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30 November 1987
Volume 123

Order for Second Reading read.

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Before we start this important debate, I should announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the leader of the Liberal party. I repeat what I have said earlier, that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye in the debate. I appeal for short contributions.

4.22 pm

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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The main purpose of the Bill, which seeks to implement many of the proposals in our White Paper "Housing: The Government's Proposals", is to make a cautious move towards evolving a new policy for rented housing. I say "cautious", because it is a cautious and measured move, so that all who have the interests at heart of the citizens who need or prefer to rent rather than to buy their homes may be encouraged to support the policy.

If ever there were a subject where political dispute has done grave harm to the interests of the less well-off, it is in rented housing. It is high time that there was an agreed way forward. I do not pretend that this measure will be the last that the House will see of the subject over the decade ahead, but I would rather that in future we were debating how to improve these provisions than to be stuck in the stalemate of a doctrinaire disagreement as we have been since 1915—the year when the first rent restrictions were introduced.

First, I shall summarise briefly the chequered history of rent controls in the private sector. The restrictions introduced in 1915 froze rents at 1914 levels for about two thirds of all unfurnished lettings, with statutory security of tenure. Those controls were extended in 1919 and 1920 to cover virtually all unfurnished lettings.

In 1937, an interdepartmental committee on the rent restrictions Acts produced a report recommending immediate decontrol of lettings with rateable values above specified limits; phased decontrol for lettings with lower rateable values; and the end of decontrol of new lettings. In 1939, at the outbreak of war, virtually all unfurnished lettings were made the subject of control, with rents frozen at September 1939 levels.

A second interdepartmental committee produced a report in 1945 recommending that all rents should be registered with local authorities and that rent tribunals should determine fair rents. I ought, in fairness to the House, to declare an interest in both those committees: they were chaired by my father and were widely known as the Ridley committees.

Those elaborate controls were replaced by the Rent Act 1957. It provided for the immediate decontrol of existing lettings where the rateable value exceeded £40 in London and Scotland, and £30 elsewhere.

The decontrol provisions were in turn replaced by the Labour Government in 1965 with security of tenure for tenants of unfurnished lettings and a system of so-called "fair rents". Those provisions were extended to furnished lettings in 1974. That is broadly the system that has been in force ever since. When one looks at the period as a whole, the consequences are plain to see: private renting has declined from 30 per cent of the housing stock in 1914 to just under 8 per cent. today.

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The right hon. Gentleman has been giving a potted history of rent control legislation. He mentioned the Rent Act 1957, which was intended by the Conservative Government, so we were told when the Bill was debated, to ensure that there was a far greater supply of privately rented accommodation. Is it not a fact that the 1957 Act led to two things—first, a substantial reduction in rented accommodation, and all the figures prove that to be so; and, secondly, the scandal of Rachmanism, whereby all the pressure and intimidation was put on the existing tenant so that that accommodation could be released and automatically decontrolled? Much of that is being repeated in the Bill today.

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The hon. Gentleman is right to some extent in his analysis of what was wrong with the 1957 Act. It is exactly because of that that we wish to avoid those mistakes. That Act applied to some existing lettings, and the Bill applies to none. Secondly, it removed all statutory controls over new lettings, leaving both rents and security as a matter of contract. Thirdly, there was no comprehensive statutory protection from eviction, so that landlords could easily evict tenants without recourse to the courts, whereas now we have legislation already and the Bill greatly tightens up the legislation against harassment. Fourthly, there was no housing benefit system to provide tenants with help towards the higher rents that ensue from decontrol. Doubtless the hon. Gentleman will try to make use of those points in the debate, but I hope that I can persuade him that we have learnt those lessons.

So the private rented sector has suffered a substantial decline since the first world war but, over the same period, the public sector has seen a major expansion. At the end of the 1930s, the public sector housing stock consisted of about 1·1 million homes. After the second world war, public sector house building increased dramatically: by 1979, local authorities, together with the new towns, owned and managed some 5·5 million homes.

To manage that number of houses is a massive undertaking, and that is precisely what went wrong. Local authorities have found themselves landlords of vast numbers of houses, flats and maisonettes—about 50,000 is not an uncommon number in the larger metropolitan authorities. As a result, councils have faced an enormous administrative and management task. Almost inevitably, it has led to insensitive allocation procedures and to queuing, which make tenants feel like supplicants. Often cumbersome, remote and inflexible arrangements for the management and maintenance of properties have grown up.

Those managements have led to physical decay and decline. Much post-war local authority housing, built in a hurry, is in enormous estates, either in the inner city or on the periphery of the conurbations. Those places are often monotonous, soulless places in which few would choose to live—if they had a choice. The worst such estates suffer from poor design and layout; bad repair; a poor environment with vandalism, graffiti and rubbish-strewn streets and open spaces; and high levels of crime. No one responds to the tenants' cry for help.

I do not lay all the blame for this at the door of local authorities. Some authorities have proved appallingly inefficient in managing their estates and disgracefully unresponsive to the wishes of their tenants, but many others have done their best to act as good landlords. But we cannot ignore the fact that mass landlord provision has failed to give tenants what they want; they have been all too vulnerable to the kind of difficulties I have described. We cannot leave them to suffer. This is the problem we now have to tackle.

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If the Minister is so concerned about the welfare of tenants—and if he is, I welcome that conversion—given that the surveys show that more people in the private sector than in the public sector are dissatisfied with their landlords, why is he not providing the same choices to them?

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Because, since 1915, the rent restrictions have resulted in inadequate rent for the private sector and therefore inadequate repair. That problem is being dealt with in part I of the Bill.

The suggestion that we want to end the role of local authorities in housing is nonsense: with some 4·5 million homes on their books, it is inconceivable that they will not remain major providers of rented housing for the foreseeable future. We are trying to shift the future emphasis of their role from direct provision to securing the provision of housing by other agencies and organisations. That is why we want to encourage the growth of other types of independent landlord in the rented sector. For those already in the public sector, we want to provide more choice and flexibility, encourage better management standards among local authorities through the introduction of competition and make a start on tackling the problems of the worst council estates. Those are the objects of the Bill.

