizenship, the powers of the House and the quality of life in an environment of which the Secretary of State himself is very conscious and wishes to enhance. It can be enhanced through the planning mechanism, which was achieved in the post-war period and is something of which we can be proud. All quarters of the House agree on that. We may differ about what is good or bad planning and about what ought to be done in the future and the degree to which there is public or private development, but all that falls within some kind of plan. The Bill introduces a major change into the country's planning mechanism, and consultation must take that into account. In any event, I do not imagine that there will be a housing trust in Croydon.

There could be a change of Government, and it occurs to me that this work is mutatis mutandis. A housing trust could be found in any constituency, for trusts need not be confined to urban areas. There could be dereliction and poverty elsewhere. The Secretary of State is from Gloucestershire and he knows that prosperity is not to be found everywhere.

Those trusts will have planning powers. I have not described those powers in detail, but it must be remembered that they will be transferred from the local authority. There may be only 5.000 inhabitants involved in a small area, but they should know that they will no longer be able to complain about planning matters to their local councillors, that no local committee will have any power in that respect, and that planning matters will in future be the responsibility of men and women appointed by the Secretary of State, who can ask him to do anything.

Will the Secretary of State, in the course of consultation, say that the Bill allows him to dictate land use changes from Whitehall? Unless I am mistaken in my reading of the Bill, that could happen. The Secretary of State is a busy man who cannot be expected to deal with everything. Will he, during the course of consultation, say that a change of land use of a small garden the size of the Floor of the House, a public allotment or park, or a private dwelling will rest in the hands of the Secretary of State, and that from his office in Whitehall he will determine such changes of use in Liverpool, Gainsborough, Newcastle or Gloucester? That is what the Bill says.

So massive is the change that I am not sure whether the Government or the Secretary of State have understood its implications. The change of use of a house or a plot the size of the Chamber could be substantial, or it could mean an advertisement sign or a change in the design of a building's fascia. I know that people get upset about the minutiae of planning applications. Those of us who have served on planning committees know that the erection of a third storey on a house and its design are important, because such a change affects the amenities of an area. Indeed, one of the purposes of the housing action trust is to make an area more amenable in that respect.

Will the Secretary of State tell people that such matters can be determined by an official in Whitehall? I can imagine what fun the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) would have had from the Opposition Benches if a Labour Government had introduced such legislation. In his inimitable way, he would have had a field day teasing my right hon. and hon. Friends about taking powers to determine such matters from Whitehall. But that is what the Secretary of State is doing, and he must tell us why.

The right hon. Gentleman must also tell us whether he will consult people locally. It is not only the people who will be subject to this provision who will be concerned, but those who will lose the planning powers. Developments in any area that has an housing action trust will be taken away from the control of the local council. Coherent planning will not be in the hands of the local community, and what happens inside the housing action trust could upset the balance of the strategic plan of the local community. It could change housing values.

We have seen what has happened on a massive scale at Canary wharf. That is a similar situation, and it is affecting land prices throughout the south-east of England. The Secretary of State, or his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), could have stopped that enterprise zone, but he did not. That is an example of centralised power. What we are authorising here is the same as the enterprise zone set up by the London Docklands development corporation.

Will the Secretary of State. in consultation, tell the people inside and the planning authority what will happen? It could happen with another Secretary of State, even if he does not. Will he consult on such a matter, which is within the scope of clause 56?

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend has referred to the position of the Secretary of State for the Environment, but more than one Secretary of State is involved in the Bill. The Secretary of State for Wales may be regarded as a sort of time shift of the Secretary of State for the Environment in regard to this provision. He has said that the sort of difficulties to which he has referred could apply to any hon. Member's constituency, but will they apply to the constituencies of Welsh Members? There does not seem to be a Welsh Office interest in the debate. No Welsh Office Minister is present. Therefore, perhaps this provision will not apply in Wales, or perhaps the Government do not intend to use it in Wales, although theoretically it could do so. It would be useful to have some clarification. We would then know whether to share the clear worries that have been outlined by my hon. Friend in his recent remarks. Is the Secretary of State to whom he is referring one or a twin?

Mr. Spearing

I understood that the Government were a seamless robe, and that one Secretary of State equalled another. I do not know whether the Secretary of State for Wales would feel very happy about being bracketed with the Secretary of State for the Environment, or, indeed, the Secretary of State for Scotland—but I am told that the Bill does not apply to Scotland.

The Welsh Office in Cardiff has its own views on planning and the coherence of local communities, which might not be shared by the office in Whitehall. Where are the Government, and what is the criterion that the Government as a whole will take? My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we should have some kind of regional response, because the Government say that they believe in some kind of regional government.

7.30 am
Mr. Michael

May I underline that by making a point which I am sure will be of great concern to you as well, Mr. Speaker? One of the documents referred to in the Bill has been published for England, but not for Wales. I have just checked the Vote Office, and, although last week it was promised within a few days, the document has still not been published. It is supposed to refer to a later part of the Bill, so perhaps it will arrive in time for us to debate it, but I wonder about that, because we have been told by the Welsh Office that it will be radically different from the document produced for England. Perhaps my question about whether the housing action trust will be brought in in Wales is answered in the Welsh document. But if it has not been published, even at this late stage of our debate on the Bill, will its advice be available in time for any of our debates on transfers of housing from local authorities to new bodies?

Mr. Spearing

The Welsh document is on my list. My hon. Friend's opportune remarks underline what I said earlier about differential consultation. It is now clear that there will be a different approach to different parts of the country, and that there will therefore be consultation about different sorts of plan. The Secretary of State ought at least to tell us what is in his mind; otherwise, we cannot pass the legislation as it is.

That leads me to my last major point in this introductory debate—for we are not yet talking about the real meat of housing action trusts; we are only talking about the kind of consultation that might take place. That major point is that legislation is not completed. We will not and cannot know the scope and degree of option—which at present is as wide as one's HAT, or as wide as one likes—until Royal Assent. Anything can happen between now and that time.

The Secretary of State may think it unlikely that he would lose a vote in this place, but this is not the only place where legislation is made. I put this to him as a procedural question. How can he consult before Royal Assent, when only after Royal Assent can the full possible scope of housing action trusts be properly known? Is he not presuming on the privilege of both the House and the other place in relation to what powers will be available to HATs? How can he consult while the final shape and potential are still undecided by Parliament? I put it to him that such a presumption is itself questionable in a parliamentary democracy.

Of course there must be informal soundings, but these are not informal procedures. We are being asked to authorise in restrospect statutory consultative procedures. That is a very different matter, because it presumes that the legislation will end up as it is drafted.

Let me now raise a point about which the Secretary of State may know. If he does not, he should have been advised about it, because many Opposition Members—particularly London Members—are aware of it. I refer to hybridity. One has only to mention hybridity to Government Whips or in places like the legal department at the Department of the Environment and I am told—I have never been in such places—that people shift and shudder. They do that for a very good reason, because an element of hybridity brings in major procedural complications in this House. We should all know why hybridity is important. If an element of hybridity can be proved, it shows that the collective general power of a Bill is being used against people unfairly and it must be open to them to complain and petition this House to grant them protection against what lawyers call injurious affection.

Looking around the Chamber, I can see that many hon. Members here have been members of Committees on private Members' Bills where we have had to judge the degree of injurious affection that individuals might suffer as a result of a privately promoted Bill or a publicly promoted Bill which has the effect of a private Member's Bill. I am sure that the Secretary of State will remember the tricks about oil rigs that his hon. Friends got up to. I do not deny them the legitimacy of their actions in terms of procedure. Although you were not Mr. Speaker at the time, Sir, you will recall that it was a very difficult time for the Clerks Department and for Mr. Speaker in determining those matters. A great deal hung on the decisions.

It is right that the individual and liberty should be protected by the hybrid procedure. I am sure that the Secretary of State would be the first to agree that the liberty of the individual, which hon. Members on both sides of the House talk about very frequently nowadays, must be maintained. Therefore, any scintilla of hybridity in any legislation must have its respective reflection.

I can tell the Secretary of State and the House why I believe that this part of the Bill may well raise the issue of hybridity. This may come as a major surprise to some of my hon. Friends. I do not remember hearing hybridity mentioned in Committee. I can well understand that the housing action trust part of the Bill appears to be entirely free of any hybrid element. However, I have news for my hon. Friends who served on the Committee and conceivably for the Secretary of State and those who accompany him—who, although visible, are silent and unable to respond.

Perhaps I am wrong. If I am, I hope that the Secretary of State will correct me before I go very far to save the time of the House—we all want to save time. I would not want to advance a thesis which the Secretary of State may have investigated and reached a conclusion contrary to mine. Even if his conclusion happens to be contrary to mine, it would be quite wrong to let this important matter of public consultation go by. Even if the Secretary of State can give me an assurance, I will still develop the point because I think that I still might be right and he might be wrong, even if he has considered this. If he has not considered this point, he should tell us, because this part of the Bill mirrors almost exactly a certain section in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980.

That Act was not produced by the present Secretary of State for the Environment. He was a Minister then either at the Ministry of Transport, in the Treasury or at the Foreign Office. [Interruption.] Oh yes, he was at the Foreign Office. He was well out of it. However, his right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was Secretary of State for the Environment at the time and he introduced that Bill with great relish and great complications for matters related to rates.

One part of that Bill related to things called urban development corporations. We had a single provision under which the Secretary of State could establish an urban development corporation in any area he wished and appoint members to it to do all sorts of things. It had powers on planning, the disposal of land, and getting Government money. One objective was to improve the environment to make it better for people to live in. In other words, the powers of regeneration were central to the concept of the corporations.

We now know that these are, in the City phrase, "up and running". There are two big ones, in London and on Merseyside, and others are coming along. There has been a bit of a slowdown recently, and a few days ago a questionable procedure motion was tabled to pass six at one go. That was a thoroughly retrograde procedure which any Leader of the House should have stopped, but I shall not go into that because it concerns the House, not this amendment. Urban development corporations exist through a single statutory instrument. I remember the one relating to my borough. I was not allowed to speak. It lasted an hour and a half.

The London Docklands development corporation, half my constituency in area, was taken from the borough for planning and other purposes. The constituency Member could not speak because others had a greater right and I would not complain about their right. An urban development corporation statutory instrument was constricted to an hour and a half after 10 o'clock.

That was not the procedure in another place. The function of the order setting out urban development corporations had to be designated and passed as a statutory instrument on an affirmative resolution by both Houses of Parliament. Unless I am mistaken, the same must happen for housing action trusts, and that is right.

But the statutory instrument does not pass through the other House on the same procedure. The good book "Erskine May", which is underrated, states on page 620 under "Hybrid instruments": The House of Lords Private Business SO 216 provides that, where in the opinion of the Chairman of Committees, an affirmative instrument, as defined by Lords Public Business SO No. 68, is such that, apart from the provisions of the Act authorising it to be made, it would require to be enacted by a private or hybrid bill, he shall report his opinion to the House and to the Minister or other person responsible for it. An instrument upon which such a report has been made is known as a hybrid instrument2 and is subject to petitioning procedure. I shall explain what that technicality means. Whereas, in this House, a statutory instrument is passed on an hour and a half's debate, if in the other place the Chairman of Committees determines that the same statutory instrument has elements of hybridity, it must go through the Statutory Instrument Committee procedure, which is directly analogous to the procedure for a private Bill in the other place.

When the order to set up the LDDC was passed by this House, it went to the other House where it was petitioned and the Chairman of Committees properly certified it as being a hybrid statutory instrument. As a result, 30 or 40 days were spent hearing petitions against it, as if it were a private Bill.

I do not know whether in another life, Mr. Speaker, you sat on a private Bill Committee or whether the Secretary of State ever sat on such a Committee. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the thoroughness and length of the scrutiny and the number of hoops through which a Bill must pass. A statutory instrument and all the implications of that instrument, including potential development powers and all the rest of it, must go through a similar procedure, provided it is certified.

7.45 am
Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

Those procedures should be welcomed instead of being talked out.

Mr. Spearing

I am not sure that I understand the hon. Gentleman's remark. I do not believe that there has been any element of tedious repetition in my remarks. In view of the importance of the matters to which I am referring I think that I may have gone over them too quickly. I must not do that in respect of the procedures in the other place, because the Standing Orders of the other place are fairly explicit about what should happen.

I do not believe that I am debarred from quoting those Standing Orders here. Standing Order No. 69 of the other place says: No Motion for a resolution of the House to approve an Affirmative Instrument shall be moved until:—

  1. (a) except in the case of any Order in Council…
  2. (b) in the case of a Hybrid Instrument, the proceedings under Private Business Standing Order 216 or 216A have been terminated."
Assuming that such an instrument is certified as hybrid, it is not possible for it to go through the other place without the private business Standing Order having been complied with.

I will not read all of Standing Order No. 216 of the other place in respect of private legislation. Some extracts will suffice. Standing Order No. 216 is entitled "Hybrid Instuments" and states: A Petition to the House not to affirm a Hybrid Instrument shall be signed by the Petitioner or his Agent and be deposited or sent so as to be received in the office of the Clerk of the Parliaments within the 14 days following the day on which the Chairman's Report under paragraph (1) above is laid before the House. It goes on to describe the procedure in another place.

Why do I believe that an order to set up a housing action trust might well be certified by the Chairman of Committees in the other place as a hybrid instrument? It is based upon the analogy of urban development corporations. We need look no further than the speeches of the Secretary of State, the Minister and others to see that affinity. I gather that in public announcements and in Committee—my hon. Friends who were on the Committee will correct me if I am wrong—the constitutional relationship between a UDC and a housing action trust was consistently made. I have said enough in the debate to demonstrate how similar they are.

The Secretary of State may wish to intervene to say that I have gone up a blind alley, but I do not believe that I have. The chances of an affirmative instrument to set up a housing action trust being certified hybrid by the Chairman of Committees in the other place and being subject to what is, in effect, a private Bill procedure, are extremely high—it is a more than distinct possibility.

In conclusion—the House will be relieved to hear that—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Well, I have worked through a series of logical points. Any Secretary of State worth his salt will be aware of the arguments. I am sure that he is aware of all this. If he has not been told, I am certain that somebody's head will roll.

My point about consultation is that, when such an instrument appears, as it did in the case of the London Docklands development corporation order, it is then up to the Committee of the other place to get some undertakings from the promoters—the Government. It can give its approval to go ahead, but make that approval subject to many restrictions to protect the individual, corporation, borough council, firm or outside area that might 'be injuriously affected. And they can be affected, as I have shown. The other place might give the go-ahead for a housing action trust, as long as certain undertakings were observed.

The Government representative at such a hearing is like the promoter of a private Member's Bill. So the other place will let through an affirmative instrument only provided that certain conditions for a housing action trust in a particular area are met.

If this is a strong possibility—I have every reason to believe that it is—how can the Secretary of State consult, when the constraints of the other place are as yet unknown? How can he go to a prospective location for a housing action trust and consult the people there, or the borough council, the housing associations or landlords, without knowing what constraints will be placed on his freedom of action?

I do not deny that the Bill, bad though it is, gives the Secretary of State enormous scope, but the other place may. The right hon. Gentleman knows more about the activities of the other place than I do: he is well connected. The other place is jealous of the rights of the individual. Perhaps the Secretary of State does not know how the procedure is arrived at. Why is the other place more jealous of individual rights and equipped with better procedure to deal with them than we are?

Some years ago, when a Government of my political complexion were in power, they were afraid that a general power would be used by a nationalised industry to plant pylons, dig up the land or build roads—activities that would be injurious to the rights of landowners. They decided that if there was an element of hybridity in the statutory instrument, they would protect landowners, the countryside and people who might be injuriously affected, and they introduced this procedure. If that can be done—quite properly—to protect the rights of landowners, it can and should be done for my homeless constituents.

Consultation cannot take place, because the Secretary of State cannot yet be aware of the degree to which a housing action trust may operate within the law that this Act would create.

Mr. Bradley

We have sat through 13½ hours of fascinating debate on this important Bill, examining its precise details. As a new Member, I may say that this is the first Report stage in which I have been involved, and I have been surprised that Conservative Members who served on the Standing Committee have failed to turn up and make contributions to the debate. It would appear that they are unable to justify the Bill's provisions. However, we are pleased that the Secretary of State is here to look at this important part of the Bill.

Over the past 13½ hours we have looked at the Government's proposals to deregulate the private rented sector, removing security of tenure and succession and pushing up rents to a market level without making a commitment on housing benefit to pay for those rents. In part II of the Bill we looked at the ultimate collapse of the traditional voluntary housing movement and the move towards a free market. I know from experience in Manchester that many of the people who voluntarily serve on small housing associations are looking carefully at their position. They went into the housing movement not to raise money on the finance market or to be responsible for high finance or high rents, but to try to provide for the housing needs of local people.

The Government say that the philosophy of the Bill is tenants' choice. They believe that they are freeing and enabling tenants to choose the type of housing that they want. We have reached this part of the Bill at five minutes to eight in the morning and we see exposed the myth of tenants' choice. The chickens come home to roost when we start to talk about housing action trusts. They certainly have nothing to do with tenants having a choice about future housing in the designated areas.

Amendment No. 87 would provide: If, as a result of consultation under this section, it appears to the Secretary of State that a majority of persons consulted under subsection (2) above are opposed to the designation of the proposed designated area, he shall not make an order under section 55 above designating the said area.'. The amendment is an attempt to help the Government to fulfil their philosophy by giving tenants a choice, a right and a say in their areas.

It is worth looking at the Government's reason for bringing forward the experiment in housing action trusts. They would not need to carry out such an experiment if they had properly funded local authorities so that they could provide decent housing for people throughout the years that the Government have been in power.

I should like to mention the success of experiments in which I have been involved and in which consultation did or did not take place. I shall outline our experience of community development projects and research work that we carried out in Manchester, using Department of the Environment tips about how to consult tenants on the development of their area. First, I shall deal with my contention that the only reason why we are talking about having to consult people about the awful conditions in which they live is the absolute lack of investment, public expenditure and commitment to housing. It is because of those things that the Government say they now have to consider an alternative approach.

Figures in an authoritative document, published by the well respected Association of Metropolitan Authorities, support the view that we would not need to discuss housing action trusts in consultation with tenants if there had been proper investment.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is familiar with the figures in section 8. I will read the commentary to start with, which is Section 8 Capital Investment in Housing The section says: The trend shown in this section from 1978/79 has been of a general decline in real terms in the resources available for housing investment. Gross capital expenditure by local authorities on housing in England fell in real terms by 36 per cent. between 1978/79"— when this Government were first elected— and 1985/86. Those were the last available figures.

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It continues: It is clear that the bulk of expenditure has been switched to the renovation of local authority stock and renovation grants for private sector dwellings, at the expense of new housebuilding. If cities such as Manchester had had the opportunity of tackling the problems of homelessness and long waiting lists by having the chance to build decent new housing, we would not be discussing housing action trusts and the need to consult those tenants whom we wish to help to have decent housing.

