HC Deb 14 June 1988 vol 135 cc464-9
Mr. Allan Roberts

I beg to move amendment No. 89, in page 43, line 8, at end insert — '(1A) The statement shall include the trust's intended policy on—

  1. (a) the implementation of its duties under section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976;
  2. (b) adherence to codes of practice issued by the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission;
  3. (c) rents and service charges;
  4. (d) any planned programme of renovation;
  5. (e) the disposal of housing accommodation;
  6. (f)its response to management guidance issued by the Secretary of State; and
  7. (g)the programme through which the trust will discharge its duties and make arrangements for its dissolution.'.
We want some definition in the legislation of what a HAT will do and of its functions and its limitations. That is why amendment No. 89 is important. We want a statement of the activities of the trust to include its intended policy on the implementation of its duties under section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976. We do not think that the Government will disagree with that. Indeed, there was a major discussion on that issue earlier in our debates.

We want the trust to adhere to the codes of practice issued by the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission. That has been one of our major disagreements because, although the Government accepted the need for action under section 71 of the Race Relations Act, it was difficult to convince them that a trust should have some responsibility for equal opportunities. That does not surprise us because in all the legislation, including this legislation, the Local Government Bill and the Local Government Finance Bill, the Government have paid scant attention to equal opportunities and have legislated to prevent local authorities from being concerned about equal opportunities. However, we should like housing action trusts to be concerned about them and to take account of what the Equal Opportunities Commission has to say. That is important.

We want the rents and service charges policies of housing action trusts to be spelt out. The Government's definitions of market rents, affordable rents, fair rents, reasonable rents, assured tenancies and secure tenancies have always been rather nebulous. The Government have been moving the goalposts throughout the course of the Bill in respect of their definitions of rents. Although it may take a few years, they will return housing to the market place wherever they can and thus have a free market in housing and have high market rents which relate to what people can charge. So far as Ministers are concerned, the higher the rents the better.

However, because of the criticism, pressure and worries about the political consequences of that proposal, the Government have hedged their bets. They have talked about affordable rents in the housing association sector —whatever that means—and market rents in the private sector, and they have given some assurances about the nature and level of rents for council housing and housing estates taken over by private organisations. However, we have not had any assurances about the levels for housing action trusts and what they might be in the future, whether they will he affordable and remain fair, or whether they will he market rents and how quickly the Government's aim of market rents will be achieved. We would like the housing action trusts' intended polices to be spelt out when any HATs are declared.

The same is true of service charges. Basically that is a way of obtaining more rent than is allowed under the machinery to which any organisation must submit itself in respect of rent. If there are ways of charging higher rents through loopholes in respect of service charges, they should be spelt out and any abuse prevented. The Government should be sympathetic to that because they were keen to criticise any local authority that happened to be Labour-controlled and used service charges in connection with the right-to-buy provisions in the Government's legislation. We do not believe that service charges should be used in the legislation to allow HATs to charge what would be virtually higher rents than would otherwise be allowed in the legislation. We see no reason why the Government should not provide a policy statement in respect of HATs in that connection.

We want to know, in advance of publication, any planned programme of renovation proposed by a HAT. We want to know about the disposal of the housing accommodation. That is one of the great fears of many council estate tenants throughout the country. It is not just a question of HATs taking over or of picking a landlord and handing over an estate to a private body. It is also a question of what will happen eventually to the housing when the HATs are wound up and the private landlords want to sell to another third party. We are most concerned about any proposals for the disposal of accommodation after the period during which the HAT has been operating and has done the job that the Government set. We need to know about that.

We also need to know the HATs' response to the management guidance which was issued by the Secretary of State. We hear enough criticism about local authorities and responses are demanded from them on management guidance issues in the circulars issued by the Secretary of State. I imagine that the Secretary of State will give guidance to the HATs on management. We want to know what that guidance will be and what the HATs' response will be. As I have said, the programmes through which the trust will discharge its duties and make arrangements for its dissolution are major issues relating to exactly how the HATs will be dissolved.