The Bill does not implement all the proposals in the White Paper. We expect to introduce all our housing proposals, but the pressure on the legislative timetable means that we have not been able to include all the proposals in this Bill. We have therefore concentrated on the rented sector. Proposals for reform of local authority housing accounts and for the simplification and improved targeting of home improvement grants will be included in future legislation. On the right to buy, we remain committed to measures which will compensate tenants whose purchases are held up without good reason and we hope to bring forward amendments during the passage of the Bill. On the proposals to abolish the cost floor, we are considering very carefully again all the views that have been put to us, and it may well not feature in this year's Bill.

Part I of the Bill concerns the private rented sector. It provides that most new lettings will be either assured tenancies or assured shorthold tenancies. The system of registered fair rents will continue for existing lettings, but will no longer be available for most new lettings.

Under the terms of the new assured tenancy, set out in chapter I, market rents will be freely negotiable between landlord and tenant, but the tenant will have long-term security of tenure comparable with that available under the present Rent Act. The new assured tenancy builds on the existing assured tenancy scheme, but with a number of important changes: first, landlords who can grant assured tenancies will no longer be confined to companies and partnerships.

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Will the Minister confirm that the nature of assured tenancies will be totally altered in this legislation and that they will not be the same as the assured tenancies legislated for in the 1980 Act? Their whole nature will alter; they are not assured tenancies but something different with the same name. Will he explain why the shorthold tenancy provisions of the 1980 Act, which his party claimed would bring many empty properties on the market into the private sector, have not worked?

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The hon. Gentleman interrupted me to ask about what I was describing. I was answering his point as he rose. I will come to shorthold tenancies later.

There are changes to assured tenancies: first, landlords who can grant assured tenancies will no longer be confined to companies and partnerships—all landlords, including individuals, will be able to do so; second, tenancies will no longer be limited to new or improved dwellings; and, thirdly, the requirement that landlords of such tenancies should be approved by the Secretary of State will be ended. The Bill provides that, where a landlord and a tenant are unable to agree on a change in the rent level, a rent assessment committee will be able to fix a rent at a market level. They are identical, except for those three changes.

I ought to say a few words about the ending of the approved landlord system, since I know that Opposition Members attach particular importance to it. A system of approval in the new regime would frankly be unworkable. We estimate that, within five years of commencement, up to 190,000 landlords would be letting on the new basis as a result of turnover within the sector alone. The task of vetting and approving them all would be a bureaucratic nightmare; would be likely to be ineffective in any event; and would in all probability deter many landlords, particularly small landlords, while not necessarily extracting the bad eggs. While I have an open mind on this issue, I am bound to say that compulsory registration does not seem to me to be feasible.

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I ask the Minister for two points of clarification. First, are the mandatory and discretionary grounds for possession given to the courts in schedule 2 the same as those in existing legislation, or are there variations; if so, would he outline them? Secondly, he will not know, but his officials will know, that during the passage of the Rent Act 1974 our late right hon. Friend Sir Graham Page and I drew attention to a trap that existed for those who held joint tenancies on trust for sale. Ministers at the time denied that. Our interpretation was subsequently upheld by the court and in consequence one of my constituents suffered considerable financial loss. Ministers have promised to put right that anomaly. I cannot see it in the Bill, and I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can assist me.

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Those are highly complex technical points. My hon. Friend will forgive me if I refer him to schedule 2 of the Bill, which sets out the terms of possession provisions in full, but I will follow that up with a letter explaining the precise differences. On the second point, the Bill puts right the problem that my hon. Friend raises, although not retrospectively. Again, I will confirm that point to him.

The new shorthold tenancy, which the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) asked about, and which is dealt with in chapter II of the Bill, is designed to meet the needs of landlords who wish to let their property for a fixed term and be certain of regaining possession at the end of the term.

The rent for a shorthold tenancy would be negotiable between the landlord and the tenant, but the tenant will be able to apply to the rent committee for a rent to be registered at any time once the tenancy has started. The committee will compare the rent for the tenancy with other market rents for shortholds of similar property in the area and, if it is excessive, will be empowered to reduce it. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's point is the difference between market rents and so-called fair rents, Which are not fair to the landlord in giving him a return on his investment.

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I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for giving way in the important passage of the speech concerning rent. Will he confirm that, as the only difference between the assured tenancy and the assured shorthold tenancy is that the former will have indefinite security of tenure, and the latter will have a set market rent, what will be the incentive to let on an assured tenancy rather than a shorthold tenancy? If I am correct in the suggestion that the overwhelming temptation will be to have assured shorthold tenancies, the rent set for assured tenancies may be above market rent, because that will be the cost of people being able to buy into an indefinite period of secured tenancy.

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The assured tenancy scheme will be attractive to people in the business of long-term letting, such as companies, building societies and so on, and they will readily agree to security of tenure. My hon. Friend is not quite right. The original rent will be determined entirely by negotiation between the tenant and the landlord, and there will be no appeal against that to the committee. On the other hand, in the case of shorthold there will be an appeal to the committee to determine a market rent, but the security of tenure is limited to the period of the shorthold. That will be attractive to people who perhaps are going abroad for a few years or who have a spare house that they wish to let or rooms in a house that they wish to rent. That will bring further empty property on to the market.

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As I understand it, the Secretary of State is saying that the shorthold provisions of the 1980 Act failed to make available more houses in the private rented sector, and that that was not because the concept of shorthold was at fault but because the rents were not high enough. That meant that the private owners could not get a big enough return from the properties and did not rent them. Will the Minister confirm that he is saying that? Does he accept that the shorthold provision is such that, for many of the houses that came on to the market, fair rents were not set because of a fear by the tenant that if he tried to get a fair rent assessed and set he would have his shorthold tenancy renewed at the end of the period?

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There have been many shorthold tenancies since the system came into existence. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a figure, but clearly the threat of having the rent registered at a level below the economic rent that is needed to buy and maintain a property is a slight deterrent to people who want to bring forward such properties. That is why there are many empty private sector houses and flats. We seek to have them brought into use because that is one of the main ways of easing the problem of homelessness — especially in London. The hon. Gentleman seems to put the past in front of the much more important matter of getting these houses on to the market and allowng them to be used.

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Can the Secretary of State tell us what the position will be for a prospective tenant who does not have a high income? In London, for example, how will a market rent accommodate low-paid or non-paid people who need to rent? How can they be assured that they will have an income sufficient to pay the rent that the market will demand? Can the Secretary of State tell the House that anybody who does not have the necessary income will be guaranteed the shortfall and that it will be made up by housing benefit and the social security system?