The amendment clearly shows that we are consulting people about the poor condition of their houses caused by the lack of investment. The figures set out in the document show that for the housing investment programme allocations for the periods 1978–79 to 1986–87, the outturn prices at 1986–87 levels declined from £4,849 million in 1978–79 to £4,248 million in 1979–80. They fell from £3,097 million in 1980–81 to £2,286 million in 1981–82.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going rather wide. I remind him and the House that we are dealing with consultation and publicity. We are dealing with the procedures involved. The hon. Gentleman is now beginning to widen the debate, but I am sure that he will come back to the amendment.

Mr. Bradley

I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but l think it is essential for hon. Members who were not on the Committee to appreciate fully why we tabled this amendment in consultation with the very people who have lacked the investment that I have talked about. To comply with your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will be brief.

The hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) was not present at the Report stage last Thursday and he is not here today. I hope that there are no family problems or illness. There must be a good explanation for his absence. The hon. Gentleman actually came with a graph to explain the housing process in this country. I would have shown him a similar graph, but I feel that this one makes sense, while his clearly did not. As was said earlier, the white coats were out for that hon. Member after the graph was shown. I am sure that the Secretary of State has seen the graph, which shows a massive decline in resources that the Government wish to reinject through the housing action trusts and a desire to consult tenants about the decline in expenditure.

Table 8.5 shows the international comparison of investment in residential construction as a percentage of gross domestic product. The table shows the countries involved in this kind of investment. At the top of the table is West Germany, with 6.1 per cent., and right at the bottom is the United Kingdom, with a paltry 2.1 per cent. of gross national product spent on housing investment.

I now come to my second point, which is that consultation with tenants has been tried in the past and we have experience that we can bring to bear through the amendment to help the Government tackle the problem of the housing action trusts in part III of the Bill.

My first experience was when I was a researcher at university and worked on a community development project. I was the researcher for the project in Oldham, Greater Manchester, where we carried out a study on a large investment programme for upgrading what in those days was called a slum estate. It was probably similar to the kind of areas that we will be looking at when we finally come to designate the housing action trusts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) clearly, concisely and eloquently explained the problems involved in this part of the Bill. As he said, the Committee would have been in a better position to discuss the implications of the scheme and the real consultations with tenants if it had known where the areas would be. On Second Reading and in Committee we were given assurances about the announcement of the areas. We understood the Minister to say that they would be known by Report stage. I shall happily give way to the Secretary of State if he will announce the six areas on which he will be consulting tenants. Unfortunately, he does not seem to want to give us that information, which makes this debate rather theoretical. We are in somewhat of a vacuum in trying to discuss the realities of the scheme.

Mr. Spearing

Perhaps one reason why the Secretary of State cannot announce the areas is that that would trip the hybridity procedure in the other place. Having conceived the idea, perhaps—as with the city technology colleges—it may be hard to execute it.

Mr. Bradley

That is certainly a possible reason for the Secretary of State's deafening silence. Later, I shall refer to other difficulties that he may be experiencing in announcing the areas.

Our first experience in Oldham was designating an area and then imposing the way in which those properties should be renovated and upgraded, with the assumption that that would lead to better housing. Our research on the Abbeyhills estate clearly showed that the tenants had to be committed to the project and to the idea of better housing—and, for HATs, not only to housing but to every possible aspect of life in those areas. It is interesting to note the powers that the Secretary of State will take unto himself in the designated areas, as opposed to the surrounding areas that will be democratically controlled by local authorities.

We said in Committee—and the Minister accepted our point—that under public health legislation it would be difficult for the Secretary of State to direct vermin—for example, rats—how to operate within the HATs. They might stop at the boundary because they would not want to leave the Secretary of State and go to the local authority. On the other hand, they might prefer to be in a local authority area rather than in a HAT. That is the absurdity of the matter, and it is why we have great difficulty reconciling the undemocratic nature of HATs with the democratic local authority areas that will surround them.

The project in Abbeyhills failed miserably because there was not full consultation with the tenants, full commitment to the project and full understanding of the variety of housing needs and other factors that affect people's lives. I am sure that the Secretary of State would like to accompany me to that estate some time. We can see there what can happen if we do not obtain commitment and encourage the tenants to work with us on a project:. I am sure that the Secretary of State would learn a salutary lesson by visiting that estate and seeing the consequences of designating an area.

We can see a more positive aspect of the issue if we consider another designated area of Manchester. Public expenditure was allocated to a particular project in Manchester in which I was involved when I worked in the housing department. That involved the use of a Department of the Environment mechanism. I am surprised to find myself saying that the Department produced a mechanism that proved valuable in consulting tenants in that part of Manchester. I do not wish to introduce another name that: may be abused later, but the mechanism was called a housing action kit. I am sure that the Secretary of State, or his advisers, will remember it, although I am not sure whether it is still in operation.

That experimental mechanism allowed local authorities to go into specific areas and visit a specific number of properties to find out what people wanted. That is similar to the consultation in respect of the housing action trusts. The aim was to find out what sort of houses and environmental and recreational facilities people required to improve an area at a time when money was allocated to such projects.

In Manchester, over the years, there has been a massive cut in those resources. We cannot now carry out such consultation using the Department of the Environment mechanism, and central Government must now intervene and impose a housing action trust on the local authority. That is a waste of effort and resources, and there is no longer a democratic way in which we can find out locally what people want.

I do not know whether the Secretary of State has visited the Miles Platting area of Manchester, but, if he has, he will be aware of a successful project, based on provisions similar to those in the amendment, which ensures that local people are properly consulted and do not have their lives changed by imposition rather than by democratic discussion and consultation. Unless the Secretary of State accepts our amendment, the impositions in the Bill may lead to complete failure in the allocation of resources to a particular area. However, if we follow proper consultation procedures and involve tenants, the projects can be an immense success.

One of the greatest problems in fulfilling those processes is due to the massive reduction in resources in the housing investment programme which, presumably, will be reallocated from central Government through the housing action trusts. We must try to amend the clause to introduce some democratic processes into the procedure. We cannot use such processes in Manchester, as is the case in many other parts of the country, as no doubt my hon. Friends will point out later.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) was chairman of the housing committee in Manchester in the late 1970s, there was a housing investment programme of about £67 million. Last year, Manchester bid for about the same amount of money in real terms—£122 million—but we ended up with little more than £20 million to fulfil Manchester's housing needs. What will the Government do about that? We know that a feasibility study is being carried out in one part of the city.

Mr. Spearing

If that is so, does my hon. Friend agree that that feasibility study, about which he may like to give us details, is now, unless my amendment is accepted, being given legal authenticity?

8.15 am
Mr. Bradley

That was certainly my interpretation of what has been going on. We pressed for clarification on that in Committee. Many residents from the area in which the feasibility study was taking place co-operated because they wanted to know what would happen to their homes and their lives.

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend has brought us some startling news this morning. It seems possible that the Secretary of State is acting beyond his powers because, as I understand it, we are debating the Report stage of the Bill, which therefore has no legal standing. If local authorities start acting without legal powers, councillors are liable to be surcharged. We need to know how much money is being spent, and by whom, and on whosea authority this feasibility study is being carried out for something that is not legal. I realise that the Secretary of State has legal immunity in the sense that he cannot be surcharged for his own decisions. If he could, he would have been bankrupted many years ago. How much money is being spent on the operation that my hon. Friend has experienced?

Mr. Bradley

Unfortunately, I do not have that information, although I am sure that the Secretary of State would clarify the status of the feasibility studies that are taking place in cities such as Manchester, and their relationship to the possible designation of housing action trusts. I should like to know that, because I should not like in any way to construe or even suggest that there is any possibility that the Secretary of State is acting outside his terms of reference. I am sure that he would like to clarify the exact purpose of the feasibility study. If that clarification is not forthcoming, I must continue in this vein and give my interpretation, because that might clarify the matter. The Secretary of State might be able to help me to know exactly what is happening in Manchester and the likely future developments there.

However, first I should like to identify the area where, from my understanding the feasibility study is still continuing—the Hulme area of Manchester. I believe that the feasibility study is linked to the housing action trust. We had a massive lobby of the Committee by tenants from Hulme. I asked the Minister whether he was prepared to meet them to discuss the study, about which they were anxious.

At that stage, the Minister thought that the lobby was a publicity stunt, which I thought a rude response to people who had taken time, trouble and effort to travel to London from Manchester to discuss their housing needs with the Minister. Although their request was rudely rejected, not long afterwards the Minister scuttled off to Manchester to have those discussions with the tenants. I use the word "scuttle" because, as a Member of Parliament representing a Manchester constituency, I was not informed that the Minister was visiting Manchester.

Although the area of the housing action trust is not in my constituency, we have already heard, in the eloquent speeches made by my hon. Friends, about the effect that the designation of a housing action trust can have on local housing plans. The area that I represent in Withington has the greatest demand for the housing that is available in the city of Manchester. My fears relate to those people who may be displaced because of the designation of the housing action trust. Because of the way in which the housing action trust will be set up, there will be no responsibility for homeless people in the housing action trust area and that will put greater pressures on my constituency and other Manchester constituencies bordering the area of the housing action trust.

It would have been reasonable for the Minister to inform local Members of his meeting so that we could express, on our constituents' behalf, our fears about such a designation. I can only assume from the Minister's visit and discussions—I shall happily give way if this view is not sustainable—that there is a link, although perhaps tenuous, with a housing action trust.

Mr. Corbyn

Did the Secretary of State inform anyone in Manchester at any stage that he was considering having a housing action trust in that part of the city, or did he treat the Manchester people with the same contempt with which he treats the House most of the time, not telling people what he is doing?

Mr. Bradley

It is rather the other way round. The tenants assume that a housing action trust will be imposed on them. They want to talk about that imposition. What is to happen will be much clearer if there are open and wide-ranging discussions with tenants, local authorities and Members of Parliament. It would be much easier on Report, when we table amendments, to have a statement on the areas to be designated and on whether Manchester will be chosen to "benefit" from designation.

Given the opportunity, Manchester would have carried out renovation, rebuilding and modernisation work within what we can only assume is the designated area. It is adjacent to the recently designated urban development corporation. The small urban motorway running east-west just south of the city centre is the Mancunian way. To its south is the housing area, which is in poor condition and requires a great deal of repair, renovation and new build to give decent housing to the people who want to live in Hulme and Moss Side. The urban development corporation is the strip of land between the Mancunian way and the city centre. Part of the UDC's brief is to inject yuppie housing into Manchester.

People who live south of the Mancunian way do not want the urban development area concept to be extended into their area, forcing them out when yuppies take over properties sold to the private sector against the wishes of local people. That is why they want to be consulted early, not to be told what will happen to them.

The achievements and consultation that have taken place in Manchester are a model for our proposal.

Mr. Corbyn

There seems to be a problem about the political control of areas where housing action trusts may be imposed by the Secretary of State. Does my hon. Friend have any evidence that, before this operation with the tenants, the Secretary of State had been in close consultation with what remains of the Conservative party in Manchester?

Mr. Bradley

It would be difficult for the Minister to be in close consultation with the Conservative party in Manchester, because it is a dying species.

Mr. Corbyn

I said, "with what remains".

Mr. Bradley

What remains is becoming increasingly remote. Conservative Central Office has established a new action team in Manchester.

Mr. Corbyn

Did they consult the local Conservatives?

Mr. Bradley

The new head of that action team has been appointed from the leafy suburbs of Surrey. His task is to revitalise the local Tories.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I appreciate that the hon. Member has been tempted off the straight and narrow by his hon. Friend, but he must now address his remarks to the amendment.

Mr. Bradley

The new head of the action team has not chosen to live in a property in Manchester or in one that will be within the housing action trust area. He is hunting around the foothills of Saddleworth for a property from which to try to revitalise central Manchester.

Manchester has done a lot by way of consultation over the years, and we are now informing tenants of what can be done. I hold in my hand a leaflet headed "Co-operation works." In this pamphlet we talked about co-operation between local people. It explained to people in the Hulrne area, which could be within the designated consultation area, the type of proposals that existed when the pamphlet was printed. It referred to local launderettes, the need to consider the environment, the problem of dogs and litter, cleaning estates and the work of renovation. There was also reference to local policing—a vital matter for communities.

That leaflet was issued in 1973. Over 15 years ago we were talking to the tenants about the needs of an area that may be designated as a housing action trust. It represented a model for consultation. The housing research section in Manchester does an invaluable job in providing information. The city council, in a survey among the residents of Hulme, dealt with the whole range of activities and the needs of local people. If the Government followed that model, this amendment—which is designed to correct the Secretary of State's ideas of what consultation is about—would not be necessary.

Some eminent bodies have considered the sort of proposals that we are debating. For example, Shelter, in its submission on housing action trusts, said: Housing action trusts do not even make a pretence at being democratic. It is government choice, not tenants' choice. Transferred council tenants and local people will have little confidence in future housing opportunity, for power will not only he out of their hands, either as individuals or as local electors—it will be concentrated in the hands of nominee board members meeting to decide policy in camera … the Secretary of State will be accountable to Parliament only through the ineffective channels of statutory instrument scrutiny. When we discussed this area of consultation in Committee, we tabled many amendments in an effort to persuade the Government to see the wisdom of getting tenants involved in the process to ensure that changes in policy became effective. We suggested, for example, a ballot of residents after the designation of an area. We thought that Conservative Members, who say they believe in democracy, would agree to such a step.

Secondly, we suggested full consultation for residents on the structure of the housing action trust, which is what we are talking about. Thirdly, we suggested a veto for the local authority over the designation of the HAT, which it could use if, for the area to be designated, it had a programme about which it had consulted fully. Finally, we suggested a ballot of tenants on transfer to the housing action trust. All those mechanisms would make consultation and accountability more effective.

8.30 am

One of the best features of the consideration of the Bill was the number of tenants' groups which came to the Committee from all over the country. They came to discuss with the members of the Committee what was going on and to find out how they would be consulted, what their rights would be and what would happen to their homes. The lack of information from the Government was making them anxious. We must remember that it is their homes we are talking about. We cannot impose a Government diktat on them.

There was every opportunity for the Government and for Conservative Members to talk to the tenants. Although we won the argument in Committee overwhelmingly, we lost the amendments because of the Government's majority. Probably the Secretary of State will accept the amendment now, because it is sensible to have full consultation. If tenants do not want it, the housing action trust will not succeed.

The Conservative election manifesto encapsulated what the Government claim to be their position on the housing action trust and on consultation with tenants. The manifesto said: The next Conservative Government will…give people greater choice and responsibility over their own lives …Our goal is a capital-owning democracy of people and families who exercise power over their own lives…They would take the important decisions—as tenants…—rather than having them taken for them …But what this Conservative Government has done is to make it easier for people to…decide such things for themselves.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

indicated assent.

Mr. Bradley

I will happily give way to the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) if he wishes to make an intervention. The hon. Member was nodding vigorously in support of that quotation. I should like him to explain to me, because clearly the Secretary of State will not, exactly how the Government proposal for housing action trusts fits in. Would the hon. Member like to comment on that? No.

We have been on our feet for about 14 hours. There have been numerous sedentary interventions of the sort that the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire made, but not one word will appear in Hansard. Is not that a travesty of the Government trying to defend their position? The hon. Member was not in Committee on the Bill. He was not interested in housing and probably knows very little about it. Apart from the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles), there is not another Conservative Member here who was on the Housing Bill Committee to make a contribution on this important matter.

It is worth reflecting on the ministerial statements that have been made on this subject. The Minister has said that he would not impose HATs if tenants objected. That cannot have been a mistake, because he said so at least twice. The first occasion was a meeting of the Housing Consultative Council for England in the autumn of 1987. The second was the one-day conference organised by the Institute of Housing in March of this year. On both occasions he said that housing action trusts should not be imposed. I shall be happy to allow messages to come down from the Box at this stage, if the Minister wishes to make a correction. I am not sure that the hod carrier is ready for the run. Yet again, there is no correction being made, but I am sure that one is on its way. Meanwhile, I shall have to rely on those statements.

I shall be even more relieved to have the Minister's confirmation that it is still his view, but he is not in the Chamber. Unfortunately, I do not have faith in the Secretary of State to make the same statement. That typifies the problems that we have had throughout the proceedings on the Bill—the conflict between the Secretary of State and the Minister of State on those matters. We see also how the iron hand is now in control. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Secretary of State is present to answer this debate and that his hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has taken to his bed.

I am extremely flattered that the Prime Minister has joined us, and presumably we may now have an answer to the question of housing action trust designation. I am sure that the Prime Minister has come here specifically to relieve the anxiety that is felt in Manchester, and to tell the House from the Dispatch Box which trusts are to be designated. I would feel privileged to give way to the Prime Minister on that particular point, if she would like to comment. Obviously she has come to make some statement about the Bill, which we must all be anxious to hear.

Tenants want uncertainty to be removed and to know what are the Government's intentions vis-a-vis consultation and imposition. They do not want democratic control by local authorities removed, to be replaced by the imposition of an undemocratic body without consultation. The amendment will ensure that tenants are properly consulted in the way described in the Conservative party election manifesto. I am sure that it is to reaffirm the contents of that manifesto that the Prime Minister has come to the House this morning.

In considering the question of tenants' choices and rights, and the right of local poeple to be consulted about their lives and their future—

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

In cases where tenants have been consulted—by, for example, the Conservative and alliance coalition at Milton Keynes—and where there were plans to offer consultation in Peterborough, Telford and Shropshire last summer, have not the Government—fearful of tenants making a choice to go with their local councils rather than with housing action trusts or similar bodies—repudiated those democratic methods and preferred to endorse autocratic methods?

Mr. Bradley

That is right. I can cite a similar example of a survey that was undertaken successfully in Wythenshawe by the research unit of Manchester's housing department. Wythenshawe, of course, could be a candidate for a housing action trust. That survey showed, as has just been pointed out, that 76 per cent. of respondents on the council estate, irrespective of their current tenure, considered the housing legislation to be bad, and 77 per cent. wanted to stay with the council, their first choice of landlord. That result is significant because it is reflected throughout the country. Where tenants are properly consulted, they overwhelmingly reject an alternative landlord and say that they want to stay with the local authority.

A housing action trust should not be imposed upon people against their will. We are talking about people's homes, lives and families. The amendment goes only some way to providing some sort of consultation, but it is better than nothing. It is a step in the right direction to give power to individual tenants, as identified in the Conservative party's manifesto, to make their choice. If the Government wish to uphold their manifesto commitment, they will support the amendment.

Mr. Tony Banks

First, let me welcome the Prime Minister to the debate this morning.

Mr. Forth

Where is the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Banks

Perhaps he is fielding a few more early-morning telephone calls—I do not know.

The Prime Minister is an expert on houses, because she has so many of them. If she would like to join in the debate, I for one would be delighted to hear her speech and ask a few questions that I have been dying to ask her from the Dispatch Box. I understand that she has not made a speech from the Dispatch Box since the Westland disaster and I can only conclude that her presence here this morning is to announce some other catastrophe that is about to strike the nation.

I was hoping that the Secretary of State might break his Trappist silence and say something in answer to many of the questions that have been directed to him so far. Two questions to which the Secretary of State knows that we should like answers—we are prepared to go on for a lot longer in order to get them—are how many housing action trusts will there be, and where will they be?