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In a later amendment we will consider the rights of the residents in housing action trusts to he able to opt to return to local authority control if they want to do so. If the Government believe in freedom of choice, they should give freedom to the residents of the declared housing action trust areas to determine their long-term future once the HAT has completed the job that the Government have set it.

We understand that, having starved local authorities of resources by cutting housing investment programmes and subsidies for the housing revenue accounts, the Government feel guilty about the fact that local authorities which could have solved the problems of many of those council estates have been starved of the resources to do so. As a result, social problems have developed on those estates as well as problems with the fabric. We understand that, because the Government feel guilty about that, they have declared these HATs which will pump resources into the rundown estates. As the Government have been party to running down those estates, they want the housing action trusts operating so that they can deal with the problems of those inner-city estates.

Having done that, there is no reason why in the future, once the job is done, and once the resources have been poured in, the local authority and the tenants should not have a say in their long-term future and in the type of tenancy under which they live. Tenants should have a say in whether the local authority should be their landlord. Again, if Conservative Members really believe in choice in housing, they will support that proposal and our amendment.

As I have said, the amendment is wide-ranging and covers many policy areas for which HATs will be responsible. Whether they like it or not, the Government, or the HATs when they are established, must address those issues. It is right and proper that the House of Commons should put down its requirements now in the form of amendments if the management of the estate is to he taken over, often against the wishes of the tenants.

Mr. Waldegrave

The argument is not about our objectives but about whether the Bill meets those objectives. The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) has stated that he is keen to see the objectives set out clearly and in detail. We believe that clause 59 achieves that. Clause 61 makes it clear that the statement which the HATs must produce should cover the HAT's proposals with regard to the exercise of its functions in that area. There is a clear requirement that housing action trusts should set out their proposals in relation to their responsibilities when drawing up that statement. Many of the items included in the amendment need to be addressed in the statement. We do not believe that it is right to set that out in advance and in detail on the face of the Bill, because the situation may be different in different HATs and we should wait to see what appear to be the proper priorities for the first statement from a HAT.

Opposition Members are anxious, as we all are, to keep an eye on the progress of HATs. That is why we are, in the first instance, committed to publishing our management guidance for HATs, which was welcomed when we made the commitment in Committee. Secondly, HATs will be subject to the corporate planning system which will annually review their progress against individually set performance measures. Thirdly, HATs will produce annual reports to be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

Fourthly, we have fulfilled the commitment that we gave in Committee and have brought forward the amendment, which was welcomed generously by the hon. Member for Bootle, about giving the National Audit Office access to HATs. Taking that together with the extensive consultation requirements that are being placed on the HATs, HATs will be subject to close public scrutiny. By their nature, they will be subject to close scrutiny locally and in this place, and that is right.

We would have to resist amendment No. 89 if it were pressed. I hope that, when the hon. Member for Bootle looks at the battery of constraints that we have placed on HATs, he will believe that we have met at least some part of his concern.

Mr. Allan Roberts

We are not happy with the Government's response, although we accept that there have been some minor concessions. We should like the details to be spelt out in the Bill. Because the Government have not gone far enough, we will press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 136, Noes 189