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It is clear that anybody who qualifies for housing benefit will qualify for the full amount of the rent that his accommodation costs him. However, there are three provisos and I shall come to them shortly. The hon. Gentleman will find them acceptable.

The other major change contained in this part of the Bill concerns harassment of tenants. That point was raised by the hon. Member for Bootle. Under existing law, it is an offence for any person to harass a residential occupier with the intention of causing him to leave his home. The test of intent has in practice been difficult to prove, and the Bill therefore provides an additional offence of harassing an occupier knowing that this was likely to drive him out. This is likely to be easier to prove.

In addition, the Bill provides for a new civil right to improved compensation for tenants driven out by harassment or illegally evicted. Such tenants would be entitled to compensation based on the financial gain to The landlord of securing vacant possession of his property. This will be a very powerful deterrent to landlords who have always been tempted to realise substantial profits by driving out their tenants by harassment or illegal eviction. Our proposals make it less likely—not more likely—that landlords will be tempted to harass tenants to get vacant possession. There is a strong incentive for them to do so now in order to sell on the open market, but if they can get a reasonable rate of return they will have more incentive than they have at present to retain the property and to rent it out.

Part I of the Bill also applies to housing associations. In future, most housing association new lettings will be either assured or shorthold tenancies. This will enable them to charge rather higher rents than the fair rents that they presently charge. However, these will not be full market rents because Government grants will continue to be available via the Housing Corporation to ensure that rents are kept at a level that the traditional clientele of housing associations can afford. However, this greater flexibility on rents will enable housing associations to attract private finance to supplement their grant allocations. This is a very important innovation because it will enable housing associations to provide more housing for a given amount of public money, while still meeting the needs of their traditional lower-income clientele.

I shall shortly say more about the new rent regime for housing associations. A new rent regime clearly needs new grant arrangements to go with it. Existing legislation on housing association grants and rent surpluses is insufficiently flexible for this purpose and excessively detailed. Part II of the Bill provides this much broader framework.

I shall now tell the House how we envisage rents and subsidies working out in the context of our proposals for deregulating the private rented sector and introducing greater flexibility into housing association rents. Hon. Members will appreciate that a key feature of our proposals is the new scope for rents to rise so as to provide a greater return — whether to attract more private landlords into the field or to provide housing associations with a level of income sufficient to service private loans. Of course, a crucial factor in all this is the ability of tenants to pay.

In the private sector, rents will move towards market levels. Any Government support will focus on tenants, rather than on property, through the housing benefit system. Hon. Members may be assured that housing benefit will be available for all those whose incomes are low enough to qualify for full or partial benefit, irrespective of the rent charged, with three exceptions. These are the three provisos that I mentioned to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). They are, first, where there is conniving to milk the Exchequer by charging an unreasonably high rent for the property in question on the basis of a market rent test; secondly, where the claimant is clearly over-accommodated and has far more rooms than he needs; and, thirdly, where the property is of a quality that the majority of people would not ordinarily expect to afford.

The object here is not to exercise detailed controls over where people live and how much they pay; it is simply a matter of protecting public funds. Taxpayers' money ought not to be used to allow landlords to inflate rents to excessive levels or to permit benefit recipients to occupy over-large or up-market accommodation. Accordingly, we shall introduce new provisions under which rent officers will assume the function of assessing rents and accommodation for housing benefit purposes. On the basis of their assessment, rent allowance subsidy will be restricted in cases where the rent is unreasonably high or the property unduly large and benefit itself would be limited at the most expensive end of the market. Should it prove necessary for those reasons, we shall introduce further limits on benefit.

Some commentators have pointed to the fact that those whose incomes take them just above housing benefit levels will find it hard to justify renting from the private sector. Indeed, it will often be cheaper for them to buy a home, given the advantages of buying with mortgage interest tax relief. This is an inevitable result of this relief which—at least at the basic rate of tax and certainly for new buyers—has all-party support. This reflects all-party desire to help all who can afford to do so to buy their own homes. We cannot have it both ways. Nevertheless, there will remain many people for whom renting will still be the first option, whether in the private or social rented sector. That includes people on low incomes, those whose jobs require them to be mobile, single people sharing flats and those who will take rooms in someone's house. I expect this Bill to make a major contribution to ending the shortage of premises to rent in London and other places and to be a major contributor to solving the problem of homelessness.

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I am most interested in my right hon. Friend's remarks about solving the problems. I am sure that part 1 of the Bill will be very helpful, but it seems to refer mostly to urban and inner-city areas. Will my right hon. Friend explain how the Bill may help to solve the rural housing problem, which is developing, not least because of the success of the Government's right-to-buy proposals, coupled in certain popular rural areas, such as Wiltshire, with a reduction in the number of tied cottages? The consequence of that is that many young couples from the indigenous local population simply cannot find local authority or other housing. Will the Bill help such people and is it designed to do so?

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This Bill and the Local Government Bill, which is in Committee at the moment, are designed to make a major contribution to solving that very problem. In future, both housing associations and private landlords—for example, a local farmer or a resident in a village—will be able to build to rent and will be able to obtain subsidy from the local authority or the Housing Corporation to ensure that they can let those houses at affordable rents. It is likely that the problem will turn out to relate as much to the obtaining of planning permission as to the ability to rent. The Bill is specifically designed to help to solve the rural housing problem referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison), and I hope that it will succeed.

I should like to welcome the recent initiative by the Nationwide Anglia building society. Nationwide Anglia announced last week that it was involved in setting up a new company, called Quality Street, to which it will lend £600 million over the next five years. The company intends to provide up to 40,000 good quality, well managed, privately let homes at different levels in the market—initially in Glasgow but later in other cities, too. That is the kind of action that we need to improve the quality of rented housing and provide greater choice for consumers. It shows that there are private sector organisations keen to invest in rented housing. Our plans to revive the private rented sector in this Bill will create the right climate for further imaginative initiatives of this sort. The Nationwide Anglia initiative relates mainly to the cities, but I hope that others will come forward with similar proposals for villages and small towns in the country, where there is just as much need.

In the social rented sector — essentially housing associations and council housing—there is a balance to be struck between subsidising people and subsidising property. We favour a change in the current balance towards support for people and away from bricks and mortar subsidy. However, we certainly do not propose any sudden or dramatic changes that would bear harshly upon tenants. Indeed, current housing association tenants will be unaffected for as long as they remain in their present homes.