It seems reasonable at the very least for the Secretary of State to give us an answer to those questions after 115 hours of debate in Committee. We are considering housing action trusts, and the Secretary of State has still not revealed where they will be. I cannot believe that there has not been some considerable consideration as to where those HATs will be located. We have heard a number of pieces of circumstantial evidence to suggest that consultations are already taking place, although with whom we do not know. Perhaps when the Secretary of State comes round to speaking, he will tell me whether there is any truth in that at all.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman should sit down then.

Mr. Banks

I am happy to sit down when I have read this list out to the right hon. Gentleman.

Will the right hon. Gentlman confirm or deny that the following states in the following areas have been pinpointed as being housing action trusts—in Southwark, the north Peckham and Gloucester grove estates; in Tower Hamlets, Solander gardens and Shadwell gardens, and the Berner, Ocean, Boundary and Holland blocks; and in Lambeth, the Loughborough and Angell town estates? I happen to know that last estate well because I used to live on it and I should be interested to know whether my old home-—which unfortunately does not yet have a blue GLC plaque on it—will be becoming part of a housing action trust.

I mentioned the various estates in Canning Town to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). We know that a would-be Conservative Member of Parliament in Newham has been having discussions with the Minister's political adviser about whether Newham can have a housing action trust. I say "would-be" because, as the Secretary of State will know, Newham is very much a Tory-free zone, and we intend to keep it that way.

8.45 am
Mr. Nigel Griffiths

Perhaps the Secretary of State will confirm that his principle on where housing action trusts are to be located will be the same as his principle on where green belt can be built on—namely, that they will not be located at the foot of his garden.

Mr. Banks

If the Secretary of State were to give an answer, he would say, "Not in my back yard, sonny." That seems to be his general approach. It can happen in everyone else's back yard, but not in his own. That is another example of his double standards.

Let me continue with the list of estates pinpointed as housing action trusts. In Leeds, they are Halton Moor, Seacroft and Gipton; in Sunderland, Downhill, Town End and Hylton Castle; in Sandhill and Wolverhampton, Windmill Lane, Whiteheath and Heathstone. If the Secretary of State knows that any of those is likely to be designated, he owes it to the House to say so. I shall not invite him to stand up and do it now, as he has declined every invitation so far, but I hope that when he replies to some of the debate—as I assume he must eventually do—he will give us the information.

We should like to ask more questions about the HATs. How many properties will each of them have, and what other land will be attached to them? What will be the proposed financial terms of each transfer? How will local authorities continue to manage the debts attributable to property that they no longer own? Those are basic questions; without the answers, we are not really in a position to move on from this part of the Bill. If the Secretary of State wants in any way to be constructive today—that would be breaking the habits of a lifetime, but I am being optimistic—he must direct his attention to them.

The questions are particularly pertinent to amendment No. 308. Clause 55 sets out the powers of the Secretary of State to designate a housing action trust. Amendment N o. 308 relates to clause 56, which sets out his obligations to consult over the designation. That does not mean much, because he does not have to consult a great deal. For example, the Bill does not oblige him to consult the tenants whom he will be transferring from the familiar control of the local authority to the hands of the HAT. He is merely obliged by clause 56(1) to consult the local authority or authorities in whose area the HAT will be situated. and by clause 56(2) to bring the proposal to the notice of persons likely to be affected by it. I should very much like to know—as, I am sure, would many people on the estates that I have mentioned—whether he will be consulting them.

Clause 56(2) merely states: Before making a designation order, the Secretary of State shall take such steps as appear to him best designed to secure that the proposal to designate the area in question is brought to the notice of persons appearing to him to be likely to be affected by the proposal. That is a fairly permissive piece of proposed legislation, which enables the Secretary of State to do a great deal, or nothing whatever. Knowing the present Secretary of State, I would expect him, in his rather laidback and indolent fashion, to choose the latter course.

Mr. Spearing

It might be opportune to repeat a question in the presence of the Prime Minister because she has some legal background, which may not be the case with the Secretary of State for the Environment. Is it not the case that we are being invited to validate in law consultation which may be taking place about which we know nothing and which may be partial and incomplete? Is it not a matter of legal irregularity for there to be retrospective legislation of this kind without proper reasons being given? So far we have been given no reasons for this. [Interruption.] I would have given way to the Secretary of State earlier. However, the Prime Minister should be aware that we are considering retrospective legislation of a most questionable type. We are doing that in the presence of the Prime Minister, who is a lawyer, and she should have known better because her name is on the Bill.

Mr. Banks

I said earlier that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South is just too nice for politics. If he really thought that he would receive a reply from the Prime Minister, he surprises me. Having done a dry run as Leader of the Opposition, I am quite prepared to nip round the other side of the Chamber and try a dry run as Prime Minister and perhaps attempt an answer to that question.

I am going to milk this situation for everything I can because this opportunity is most unlikely to come my way again. As I explained, I resigned as Whip, which is catching in the Labour party. However, I found myself back as an agency Whip—a kind of privatised Whip—to carry through the remainder of the Bill. I think that we are doing a fairly good job at the moment. [Interruption.] I am glad to see that word has got around that the Prime Minister is here and that a number of previously unfamiliar faces during the night have appeared.

Clause 56(2) states what the Secretary of State plans to do to notify people who will be affected by having their area designated as a housing action trust. What sort of notice is he going to post? No matter what anyone says, if the Bill is enacted, it will affect many people. We believe that it will affect them to their detriment, and the Government believe that it will affect them to their advantage. We will have to wait and see. However, we can join hands on the idea that it will affect a large number of people.

When I looked at the newspapers on Tuesday to see what the Government and Opposition press had reported, I noticed that in The Times, The Independent and The Guardian, very few of whose readers it might be argued will be affected by the Bill, there were large sections reporting the proposals. In newspapers like the Daily Mirror and The Sun—the majority of whose readers will be affected by the proposals—there was no word about the Bill.

If the Secretary of State wants to give notice of the proposals, he should do so in The Sun or the Daily Mirror and not in The Times or The Independent. A very good argument for televising the House can be made when we deal with proposals like the Bill which will affect millions of people but which are not reported in the press. There should be extensive coverage not because of our speeches from the Back Benches or from the Dispatch Box but so that people can receive information that will affect their lives in future.

When the Secretary of State decides how he will notify people, I hope that he will bear in mind that it is not good enough to put an announcement in the London Gazette. He needs to ensure that everyone involved is contacted through the medium with which they are most happy.

Mr. Corbyn

Would my hon. Friend care to reflect that the Government seem able and willing to spend large sums on advertising the armed forces and Britain opening for business in 1992, but that a serious attack on the lives and future of tenants in council estates throughout the country appears to be a state secret? Tenants are not allowed to know that they are about to be thrown to the wolves of property speculators and have their homes taken from them.

Mr. Banks

I agree with my hon. Friend that this Government are good at spending vast quantities of taxpayers' money, dressing up their campaigns and trying to put the best gloss on them. They achieve that by having the glossiest of glossy pamphlets. We have seen many examples of that, usually with the Prime Minister in soft focus on Department of Trade and Industry pamphlets. When one has a lousy product it is best to dress it up in the glossiest form of packaging so that people are deceived. It is a well-known marketing technique.

What amuses me is the way that the Government attack local authorities for their attempts through newspapers and other means of communication to inform people of the evil impact of Government policies on them. Local authorities are prevented from doing that, while the Government use vast quantities of taxpayers' money to put over party political policies which do great damage to those same individuals. The Government know all about how to squander taxpayers' money.

Mr. Spearing

The Prime Minister says that she is a great enthusiast of morality. Does my hon. Friend recall that the Government paid £5 million of taxpayers' money to tell taxpayers, or Sid in particular, that they should buy what they already owned? Is there not a moral duty on the Government to spend a modicum of that sum on The Sun and the Daily Mirror to inform the public that the Government intend to take from people in various places what they own at a low price and without saying what they will do with it?

Mr. Banks

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Conservative party is extraordinarily good at that, and I congratulate the Prime Minister on the way she manages to deceive large numbers of people for a large part of the time. That is because the Conservative party has had a lot of practice at it. The day the people wake up to the way they are being exploited by the Government will be the day when the Government will be thrown aside and a Socialist Government elected. Despite the brave smiles on Conservative faces, that day is not far off; I assure them of that.

Amendment No. 308 refers to clause 56(3). My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South in a cerebral speech which he sat up half the night writing, states that consultations will take place before the Bill becomes law and will be sufficient to satisfy clause 56(1) and (2). This is retrospective legislation and yet another example of the way the Government, who are so arrogant that they are prepared to dismiss any objections and opposition—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister should be allowed to make a dignified departure. I hope that she has heard something which even at this late stage might help her know that she has made a complete mess of this Bill. It will not win the Conseratives any support.

Like political fund ballots, the Bill has had a perverse effect. I have attended many meetings about the Bill, especially about housing action trusts and the pick-atenant provisions—or the pick-a-landlord provisions as the Government prefer to describe them. The Bill has alerted a large number 0of tenants to the dangers that they may face should the Bill become law. The Bill has politicised many tenants in the same way as the issue of political fund ballots politicised many trade unionists.

9 am

The Government have tried to get away with it all by passing the Bill through the House as quietly as they can. Because of the extreme nature of the proposals in the Bill, however, we have been able to alert a large number of tenants to what will happen. When we come to discuss the proposals for pick-a-tenant, I believe that the Government's objectives will he thwarted time and time again, as they already have been in regard to a number of the new town development corporations.

Amendment No. 87 relates to clause 56, which sets out the consultation required by the Secretary of State before a housing action trust is set up. Clause 56(2) states that the Secretary of State is obliged to take steps to bring such a proposal to the notice of persons likely to be affected by it. The amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from setting up a housing action trust in an area where the majority of persons likely to be affected are opposed to it.

We find it difficult to square the removal of homes from local authority control where the tenants, in common with other local residents, have the opportunity to elect their landlord every four years to a non-elected body, where all the members of the controlling board are appointed by the Secretary of State with the Government's stated aim of increasing tenants' choice.

In the Government's earlier manifestos, they spoke about increasing tenants' choice, but one cannot square that with the proposals in clause 56. I have ceased trying to square the irreconcilables that are contained in the Bill—we merely content ourselves with pointing them out.

Despite what was said in Committee, it is clear that HATs can be imposed on a local authority whether it likes it or not. That is undemocratic and hard to bear, but those tenants whose homes are removed from local authority control do not even get a look in. They will not be consulted as a result of clause 56(2); they will only be notified of the proposal. For that reason, we are promoting amendment No. 87, which ensures that, where tenants and residents are opposed to the proposal it should not go ahead.

The two amendments show that the Secretary of State wants to load all the dice in his favour. He wants to be able to ride roughshod over the objections of the local authorities and to ignore the wishes of the tenant. Indeed, it is possible that he will not even have to bother to consult the people who will be affected. We are not surprised that that is profoundly undemocratic—we are always angry, but we are not surprised.

Unless the Secretary of State comes to the Dispatch Box and gives us some positive answers to straightforward questions, which he knows deserve answer, frankly he cannot expect us to do anything but press the amendments to a Division.

Mr. Ridley

It might be helpful if I give such information as I can in response to the questions asked by the hon. Members for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley).

First, like every other hon. Member who has spoken, they asked when the list of housing action trusts will finally be produced and what will be on it. No final decisions have been taken. None of the places mentioned by the hon. Members for Newham, South, for Withington or for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has been decided upon. They are the subject of possibilities and rumours. The lovely idea of the key importance of one of my political advisers having met a Tory candidate is absolutely wrong.

I can put hon. Members' minds at rest. No secret or final decisions or unannounced consultations have taken place. When the Government have finally made up their mind they will announce the list, during the time when the Bill is in Parliament.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ridley

I have listened to several long speeches, and I want to reply to them and make progress.

The consultation process consists of three stages. This is the answer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, South and his hon. Friends. In the first stage, we declare a certain area to be a prospective housing action trust. So far, the trust has not been set up. Next, I consult local people and the local authority about my proposals for setting up the HAT. We have drafted a "Dear Occupier" letter, about which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West inquired. Its information will appear not in the newspapers, but in the letter box, which is a much better way of ensuring that people get it. On the basis of that test of opinion I shall decide finally whether to put an order before the House to designate a particular HAT.

Mr. Boateng

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ridley

My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning was right to say that we hope to set up housing action trusts with the consent and agreement of the tenants, but the decision will be mine, and I shall decide according to what I believe to be right. We are talking here only about the principle of making an area a HAT, whose transfer will be from one public sector body to another.

Mr. Boateng

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Ridley

Now I come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, South about retrospection. His amendment seeks not to make these consultations legal until after Royal Assent. He claims that it is retrospective that I have the power to hold these consultations with local people before the Bill becomes law. There have been no such consultations yet, because no HATs have been declared. The consultations will take place only after they have been declared. We cannot consult people when the people concerned have not been told who they are.

This is not retrospective by including it in the Bill, everybody knows what the law is. Everybody now knows what the draft clause which the House may approve will be. Everybody knows that retrospection means a change in the law after someone has done something in the belief that it was within the law. The law being changed after such an act is committed is the form of retrospection that we all eschew.

Opposition Members who seemed to be a little worried about that may remember that, on 9 March, I made a statement in the House saying that at midnight that night there would be certain changes to the capital control rules for local authorities. I said that those would later be enacted and they have been, although there is a further stage to come. That is exactly the same process as the one that is being carried out here, except that that was a more important matter because it was the finite definition of the law in relation to financial transactions. No Opposition Member claimed that that was retrospective, because it was not. Everybody knew what the law was when he came to do whatever it was he was about to do.

The second matter is the order of procedure. I do not wish in any way to usurp the functions of the House or of its advisers and Clerks. My suspicion is that the definition of a procedural point by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and the question about hybrid instruments was right. It is not for me to give a verdict, but I think that I agree with his view. That procedure has been followed with urban development corporation orders that have been petitioned against. If it is a hybrid procedure for the order—it is not for me to give a verdict on that—then that is accepted.

The next phase is the true consultation. One does not have a HAT until one has an order, and it is only then that one can consult. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Withington said on that point. All those matters and many others, including the precise terms of the tenancies, the way in which they will be treated and the arrangements for the tenants' forum so that they can have close contact with the board, will be for the housing action trust. What the trust will do will be a matter for major consultation.

The hon. Member for Newham, South spoke about planning. That will be a matter for the housing action trust and not for me. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that I would direct the HAT about planning, but that is not the case. I shall be the appellate and the court of appeal. That is my function in relation to any planning authority, and such authorities make decisions about planning permission, although they will be required to conform to a local structure plan—if there is one for the area. In that sense, the position is the same as with any other planning authority.

The hon. Member for Withington made great play about some secret plot. I did not gather the full import of what he was saying. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning visited Manchester last month and the visit received full publicity. He went to Hulme and had talks with Professor Valerie Karn. There is some lively discussion going on there about whether the right thing to do for the Hulme estate is to set up the feasibility study that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, the predecessor of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, more or less promised in 1985 as a way of studying the problems of that estate. That is still on the table.

Another option discussed in Hulme was that it might be better to make it a HAT, but no decision has been taken. Until a decision has been taken as between those two options—Which are completely alternate and not complementary—that gives the hon. Gentleman the answer that he wants and shows how mistaken one can be to believe in the conspiracy theory when trying to keep the House amused at 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning. [Interruption.] When the hon. Gentleman spoke, it was 8 o'clock.

9.15 am

The hon. Gentleman also seemed to believe that in some way this was a dreadful imposition upon people to make their areas—[Interruption.] The Opposition confirm it. It is astonishing that the Government have offered £125 million over the next few years solely to improve the houses—I have been sitting here on and off during the night—yet hon. Member after hon. Member has complained about the condition of the housing stock in their area—how run down and badly managed it is. The Government have said that they will visit the worst areas and then we shall liberate those people from the misrule of the councils.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Will hon. Members resume their seats? The Secretary of State plainly is not giving way.

Mr. Ridley

We have the recently published National Consumer Council's Gallup poll of council tenants showing that, even before the Bill has been passed, as many as 21 per cent. of tenants would like to have a social landlord, such as a building society, a housing association or a co-operative. Another 27 per cent. would like more information before reaching a decision. Let them have what they want. Opposition Members are not prepared to do that.

Neither amendment is right or necessary, and I invite the House to reject them.

Mr. Michael Welsh

Basically, I should like to speak about clause 56, dealing with consultation. I noted the Secretary of State's reply on consultation. The point is that he has said that he will consult after designating an area. Amendment No. 87 seeks to provide that consultation shall take place before designation, and that is for a special reason.

I am opposed to housing action trusts. I believe that local authorities, given the necessary resources, can perform as well as any of the proposed ideas. However, if housing action trusts are introduced—it appears that the Minister will insist on that—the test will be whether they work. That must be the only test for any legislation. The best way to make the trusts work is to have full consultation before an area is designated. We ask for that in amendment No. 87, and that is not asking for a lot. It is important that in those areas—some of them will be experimental—there should be consultation with everyone involved to ensure that housing action trusts are a success. I am against them, but, if they are to be introduced, I hope that they will be a success for the people who live in those areas.

Obviously, some matters are laid down about how the consultations should take place. The Secretary of State will, for example, take into consideration the balance of local authority and private housing. That must involve local authorities and tenants, and there is nothing wrong with that process. Another aspect is the physical condition and design of the housing; and whether the tenant is in the private or the public sector is but a minor detail. It is no use simply saying that a design is no good. It might be that, as with Airey houses, tenants cannot obtain mortgages because the exteriors of the houses are not good enough, although the insides are perfect. All that they need are new exteriors and then the tenants can obtain mortgages and really go to town. That must be part of the process of consultation.

There is nothing wrong with studying how local authority housing is managed. Housing associations might pick up some good ideas from local authorities. I am proud of the local authority housing in Doncaster, and I should be happy for anyone to look at that. There must be consultation about the living and social conditions and the general environment of the area. It is no good designating a small geographical area as a HAT if the surrounding area is no good. It might be necessary to consult on a broader basis than just the HAT, and there is nothing wrong with that. The important point is that consultation takes place. I cannot accept the Government's argument that there should be no consultation until they have decided on the areas. That is not playing the game. Consultation is necessary to ensure success and to carry the people along with the scheme.

Another important factor is the repair and improvement of homes. It might be that near to a HAT is a badly rundown private housing area. Perhaps, with the right consultation, the Government could take over the whole area and give the environment a lift. That sort of consultation can bring good results.

The Secretary of State must surely agree that housing must be managed properly and effectively. Everyone who has a home would subscribe to that. There must be consultation with those who help to make the decisions. It is also a fact of life that HATs will involve, for example, health services. If it is terribly rundown, it is no use building it up and occupying the houses if there are no health services. The health services must be consulted, as must the community care services, because a number of the homes may be occupied by the elderly.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I am puzzled as to why the hon. Gentleman is spending so long questioning what he describes as an absence of consultation. Clause 56 lays down that the Secretary of State must consult every local authority included in the proposed designated area, and that he shall take steps to ensure that the proposal to designate the area in question is brought to the notice of persons appearing to him to he likely to be affected by the proposal. What more can one say?