Division No. 357] [2.5 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Allen, Graham Hardy, Peter
Alton, David Harman, Ms Harriet
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Haynes, Frank
Armstrong, Hilary Henderson, Doug
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Home Robertson, John
Barron, Kevin Hood, Jimmy
Battle, John Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Beckett, Margaret Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Beith, A. J. Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Bell, Stuart Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Blunkett, David Kirkwood, Archy
Boyes, Roland Lamond, James
Bradley, Keith Leadbitter, Ted
Bray, Dr Jeremy Litherland, Robert
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Lloyd, Tony (Stratford)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) McAllion, John
Buchan, Norman McAvoy, Thomas
Buckley, George J. McCartney, Ian
Caborn, Richard Macdonald, Calum A.
Canavan, Dennis McFall, John
Clelland, David McKelvey, William
Coleman, Donald McNamara, Kevin
Cousins, Jim McTaggart, Bob
Crowther, Stan Madden, Max
Cryer, Bob Marek, Dr John
Cummings, John Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Dalyell, Tam Martlew, Eric
Darling, Alistair Maxton, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Meale, Alan
Dewar, Donald Michael, Alun
Dixon, Don Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Doran, Frank Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Duffy, A. E. P. Moonie, Dr Lewis
Dunnachie, Jimmy Morgan, Rhodri
Eastham, Ken Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Mullin, Chris
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Nellist, Dave
Fearn, Ronald Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) O'Brien, William
Flynn, Paul O'Neill, Martin
Foster, Derek Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fyfe, Maria Parry, Robert
Galbraith, Sam Patchett, Terry
Galloway, George Pike, Peter L.
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Primarolo, Dawn
Golding, Mrs Llin Quin, Ms Joyce
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Radice, Giles
Randall, Stuart Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Redmond, Martin Turner, Dennis
Reid, Dr John Wall, Pat
Richardson, Jo Wallace, James
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Wareing, Robert N.
Rooker, Jeff Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Ruddock, Joan Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Sedgemore, Brian Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Sheerman, Barry Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Short, Clare Wilson, Brian
Skinner, Dennis Winnick, David
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Soley, Clive Worthington, Tony
Spearing, Nigel Wray, Jimmy
Stott, Roger Young, David (Bolton SE)
Strang, Gavin
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Tellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Frank Cook.
Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Adley, Robert Gardiner, George
Alexander, Richard Garel-Jones, Tristan
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Goodhart, Sir Philip
Allason, Rupert Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Amos, Alan Gorst, John
Arbuthnot, James Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Green way, Harry (Ealing N)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Ashby, David Gregory, Conal
Baldry, Tony Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Grist, Ian
Bellingham, Henry Grylls, Michael
Bendall, Vivian Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Benyon, W. Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Hanley, Jeremy
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Hannam,John
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Boswell, Tim Harris, David
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Haselhurst, Alan
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hawkins, Christopher
Bowis, John Hayward, Robert
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Heathcoat-Amory, David
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hind, Kenneth
Brazier, Julian Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Holt, Richard
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hordern, Sir Peter
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Burns, Simon Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Burt, Alistair Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Butler, Chris Hunter, Andrew
Butterfill, John Irvine, Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Jack, Michael
Carrington, Matthew Jackson, Robert
Carttiss, Michael Janman, Tim
Chapman, Sydney Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Chope, Christopher Key, Robert
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Kirkhope, Timothy
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Knapman, Roger
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Conway, Derek Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Critchley, Julian Knowles, Michael
Day, Stephen Lang, Ian
Devlin, Tim Latham, Michael
Dickens, Geoffrey Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Dorrell, Stephen Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Lilley, Peter
Dover, Den Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Durant, Tony Lord, Michael
Eggar, Tim Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Emery, Sir Peter McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Evennett, David Malins, Humfrey
Favell, Tony Marland, Paul
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Fookes, Miss Janet Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Fox, Sir Marcus Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gale, Roger Mellor, David
Meyer, Sir Anthony Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Miller, Sir Hal Soames, Hon Nicholas
Mills, Iain Speller, Tony
Miscampbell, Norman Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Stanbrook, Ivor
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Stern, Michael
Moore, Rt Hon John Stevens, Lewis
Morrison, Sir Charles Sumberg, David
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Summerson, Hugo
Moss, Malcolm Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Neale, Gerrard Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Nelson, Anthony Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Neubert, Michael Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Trippier, David
Patnick, Irvine Twinn, Dr Ian
Pawsey, James Viggers, Peter
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Waddington, Rt Hon David
Porter, David (Waveney) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Powell, William (Corby) Waldegrave, Hon William
Redwood, John Walden, George
Rhodes James, Robert Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Riddick, Graham Ward, John
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Roe, Mrs Marion Watts, John
Rossi, Sir Hugh Wells, Bowen
Rost, Peter Whitney, Ray
Rowe, Andrew Widdecombe, Ann
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Wilshire, David
Ryder, Richard Winterton, Mrs Ann
Sackville, Hon Tom Wolfson, Mark
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Wood, Timothy
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Young, Sir George (Acton)
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Tellers for the Noes:
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. David Maclean.
Shersby, Michael
Sims, Roger

Question accordingly negatived.

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