New housing association tenants will pay a rent which the association will set itself without reference to the rent officer. The rent for a particular dwelling will be determined by its cost and by the contribution that the Exchequer makes available through grant. As I said, we are also looking for increased private sector finance for housing associations. It is too early to say what the new grant rates will be or what rents they will produce. Rents will be higher than existing fair rents, but the broad intention is that associations should be able to set rents that could reasonably be met by housing association tenants in work.

Part III contains provisions for the establishment of housing action trusts. Earlier, I described some of the appalling conditions in which tenants on some of the larger estates in our inner cities and conurbations now live. I described the problems of architectural experiments that have turned out to be an insult to the people who have to live in them and who face daily the problems of disrepair, dereliction and crime. The people who live in such places deserve better. However, in the worst of these areas, it is now beyond the capacity of local authorities to deal with the problems.

Housing action trusts will make a start in tackling those problems. Based broadly on the model of the highly successful urban development corporations, the trusts are intended to be short-life bodies which will take over large areas of rundown council housing—perhaps up to 5,000 or 6,000 homes — and refurbish and improve them before passing them on to new forms of ownership and management. The trusts will also have powers to enable them to undertake or contribute to measures designed to regenerate local economic activity, employment initiatives, the provision of amenities and other facilities for local people.

This part of the Bill provides for me to designate housing action trust areas and to establish trusts for those areas. It sets out the kinds of matters—for example, the condition of the housing, the way in which it is being managed and the general social and environmental conditions of the area—which I may take into account before doing so. Both the designation and the establishment of trusts are to be effected by orders subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses.

In the designated areas, the trusts will have most of the housing functions of the local authority. To ensure that trusts can tackle their tasks as efficiently and effectively as possible, the Bill provides that the trusts may also be given various functions such as development control by order and various other planning and public health functions. The extent to which such powers are granted will inevitably depend to some extent on the degree of co-operation that the housing action trusts can establish with the local authorities.

It is my strong preference that the trusts should be able to proceed with the full co-operation of local authorities. Opponents of the proposal have sought to depict it as an anti-local authority measure. They are wrong. The trusts are a special instrument devised to deal with very special problems. It would be most unfortunate if local authorities adopted a hostile stance towards them, as they offer perhaps the only chance of rescuing areas of housing and their tenants in some of the most miserable estates in the country. Nevertheless, I do not rule out establishing trusts even where the local authority adopts a doctrinaire stance of hostility, if I consider that that is the only way in which we can help some of its tenants.

The trusts must regard as central the interests of existing tenants in the areas that they take on. Hon. Members will note that the Bill provides for the trusts to consult tenants and other residents fully about their plans for the area and to report to me on the outcome of that consultation exercise. That is particularly important. There can be no question of the trusts' riding roughshod over the views of tenants.

Part IV of the Bill applies to all tenants in the council sector. As I said, council tenants have simply had to take what they are given by way of accommodation and service from their landlord and put up with it. While many local authorities have an undeniably good record as landlords, a significant number do not. They have managed properties inefficiently and with little respect for tenants' wishes and have provided a poor service. Such failings characterise a monopoly, where the spur of competition is absent and the consumer is unable to take his business elsewhere.

The proposals in part IV of the Bill are designed to restore some balance by giving the tenant a choice—the right to seek an alternative landlord. This will introduce the spur of competition into the local authority rented sector for the first time. This can only benefit all tenants, whether or not they choose to remain in that sector. Indeed, it has already started to do so.

Provisions in this part of the Bill define the people and property in respect of which the right to seek a new landlord may be exercised. Essentially, they will be secure tenants of local housing authorities, new towns and housing action trusts. The clauses also specify that only landlords approved by the Housing Corporation may apply to purchase the freehold of tenanted homes under this part of the Bill. Such landlords might include registered housing associations, a tenants' co-operative or a private firm. Nationwide Anglia has made it clear that it stands ready to help.

The Bill sets out the procedures that are to apply. There are also provisions requiring the would-be landlord to consult tenants. Any tenant who expresses a wish to remain a tenant of the local authority will be able to do so. Houses of such tenants will remain in council ownership. In the case of blocks of flats, the transfer will not be able to go ahead if more than half the tenants object, and, if a transfer goes ahead, the new landlord will be required to grant the local authority a lease on the flats of those tenants who wish to remain tenants of the local authority, thus safeguarding their position. The new right is vital in giving the council tenant the genuine opportunity to vote with his feet if he regards his local authority landlord as unsatisfactory.

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rose

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This Bill marks a major step forward in improving the opportunities, choices and conditions of all those who rent rather than buy their own homes. The Government want to see more and better housing for rent. This Bill creates the opportunity for putting private and public finance to work to create more choice and more competition. I commend it to the House.

5 pm

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I begin by apologising on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) who has suffered a minor but painful accident. We expect him to be back with us in full fighting form in the near future.

As we begin the debate on what I regard as an irrelevant and, at times, damaging Bill we must remember that there are many people in this country who live in warm, comfortable, well-built, well-constructed and well-repaired homes. That is due to the contribution of Labour Governments and Labour authorities in the past and it has been supported by Conservative Governments and Conservative local authorities as well. There was a time when the political debate on housing in this country hinged on the issue of how many houses and flats had been built or renovated and what the quality of the stock was like. That is no longer true. The Government have destroyed any consensus on housing. If they believe that they have simply destroyed the consensus with the Labour party, let me tell them how wrong they are. The Conservative-controlled Association of District Councils said:
"The record of housing authorities is generally good—they should not be blamed for any general social problems that may be manifest in urban centres. These are conditions which are found in many countries".
Therefore, the role of local authorities is supported by the Association of District Councils. The role of local authorities is also supported by Rural Voice, which also obtained support from the National Farmers Union and other organisations. I will be referring to those organisations throughout the debate because we know that we have their support as well as support across the board from Labour and Liberal local authorities. We know that over the past eight or nine years we have watched the Government rip into the morale of local authority employees and local authority councillors. In doing that they are undermining local democracy in this country.

Housing was recognised by successive Governments as being vital to the welfare of the nation. We all knew, and still know, that a person who lives in poor or inadequate housing is likely to suffer greater health problems. We know that people who live in poor or inadequate housing are less likely to do well in education. We know that if one does not have a good housing policy, particularly if homelessness is pushed up to record levels as it is under this Government, there will be a dramatic increase in crime. When the Government introduced the board and lodging allowance, they pushed more and more young people into homelessness and, consequently, into drug abuse, alcohol abuse and crime. The figures were produced by the Government, by their own Home Secretary, and they know that. That is one of the most damaging things the Government have done.