Mr. Welsh

The Minister has said that he will decide whether consultation goes ahead, but, in real consultation, one has to come to an agreement. It is all very well holding consultations and saying, "I am the Minister. It does not matter whether you have no community care or health centres. The scheme will still go ahead because I am the Minister and I say so." I am referring to meaningful consultation, which is vastly different from the Minister's idea of consultation.

We are dealing with important undertakings. The Minister will make the housing action trusts responsible for the maintenance of private roads that fall within their scope, all at public expense. But where will the public expenditure come from? It will come from the local authority. On many estates, the roads are not kept up to the correct standards, and that will cost the highway authorities a great deal of money later. The Minister says that the highway authorities will have responsibility for those roads, but the local authorities will have to maintain them at their own expense, so they may not be up to standard. We are talking about other people's money. We are always told to be careful with taxpayers' money, so we must ensure a good system of consultation through the housing action trust schemes.

An important factor in getting things up to modern standards is the police, who form part of the local authority. If we do not consult the police authorities, they may not cater for a scheme in their forward plans and may not have sufficient money to ensure that an area is properly policed so that everyone can live the good life.

We are asking for common sense in consultation, but we do not seem to be able to get through to the Minister. Perhaps he distrusts local authorities, although I do not. If he distrusts them, he should take another look at them and see the good work that over 90 per cent. of them carry out.

Local authority education provision is excellent. Education is one of the largest parts of local authorities' budgets. The local authorities may agree with all the points about consultation, but say, "Can you wait a few months before you start so that, by the time the kiddies are living in those new houses, the new school will be built?" There is nothing wrong with that—that is meaningful consultation—but the Minister wants to take that out of people's hands. He appears to be implying that there will be no local authority representatives on the housing action trusts, so there will be no umbrella coverage. Nice new houses will be built, but there will be no community to serve them. That would be a disaster of the first order. However, if there is proper consultation, the scheme can be made to work effectively.

We cannot say, "Here is a geographical area on which we will spend money." That area may need to play a different role. It may need more local government money spent on it, which might not be available at that time. Is it not common sense to negotiate with the local authorities through consultation and then to make the decision? That is the simple and right thing to do.

I do not want to go over the brief about consultation, but another important aspect of consultation involves the people who will have to live in the homes and whether they can afford the rents. It is possible that the decisions that are made may prove impossible for the people who have to live with them and whom one would like to serve—for example, the poorer sections of the community—because the prices may be suitable for middle-class people only. If that is the case, the middle classes will move in and the people whom we all want to help will be unable to live]n those properties.

9.30 am

I am trying to suggest the best ways in which I think we can approach this issue. I hope that when these matters are considered, through consultation, the Minister will give some thought to private estates in northern mining areas. They may be attached to public sector land. Perhaps, through good consultation, people could be approached and the standards of those houses improved. There is nothing wrong with that.

I am sticking to the substance of the amendment and saying, "Let us have good consultation." If a man is worth his salt, he can consult. If a man is worthy of a public position he can carry the people with him. If the Secretary of State has any faith in himself, he will accept the amendment because he will take up the challenge, knowing that the people with whom he will deal will want to do their best for local people. I suggest that on this occasion the Secretary of State should agree to support our worthy amendment.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Secretary of State is welcome. By my calculation he made his premiere 14½ hours after the beginning of this section of our debates, and was encouraged—

Mr. Ridley

I sought to intervene early, in the debate on the fifth group of amendments. I do not think that I can be blamed if that comes rather later than it might have done.

Mr. Hughes

The Secretary of State is perfectly entitled to make that point. I suppose one could say that when, out of the 250 amendments, 119 are Government amendments we are making relatively solid progress when, by my calculations, we have gone through 46 groups of amendments on Mr. Speaker's selection, with the remaining 114 still to discuss. I do not know when we calculate that at this rate we shall be going home to bed or to breakfast. It may not be for some time yet.

The Secretary of State was being encouraged to open the box. He did not, but he stirred the House into some sort of life. I suppose that he and the Prime Minister together at 8.30 in the morning are enough to stir anybody into life after a long night. It certainly sounded as if we were having a hornet's nest opened, even if it was not the box.

The Secretary of State made some illuminating if not altogether consistent revelations, as far as one can judge from any normal use of the English language. First, he said what the procedure would be—I think that we are all grateful to him for clarifying that. He said that he would decide on prospective housing action trusts, consult on the proposals and then an order would be made.

I have taken a different view from that expressed so far by Opposition Members. I think that it is better to discuss the principle without knowing the specific sites, otherwise one gets bogged down in discussions of those sites. It is sensible to discuss the idea and its general application first.

I had hoped that the Secretary of State would clarify whether relatively small, concentrated areas are to be grouped together—for example, one area for one place, such as one side of the river in the development corporation in London, or whether he still envisages a series of small islands that would come under one housing action trust and be spread over a wider area.

I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider amendment No. 87. I smiled somewhat at the second of the three phases described by the Secretary of State—the consultation on proposals, or "Dear Occupier" letter. It sounded like Reader's Digest: "You have been singled out. You are the lucky recipient of our unique, once and for all offer. You, dear reader, are one of the people who will now qualify to fill in the form for the prospects of a jackpot." The reader will be given the golden key to a rather uncertain door. I am glad to know that the letters have been drafted and the word processors have been at work. No doubt some lucky people will soon receive the letters. I do not object. If the Secretary of State thinks that people in part of my borough, Liverpool, Manchester or elsewhere should be the beneficiaries of Government funding, I would not resist.

The Secretary of State said, rightly, that one should not resist the idea of the Government coming to the rescue of some of our worst estates. I resist, however, the idea of it being a uniquely Government operation and a complete takeover, if the Secretary of State wishes. The right hon. Gentleman resists amendment No. 87, which refers to a majority of persons consulted opposing their area being designated, even though he said a few minutes ago that the orders would be made "with the consent" of the tenants and said, even more tellingly, "Let them have what they want." If the principle of the Bill is revealed between 9 and 10 o'clock on the third day of the Report stage as being, "Let the tenants have what they want," there must be substantial redrafting. For example, we must accept this amendment and amend part IV and have a voting system that conforms with normal procedures, whereby majorities mean majorities, minorities mean minorities and property cannot be transferred from the public sector to another sector by a vote of none in favour and less than half against.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

And a vote from the dead.

Mr. Hughes

"And the dead," as my hon. Friend chimes in from a position which, compared to where I am, looks like the grave.

I accept that the tenants should be given a fair choice and allowed to consider the options. I am not against the Government coming in with additional money to bail out some of the worst estates. It is imperative that that is done in co-operation with local authorities and local people. In an interview reported in the Local Government Chronicle in December, the Minister for Housing and Planning said: It has to be done with local understanding.

Ms. Primarolo

In Committee, when replying to questions on the attitude of tenants who were forcibly transferred to housing action trusts, the Minister said that housing action trusts could not work effectively if either the local authority or the tenants disagreed to the trust being set up—a very unambiguous answer. The Secretary of State, giving us his brief definition of consultation, said that he "hoped" to get the tenants' agreement, not that it was necessary to do so. The right hon. Gentleman has confirmed that tenants will be compulsorily transferred, so the consultation is a sham, whether or not there is an individual letter.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Lady is right to point to the validity of amendment No. 87, which I support, because it says clearly that if after consultation the majority of the persons consulted are opposed, it should not go ahead. Like the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who opened the debate, I speak with relative authority because I represent part of a development corporation area imposed on a substantial number of my constituents without their consent, which proceeded, under orders put forward by the Secretary of State and approved by the House, to take land from the local authority. Then planning decisions were taken by non-elected members of, originally, a secret although subsequently an open committee that was in no way accountable to the local community. The Secretary of State may be the court of appeal, but he is also involved in the court of first instance, because he appoints everybody who sits on it and he can remove the members when he wishes. So it is an appeal to the same person with a different face.

Mr. Spearing

I hope that the Secretary of State will intervene if I get this wrong. Does the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) agree that in respect of the LDDC the right hon. Gentleman is more than a court of appeal? In March 1987, prior to any formal planning application, he made a great statement about what the planning arrangements for the royal docks should be. He did that as an initiator giving directions to the LDDC. He now finds himself in the formal statutory position of being possibly an adjudicator on a formal planning application. Of course, he can say that it is in accordance with Government policy which he made for that area over a year ago.

Mr. Hughes

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is ironic that our debates were graced by the Prime Minister for half an hour just when we were debating for the first time on Report the creation of more quangos. This is the very Prime Minister who said on coming to office in 1979 that she wanted fewer quangos and less direct Government involvement on the backs of the people. The reality is that more and more quangos have been set up, with all the members appointed by Ministers or Secretaries of State, and at the end of the day they have to do as the Secretaries of State tell them.

The structure, electoral systems and so on of local government might need to be amended. Local government is not perfect, but at least it is a separate, autonomous and independently accountable tier which can represent people without always having to how to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Alton

Although I agree strongly with what my hon. Friend has just said about the need for accountability and the need for local government to ensure that local residents and tenants have the chance to make as many decisions as they can about the running of their estates, does he agree that sometimes tyranny is exercised by local government? To take the city of Liverpool as an example, the wishes of tenants have often been ignored when the local authorities have wanted to establish something like a housing co-operative. Surely the key is the need for greater local accountability, with more resources. If tenants are to take over in a place like Liverpool, where there are 6,000 empty properties owned by the local authority, it is pointless unless resources are given to the council to enable it to take over the properties and improve them as the tenants would wish.

Mr. Hughes

Not only is my hon. Friend right, but he speaks with the authority of someone who has chaired one of the largest housing authorities in the country. During his time in office in Liverpool one of the keynotes of the administration was that tenants were given much more choice.

If it were true, as the Secretary of State asserts, that the principle of the Bill is to let tenants have what they want, whether they be under the control of local authorities, housing associations or private sector landlords, I would not object to the substantive part of the Bill. The tragedy is that often it will not be a case of letting them have what they want in a free and democratic way, but "Let them have what I arrange that they will have unless they violently and cleverly manage to object."

There was an extraordinary postscript to the debate in the other substantive comment of the Secretary of State. He gave us a new definition of the word "retrospection" and the concept "retrospective". Clause 56(3) provides: Consultation undertaken or steps taken before the passing of this Act shall constitute as effective compliance with subsection (1) or subsection (2) above as if taken after that passing. The Secretary of State defined that as being not retrospective. The reality is that any legislation stating that action taken before it became law will count as though it was lawful is by any definition retrospective—and I am sure would be adjudicated as such by any court of law.

The Secretary of State may use his authority and that of his Government to change most things, provided that he has Parliament's approval—but he does not yet have the power to change the definition of words, however hard he might try to persuade the House otherwise. Subsection (3) clearly intends that consultation undertaken before the enactment of the Bill will count as if it had occurred after the Bill became law.

I do not necessarily say that the Government could not as a matter of policy rather than legislation decide that their interpretation would apply. However, the Secretary of State should be honest enough to tell the House that the provisions of the Bill, as in so much legislation these days—probably more than in the past—are retrospective, and seek to enforce retrospectively that which only ought to be done after the day the Bill receives the Royal Assent.

A little more light has been thrown on the subject of housing action trusts, but we still do not know when they are to be, where they are to be, or quite what they are to be. The hope of those speaking in support of the amendments is that action groups will not be imposed on those who do not want them, but that instead one should, to quote the Minister of State, Let them have what they want.

9.45 am
Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

For most of the time that the Bill has been debated on the Floor of the House and in Committee I have been engaged in work on other Bills and have not had an opportunity to intervene. Therefore, I welcome this opportunity to participate in the debate, albeit at an unusual hour.

In my area the Bill has caused fear, confusion and anger. The Secretary of State, in a remarkable intervention, spoke of giving people what they want. He went on to make it clear that it is a case, not of giving the people in the houses what they want, but of giving the Secretary of State what he wants and thinks is good for them.

Before I entered the House I was the first secretary of the Banks of the Wear co-operative housing association, which is now of great standing in the north-east. It is the first-step association for a very large number of subsidiary housing co-operatives. During my work for that association—which was some time ago—I learnt the hard way what consultation and involving people in real choice about their housing needs is all about.

At that stage the housing association was working in the Sunderland area, but it now operates throughout the region. Banks of the Wear is committed to letting people have just what the Government have talked about—quality housing at a price that they can afford, and over the quality of which they have some control.

I was dismayed when I read clause 56, because it appears that the Government have learnt nothing from the lessons taught by organisations such as the Banks of the Wear, as well as by local authorities, about the manner which consultation should be undertaken and choice expanded.

I should not have been surprised, because the other Bill with which I have been involved is the Education Reform Bill. In that measure, too, the Government talked about choice, but when we examined it in detail we recognised that it would remove and restrict choice. That will be precisely the effect of claus:56.

The amendment begins to spell out ways in which tenants may have some minor reassurance that proper consultation will take place. However, consultation is a poor substitute for democracy. Consultation is a poor second best to giving people some control and proper choice through the ballot box. I am horrified that the Government, despite all their fine words, reject that opportunity.

The Government could have taken the opportunity to recognise that in the past eight years they have so starved the public and private rented sectors of resources that things really are in a sorry state. Because of that starving of resources we now have to inject a lot of money. No Opposition Member would disagree with that. What we would disagree with is the cavalier way in which the Government seek to do that. Far from consulting and involving people in any real choice, the Secretary of State has made it clear to us that he has no intention of properly consulting and involving people, and I am dismayed by that.

I was the secretary of a housing association, but I was also involved in community work, so my professional activity was to enable people to have choice and to teach them how to consult properly. Had the Secretary of State joined the course that I taught and presented his case as an argument for consulting people about their future, I am afraid that he would have had little chance. If he had not learnt quicky, he would have failed the course.

Consultation is important. The Secretary of State cannot dictate the full terms of that consultation, because that would negate the meaning of the word. Consultation is no less a relationship than other relationships, and both sides must have a real involvement in it. The Secretary of State has not given us any flavour of the nature of his involvement, nor has he allowed the tenants, and those with whom he seeks to consult, much control over their involvement.

I ask the Government to reconsider. I do not believe that this matter is less important than the financial arrangements in previous Bills about which the Minister talked. To some people their house is their main form of security. It is the main way in which they can believe that they have a place in the world. It is important to them. To dismiss those important feelings in a cavalier way is not worthy of the Government.

I ask the Secretary of State to have another look at the amendments, which are only minor. They could have gone much further, but they should at least ensure that tenants feel that their wishes, aspirations and concerns are listened to. Whatever the Secretary of State may say, I have heard from tenants' groups and housing associations throughout the country who simply do not believe that what they think matters an iota to the Government.

If there is to be consultation, people must believe that it will mean something. What the Government are saying enables us to give housing associations, local councils and tenants little reassurance that the Government are serious about taking their views into consideration. What will the Government do to ensure that the groups with whom they intend to work will trust them? The evidence to date is that they would be very silly to do so.

However we may feel about how local housing ought to be managed, we know that the Government will not agree. But people will have to continue living in those houses, getting on with their neighbours and developing relationships with their landlords, whoever they may be. They deserve no less than that the Government take them seriously, listen to them and develop a system in which they and we can have confidence. I hope that the Government will begin to listen.

Mr. Corbyn

Both amendments are important. Although I personally wish that the housing action trust proposal were not included at all, I feel that the least that we can do is support the amendments, which at least guarantee some form of consulation and some real say for those who will be affected.

The Secretary of State's peculiar intervention, apparently prompted by a visit by the Prime Minister to make him get up and say something, demonstrated enormous contempt not just for the House but for council tenants up and down the country. The right hon. Gentleman has announced that he will liberate them from the difficulties in which they find themselves. This is the same Secretary of State, in the same Government, who over the past nine years has taken millions of pounds away from local government, penalised authorities that have attempted to improve council estates, threatened them with surcharges when they have spent money on those estates and disfranchised Liverpool and Lambeth councillors for doing precisely what he claims to want to do himself, such as, namely, improve conditions on estates. It is arrogance and contempt of the first order for him to announce that he is to let loose the property boom in the south-east on a number of estates that he has encouraged local authorities to allow to run down.

Council estates are often badly designed because of a cost yardstick imposed by the Department of the very same Secretary of State, which encourages over-dense estates, with a lack of open space, gardens, play facilities, nurseries, creche and shopping facilities and community halls. The Department then has the arrogance to blame local authorities for the estates being badly designed.

I do not entirely exempt all local authorities, architects, planners and councillors for the problems on council estates. I well understand those problems, having been a councillor for many years in the borough of Haringey. But I know perfectly well that our biggest problem with building estates were the arguments with the Department of the Environment about the amount that it would allow us to borrow to build them. The arrogance with which the Government treat those who try to solve the problems is quite breathtaking.

The Government are not proposing to consult tenants about how the estates can be improved. If they wanted to do that they would follow the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) about proper consultation. If they were serious they would ensure that the tenants had a real and genuine voice in how the estates would be run. Instead, there is a proposal from the Secretary of State, who sits in the splendour of his office in Marsham street, which I understand he visits occasionally between his long holidays and his visits to his country home in his constituency of Cirencester and Tewkesbury.

10 am

Mr. Morgan

My hon. Friend should not mention that.

Mr. Corbyn

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. I understand that the Secretary of State has several country homes, so he must find it even more difficult to get to his office.

The Secretary of State will decide where the housing action trusts will be set up and what function they will have. Once they have been established, what will they do? What information will be given to tenants already on the housing estates about the work of these quangos? I am sure that the House would be more than happy for the Secretary of State to speak again if he has more information to give us on these points. Will he tell us who will serve on the HATs? The rumours going round at the moment are that all the estates earmarked for HATs happen to he in areas where there is a Labour majority on the local authority and where there is unlikely ever to be anything other than a Labour majority on the authority. We see that as an attempt to remove people's rights to elect a local authority that can do something for them.

Mr. Allan Roberts

The Minister said that it was likely that the areas where HATs would be declared would be known before the Second Reading of the Bill, but we had not heard where they were to be by the time the Bill entered Committee. The Minister then told us that there would be six HATs initially, but he would not say which areas the Government and the Department of the Environment were considering. He then implied—he did not promise and I do not want to put words into his mouth—that we would know which areas were under consideration before the Bill left this place. I wonder whether the Secretary of State will tell the House, the country and the tenants affected exactly where the Government are looking and where the HATs will be. The Secretary of State pretends to believe in consultation. Will he have the courtesy to give us that information?

Mr. Corbyn

Earlier valiant efforts were made by my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) to entice that information from the Minister. We understand that the Department of the Environment is spending money, but is failing to consult tenants in Manchester on the possibility of a Hulme estate becoming a housing action trust. That is like a colonial governor arriving at an estate telling the tenants that they may have a new landlord soon, although he is not sure who, how he will behave or what he will do. With all the arrogance of a colonial governor, the DOE is duly consulting those tenants and telling them what is happening. The Secretary of State failed to answer our questions earlier, and presumably he will fail to answer them now. That is not good enough.

