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Council Housing (Tenants' Representation) Bill

Volume 828: debated on Tuesday 21 December 1971

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3.57 p.m.

I beg to move.

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the establishment in each local authority area of housing advisory committees containing representatives of council tenants and other members and for the co-option on to housing management committees of tenants' representatives; to make similar provision for tenants resident in new towns; and for purposes connected therewith.
This is the second time that I have sought the leave of the House to introduce a Bill of this nature. In the last Session, on 20th April this year, I succeeded in obtaining an unopposed First Reading for a Bill which was substantially the same as that which I am seeking to introduce today.

I then explained to the House the various influences which led to the introduction of that Bill, among them the Council Tenants' Charter Bill, introduced in 1969 by my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards), who is one of the sponsors of my Bill and is with us this afternoon in the House. I was able to tell the House of the experience of a number of local authorities, such as Liverpool. Southwark, Lambeth and Camden, which had already introduced regular procedures for consulting tenants about housing matters. Some of these authorities were Labour-controlled and some were under Conservative rule. The Bill which I then introduced was an entirely non-partisan Measure which had Conservative and Liberal as well as Labour sponsors.

Although my earlier Bill enjoyed all-party support, it made no further progress, largely because most of the time available for Private Members' Bills had already been used up. I am hopeful that this new Bill, introduced much earlier in the Session, will enjoy greater success.

Since the introduction of my earlier Bill there has been some further progress towards greater tenant participation. The London Borough of Lambeth has introduced a more ambitious scheme of consultation, which the representa tives of Lambeth tenants tell me is based very much on the ideas put forward in my earlier Bill. Similar schemes have been implemented by the London Boroughs of Wandsworth and Greenwich, and other London Boroughs, including Havering and Hillingdon, are actively considering following suit. Outside London there is, unfortunately, less evidence of progress, although in addition to the Liverpool scheme which I described last April, I understand that Sheffield has a housing advisory committee with strong tenant representation which has been operating successfully since 1969.

There has also been a groundswell of support from tenants' associations through the country. The Association of London Housing Estates, which represents tenants on 133 different estates in the Greater London area, has come out strongly in support of the Bill, as has the Amalgamated Tenants' Associations Co-ordinating Committee in Liverpool. This latter body was the first tenants' organisation in the country to achieve a regular basis of consultation with a major housing authority. Many other tenants' associations have indicated their support. I will mention just one by name—the Carder Crescent Tenants' Association, of Bilston, Staffordshire, which has collected signatures to a petition in support of the Bill from every single tenant on the estate. The Association's secretary tells me that this was particularly appropriate as the initial impetus for the Council Tenants Charter Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston first came from that estate.

The growth of support in the country has been mirrored in the House. Although my earlier Bill enjoyed all-party support last April, I found it easier to recruit sponsors on this side of the House than I did among hon. Members opposite. But this time I have had no difficulty in finding additional Conservative sponsors, and I think I can claim that the Bill is now even more genuinely non-partisan than it was before. I am particularly happy to have the support of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg), who was a leading member of Camden Council when it introduced its own scheme. Indeed, he tells me that his only criticism of the Bill is that it does not go far enough.

The Bill contains two principal proposals. The first is that each local authority with housing powers should establish a housing advisory committee, at least half of whose members should be council tenants, and with at least one member who is an elected councillor. This advisory committee could deal with such matters as repairs, caretaking, colour schemes for external painting, the lay-out of open spaces and the siting of children's play areas. Sub-committees could be appointed at the council's discretion for particular areas and individual estates. In the case of large estates, such a committee would have to be appointed if 10 per cent. or more of the tenants supported a written request to the local council for it. The size of the committees, their detailed functions and the method of appointment would be left to the discretion of the local authority. This should allow for considerable variations to suit local needs and for later adaptations to the structure, in the light of experience.

The second proposal in the Bill is that at least two council tenants should be co-opted on to the housing management committee of each local authority. As hon. Members are aware, councils already have power to co-opt up to one-third of the membership of these committees, but few of them appear to make use of such power. Once again, the method of selection would be left to the discretion of the local authority itself.

The only difference between this Bill and the earlier Bill is the addition of a clause to extend its provisions to the new towns. New town tenants are in a similar position to those of local authorities, except that they have no part in the election of their landlords, and it is clearly appropriate that they should enjoy the same rights as council tenants to be consulted about their home environment.

As I explained last April, the Bill is a modest Measure. It does not compel any local authority to do anything which it does not already have the power to do. Some councils—very few, regrettably—have already gone a good deal further towards increasing tenant participation in housing management than the Bill proposes. Nothing in the Bill would confine the activities of those councils or prevent them from taking any further initiatives in the same direction, but if it is enacted it will mean that in every local authority area council tenants will be given some say in the management of their own affairs. I hope that hon. Members will feel that this is a worthy objective and will give me leave to introduce the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Leonard, Mr. Frank Allaun, Mr. Blenkinsop, Mr. Critchley, Mr. Robert Edwards, Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg, Mr. Hayhoe, Mr. Alexander W. Lyon, Mr. McCrindle, Mr. Pardoe and Mr. Pavitt.