There was supposed to be consultation about the Bill. The consultation papers often required a response within four weeks. Were tenants to be consulted in that time? Oh no, tenants do not really matter, whether private or public. That is why we shall give the House an opportunity to vote to put the Bill before a Special Standing Committee of the House. That would provide an opportunity for the various bodies, including Conservative-controlled organisations such as the ADC, to give evidence to the Committee. Let them do that. If the Government really believe that they have the support of even their own party in rural areas, let the organisations give evidence to the Standing Committee and let us see some of the Conservative Members in the Lobby with us; that is unless the Government believe that the Bill should go to a Special Standing Committee.

The Minister for Housing and Planning, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), did not even know when the Housing Bill was to be published. He told me that it would be published at the end of November. In fact, it came out on Friday 20 November after various queries from the media which had heard a rumour that it was to be published. The Bill was published with the word "Restricted" stamped on it. That was because, as everybody knows, it was a draft document. In other words, consultation was not taken into account.

There are deep divisions within the Government on the issue of housing. I can provide one little example straight from Conservative Central Office. The Secretary of State and the Minister both made speeches on housing and the wording is the same except for two words and they totally turn round the meaning of the statement. On 19 May 1987 the Secretary of State said:
"The quantity of housing available for renting overall is probably sufficient to cater for the numbers of households needing rented accommodation."
One month later on 19 June 1987 the Minister said:
"The quantity of housing available for renting is insufficient to cater for the number of households needing rented accommodation."
That is an example—we have other evidence—of the fact that the Minister is in disagreement with his Secretary of State on what they are trying to do.

The consequence of the Government's policy since 1979 is the creation of a desperately serious and growing housing crisis throughout the United Kingdom. When one of the Conservative Back-Benchers interrupted to say that the Bill deals with city areas but does nothing for rural areas, he was right. The Bill will do nothing for rural areas. The report of the ADC and the report of Rural Voice make it clear that there is a serious and damaging decline in the rented sector and a serious and damaging decline in the standard of maintenance in rural and semi-rural areas as well as in urban areas. We know that.

The Bill is largely irrelevant and, in many cases, positively damaging. What is the nature of the crisis? First, there is a crisis in house price inflation. Secondly, there is a disgraceful crisis in homelessness and bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Thirdly, there is a dramatic loss of rented housing, which is forcing up waiting lists. Fourthly, and underlying the other problems, there is a collapse of public sector building and a housing finance system that has been pushed into chaos by the Government and distorted the rented and purchasing markets. There is nothing in the Bill to deal with house price inflation. Prices are likely to remain distorted throughout the United Kingdom.

If unemployed people in the north want to come to the south for a job they will either have to stay where they are and commute—driving up and down the motorway if they can get a group together to do that, as some people do—or leave home. When I went to Exeter a short while ago one of the first people I met was a man looking for a job. He had left his family in Newcastle and was paying £70 a week in a hostel set up for the homeless. He hoped to find a job for the coming tourist season. That is becoming all too common a picture in our country. It applies wherever one goes, not just to urban areas. It means that a couple who save to buy a home or to trade up on their existing home if they have children can be forced into serious debt by mortgage rate increases or unemployment. Repossessions in the private sector have increased fourfold. That is the measure of the crisis for those people. A dream for many people has turned into a nightmare. If one looks at the number of people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, one finds that a significant minority are there because their homes have been repossessed.

What about the promise of more help to repair and improve? The Secretary of State said—I listened to him carefully—that they were thinking of doing that a little later. It is a pity that they could not have done it sooner. The Green Paper was published two and a half years ago. This Bill is a missed opportunity. The ADC, Rural Voice and other organisations have criticised the Bill for that.

The Bill does nothing about homelessness or bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The White Paper did not even mention homelessness. The word did not appear in it at all. Yet homelessness is at record levels in this country. At Christmas we shall be asked to remember those who are homeless or in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and those who are sleeping under the bridges not very far from here. Indeed, when hon. Members go home tonight they may well see the same body that has been sleeping in that box beside the entrance of Westminster tube station for some months now.

We all acknowledge that some people will always be homeless—the burnt-out, vagrant, schizophrenic or the alcoholic who refuses to accept any help. But we are not in that league any more; it is entirely different. We are talking about thousands and thousands of people forced to sleep rough and desperate for a roof over their heads.

Last year, 200,000 people applied as homeless to local authorities. Only 100,000 could be accepted. The January 1987 report of the Department of the Environment, referring to houses in multiple occupation, said that there were 1·9 million single people living in hostels, bed-sits and bed-and-breakfast accommodation who wanted a self-contained home. The report found that four fifths of those houses in multiple occupation had no adequate fire escape and 60 per cent. lacked adequate amenities. One third of the tenants had to share a bathroom with at least six others. The estimated national cost of doing up those properties was £3·6 billion. The average income of the people living there was £90 a week whereas the average rent paid was £27 a week—almost a third of their pay. But the Secretary of State has been telling us that rents are not high enough. The Government argue that, when the rents go up — perhaps by 50 per cent.—suddenly a miracle will occur and properties will appear on the market. That is wicked nonsense.

A recent survey in Hackney found that 64 per cent. of homeless single people were under 26, and I refer to my previous comments on the way in which crime and drug and alcohol abuse are linked to homelessness and poor accommodation. There are 11,000 families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation at a cost of £12,000 per family per annum. If we provided them with a newly built council house, the cost would be £7,000 per family per annum. The Secretary of State has told us that he will make another £25 million available, but we shall look at the small print. I have learnt with this Government, and especially this Secretary of State and this Department of the Environment, to look at the small print. Conservative Members found recently with the rate support grant that, although they might have thought that they would get more, they in fact got less. Conservative Back Benchers criticised that rate support grant—not for the first time—because it did not deliver the goods that they had constantly promised their local authorities.

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The hon. Gentleman is a fair man so, when he has examined the small print and found that there are no such problems, will he write and congratulate us?

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I shall do much more — I shall get together a meeting of all the Conservative Members who criticise this policy and, if they will sign the letter, I shall do so, too. But they must demonstrate that their local authorities will not be worse off. We have heard the questions and shall have no difficulty in pursuing that point.