We are entitled to know who and what kind of person is likely to be appointed to a HAT and what salary that person is likely to receive. The Government are perpetrating a growing trend of demonstrating their contempt for local democracy by setting up urban development corporations or, in the case of London, the LDDC, by paying a property speculator a salary that most people could only dream of if they won the pools twice over, to destroy the power of elected local government and so bring a property bonanza into that area. Are we to see Tory party entrepreneurs promoted to chairs of local HATs to take over estates, to dispose of such property as they think fit, doubtless with the permanent and ongoing agreement of the Secretary of State?

Mr. Cummings

My hon. Friend referred to urban development corporations. I understand that the profits will go back to the Treasury. We have experience of this both with development corporations looking after housing assets in new towns and with the disposal of industrial assets, where moneys have gone back to the Treasury. None of that money has been directed towards dealing with housing defects in the new towns, nor was the Treasury prepared to release funds for extra finance to further industrial development through the provision of extra factory units. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a disgrace and that once again the Treasury—Mr. Money Bags—will gain at the expense of tenants?

Mr. Corbyn

I agree with my hon. Friend, who is right to point to what is in effect a new form of double taxation. It is a remarkable invention of the Tory Government. A local authority retains the debt charges on the transferred estates, which are paid to the City—and they are considerable, running into millions of pounds—the housing action trust is established with a right to dispose of and sell such assets as it sees fit, and once it has subtracted the considerable salaries of the HAT members money will be transferred back to the Government. Local people, from a declining rate base, because of the abolition of domestic rates and the imposition of the poll tax, and on a declining income base, are expected to pay the debt charges of an estate that they have built, which is handed over to a HAT, which can sell it on to a bunch of property speculators, who can winkle out poorer tenants to create a paradise for the upwardly mobile so beloved of the Tory party.

If anyone doubts that that process can happen, I advise him to visit council house blocks in Wandsworth, which were built by the London county council before the war In a determined effort to solve London's housing crisis. They have now become city homes for part-time dwellers who mess about on the stock exchange during the week. That is not what those houses were built for or what public money was spent for, yet that is what they are now used for. There is a direct correlation between that process of creating double housing for the wealthy and people sleeping in cardboard boxes under Charing Cross arid Waterloo stations every night. That is the sort of society that the Secretary of State loves to live in. He loves to drive in his chauffeur-driven car past those people sleeping on the streets because they cannot afford anywhere to live in his meritocratic Britain. That should be treated with contempt.

To add to that arrogance, the Government do not even propose properly to consult people on the transfer of their area to a HAT. The Secretary of State will impose a HAT on an area, he will listen to the local authority view, proceed to ignore it, as in the case of Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Newham when the LDDC was established, and proceed wih the HAT.

Despite the best efforts of the popular newspapers to deny people information about the Bill and the dangers of HATs, a whole new network of information has developed of people in tenants associations, housing organisations, and campaigns to inform other council estates of just how dangerous this legislation is for them.

After Second Reading I wrote to every tenants association in my constituency explaining the Bill, what I considered to be the dangerous points of it, and offering to meet them to discuss it. Anyone who has been involved in work with tenants associations will know that normally a meeting is not a high point in life. Often only a small number attend, unless there is a particular problem on the estate. There have been massive meetings on every estate. They were not clamouring for an alternative landlord or for a property company to run their estate. They were asking what they could do to keep them out and prevent a HAT, what form of consultation was open to them and how they could influence the Secretary of State. I have to explain that we shall do everything that we can to demonstrate our total opposition to the imposition of HATs, but that the legislation is so established that a quango will be set up with the approval of the Secretary of State. My constituency has experience of such quangos and it has no public representatives in any elected position other than those from the Labour party. The Conservative party, however, has managed to contrive a sympathetic majority on the health authority by bringing in people from outside. That is the model that the Government will seek to copy if they are allowed to establish HATs.

A local development company wants to undertake some work around Finsbury Park, to adapt the Rainbow theatre for other things and to develop a shopping and industrial complex nearby. When the company, CIL Ltd., put forward its proposals it decided that it would also like to take over the Six Acres and Harvist estates. They were to be used partly to provide car parking for those using the local shopping facilities. That company's plans represent a precursor of my idea of a HAT and who it intended to serve. It was interesting that there was a massive turnout of the residents of the estates at public meetings. They told the developer that they did not want him to run their estates. Although the residents had many complaints and problems with the local authority's management of the estates, they understood that when an elected local authority was running the estate they could get at councillors and at the local authority. They had some influence.

Many of the residents had previously lived in private rented accommodation and they knew full well that once the management of an estate was transferred from a local authority to a trust and then on to a property company they would have no influence. They were determined to stay with the local authority, despite the contemptible way in which that authority has been treated by the Government, who have continually cut resources for housing repairs, improvements and developments.

Three blocks are in the process of being rehabilitated on the Six Acres estate, but the Secretary of State has now refused to sanction the order to rehabilitate the fourth block. That has created an apartheid system because the residents of the three blocks will enjoy reasonable housing but that will be denied to the residents of the fourth block.

Mrs. Wise

Has my hon. Friend noticed that clause 68 provides for the Secretary of State to be able to dissolve a HAT if he feels that it is expedient to do so? In the unlikely event of a HAT proving responsive to tenants' wishes, no doubt the Government would dissolve it and transfer its functions to yet another quango that could be kept sufficiently tame.

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend is correct. The same practice is adopted for health authorities, which are quangos, apart from the local authority representatives sitting on such authorities.

I remember when the health authority in Brent said that it was not prepared to close the Neasden hospital to please the Secretary of State. A great tussle took place and the members of that authority were thrown out of office, even though they had been appointed by the Secretary of State. The same practice will operate in relation to a HAT to ensure that, just in case, by some miracle, a quango from whatever source, decided to be responsive to the needs of local people and not sell off estates and make the place fit for the property companies to move in, the Secretary of State can remove that quango from office. That is the system of government that will be introduced by the Bill.

Our amendments would at least ensure that local authorities were able to express a definitive point of view regarding the establishment of HATs. I cannot imagine any circumstances in which a local authority, unless it was mad, would support the establishment of a HAT, because it would be stuck with the debt charges for buildings that already exist and might lose particular estates.

Although the Bill refers to housing action trusts playing a part in solving the problems of homelessness and overcrowding, unless I have missed something in it—hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee will correct me if I am wrong—the trusts would not have the same statutory responsibilities as local authorities to house people under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977. This is a generosity of spirit approach. I imagine that a housing action trust that gets an estate ready to sell off will not want to become too involved in bringing to the estate a lot of homeless families who want to buy the houses they are being put into. That represents yet another diminution of opportunities for the homeless.

10.15 am

If this process goes on, before this Parliament is out the same Secretary of State will arrive at the Dispatch Box to propose the suspension or repeal of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act. Many authorities are already in breach of their statutory undertakings because they do not have the homes into which to put people. Our amendments are basic and central to what we are trying to achieve which is to give tenants the right at least to have a say in what goes on in their own estates.

I shall quote briefly from the Conservative manifesto on which the Tories fought the last election. It says that the Conservative Government will give people greater choice and responsibility over their own lives", and continues: Our goal is a capital owning democracy of people and families who exercise power over their own lives … They would take the important decisions as tenants … rather than having them taken for them … People want to decide such things for themselves …This Government has made it easier for people to decide such things for themselves. What contemptible hogwash. The Tories say that in an election campaign, under the spurious cloak of freedom for those with money and enslavement for those without it, and propose now to direct that certain estates be taken away from local authorities and handed over to housing action trusts, and the one group of people who are to have no say in the matter are the tenants who live on the estates. That is the pass to which the Bill has brought us.

The establishment of housing action trusts, the powers that they would have and the need for people to be consulted are important issues. The schedules to the Bill deal with the way in which the trusts will operate but are extremely vague about their constitutions, for example. They seem to give all the powers to the Secretary of State. The schedules are vague about remuneration, too. Will people on salaries of £50,000 a year, or more, take over big estates?

The schedules also mention staff, but say nothing about the conditions in which they will work. If staff are taken over from local authorities by housing action trusts, will they be employed on local authority conditions? I am sponsored by the National Union of Public Employees, which includes a large number of members who work on housing estates—cleaners, caretakers, porters, lift repairers and all the maintenance workers that are necessary on estates. Are we to assume that behind the Bill lies an attempt to privatise many of the estates' services, to remove local authority conditions and the rights of trade unions to negotiate conditions for their members, and to replace them by new sorts of negotiations or imposed working practices? This is a Trojan horse that will destroy the living conditions of a large number of local authority staff who are already low-paid

Mr. McCartney

I ask my hon. Friend not to read too much into what appears on the face of the Bill. I remind him of the publication by the Government on Thursday morning of the proposals for the selling of council property, albeit in the first instance with the tacit support of the local authority. In the context of that White Paper, there is a clear indication that it would be ultra vires for the local authority and whoever buys the property to make arrangements for the transfer of the staff or for the contracts to be continued by staff of the local authority. That is even worse than what is on the face of the Bill. There is a taking away of any right to continue the work or even to tender for the work.

Mr. Corbyn

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that. I was much involved in the transfer of former GLC housing estates to London boroughs. I was a negotiator on behalf of my union, and at that time there was never any suggestion, even from the Tory-controlled GLC, that there would be anything other than continuity of employment and recognition of past employment practices and of the contract of employment and all the working conditions that went with it. Those rights would be protected for individual employees who went to their new employer. There was no question about that.

Then we had the abolition of the GLC and the transfer of staff. For the most part, the paving Bill and the legislation and negotiations that followed recognised continuity of employment and the protection of the employment practices that people had enjoyed while working for the GLC.

Under the Bill an estate could be taken away from a local authority, and apparently the staff on that estate will be given no protection whatever. Once they lose their continuity of employment, they lose the right to go to an industrial tribunal. That is important if people are being winkled out of their jobs by the new housing action trusts to make way for a private maintenance company to come in and run the estate. These are serious matters, but not one word is said about consulting the staff who work on the estates. Tenants will at least get an inkling, but the people who work on the estates are not even mentioned in this matter of the transfer.

The Bill is vague on the question of meetings and procedures. It merely says: The quorum of the trust and the arrangements relating to its meetings shall, subject to any directions given by the Secretary of State, be such as the trust may determine. Apparently the trusts can do as they like. The Bill also says: The validity of any proceedings of the trust shall not be affected by any vacancy among its members or by any defect in the appointment of any of its members. Presumably that is a protection against the Secretary of State, who is the most notorious law-breaker in the Government. It does not say anything about the applicability of the Public Bodies Admission to Meetings Act 1960, which would guarantee that the proceedings were held in public. From my reading of this, for all we know the meetings could be held in secret, and proceedings might not be published or made available to tenants who live on an estate that the housing trust has taken over.

There is much more that is dangerous and bad about this proposal and the lack of consultation that goes with it. If we allow the Bill to go through without making at least this small amendment, which would give tenants a real say about the transfer of their estate, we will allow legal robbery to take place. The trust will be able to take an estate away from a local authority, from the people who built and paid for it. Such estates were paid for, not by the Government, but by local authorities, which borrowed the money with the agreement of the Government. That estate will be given to the housing action trust, which will repatriate the profits to the Secretary of State, and the local authority will be stuck with the historic debt charges for the estate. That is the opposite of choice arid consultation and the opposite of democracy. I hope that the House will support the amendments.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

The Secretary of State is to be invested with massive powers under part III of the Bill. Clause 56 paves the way for those powers. This is consistent with the policy that the Government, and particularly the Secretary of State, are adopting in legislation such as this Bill and the poll tax measures. They give massive authority to the Secretary of State. When I described the Secretary of State in that context as a municipal Mussolini, he thought that it was a term of endearment and did not understand the criticism.

I feel that the powers that are to be exercised over council housing estates and the pushing of them into housing action trusts is a disgrace when the history, achievement and democratic arrangements that surround the operation of council housing are taken into account.

Without the agreement of their elected representatives, or tenants taking part in a ballot, the council housing estates are to be moved into housing action trusts. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) drew an analogy between the provisions and the practices of Reader's Digest in consulting people on whether they wish to become readers of that magazine. That analogy was apt, in that sometimes when one has with Reader's Digestand one sends the "No" answer back, one still receives the magazine. In this case, the housing action trusts will still be thrown upon residents.

A minimum form of consultation is required in clause 56 before a designation order can be issued by the Secretary of State. However, subsection (3), which amendment No. 308 rightly seeks to delete, allows consultation to take place prior to the Bill becoming an Act. That displays the arrogance of the Secretary of State and the Government, in that retrospective legislation is plainly intended. In fact, the provisions are worse than those that would be found in retrospective legislation, because they deal with matters affecting the present and then operate them only in the future. That assumes that the measure before us will be accepted in total. However, it is possible that legislation dealt with within a parliamentary system will be adjusted, amended or rejected. If that occurred, what would happen under this measure is that the current situation would be affected by legislation, or pieces of legislation, that will never come to fruition. That is not quite the same as retrospective legislation, but is an interference with the current situation by threatening something that will come along in the future. That is not the rule of law under democratic processes, but is something that might better be described as the "rule of Ridley".

Amendment No. 87 seeks a veto for the majority of tenants in an area where they do not want a housing action trust. That is the least that could be expected.

Council housing should be given the proper perspective when we consider this measure. At the time of the first world war working-class people lived entirely in private, rented accommodation—in insanitary hovels. It was because of the desire for housing that the Labour party got off the ground. It was not just because of trade union involvement. There was community involvement to gain decent and improved conditions for many people.

In areas such as Glasgow, the Labour party involved itself in rent strikes in 1916, and the one great success of the 1924 minority Labour Government was the Wheatly Housing Act, which enabled municipal authorities, which were increasingly moving towards Labour—for example, the Sheffield municipal authority—to embark upon council housing provision with the full support of working people, because it was to their benefit and they involved themselves in achieving an improved community. In fact, the gradual pull out of the depression in the 1930s was associated with improvements in housing—and nowhere was that improvement greater than in council house development.

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Under the 1945 Labour Government, the insistence on public provision of decent housing within the local government sector was a key element in maintaining standards and the gradual development towards improving provision in society. Labour district councils have a proud housing record, even though they have been hamstrung by excessive interest rates for building council housing, so that money has to be borrowed over 60 years, and by the cuts imposed by the Government. There have also been periodic attacks on council housing through anti-social legislation such as this Bill and the Housing Finance Act 1972. That Act was courageously fought by many people in my constituency, which I am proud to represent. It was also fought by the Clay Cross councillors, supported by their population, by 3,000 tenants in the Chesterfield rural district area and by 25 per cent. of tenants in what was then the urban district of Dronfield. The Bill seeks to crack that heritage. It is part of a fight against the Labour party in local government.

Mr. Cummings

My hon. Friend is well known in my constituency—indeed, he was born there. Will he comment on the plight of the Peterlee council home purchasers association? People bought council properties in good faith, which subsequently were found to be defective. Those people are now being denied funding from financial institutions to renovate their properties and they are finding it difficult to sell them because the same financial institution will not provide mortgage facilities.

The Minister does not want to know. I wonder whether there is any provision within HATs to give some succour to those who, in good faith, entered into—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Housing Defects Act 1984, which has nothing to do with the legislation before us.

Mr. Cummings

The HATs appear to be directed towards properties that can maximise profit. I want to know how the HATs will deal with home purchasers in their areas. Will it be flesh for one and fish for another?

Mr. Barnes

My hon. Friend has made a fruitful contribution and I hope that the Secretary of State will respond to it. I was especially pleased to give way to my hon. Friend because many of my relatives are his constituents and I know that there is great resentment in his constituency towards this legislation.

The idea lying behind much of the Government's local government legislation—such as the poll tax, the various cuts, the grant and rate capping, the proposed poll tax capping and this Bill—is a political attempt to smash Labour's base. It is a similar tactic to that used in the Ridley plan to take on the trade unions. It is an abuse of parliamentary procedures by a Government who are deliberately changing legislation in an attempt to hammer one element of the political nation for their own political advantage. They do not pursue their views, values and interests and try to capture the support of the people and hit the Opposition in that secondary manner. Instead, they are directly developing plans to perpetuate themselves in office and undermine a significant element of the political nation. The idea of going forward in that way will seriously misfire, because the Government will push housing back to the pre-1914 situation that I have described, with all its hideous effects. As a result, working people will need Socialist-type housing, and that can be provided only by the Labour party. Instead of housing action trusts, we need more local authority housing, cuts in local authority interest rate burdens, restored rate support grants and tenants co-operatives and housing associations set on a decent footing, not as provided for in the Bill.

I am reluctant to mention council housing problems in north-east Derbyshire in case the Secretary of State decides to stick one of his HATs on the area out of pique, against the point that we are making, but there are many problems. There is a good district council in north-east Derbyshire. It is not an extravagant council, and it looks after the population well and links in well with it. However, it still faces difficulties, one of which is the need for a massive central heating programme.

Some properties have had Parkray fires installed as the first stage of a central heating programme, but the money has not been available later to extend the programme. A nonsensical situation then develops in the winter, with Parkray fires and no central heating. People have to stoke up their fires, open the glass doors and huddle round the fire to keep warm. The water then boils up to such an extent that it has to be run off through the tap rather than going round the central heating system that should have been provided, yet what do we get? We get legislation to introduce water meters and privatisation of the water industry. Mayhem develops and there are cuts and great pressures in those areas, to such an extent that the nonsensical provisions in this measure begin to have a superficial attraction. However, they will not have that superficial attraction in an area such as north-east Derbyshire, where people are aware of the problems that the council faces and see the council as being associated with their interests and the local councillors as being close to the problems.

I hope that the Secretary of State will decide to remove HATs from this measure, give the councils the funds and authority to carry out their duties and help provide secure warm homes for our people at prices that they can afford. I doubt whether that situation will come about, so I can only ask hon. Members to support the amendment.

Ms. Primarolo

These amendments deal particularly with the question of consultation. Two Labour Members have quoted from the Conservative party manifesto for the last general election. That brought groans from the three members of the Government who were in the Chamber at that time. However, it is crucial to this part of the Bill, and we are referring to it because it demonstrates the illusion that the Government are attempting to perpetrate on the British people by trying to persuade them that they are being given a choice and are being consulted, when they are not.

In the announcements that the Government made in the run-up to the introduction of the Bill they talked about tenants being alienated from the landlords, and about accommodation and resource problems. Their solution to all those problems was to give the tenant, whether private, council or housing association, the right to choose and the right to have responsibility.

In a speech in Bristol the Minister for Housing and Planning made several assertions that go directly to the heart of these amendments. He said: Until recently, no-one seems to have stopped to ask: houses owned by whom? Built where? According to what ideas about how people like to live? I hate to disabuse the Minister, but we have a long housing history, through the Addison Acts, the Wheatley Acts and through the work of the Ministry of Reconstruction, which looked at exactly those questions. Indeed, local authorities have a long history of examining the way in which they run their council housing stock. We have never said that everything in the local authorities is hunky-dory. We know that it is not and that there are severe problems with design, location and, at times, the management of the housing stock. Local authorities are attempting to change their management and design practices to overcome those problems.

One way of overcoming the problems is through the key idea of consultation, partnership and involvement. To be consulted, one needs to have information to be able to make judgments about whether one wants to be in a housing action trust. Much earlier this morning the Minister of State said that the consultation would be split into two areas. The first would be consultation with the local authorities and the tenants involved on whether the housing action trust would be set up.