The Government's policy in the Bill is deregulation of the private sector and damaging intervention on housing associations. As the Secretary of State admitted, the Government tried this crazy idea in 1957 and again in 1980. In 1957 a new word entered the English language — "Rachmanism". The Secretary of State should remember that everyone acknowledges that some of Mr. Rachman's activities were illegal, but he was never convicted of anything. I criticise the Liberal amendment because the Liberals do not recognise—I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who is a lawyer, will recognise this—that the law on harassment is not strong.

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The hon. Gentleman mentioned the effects of the Rent Act 1957. Will he consider this point? What happened was the direct result of the Labour party promising at once to repeal that legislation and bring back controls once more. Obviously, an owner who won vacant possession did not want to run the risk of the Labour party doing that, so he sold out at the first opportunity. That was the reason for the decline in the private rented sector, for which successive Labour Governments have been responsible.

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That is one of the most naive explanations that I have every heard. I shall take the hon. Gentlernan through the argument and, if he follows me, he might begin to understand why I said that.

In 1980, the Government introduced shorthold tenancies and certain technical changes with respect to rent increases. Following the 1957 changes, there was the biggest ever single decrease in the number of rented properties available apart possibly from the present time. Since the beginning of this century, there has been a steady, almost straight-line-graph decline in the private rented sector. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures, he will find that when Governments of various political complexions, going back to 1915 — as the Secretary of State said—introduced a form of rent control, there was no change in the rate of decline. It stayed constant. Since 1979, 1 million homes have gone from the rented sector, half of them from the private rented sector—more than the number of homes destroyed by Hitler's bombs. All right, the homes about which I am talking have not been destroyed, but they have gone from the rented sector. But the Government say that since 1980 and the introduction of short lets and technical changes in the Rent Acts, this sector is supposed to be reviving.

There is another issue that gives the lie to this crazy theory. More than half the lets in London are outside Rent Act controls, and the bottom is still dropping out of the market. The Government believe that if rents are increased the problem will be solved. But I have already said that people on an average income of £90 a week pay £27 in rent.

The Association of District Councils—I am glad to have such bodies on my side—agrees that market rents are unlikely to revive the rented sector. So much for the belief of the Secretary of State that the Conservative party is on his side. It is not, and Rural Voice does not believe him either. Rural Voice operates council houses throughout Britain, which is how it knows what is happening. People forget that Mr. Rachman was not "just", as some say, a bad landlord. He was a property developer. He wanted to get people out so that he could sell the properties. That should tell the Government a lot about how they handle the Bill. They have introduced some limited protection against eviction and harassment in part IV. If one reads the small print, one recognises that to ensure that a court issues a possession order, allowing possession to go ahead, the landlord merely has to offer "suitable alternative accommodation". There will be arguments about what is "suitable". The landlord might say, "Sorry, but you must move. You might have had a garden before, but we shall move you first to this two-roomed flat. When we have moved you, perhaps we will move you to a one-roomed flat." People will again go through the agonies of the 1950s period, and that is why I ask the Liberal party to think again about the wording of its amendment.

It has always been notoriously difficult to prove harassment and illegal eviction. That is why I draw the attention of the House to the fact that Mr. Rachman was never convicted of any offence.

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On existing regulated tenancies, does there not remain an incentive to get tenants out? Even if accommodation is not sold with vacant possession, it can be relet at market rents. Even if laws preventing harassment are brought into effect—there is a question mark over how effective they will be—nine times out of 10 the tenant who has been forced out will not be reinstated.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as I hope is the House, because he has saved me from making one of my points. My hon. Friend is right.

On 19 May, in the statement I have already quoted, the Secretary of State said that we need tough summary sanctions. One need not be a lawyer to recognise that the words uttered by Secretary of State during the heat and intensity of a general election campaign have now changed. It is no longer tough summary sanctions—it is all sorts of woolly, cloudy issues that must be proved in a court of law. The landlord will almost certainly have a very capable lawyer, properly funded—just as they have been in the past—yet there will be no real certainty that the tenant can fight back effectively.

The Government's survey—and I ask the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) to pay attention to this — of privately owned empty properties found that only 2 per cent. of owners said that they were empty because of the Rent Acts. Are they kidding themselves; are they all wrong?

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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a substantial number of people in other countries live in private rented accommodation? Do they not also face the same percentage of bad landlords?

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I am coming to precisely that point. The hon. Gentleman knows that the problem lies with housing finance. Someone who owns a house worth £50,000 can sell it, put the money in a building society as a relatively safe investment and, without too much effort, receive about £100 a week in interest—all without the hassle of being a landlord. If a house is worth £100,000—nearer the mark in London — the interest would be £200 a week. We do not need to be great mathematicians to work out the level to which rents must rise simply to break even with the return on investment in a building society. Someone who owns a house worth £50,000 must receive a rent of at least £100 a week to break even. In fact, it will probably be more than that because the owner will increase the rent slightly and then sell the house after three or four years. However, for the owner to realise his money in a house, he must have vacant possession. He will have to winkle out his tenants.

There is another way to make a profit from renting—to go up market and rent to the really high income groups. That will certainly happen. Yet another way would be to pack a great many people into a property. An elderly man came to see me at my advice surgery about nine months ago. He was paying £70 a week for accommodation and breakfast in a cafe down the road. He was sharing a room with three other people. That is why we say that already half the rented property is outside the Rent Acts and there will be more such cases—

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I am sure that it has not escaped the hon. Gentleman's attention that that lamentable case is a result of the present laws.

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I can tell the Minister the cause—it is because that sort of rental falls outwith the Rent Acts. It is also caused by the housing crisis.

The man who came to see me, although elderly, was not old enough to fall into a category eligible for local authority help. I wanted to take up his case, but he would not allow that because he was afraid of losing what he had. There were no controls to help him and I could not offer him alternative housing. Why not? It was because the Government have cut the public housing sector by two thirds since 1979.

The Duke of Edinburgh's report, that of the Church of England—"Faith in the City"—and just about every independent housing expert have stated clearly that we must reform the housing finance system. If I have God and the royal family on my side, the Tory party should be worried. I repeat my offer to the Government—we will talk with them about all aspects of housing finance and help them to get the necessary policy through the House, subject to two conditions. First, any new or reformed system must be fairer both within the rented and purchase systems and between the two systems. Secondly, any such system must not cause either rent or mortgage payers economic distress.

The Government, through their combined assaults on housing benefit and rents—brought about by their cuts in grants to local authorities—have thrown almost every rent payer into financial crisis. In addition, every time that there has been an increase in the mortgage interest rate and every time that there has been a dramatic increase in unemployment, mortgage payers have been caused economic distress. At the same time, the Government have managed to distort the housing market out of all proportion to its previous state.

The proposal to restructure housing association finance will break up a system that has commanded all-party support. The original legislation was introduced by a Labour Government, but some of the thinking had already been done during the 1970–74 Tory Government. When the Labour party introduced legislation—albeit with amendments—it received a considerable measure of support from Conservative Members.

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My recollection is that Sir Keith Joseph, as he then was, introduced the policy in 1963, and made £3 million available to implement it.

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The key Act — the 1974 Act — was introduced—[Interruption] I am right; hon. Members can check it for themselves.

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It started in the 1960s.

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I do not dispute that the housing association movement started in the 1960s. At that time, a number of people felt that there was a need for another layer of housing provision. It was a Labour Government who recognised that the policy needed regulating and the establishment of certain basic standards, and those were introduced—

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The hon. Gentleman must surely be aware that the 1974 Act was introduced by a Conservative Government. Indeed, I was the Under-Secretary of State who dealt with it on the Floor of the House.

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The hon. Gentleman cannot be thinking of the same Act. He obviously does not know the facts. He should go away now and check. He has the time.

The Housing Act 1974 allowed the Labour Government to introduce between 250,000 and 300,000 new tenancies. It was a Labour Government's Act, which received considerable support from the Tory party. Yet this Conservative Government now wish to introduce private finance, at a fixed level for each area, within a range of 30 per cent. to 70 per cent. As with the private sector, housing associations will be pushed up-market and will be less able to provide low-cost rented accommodation to people in need. That is why the National Federation of Housing Associations is deeply concerned that rents will have to rise dramatically.

The alternative—and there is one—is to increase housing benefit. Of course, the Government say, "Don't worry about rent increases because housing benefit will rise to meet them." Yet this Government have cut housing benefit seven times and — as we were told by the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled a few days ago—intend to cut it again in April by £640 million, which will make 5 million families worse off. The Government might say, "No problem, we will increase housing benefit", but there is no sign that they will actually do so.

I want to ask the Secretary of State a question, and will happily give way to him so that he can answer it immediately. What proportion of a person's net income should be paid in rent? Will the right hon. Gentleman answer that question now? It is obvious that he will not. Will he, therefore, say whether the Government are prepared to raise housing benefit, regardless of the levels to which rents rise under the free market system? Let him answer that.

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I can answer that question. The answer is yes, subject to the three provisos that I made in my speech.

The hon. Gentleman would agree that if a tenant and a landlord got together and connived to double the rent in order to get the whole of it repaid in housing benefit, he would be against it. He agrees with that, I hope. Does he really think that housing benefit should be available to people who rent flats in Eaton square? No. Does he think that a single person should be put in a four-bedroomed house? No. So presumably he agrees with the provisos that we put in the Bill.

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I am even more convinced of the Secretary of State's ignorance on housing matters. For a start, any of the provisos that he has mentioned could be applied, if one does not approve of subsidy, to the mortgage income tax relief system. What is the difference? Are we going to have a rent assessment committee rushing round and checking up on the £4·5 billion a year that goes into mortgage income tax relief, of which virtually one-quarter goes to those who earn over £20,000 a year? Is the Secretary of State suggesting that we now ought to check up on all those people receiving that level of mortgage income tax relief on that sort of salary?

I will come back in a moment to the issue of what happens to the person who will have to move out of a flat that is considered too large. The Government cannot give that assurance, not least because of that mean little provision in this Bill, clause 106, which gives an additional function to rent officers of deciding whether a person's accommodation is too large or too small. What will happen when somebody's parents die, and the rent officer finds that a house which previously had three occupants now has only one? The housing benefit level will be too high, according to the Secretary of State. We cannot have one person occupying a three-or four-bedroomed house, as he has just indicated. These people will either have to move or lose their housing benefit. That is what will happen. That is why this system is so evil and pernicious. I shall be interested to see whether the rent assessment officer goes round to see whether the Secretary of State's house is too big, if, perhaps, he was given a little too much tax rebate when receiving mortgage income tax relief, but I do not think it will happen.

We shall see a situation which has already begun to appear. A trainee nurse will have to pay 37 per cent. of her salary in rent before qualifying for housing benefit. A qualified nurse will have to pay 48 per cent. of her net salary before she becomes eligible for housing benefit. A painter and decorator aged 35, with a wife and two children, a take-home pay of £169 a week net and a child benefit of £14·50 a week, will not qualify for housing benefit on a rent below £64·80 a week. That is 34 per cent. of his income. A pensioner couple with an occupational pension—beloved by the Government—and a total net weekly income of £106·25 will not qualify for housing benefit on rents of less than £28·81 a week, 27 per cent. of their income. If he cannot answer the other questions adequately, will the Secretary of State tell us whether he thinks that those levels, which will come into being in April next year, are acceptable? Let him give us an answer. There is no answer, so presumably they are acceptable.

Perhaps the Secretary of State and his hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green think it too low, think that landlords are not getting enough money so they have to have more. Is it too low, is it about right or will it go up even further? We do not seem to be given an answer to that one either.

Whatever happened to the assured tenancies? That is the other big change. If it was a criminal offence in Britain to abuse the English language, the Secretary of State would have been hanged, drawn and quartered years ago. What he does to the English language is criminal. Assured tenancies were introduced with the idea that they would be approved by the Secretary of State or his Department. That assurance has gone. Assured tenancies are no longer assured. Yet the previous Housing Minister, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), said that we would have responsible landlords assured by a system of registration. That was the commitment of a previous Housing Minister. That too has gone. An assured tenancy is, in fact, an insecure high-rent tenancy and a shorthold assured tenancy is an insecure short let. There can be no consensus between the political parties on such a policy. We all know from reading the Bill that security of tenure has gone, not least because of the introduction of the concept of statutory periodic tenancy, which puts so many of the cards in a landlord's hands. The terms of the rent assessment committee are not binding and the landlord can too easily change the terms through the statutory periodic tenancy.

Can hon. Members recall another great promise made by the Government to the effect that there would be continuity of tenancy? It meant that if one was looking after an elderly relative, one could stay on safely. That has gone. The elderly relative is dead and the landlord can say that the circumstances have changed. He can change the tenancy and tell the tenant to go. There is no guarantee of inheriting a family tenancy after caring for aged relatives or something of the kind. Another promise is broken.