The Minister gave three phases. First, a prospective area would be declared unilaterally by him. Secondly, there would be consultation which, according to the example that he gave, would be in the form of a "Dear Occupier" letter. The Minister did not tell us whether that letter would have a tear-off slip, or whether the tenants would be asked to respond on what they thought about the housing action trust—just that the tenants would be informed and that there would be a draft letter. [Interruption.]I am prompted to say that the Minister did not tell us the number of languages in which the letter might be written to help to ensure that people understand what their rights are if their mother tongue is not English. That point would deal with specific queries that were raised last night about ways of dealing with the Race Relations Act 1976. Then the Secretary of State will decide.

In response to some of the points raised by Opposition Members, the Minister said that the consultation about the ways in which the housing action trusts would function would involve their aims and the ways in which they would negotiate with their tenants once they were running. He said that those questions would be for the housing action trust to decide and consult on after it had been set up. Clearly, before tenants decide whether they want to be in a housing action trust, they need to know exactly what it will do.

10.45 am

The Opposition have referred a great deal to consultation. I looked up the definition in the dictionary, as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) had assured us that even the Secretary of State could not rewrite definitions. "Consult" means: ask, question, interrogate, canvass, confer, discuss, deliberate, refer to, turn to, seek advice from. consider, regard, respect"— and, most important — take into account. The three-point explanation from the Secretary of State did not deal with that definition. It appears that the Government's definition of consultation is, "Your choice is what we tell you. Your responsibility is what we as a Government decide is best for you." The Minister for Housing and Planning has made great play in many speeches—including the speech in Bristol and his comments in Committee—of the idea that there had been cataclysmic mistakes in housing and planning policy throughout this century and that the Department of the Environment and local authorities should take their share of the responsibility, so we are to have housing action trusts as the experiment.

The legislation learns nothing from the errors of expenditure and of excluding tenants from actively participating in the management, design and maintenance of their homes. It does exactly what the Minister claims this "great piece" of legislation will not do—it dictates another formula to be followed through in housing. This is to be done in secrecy and with the minimum of publicity.

I remember, although I do not know why, a prominent member of the Government who made her maiden speech on 5 February 1960, the subject being the access of tenants and members of the public to information, publicity and council meetings. I am sure that every hon. Member endorses the practice of giving the public access. I shall not read the speech to the House, although I am sure that the right hon. Lady would be flattered if I did. The main points of the speech were that people needed information to make decisions. To exercise choice and responsibility, people needed information. To control those who made decisions on their behalf, they needed information and to be consulted and to participate. The right hon. Lady concluded her maiden speech with a sentence with which I entirely agree: the paramount function of this distinguished House is to safeguard civil liberties rather than to think that administrative convenience should take first place in law." —[Official Report, 5 February 1960; Vol. 616, c. 1357.] That was the concluding sentence of the Prime Minister's maiden speech.

One aspect of civil liberties is the right of people to say what will happen to their homes, especially when they are being conned by the Government into believing that they have a choice and will be able to exercise responsibility, when they will not be able to do so.

Mr. Bradley

An excellent survey undertaken by Manchester's housing research section revealed that 93 per cent. of council tenants in a HAT area expressed a preference to remain with the council rather than be transferred to a HAT. Eighty-nine per cent. of those responding thought that HATs were a bad idea and wished to remain as local authority tenants, come what may.

Ms. Primarolo

I have seen that survey and am pleased with its findings. It confirms what was said earlier by the Secretary of State when he mentioned a survey into the choice that tenants would make. The Secretary of State said that 21 per cent. of tenants would choose some form of social landlord. Presumably the term "social landlord" itself was not used, but interviewees would have named building societies, and so on. The Secretary of State said also that 21 per cent. of those interviewed required more information. He did not say what information that was. Presumably he did not know because he had not asked.

However, that leaves 52 per cent. of interviewees. The Secretary of State did not provide the House with any further figures, so presumably those 52 per cent. are the people who would vote against the transfer. That shows that the Government have no intention of learning from their mistakes, of making any adjustments, or of implementing an open government system as they claim they wish to do. What the Government are about is asset-stripping local authority housing stocks through the creation of housing action trusts and passing on as much of the burden as possible to —

Mrs. Wise

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it customary for Government Members, including the Minister, to take no notice whatsoever of an hon. Member's speech, but to conduct a conversation with much hilarity?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Common courtesy should be extended to whomsoever is addressing the House at the time.

Ms. Primarolo

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can only assume that Government Members are experiencing extreme alienation.

Mr. Corbyn

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for both the Under-Secretary of State and the Secretary of State to carry on behaving oafishly, as they have done for most of the morning, when an hon. Lady is addressing the House on this very important Bill?

Madam Deputy Speaker

It is a matter of common courtesy that hon. Members should have the tolerance to listen to all views, whether they be popular or unpopular, and irrespective of the speaker's sex.

Ms. Primarolo

Thank you again, Madam Deputy Speaker. I certainly agree with your sentiments. Such a courtesy should be extended to any hon. Member, and not just on the basis of sex. Perhaps that behaviour indicates what a very long night some hon. Members have had—including you, Madam Deputy Speaker—whereas other hon. Members have arrived fresh, having not participated, simply to cause problems in the debate. I refer, of course, to Government Members.

Under the guise of bestowing rights, and by trying to persuade tenants that they would be better off, the Government are establishing a formula for asset-stripping local authority housing and potentially putting at risk the remaining tenants, who could be faced with rent increases because of the unsatisfactory relationship between the methods of payment for those houses. I shall not discuss that now, because other amendments deal with the subject.

Ministers do not understand the definition of consultation. They are prepared to mislead and deceive the electorate with their "newspeak", saying that householders will have choices, whereas they will not. They claim to be introducing radical legislation that has learnt from all the mistakes of the past, but it has not. They make speeches without understanding properly the history of housing in this century. Within about five or six hours, albeit in the early hours of this morning, the Secretary of State and the Minister for Housing and Planning gave conflicting answers to the House. One minute the Government were trying to imply that tenants would not be forced against their will into housing action trusts, and the next minute they were saying, "But we hope that we can get agreement." There was no mention of whether the local authority should agree with it, or of the workers in that authority. There was no mention of proper democratic rights so that, at the end of the process, people would be able to control and participate in the management of their homes.

The only way in which this sham can be partly improved—unfortunately, it cannot be defeated completely—is to accept the Opposition amendments. If they are not accepted, it will be clear that the Government are trying to experiment with people's homes and their security, misleading them as to their rights and to what they may have in the future, simply to prove an unaccountable doctrinal point. We do not want the Government to perform such experiments on the British people.

I hope that this group of amendments will be accepted and that we shall make the subsequent amendments to the housing action trusts to ensure that they are not a con or a form of asset-stripping. Most important, we must ensure that housing action trusts do not steal the money and assets that working people have invested in their council houses and give them to individuals for private profit.

Mr. McCartney

In Committee I dealt with this issue at length and discussed the principle behind the Government's concept of freedom and housing action trusts and how that tied up with urban development councils and what happened in previous legislation.

When discussing amendment No. 87, we should start with the White Paper published at 9 o'clock last Thursday morning entitled "Large Scale Voluntary Transfers of Local Authority Housing to Private Bodies." Paragraph 8 deals with protecting the interests of existing tenants and consultation with tenants. This is the commitment given by the Secretary of State: Under Section 6 of the Housing and Planning Act 1986, existing secure tenants of the local authority must he consulted before consent is given; and the disposal must not go ahead if a majority of the tenants affected oppose it. This Section does not apply to disposals to registered housing associations (although the current Housing Bill will change this) but the Secretary of State will normally expect the same rules to be followed even in these cases. The Dept of the Environment and the Welsh Office have issued a circular (6/88) which explains how Section 6 procedures should be operated. Less than a week ago, at the beginning of the Report stage, the Government—without consultation, except with local authorities—issued a document about the large-scale transfer of local authority housing to bodies other than housing action trusts. They have given a commitment identical to that demanded by my hon. Friends for the past four hours in respect of HATs.

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If the Government are not yet again to be faced with a complete dichotomy of view, we must depend on the measures that they decide to take to divest local authorities of housing stock. Local authority tenants may be consulted, and there may be a ballot to prevent them from being transferred to landlords not of their choice. Unfortunately, HAT tenants will he transferred without any real consultation or any consideration being given to their rights and wishes.

The north-west has seen the abolition of Greater Manchester and Merseyside metropolitan authorities. There is a link between what is happening in the metropolitan districts and the imposition of UDCs. Without any major abolition Bills being brought before the House, the Government are slowly but surely abolishing local government from large parts of the north-west, Tyne and Wear and other metropolitan areas. Without having presented the electorate at the general election with another proposal to abolish metropolitan district councils, the Government are now using such measures as UDCs and HATs to denude the local electorate—and through the electorate the elected members of local authorities—of many local government services currently provided through democratic accountability.

The Government fail to understand what is happening in local authorities. HATs are not unique. The Government are prepared in other circumstances to abolish the role of local government in the provision of services. What they do not say is that there are other means of providing far more democratic accountability.

Let me tell the Minister how tenants' consultations are dealt with in my local authority and relate that to what is happening in a London authority, with the Government's assistance. I should also like to discuss what is happening, in my constituency and others, to mining communities, with the connivance of the Government and British Coal.

I do not argue that everything is rosy in Wigan metropolitan borough council, that a mistake has never been made in its housing policies or that it does not wish to amend parts of its housing policy. But the borough has a sophisticated means of genuine consultation with residents and tenants, involving day-to-day housing management, the repairs programme, the allocation of resources in the community, the environmental strategies and the delivery of support services on priority estates and in designated housing action areas. That applies not just to council housing but to the concept of consultation with residents outwith the council housing stock. The arguments about HATs are not just about transferring local authority assets to the trust. In some larger trusts, houses in the private sector may also be included within the trust's boundaries. It is important to argue for the right of all tenants in the community, not just council tenants, to have a say in the development of support services for housing.

Wigan metropolitan borough council has designated 17 areas of major social and environmental deprivation on council housing estates. In addition, we have a rolling programme of housing action areas in our mining villages and townships where, because of its decay, the private sector has failed to pick up and improve the environment and housing conditions. The local authority has a long-term investment policy for upgrading, through housing action areas and the grant system, to improve the whole aspect of housing in the private sector.

That involvement has been achieved with the consent of the residents. I want to highlight the nature of that consultation and show how we developed an idea about a policy change through to the inception of the policy and how that policy is carried out with the consent and involvement of residents. In identifying the housing needs of the community—in this instance local authority estates —the first action is taken at a meeting of local authority tenants' representatives, local authority officers in the main departments involved and the local elected councillors to establish the priorities for that estate. Following the establishment of the principles of the priorities for the estate, an initiative group is made up of elected members and representatives of the local authority departments, tenants' organisations and outside agencies such as the Health Service, community nursing, the police and other community groups, including the probation service. It is the job of that initiative group to agree a programme of consultation, and a time scale for that consultation, with the residents on the estate. It must produce a draft report to highlight the issues that must be considered with the residents. It must decide what is to be achieved at the end of the consultation and the basic priority report to be presented to the next session of the residents' meetings. Following the work of the initiative group, a preparatory report is prepared for tenants' and residents' meetings. Those meetings are held on the estate or in a designated housing action area.

The housing action area on the estate is broken down into zones so that consultation may take place in a meaningful sense with groups of residents in a block of flats or a street of flats, and there are no huge meetings involving 200 or 300 people. Instead, people are consulted individually.

The appointment of the chair of the consultation meetings is independent of the local authority, and the decisions of the meeting form the basis of the provisional reports submitted to the local authority. The provisional report will also include provisional plans drawn up by the residents in consultation with the community and landscape architects employed by the local authority.

All the proposals put forward by the residents at the consultation meetings are included in the report submitted by the tenants for the consideration of elected members. The report includes initiatives for the use of land resources on the estate, the use of open spaces for leisure or play facilities, the bringing of derelict land into community use, the fabric of the buildings and the refurbishment of buildings inside and out and the delivery and quality of services provided by the housing department and all other support services working on or around the estate or in the designated housing action area.

Once that preparatory plan has been approved, further tenants' and residents' consultation meetings take place to enable them to give a final view of the provisional report and plans. The local authority then holds a formal meeting with tenants in the residents' association, following which every resident receives a provisional newsletter and an individual letter seeking final views on the proposals to be put to the local authority, the Department of the Environment, the Manpower Services Commission or any other funding agency involved in the refurbishment programme.

That is a detail summation of the way in which Wigan metropolitan borough council deals with its residents and tenants, whether in a local authority housing estate or in the private sector of a designated housing action area. Once the report and scheme have been approved and submitted for financial resources, provisional starting dates are agreed between the residents and the local authority. Dates for reporting back on the progress of the scheme are also approved.

During the scheme a further report is approved for the continuation of consultation with residents about the delivery of services after the completion of any refurbishment scheme. That is vital. Consultations are not just about the scheme during the scheme, but are part and parcel of the delivery of services after the refurbishment programme. Throughout the whole programme a genuine close working relationship grows up between the local authority, its agencies and services with the residents in the community.

It is essential that when the Minister replies to the debate he gives a clear sign whether his Department believes that the type of consultation procedures that Wigan operates is the type that he wishes to see operated by the HATs. I do not say that flippantly. The Department of the Environment is greatly interested in Wigan metropolitan borough council. It has already used two of our estates for training programmes for officers of its Department and for officers of other local authorities. The authority has participated in the production of a Department of the Environment video on consultation procedures and good working practices by local authorities with residents, both in council housing estates and in designated housing action areas. Therefore, the Minister cannot say that he is ignorant of what is going on. The DOE approached the authority of its own volition, asking to study its best practices in order to enlighten Department officers and local authorities about the work done there.

What are the positive results of involving tenants and residents in that process? My constituency probably has the greatest difficulties in the type, age and availability of its housing stock. We have seen a transformation of the private sector over the past six years. In villages such as Spring View we have seen a resurgence of the community and almost 90 per cent. take-up through the housing action area, an elected local representatives' committee with equal representation elected by residents and the local authority, an uptake of grants, environmental improvements, the establishment of a community centre and other developments, and the reintroduction of retail outlets, such as small village shops, doctors and other services. In the past year we have seen on the housing estates of Miller's Lane and, in the Wigan constituency, Norley Hall a transformation in the delivery of services and the involvement of tenants and residents. We have seen the growth of strong, vibrant local residents' and tenants' associations working with the local authority. Even now on the Norley Hall estate we have almost reached the stage where tenants are sitting down annually to work out the budget for the estate and to determine housing and services that are crucial to the development and improvement of the estate's environment. Those are positive results. A true sense of democracy has been introduced. The residents not only have a say in the development of the services and the refurbishment of their estates, but, in the long run, are involved in the day-to-day running of it and the delivery of such services.

11.15 am

As a result of such developments, the community is reinvigorated. People feel part of it and want to live on the estates. There is a dramatic fall in the number of lets on council house estates, as well as a dramatic fall in the number of vacant properties in the private sector. Such advances have been achieved by local authorities, and we must extend them to other local authorities and allow Wigan borough council to extend such achievements to other parts of the borough. The diminution of the resources available for the housing investment programme is not the answer. The HIP allocations to local authorities should be expanded and the Government should adopt a positive approach, give priority to the estate programme developments and encourage positive action by local authorities in conjunction with tenant and resident associations.

In Committee I discussed these matters with the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I am afraid that, once again, the hon. Lady has absented herself from the Chamber. I do not know whether the hon. Lady has gone back to Finland or whether her absence is a temporary one. Unfortunately, on every occasion when I seek to grapple with the hon. Lady—if I may use such a word—she seems to disappear. I am aware that in the past three months her fellow Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has been following this debate. I know that he has already met representatives from Wigan borough council and that he intends to visit the area in the summer. I am sure that he is clued up about Wigan and will be able to answer my questions.

In Committee I discussed the problems of sham consultations in respect of HATs. I had got into some difficulty with the Chairman about that. I said: I was trying to outline the problems that may arise from sham consultations. Will the Minister consider one practical possibility? A housing action trust may cover more than one estate or area, either within a single borough or across two boroughs. After consultations, the residents of one estate may decide that they would like the HAT to have a neighbourhood office in their area, instead of centralised, bureaucratic control some distance away. If, at that stage in the consultation procedure, the HAT refused that request, would the Secretary of State take action to ensure that a neighbourhood office could be provided to work directly with the tenants or residents?"—[Official Report, Standing CommitteeG, 16 February 1988; c. 881.] Such action would be essential to ensure consultation and the breadth of services provided by HATs.

In Committee it became clear that the Minister could introduce at a later stage—perhaps not with the six initial HATs—HATs that not only crossed metropolitan and other council boundaries but could be set up within the boroughs so that part of the housing stock could be joined in a housing action trust with the housing stock of another part of the borough.

What happens in a FIAT area where there is no current tenant or resident organisation? If the Government are to introduce common sense to their consultation proposals, it is essential that there is a fall-back position. In Wigan, where no current tenants organisation exists the authority, at the outset of the consultation procedure, has, as a matter of principle, assisted in establishing tenants and residents organisations. That ensures that there is a body independent of the authority which can represent the interests and views of the residents so that the consultation procedure is meaningful. In that way a body of opinion exists that represents the residents and if necessary it can negotiate and put across the views of those residents on proposals, not only about the property, but about the environment in which that property is situated.

The Minister should add a little more flesh to the views expressed by the Secretary of State. As well as having examined what happens in Wigan and other local authorities, we should consider, as a forerunner of housing action trusts, the example of Thamesmead. The Government have said on various occasions that, although Thamesmead is not a housing action trust in the terms of the Bill, it is certainly one of the organisations that they would look to as a mirror image of what should happen in a well-run HAT. So it is important to try to outline what has happened so far in Thamesmead and to relate that to what will happen in HATS if there is no real consultation procedure and no meaningful involvement of the residents. They should have a genuine say in what happens on the estate and in the development of policies for the estate —in the management of the housing stock, the development of land resources and the refurbishment of the environment.

The document "Thamesmead in Private Hands" says: Thamesmead Town Limited just is not unpopular. The figures from the MORI poll conducted in 1988 show clearly that for the residents of Thamesmead as a whole, not even one fifth of them want their present landlord and show that it was the votes of the owner occupiers in the 1985 ballot who swung the vote against the local authority joint community trust option. The vast bulk of tenants would prefer some form of public ownership. In January—February 1986, Clive Thornton, the chairman of the board of Thamesmead, promised in an article in a magazine called "Roof": I intend to ensure that there is a process of referenda and regular communication even covering such basic issues a s rent. Four months after Thamesmead acquired the estate, it made 5,500 applications to the rent officer for the registration of fair rents. There was no consultation, referendum or regular communication. It was clear from the number of those applications that the action was planned by the company months in advance. So much for the promises of a continuing relationship with the residents and tenants, and so much for the myth of accountability.

The Secretary of State seemed to hint earlier in the debate this morning that HATs could have associations of tenants and residents, but he was not prepared precisely to outline the nature of such bodies. At the back of his mind he may have been thinking about the arrangements in Thamesmead. In the article I referred to earlier, Mr. Thornton also said that he wanted "direct democracy" on Thamesmead. Exactly what that means can be seen from the way in which the operations of the nine community directors are restricted. None of them is an executive director. The company has all the real power, and it consists of Clive Thornton, the chairman, Phillip Glascoe, the chief executive, and a finance director, who is seconded from the National Westminster bank. The nine directors cannot be deselected or reselected for three years. They may not disclose any material relating to confidential items. Although board meetings are public, any item of interest to tenants, such as rents and repairs, is treated as confidential. The community directors may not disclose how they voted on any item, but must uphold the majority decision in public. In practice, that means that there is no way of knowing how or whether they represent their constituencies. The board has control over the election rules, and anyone who leaves it for any reason, such as resignation, cannot run again for election for three years. That prevents any kind of principled opposition being expressed through the ballot box.

That is the type of community forum that will be placed on housing action trusts and on tenants. Through the local government election process tenants have a genuine say in the development and role of their estates and a say in who manages them and represents the tenants. The Bill is not just sham democracy; it is the taking away of democracy and can be likened to what happens in Chile and in other countries where referendums are conducted and then held up as some form of parliamentary democracy. It is a myth to call that accountability. It is in no way acceptable to local authority tenants who have enjoyed the privileges of electing councillors to provide the services.

The Minister must address himself to the crisis in the coalfields in Nottingham and in Lancashire. At the behest of the Government there have been large-scale sales of British Coal property without consultation with the residents. That has left whole communities in a desperate plight. Given the Government's attitude towards housing action trusts, how do they see British Coal's action in terms of consultation? Communities have been disrupted to the point where hundreds of families are living in abject misery. They have no real contact with the new landlord and no say about the repairs policy or about what happens on the estates.

Because of their policies towards British Coal the Government have allowed that situation to fester and there has been disinvestment by British Coal in its housing stock. The British coalfields require an answer to these problems. If what is happening there is indicative of the Government's attitude towards housing action trusts, no wonder tenants in my area are not only worried about the Government's proposals, but fear that they will take away their democratic rights of involvement in the community. They fear that they will lose their real say in what happens in the houses in which they live and in the environment in which the housing stock is placed. It is the development of front-line services that makes a community a living, breathing place for people and not an area for property speculators.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

My constituents do not want to see implemented the policy of selling off their council estates. They want a choice between homes to rent at reasonable rent levels and homes to buy at reasonable prices. They want proper modernisation and security and an end to house price inflation, which is currently being imported into the Nottinghamshire area by speculators. That reduces the chances of local people becoming owner-occupiers. All that they are offered by the Bill, the Tory Government and the local Tory council is the new policy of bodge it and flog it. That is evident in several areas of Nottingham. No new council homes for rent have been built by the Conservative council and waiting lists have been lengthening.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

On a point of order, madam Deputy Speaker. I have been listening carefully to the debate, and the hon. Gentleman's speech does not seem to relate to the amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) has been on his feet for only 40 seconds. He should be allowed to develop his argument.

Mr. Allen

I can understand Conservative Members not appreciating my arguments, but if they care to listen they will find that the truth will out. The local council has also refused to build any new homes for the frail disabled and for the elderly. Houses are cruelly being sold, thus keeping hundreds of disabled people on the special priority waiting list.

The clause and the amendment refer to consultation. In Nottingham, teams of researchers, opinion pollsters, have been crawling round the council estates in Nottingham —in Bestwood, Strelley and elsewhere—asking people what would be the least offensive way for estates to be sold off from under their feet. That is taking place in advance of the passing of the Bill. It appears that the Department of the Environment can act in advance of Parliament. Last week the Tory council planned to sell a block of maisonettes, but that was exposed by the vigilance of local Labour councillors.

It underlines what we said before the general election and last May's local council elections. The Conservatives have continually denied that parts of estates and, under the Bill, whole estates may be sold off. Bradford Court on the Crabtree estate in Bulwell, which is in my constituency, was due to be detopped—which means the removal of the top story of a double maisonette. That raised the condition of that part of the estate to such an extent that the local Tory council took the opportunity of flogging it off. Perhaps more will follow. That took place without the local tenants being notified and without even a letter being sent to say that it was being considered, let alone a proper consultation process, as is embodied in the amendments. It was stopped only because the local Conservative council was found out. It was so embarrassed that it withdrew the proposal at the last meeting of the housing committee. No doubt the proposal will return at the next housing committee if the council feels that the heat is off.

11.30 am

The key question is whether the right to buy council estates as opposed to individual homes will have the same flaws as the individual right to buy. Many people did well out of the right to buy. However, hundreds of my constituents at Bilborough had the right-to-buy carrot dangled in front of them, but cannot now sell their homes. They bought a pig in a poke. No building society will lend on those properties—the BISF steel-framed properties—but the Government, despite representations from myself and my predecessor, have not designated them as defective. My constituents therefore do not qualify for grants to bring their homes up to a mortgageable state. The Tory council, Pontius-Pilate-like, has washed its hands of those people, many of whom are elderly and have quite happily spent between 10 and 30 years as tenants. I beg the Minister—that is not something that I do lightly to accept the moral responsibility of his party and the Government and make new grants available to assist those victims of the right-to-buy policy.

I ask the Minister, even at this late stage, to withdraw the proposals to sell off our council estates, before ever larger numbers of tenants become victims of the short-term, short-sighted and short-changing approach to public housing in Nottingham and throughout the rest of the country.

Mr. Spearing

I rise to reply on this group of amendments, the first of which I moved at about 6.30 am. I confess that if we were a train we would be about 12 hours late. I was expecting to make this contribution about 12 hours ago. The reason why I did not do so is evident to everybody. Unexpectedly, certainly to Tory Members, the intensity of concern throughout the country has been reflected by my hon. Friends and by the variety of practical examples that they have brought to bear on a practical problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley) said that the proto site in Manchester, which might become a housing action trust, was adjacent to an urban development corporation area. He reminded me that the possible site in Newham is also adjacent to an urban development corporation area. Clause 80 enables housing action trusts to get another authority to be an agent for them. That clearly shows a line of policy that the Minister may pursue when transferring housing action trusts to urban development corporations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) mentioned the lack of consultation where one might reasonably have expected it to have occurred. My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) referred to Thamesmead and to the needs of the coalfield areas. My hon. Friends the Members for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong), for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) asked how there could be genuine consultation if the Minister continued to resist amendment No. 87.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I should not like the House to go away with the false impression given by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) that Nottingham does not consult its residents. I shall mention just two projects. One is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, where the tenants were consulted and they decided that they wanted a block of flats to be pulled down. There has been some dispute about what should be put in its place, but the tenants wanted it pulled down.

In our local press the hon. Gentleman has complained about lack of consultation in my constituency. When my constituents were consulted they said that they wanted a block of flats pulled down, and they are coming down. The hon. Gentleman's complaint is a spurious campaign for consultation on something that has not yet even been decided.

Mr. Spearing

I suppose that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman as a stand-in for my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North. I accept my hon. Friend's account of the matter. If the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly about consultation—

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I do.

Mr. Spearing

In that case, the hon. Gentleman should consider the merits of amendment No. 87. I see that he is now hurriedly looking at it. It is only by supporting the amendment that the hon. Gentleman can carry out the Conservative party manifesto, on which he was elected, to consult the people and to give them choice. Unless the House adopts the amendment, which would allow tenants in the proposed HATs to say whether they want them, there will be no fair and effective measure to discover whether they want them. The Secretary of State and the Tory manifesto say, "We will give people choice; we will give them freedom to decide," yet the Secretary of State is resisting an amendment that would provide the very machinery to achieve that. In view of the concern for consultation expressed by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), I hope that the Secretary of State will not resist the amendment.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. An hour and a half ago I briefly summarised clause 56, and, because of the criticisms about lack of consultation, I shall now briefly summarise clause 59. If such a trust were asked for in Nottingham, the clause provides that The trust shall consult every local housing authority or county council and shall take such steps as it considers appropriate to secure …adequate publicity. The clause also provides for those who live in the designated areas to be made aware of the opportunity to make representations about those proposals, and states: the trust shall consider any such representations. I hope that the House will consider that to be a fair summation.

Mr. Spearing

I regret having given way to the hon. Gentleman, because, as I understand it, clause 59 applies to what the trust will do after it has been set up. It is consultation only about what will happen after that. We want consulation before the order is laid. I fear that the hon. Gentleman rushed into speech a little too hastily because he has not understood the sequence of the Bill.

My hon. Friends were absolutely correct to say that all the Government's protestations about consultation have been shown to be what they called a sham unless, even at this late stage, they accept—although I do not think that they will—amendment No. 87 or give a commitment to introduce a similar amendment. If the Government do not do that, people in another place may do so, and they would be well justified. I commend that course to Conservative Members in the other place so that they can put their manifesto into effect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North referred to the question of staff. One of the great problems in this exercise is to obtain sufficient professional people, and there will be delays. There are always complaints about delays in respect of the Government's proposals for selling off council houses. That is because the number of people buying and selling houses in this enterprise opportunity state has increased enormously. One cannot suddenly pull a lever and change the direction of housing policy literally overnight through legislation and expect that the skills in the communities will operate automatically. It does not work like that. Is it intended to lure staff from housing authorities and from housing associations? Only a limited number of people know about housing management. We all know that it is a difficult task, particularly on the legal side, involving transfers and conveyancing. Solicitors will have a wonderful time. There will, therefore, be considerable difficulties on the staff side.

I wish to deal now with the central points contained in the questions that I put to the Secretary of State in my opening speech. That speech was lengthy, but I think that even he would acknowledge that the matters raised were important, and I was grateful for the way in which he attempted to reply to them. We are facing enormous change. There is the possibility of huge areas of council housing being disposed of to other management without even the tenants' choice being taken into account. In those cases involving individual applications to buy there will be a statutory consultation procedure, which we shall deal with later, but this is something different. This is a wholesale transfer by statutory instrument. Other people have called it a sale, and the property will be disposed of at about half-price.

To children in areas with housing action trusts that will be a confiscation, because they will not have the same access to vacancies as they would have under continuing municipal ownership. [Interruption.]The Secretary of State asks why not. They will not be entitled to such access because the tenure stipulated in the Bill, with, for example, mixed operations, will not enable local people to go on to waiting lists or to transfer from one type of tenure to another, such as, from a four-bedroomed house to an old person's dwelling next door, thereby allowing another family to move in, to the extent that they can at present.

I am rather surprised that the Secretary of State does not realise that. If he does not realise that, he cannot understand a great deal about the matter.

Mr. Ridley

I must protest at that because, even in cases of mixed tenure in succession, it is possible that there will be more dwellings because land can be used that is currently unused or underused. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the site occupied by a tower block can often yield more houses when the tower is pulled down than it does when it is standing up. The hon. Gentleman does not realise that, in those mixed tenures, far more people will exercise their right to buy and, therefore, will not be new purchasers. When a housing estate is made more attractive, many more people buy their homes.

Mr. Spearing

We shall deal later with the objectives of housing action trusts, which bear very much on what the Secretary of State has said. However, I wish to take him up on one particular point—that an increased number of people in a housing action trust area will be able to buy their own properties. He has given me the answer to the point that he raised. Does he not realise that, although that may be no immediate disadvantage to the people in the area, when they come to move or to depart this sorry world, their house becomes vacant? If the house is in municipal ownership, somebody living next door may be on the housing list and might be able to take up the vacancy. However—this is happening all over London at the moment—local people are unable to take up such homes because they cannot afford to buy them. Somebody probably comes in from outside, at the market level, and takes the house. People come to see me in my advice service about such matters.

The Secretary of State should hear practical examples from hon. Members who represent other parts of the country. I advise the right hon. Gentleman—I can give him the precise figure—that there are 300 fewer vacancies in the London borough of Newham every year because the stock available is reduced due to house purchases. Good luck to those who have bought, but that means that there are 300 fewer voids for Newham people every year. That is the answer to the Secretary of State, who has just said that more houses will be available for buying. They will not be available for the people who most need them.

11.45 am
Mr. Allan Roberts

The Secretary of State has also assumed that when problem council estates, such as the Hulme estate in Manchester, or the Marsh Lane estate in my constituency, are taken over by housing action trusts, and when money is spent on them and the nature of the development is altered by design improvements, there will be an increase in the number of dwellings. That is an absolute fantasy. When older council estates, such as those of the mid-1960s, have been improved and developed by local authorities or others in partnership, the aim has been to reduce the density. They have got rid of the maisonettes by decapitation. They have improved the environment by reducing the density. There will not be any increase in the number of dwellings. The Secretary of State does not have any idea of what council estates are like.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend has summed up the issue. I will tell the Secretary of State what one council estate is like. It is in an area that he may have in mind for one of his locations. It is the South Canning Town and Custom House Area of my constituency. The Secretary of State referred to tower blocks a moment ago. That area has eight empty tower blocks. It has 800 empty dwellings in the sky. If some of those blocks have to come down, for reasons that I may be able to explain to the House in a future debate, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that 100 homes will not be built on the site of each of those tower blocks. That would not be physically possible unless one rebuilt the tower blocks, and not even the Secretary of State would do that. What the right hon. Gentleman has said is, in mathematical and housing terms, incorrect. I hope that he will check that with his advisers, because I know that he listens to people with experience. If he checks, he may find that I am a little more correct than he is.

I shall comment on the Secretary of State's speech under the following headings: location, retrospection, consultation, hybridisation and aspects of planning. Those are the headings that I shall use, because they are the headings under which the Secretary of State courteously replied to my questions in an earlier speech. First, on the question of location, the Secretary of State still did not spill the beans about the sites. I take his point that he has no absolute obligation to do so, except that in Committee the Minister for Housing and Planning gave an undertaking. He said: The answer is, before the Bill leaves Parliament. While it is before Parliament we shall bring forward our proposals. That has been repeated by the Secretary of State. The Minister of State continued: There will then be a prolonged opportunity to debate them in both Houses."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 9 February 1988; c. 768.] I submit that "them" can only mean those locations. I put it to the Secretary of State again that while he may announce those locations before the Bill leaves Parliament, there will manifestly not be a prolonged opportunity to debate them.

I am glad to welcome—rather like a cricket commentator—the entry of the Minister for Housing and Planning at the very moment when I have been quoting what he said in Committee. I fear that the undertaking that he no doubt gave in good faith—I do not blame the hon. Gentleman—has not been fulfilled by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, perhaps for reasons that they can determine between themselves.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Does my hon. Friend agree that one problem with the Minister's undertaking is that the housing action trusts could be announced during the summer recess, before the Bill leaves Parliament? If that happened the measure would still be in line with what the Minister said, but would be an insult to the House of Commons. We should like an undertaking that the HATs will not be announced while Parliament is in recess.

Mr. Spearing

I hesitate to disagree with an hon. Friend. My hon. Friend might be right about an announcement being made, but it might be made after Report and Third Reading. Theoretically we may have an opportunity to discuss it, but only within the bands set by any Lords amendments. Although there may be an opportunity for prolonged debate, I do not believe that there will be any guarantee once we have finished this debate.

The second of my headings is retrospection. The Secretary of State has said that the legilsation is not retrospective because everyone can read what is in the Bill and it is not like a measure that catches a person because it is unexpected or unknown. The Secretary State says that we know about this, so how can it be retrospective? I try to understand the right hon. Gentleman's mind, and to him that seems reasonable. Alas, from a lawyer's point of view—I invite the Prime Minister to pay attention because she is a lawyer, and we certainly know it—it is not a definition of retrospection. It is a description of retrospection; it is a description of some retrospective legislation.

The Secretary of State was right. We have announcements such as the Budget, and we legislate later to take account of or regularise them, but that is not the same. The right hon. Gentleman invites us to endorse such steps as appear to him best designed to secure that the proposal to designate the area in question is brought to the notice of persons". Whatever the Secretary of State chooses to do to tell people what it is all about, such steps as appear to him best designed covers that definition of consultation, whatever it is. He is self-regulating and acts retrospectively. Although the Secretary of State may be right in his description, he is wrong in his definition.

Mr. Cryer

The Secretary of State has a curious view of retrospective legislation, as he does of most things. Does my hon. Friend agree that the only way that retrospective legislation could be produced under the right hon. Gentleman's definition would be if all public and private Bills going through this place were kept secret? As soon as the First Reading occurs, there is notice that a Bill is on its way through Parliament. There is notice for every bit of legislation. The notion that because people know about a Bill it is not retrospective does not hold water.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend may be right. I understand, to some extent, why the Secretary of State thinks in these ways. My guess is that someone drew up clause 56 to stop judicial reviews. It prevents anyone from claiming that, whatever the Secretary of State does, it cannot be challenged. To that extent this legislation is not as retrospective as the very worst legislation, but it is retrospective in effect.

Mr. Ridley

There is an additional argument, which is so obvious that I imagine that the hon. Gentleman has spotted it. I am perfectly entitled to consult anyone about anything, without requiring any statutory power. As the hon. Gentleman said, the purpose of the clause is merely to make it clear that the fact that I had not undertaken these consultations would not be a ground of challenge after an order was approved by both Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I believe that I divined his thinking correctly, and he has courteously confirmed it. He is in effect waterproofing a particular challenge. However, he has not defined—or divined—that the nature of his consultation may place some people in an impossible position.

The next heading is consultation. I am glad that the Secretary of State has not already taken the steps that he would claim under the clause. That is a good thing. He says that the position will apply only to steps that he will take after an announcement and before and after Royal Assent. I shall deal with that aspect in two parts.

The Secretary of State's first consultation will he after the announcement of any particular area and perhaps before Royal Assent. That is what I might call postman's knock, part A. I presume that nearly everybody in the area will receive a "Dear Occupier" letter, which will spell out what is to happen. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West pointed out that we do not know what questions will be put in that letter, whether a response is expected, as it is under the sales consultation procedure, whether the Secretary of State will provide any information and what will be the nature of that information, and whether he will provide any information about inducements and the advantages of a housing action trust—which he is likely to paint in glowing colours. Incidentally, he is good at painting things in glowing colours, but on canvas rather than in literature.

We do not know, either, whether there will be any buy-out offers. Anyone who is able to buy his home at much reduced prices might certainly wish to do so. The Walker proposal, if I may improperly call it that, was canvassed in the press two weeks ago, and I dare say that it could be incorporated in housing action trusts and in such a letter. We do not know what offers might be made that any sensible person could not refuse.

Knowing the Secretary of State as I do, having read about the Walker proposal, and given the fact that we know that the Prime Minister is very interested in housing action trusts—and her presence in the Chamber at 8 o'clock this morning to support her right hon. Friend was a partial indication of that fact—my suspicion is that he will produce a letter to which there may be objections.

I refer now to the retrospective element, which I fear is particularly dangerous. At that stage of the consultation, the Secretary of State is effectively the applicant, writing to every householder. He is also the informant, deciding how much information will be divulged. If there are any questions to be asked, he will choose their content and the way in which they will be put. He will also be the returning officer, as the recipient of the votes. He will be the teller and the decider, and he has the law on his side.

The Secretary of State can do all that without telling anybody. Unless the hon. Member for Nottingham, South and his hon. Friends vote against this provision, which they ought to do, it will become law, and we are told that it will then constitute a form of consultation approved by the House of Commons.

Mr. Skinner

With all those powers of judge, jury, executioner and everything else, it sounds as though the Secretary of State will be in a position parallel to that of a commissioner in the Common Market. I do not want to start my hon. Friend off on that tack, but is it not worth some examination?

Mr. Spearing

There may be some similarities—

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order, or within the conventions of the House, for a Back-Bench Member to speak from the Opposition Front Bench, even in an intervention?

12 noon

Madam Deputy Speaker

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is nothing to do with the Chair where hon. Members decide to sit in the House.

Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not said in all the annals of the House of Commons that a Member of Parliament may sit on any Bench? I remember an occasion when the former leader of the SDP—he is now leader of the Provos, with an army of three—bustled his way past Opposition Members on the Bench below the Gangway and then nearly knocked over my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) in an attempt to get to the Dispatch Box. He has never looked up since. I am leaving now.

Madam Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is far more learned than I am and will have read all the annals to which he referred.

Mr. Spearing

You will be pleased to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I shall not be tempted towards Brussels and the Common Market, except to say that the centralisation in the Bill is markedly similar to the centralisation in that organisation.

The Secretary of State—I genuinely believe that sometimes he unwittingly deceives himself—has legiti-mised the consultation to such an extent that it is exactly how he wishes it. He now wants the House to say that whatever he does goes. Of course, he has some powers already, but this is an underhand way of doing it. The consultation may not be objective. Therefore, the response to the suggestion of housing action trusts may not be the same as would have been obtained had an objective assessment, not the letter from the Secretary of State, been put to each occupier.

Mr. McCartney

Has my hon. Friend noticed that the Minister for Housing and Planning is back in the Chamber? Many of us have been here since 6.30 yesterday evening. Has the Minister been in bed-and-breakfast accommodation? Some of us are looking rather dishevelled, but the Minister looks smart. He has missed all the questions that we have been dying to ask him, but towards the end of this debate he has turned up with a smile on his face and wearing a clean shirt, tie and shoes.

Mr. Spearing

I hope that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to ask that question direct, but I think I know what is in his mind.

Will housing action trusts shoulder some of the duties of housing the homeless, apart from acting as contractors to the existing local authorities? I fear that they will not.

The "postman's knock" letter is only the first phase of the Secretary of State's consultation. We now come to what happens after Royal Assent. That consultation is covered in clause 59, which, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, South said, regulates what housing action trusts can do once they are set up. But whatever the local gauleiter or his friends choose to do, the Secretary of State can direct otherwise. There is no obligation on housing action trusts to go along with what local people want, nor is there an obligation on the Secretary of State to comply with what the housing action trust wants. He can reverse its decision if he pleases, as I pointed out in my opening remarks. The second phase of consultation that the Secretary of State so proudly unveiled will also be of no avail.

My penultimate point relates to hybridisation. I was rather shocked to hear that the Secretary of State agrees with my observation that there is a high probability that some HAT orders will be rendered hybrid in another place if petitions are laid against them. I emphasise that the Secretary of State's search for areas in which petitions will not be laid may be delaying the announcements.

It is possible that the other place, before or after the passing of an order, could restrict the Secretary of State in the exercise of his options. That might be welcomed by my hon. Friends and me, but it means that the scope and operation of HATs will not be those within the Bill. That affects the whole procedure of consultation.

My final point concerns planning. The Secretary of State said, in reply to a point that I made, "Oh no, planning will not be affected. I shall remain the umpire on the planning laws. All that will happen is that the HAT will take over the functions of the planning authority, and we shall then carry on as before." I hope that that was not too rapid a summary of the burden of his remarks.

Matters are not the same as before. First, the HAT may be too small to operate a proper planning organisation. A borough needs to be fairly big to have a full range of planning skills, which are highly legal and technical. It may get agents in to do the work, but there will be complications. Secondly, although the Secretary of State says, "I will be the umpire," that is not so. He has already made his own strategic plan for the royal docks area in London, and when a planning application comes up he can say that it does or does not lie within the plan that he, as Secretary of State, has already made. The Secretary of State will have powers which will not be assessable by local electors, and which will be exercised from Whitehall rather than from town halls.

All in all, we have here a remarkable multiplication of quangos which will not serve the people, but which will transfer ownership from local municipal organisations to those of other people. We do not know who those other people are. We can only guess that they will be friends of the Secretary of State and that they will be looking for some sort of pay-off.

The means by which all this will be achieved are wholly undemocratic, judged both by local democracy and by the procedures of the House. I call on my hon. Friends to support the amendments.

Mr. Allan Roberts

I commend amendment No. 87 to the House and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for speaking so eloquently, if briefly, on the issue of consultation before a housing action trust is established by the Government.

In my intervention on my hon. Friend's speech I asked the Minister and the Secretary of State if they would give an undertaking that they would not announce during the recess the location of the six HATs that they said would initially be set up. This is important. If the tenants are not to be consulted about the establishment of a HAT—and it will still be established if they are all against it—there should at least be some debate in the House about where they are and the likely effects on the areas in which they are declared. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South will agree with me. We would like to know where the initial six HATs are to be located before the Bill completes its stages in this place, so that we may have a debate at some length and of some significance on the subject. Even after the Bill becomes an Act and the Government decide to declare more HATs in addition to the original six, we would like an assurance from the Secretary of State and the Minister that such an announcement will be made in the House, so that those hon. Members whose constituents are affected and others who are interested can ask questions, receive assurances and discover information from the Government about the declarations and how the HATs will affect their constituents. We do not think that that is too much to ask. There is nothing in the legislation to guarantee that Parliament will be treated properly, that announcements will be made in this place and that we shall get a chance to debate them. I suspect that this is not an issue of too much controversy, and we should receive such an undertaking from the Secretary of State.

Conservative Members have probably purposely misunderstood what the amendments set out to achieve. At a later stage in our proceedings we shall debate what the Government call, "Pick a landlord" and what we call, "Pick a tenant" where a private organisation can ask to take over a council estate. In those circumstances, there will have to be a ballot and 51 per cent. of the people living on the estate must vote against the proposal or the estate will be taken over. We have criticised those arrangements. We believe that that voting system is undemocratic. With regard to the HAT—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. The House will have an opportunity to consider that matter when we reach that point in the Bill.

Mr. Roberts

The point is that with regard to the HATs that we are debating now, there will not even be a chance for that kind of rigged voting. There is nothing in the legislation, as the Secretary of State admitted in an intervention, that requires any consultation with tenants of an area to be declared a housing action trust. We believe that that is completely unacceptable.

The Government claim that they are widening choice, that they are freeing tenants from the shackles of large-scale bureaucratic local authority housing management and that they will provide choice and freedom. However, that will not extend to allowing residents to decide whether they want a HAT imposed on them.

The reason why such a ballot will not be permitted is that most of the council tenants living on most of the estates likely to be selected as targets for housing action trusts would reject the idea of a HAT, if only from the belief that "The devil you know is better than the devil you do not," and that a bureaucratically imposed quango, peopled by the kind of people whom the Secretary of State traditionally appoints to his quangos, such as the development corporations, would be worse at running the affairs of tenants than the local authority. At least the tenants can vote in local elections against the actions of their local authority councillors.

We think that it is because tenants would reject the idea of HATs being imposed on them, particularly as they will not be given the representation that they need on the HAT to manage, control and run their own affairs, that the Government are refusing to accept our amendments, which implement the Conservative manifesto commitment to consult tenants, which the Conservatives claim is their mandate from the last general election.

We believe that the Government's response so far is completely inadequate. The response is totalitarian and it imposes undemocratically elected quangos on council estates which the Government choose to designate without consultation with the local authorities or tenants and residents of the estate. We believe that if the Government or Conservative Back Benchers really believe in choice, consultation and freedom in housing, they should support the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 138, Noes 227.

Division No. 355] [12.14 pm
Allen, Graham Howells, Geraint
Alton, David Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Armstrong, Hilary Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Ashdown, Paddy Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Ashton, Joe Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Barron, Kevin John, Brynmor
Battle, John Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Bell, Stuart Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Kirkwood, Archy
Blair, Tony Lamond, James
Blunkett, David Leadbitter, Ted
Bradley, Keith Litherland, Robert
Bray, Dr Jeremy Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) McAllion, John
Buchan, Norman McCartney, Ian
Buckley, George J. Macdonald, Calum A.
Caborn, Richard McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. McKelvey, William
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McNamara, Kevin
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) McTaggart, Bob
Clay, Bob Madden, Max
Clelland, David Marek, Dr John
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Corbyn, Jeremy Martlew, Eric
Cousins, Jim Maxton, John
Crowther, Stan Meale, Alan
Cummings, John Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Cunningham, Dr John Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Dalyell, Tarn Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Dewar, Donald Morgan, Rhodri
Dixon, Don Mullin, Chris
Doran, Frank Nellist, Dave
Douglas, Dick Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Duffy, A. E. P. O'Brien, William
Dunnachie, Jimmy O'Neill, Martin
Eastham, Ken Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Evans, John (St Helens N) Parry, Robert
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Pendry, Tom
Fearn, Ronald Pike, Peter L.
Fisher, Mark Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Flynn, Paul Primarolo, Dawn
Foster, Derek Quin, Ms Joyce
Fyfe, Maria Radice, Giles
Galbraith, Sam Redmond, Martin
Galloway, George Reid, Dr John
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Richardson, Jo
George, Bruce Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Rogers, Allan
Godman, Dr Norman A. Rooker, Jeff
Golding, Mrs Llin Ruddock, Joan
Gould, Bryan Salmond, Alex
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Short, Clare
Grocott, Bruce Skinner, Dennis
Hardy, Peter Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Haynes, Frank Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Home Robertson, John Soley, Clive
Hood, Jimmy Spearing, Nigel
Steel, Rt Hon David Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Stott, Roger Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Strang, Gavin Wilson, Brian
Straw, Jack Wise, Mrs Audrey
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Worthington, Tony
Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis Wray, Jimmy
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Turner, Dennis
Wallace, James Tellers for the Ayes:
Wareing, Robert N. Mr. Bob Cryer and
Welsh, Andrew (Angus E) Mr. Allen Adams.
Adley, Robert Fookes, Miss Janet
Alexander, Richard Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Forth, Eric
Amess, David Fox, Sir Marcus
Amos, Alan Franks, Cecil
Arbuthnot, James Gale, Roger
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Gardiner, George
Ashby, David Garel-Jones, Tristan
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Gill, Christopher
Batiste, Spencer Goodlad, Alastair
Bellingham, Henry Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bendall, Vivian Gorst, John
Benyon, W. Gow, Ian
Biffen, Rt Hon John Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Green way, Harry (Ealing N)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Gregory, Conal
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Boscawen, Hon Robert Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Boswell, Tim Grist, Ian
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hanley, Jeremy
Bowis, John Hannam, John
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Harris, David
Brazier, Julian Haselhurst, Alan
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Hawkins, Christopher
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hayes, Jerry
Browne, John (Winchester) Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hayward, Robert
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Heathcoat-Amory, David
Buck, Sir Antony Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Burns, Simon Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Burt, Alistair Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Butcher, John Hind, Kenneth
Butler, Chris Holt, Richard
Butterfill, John Hordern, Sir Peter
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Carrington, Matthew Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Carttiss, Michael Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Cash, William Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Chapman, Sydney Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Chope, Christopher Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Churchill, Mr Hunter, Andrew
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Irvine, Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Jack, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Jackson, Robert
Conway, Derek Janman, Tim
Cran, James Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Critchley, Julian Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Key, Robert
Day, Stephen Kilfedder, James
Devlin, Tim King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dickens, Geoffrey Knapman, Roger
Dorrell, Stephen Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dover, Den Knowles, Michael
Dunn, Bob Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Durant, Tony Latham, Michael
Eggar, Tim Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Emery, Sir Peter Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Evennett, David Lightbown, David
Fallon, Michael Lilley, Peter
Favell, Tony Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lord, Michael
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Ryder, Richard
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Sackville, Hon Tom
Maclean, David Sainsbury, Hon Tim
McLoughlin, Patrick Sayeed, Jonathan
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Mans, Keith Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Marland, Paul Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Shersby, Michael
Mates, Michael Sims, Roger
Maude, Hon Francis Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Soames, Hon Nicholas
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Speller, Tony
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Mellor, David Stanbrook, Ivor
Mills, Iain Stern, Michael
Miscampbell, Norman Stevens, Lewis
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Summerson, Hugo
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Monro, Sir Hector Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Temple-Morris, Peter
Morrison, Sir Charles Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Thorne, Neil
Moss, Malcolm Townend, John (Bridlington)
Neale, Gerrard Tracey, Richard
Nelson, Anthony Trippier, David
Neubert, Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Waddington, Rt Hon David
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Waldegrave, Hon William
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Ward, John
Patnick, Irvine Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Pawsey, James Warren, Kenneth
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Watts, John
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Wells, Bowen
Porter, David (Waveney) Wheeler, John
Powell, William (Corby) Whitney, Ray
Price, Sir David Widdecombe, Ann
Rathbone, Tim Wilshire, David
Redwood, John Winterton, Mrs Ann
Rhodes James, Robert Winterton, Nicholas
Riddick, Graham Wolfson, Mark
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Wood, Timothy
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Young, Sir George (Acton)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Rossi, Sir Hugh Tellers for the Noes:
Rost, Peter Mr. Peter Lloyd and
Rowe, Andrew Mr. Kenneth Carlisle
Rumbold, Mrs Angela

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 87, in page 41, line 20, at end insert—

'(4) If, as a result of consultation under this section, it appears to the Secretary of State that a majority of persons consulted under subsection (2) above are opposed to the designation of the proposed designated area, he shall not make an order under section 55 above designating the said area.'.—[Mr. Allan Roberts.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 133, Noes 219.

Division No. 356] [12.28 pm
Allen, Graham Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Alton, David Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Armstrong, Hilary Buchan, Norman
Ashdown, Paddy Buckley, George J.
Ashton, Joe Caborn, Richard
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Barron, Kevin Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Battle, John Clelland, David
Beckett, Margaret Corbyn, Jeremy
Bell, Stuart Cousins, Jim
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Crowther, Stan
Blair, Tony Cryer, Bob
Blunkett, David Cummings, John
Bradley, Keith Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bray, Dr Jeremy Cunningham, Dr John
Dalyell, Tam Meale, Alan
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Dewar, Donald Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Dixon, Don Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Doran, Frank Moonie, Dr Lewis
Duffy, A. E. P. Morgan, Rhodri
Dunnachie, Jimmy Mullin, Chris
Eastham, Ken Nellist, Dave
Evans, John (St Helens N) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) O'Brien, William
Fearn, Ronald O'Neill, Martin
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fisher, Mark Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Flynn, Paul Parry, Robert
Foster, Derek Pike, Peter L.
Fyfe, Maria Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Galbraith, Sam Primarolo, Dawn
Galloway, George Quin, Ms Joyce
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Radice, Giles
Godman, Dr Norman A. Redmond, Martin
Golding, Mrs Llin Reid, Dr John
Gould, Bryan Richardson, Jo
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Grocott, Bruce Rooker, Jeff
Hardy, Peter Ruddock, Joan
Harman, Ms Harriet Salmond, Alex
Haynes, Frank Short, Clare
Home Robertson, John Skinner, Dennis
Hood, Jimmy Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Howells, Geraint Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Soley, Clive
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Steel, Rt Hon David
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Stott, Roger
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Strang, Gavin
John, Brynmor Straw, Jack
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Kirkwood, Archy Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Lamond, James Turner, Dennis
Leadbitter, Ted Wallace, James
Litherland, Robert Wareing, Robert N.
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
McAllion, John Wilson, Brian
McCartney, Ian Wise, Mrs Audrey
Macdonald, Calum A. Worthington, Tony
McKelvey, William Wray, Jimmy
McNamara, Kevin Young, David (Bolton SE)
McTaggart, Bob
Madden, Max Tellers for the Ayes:
Marek, Dr John Mr. Allen Adams and Mr. Frank Cook.
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Maxton. John
Adley, Robert Brazier, Julian
Alexander, Richard Brittan, Rt Hon Leon
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Amess, David Browne, John (Winchester)
Amos, Alan Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Arbuthnot, James Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Buck, Sir Antony
Ashby, David Burns, Simon
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Burt, Alistair
Batiste, Spencer Butcher, John
Bellingham, Henry Butler, Chris
Bendall, Vivian Butterfill, John
Benyon, W. Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Carrington, Matthew
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Carttiss, Michael
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Cash, William
Boscawen, Hon Robert Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Boswell, Tim Chapman, Sydney
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Chope, Christopher
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Churchill, Mr
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Bowis, John Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Conway, Derek
Critchley, Julian Lord, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Day, Stephen MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Devlin, Tim Maclean, David
Dickens, Geoffrey McLoughlin, Patrick
Dorrell, Stephen McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Mans, Keith
Dover, Den Marland, Paul
Dunn, Bob Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Durant, Tony Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Eggar, Tim Mates, Michael
Emery, Sir Peter Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Evennett, David Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Fallon, Michael Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Favell, Tony Mellor, David
Fenner, Dame Peggy Mills, Iain
Fookes, Miss Janet Miscampbell, Norman
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Forth, Eric Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Fox, Sir Marcus Monro, Sir Hector
Franks, Cecil Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Gale, Roger Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Gardiner, George Morrison, Sir Charles
Garel-Jones, Tristan Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)
Gill, Christopher Moss, Malcolm
Goodlad, Alastair Neale, Gerrard
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Nelson, Anthony
Gorst, John Neubert, Michael
Gow, Ian Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Gregory, Conal Patnick, Irvine
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Pawsey, James
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Grist, Ian Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Porter, David (Waveney)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Powell, William (Corby)
Hanley, Jeremy Price, Sir David
Hannam, John Rathbone, Tim
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Redwood, John
Harris, David Rhodes James, Robert
Haselhurst, Alan Riddick, Graham
Hawkins, Christopher Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hayward, Robert Roe, Mrs Marion
Heathcoat-Amory, David Rossi, Sir Hugh
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Rost, Peter
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Rowe, Andrew
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Hind, Kenneth Ryder, Richard
Holt, Richard Sackville, Hon Tom
Hordern, Sir Peter Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Shersby, Michael
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Sims, Roger
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Hunter, Andrew Soames, Hon Nicholas
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Speller, Tony
Irvine, Michael Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Jack, Michael Stanbrook, Ivor
Jackson, Robert Stern, Michael
Janman, Tim Stevens, Lewis
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Summerson, Hugo
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Key, Robert Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Kilfedder, James Temple-Morris, Peter
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Knapman, Roger Townend, John (Bridlington)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Tracey, Richard
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Trippier, David
Knowles, Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Waddington, Rt Hon David
Latham, Michael Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Waldegrave, Hon William
Lilley, Peter Ward, John
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Warren, Kenneth
Watts, John Wolfson, Mark
Wells, Bowen Wood, Timothy
Wheeler, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Whitney, Ray
Widdecombe, Ann Tellers for the Noes:
Wilshire, David Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.
Winterton, Mrs Ann
Winterton, Nicholas

Question accordingly negatived.

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