So the Secretary of State falls back on housing action trusts. Here is the cutting edge, but it is also the edge where the double standards come in. No veto for tenants here: they have no vote but they will be "listened to". If the consultation exercise on this Bill is anything to go by, tenants will have to be quick or it will pass them by while they are drinking a cup of tea. Ratepayers may even have to pay for the establishment of a housing action trust. That is the Government who were talking earlier this afternoon about spendthrift local authorities. They will now ask ratepayers in certain circumstances to pay to have their housing taken away from them and to have certain planning and public health powers taken away too. I pray in aid the Association of District Councils.

The housing action trust members will be paid, so ratepayers will presumably have to subsidise them. Yet if a person is on a housing association, not only is he not paid but there must not be a conflict of interest. There is nothing in here about a conflict of interests. Are we sure that we will not have estate agents on the housing action trusts? Can we be sure? I doubt it.

Clause 59 defines the objectives of the housing action trust, of which diversified tenures is one. No local authority tenants—they are not allowed. They are not fit people, apparently. No homeless people at all. What did the Government say on that? The consultation document said that it would not be appropriate for homeless people because that would distract it from its regenerative function. "To hell with the people, let us get our hands on the buildings and then move others in, rather like we have done in Wandsworth and Westminster."

The plum, the so-called jewel in the crown, is the tenant's right to choose a landlord. Labour local authorities have been allowing tenants to choose landlords for years. The difference is that they gave a veto to tenants and stipulated that the landlord must be socially responsible. That again is worthy of a little quotation from the Association of District Councils because what it says is:
"Ballot procedures should not be weighted against a local authority. The Association does not consider the present provisions of the Bill to be even-handed."
Why not? The Minister let it slip when opening the debate. Over 50 per cent. of the people must vote against before a takeover can be rejected. If we tried that in voting for industrial action, we would be down at the High Court before we could say "ballot box". It means that if 50 per cent. of the people vote against, with the other 50 per cent. either voting in favour or not voting at all, it can still go through. It is an iniquitous system and one which a number of others have recognised as wrong.

Above all, why is there no right for private tenants to opt out? According to independent surveys, 89 per cent. of local authority tenants regard their landlords as satisfactory compared with 82 per cent. of private tenants. Yet the Bill allows only local authority tenants to opt out if they do not like their landlord. Private tenants will have no such right. Moreover, tenants who opt out will not be allowed to change their minds; if they find themselves with a bad landlord as a result, they will be stuck with the situation.

The right to choose must be put into perspective. It should be on the basis of good and bad landlords, regardless of whether they are public or private, Labour, Conservative, Liberal, or whatever.

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My hon. Friend is making a first-class speech, but what makes him think that tenants will have a vote? The Bill uses the word "signified", so if 51 per cent. do not write in to say no they may be deemed to have said yes.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The White Paper refers to voting, but my hon. Friend may well be right. Knowing the Govemment's record, we shall have to examine the small print very carefully in Committee.

The Government should be making a major effort to give tenants real rights, whether they be in the public or the private sector, because tenants have the right to a good service. The guts of the matter is that the Secretary of State is basically against public sector housing and local democracy and, like the Government, shows utter contempt for them. The Government talk about the number of empty council properties, but only 2·3 per cent. of local authority housing stock is empty compared with 3·8 per cent. of housing association properties and 4·2 per cent. in the private sector. Moreover, the worst offenders of all are the Secretary of State and the Government, with 6·9 per cent. of Government-owned properties lying empty.

I will give just two examples. The Metropolitan police have 3,203 properties in London, of which 573 are empty. Around Wormwood Scrubs prison there are a number of flats and houses, some of them beautiful Victorian cottages. Those properties have been empty for four years and some of the flats for nine years. The cottages would sell for at least £150,000, but the whole lot—occupied or unoccupied — are to be bulldozed to make way for prison car parking and landscaping. That is a marvellous statement of the Government's priorities in an area in which the housing waiting list has risen to 10,000 people, 500 of them in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, since the Government came to office. The truth is that, along with the mess that the Government have made of housing finance, by cutting back so much on housing benefit they have devastated public sector building. In just five years, there was a cut of two thirds, from 94,000 completions in 1980 to only 33,000 in 1985. Even if the Government's policies were reversed tomorrow morning, it would take five or 10 years to get back to the situation in 1979.

There can be no revival without a balanced housing policy. The building industry, local authorities and housing associations must be able to plan ahead, but at present that is impossible. With the Government's investment policy, not even private investors can plan ahead when they have seen the Government cut housing benefit seven times. The misery that people face, in rural and urban areas alike, but especially in the inner cities—as seen on television at Christmas when the churches go round the hostels doing their good work — is dramatically and horribly worse as a result of seven or eight years of the Government's crazy, ideologically oriented policies and, tragically, it can only get even worse.

5.44 pm

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The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has told the House that his party is implacably opposed to the provisions of the Bill. He warned the House and the country that there could be no consensus between the two sides of the House on the basis of the Bill, but the House ought not to take that too seriously. Like many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I remember the speech of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) opposing the right to buy which is enshrined in the Housing Act 1980. Time and again, the Labour party said that it opposed giving local authority tenants the right to buy, but eventually it followed where my right hon. Friends had led and today even the Labour party does not propose to repeal the right of tenants to buy their own houses.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I am mindful of what Mr. Speaker has said about the need for short speeches.

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When compulsory council house sales were introduced eight years ago, the basis of the Labour party's opposition and my own was the belief that if council houses were sold at a discount the best would be sold off and local authorities would be left with the worst. That has already happened. One cannot oppose the selling off of what has already been sold.

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Clearly it was a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

My point is illustrated by what happened in the general election of 1983, when the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) was leader of the Labour party. The Labour manifesto of June 1983 contained a promise to repeal the right to buy, but there was no such promise in the Labour manifesto in June 1987.1 predict that precisely the same change will take place in relation to our proposals to give public sector tenants the right to choose their landlords.

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What about private tenants?

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Twenty-eight years ago yesterday, I travelled from London to Blackpool to attend the post-general election defeat conference of the Labour party and to hear what turned out to be the last great speech of the predecessor of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent — Mr. Aneurin Bevan. His words made a deep impression on my mind. As I recall it, his message was as follows: "You really cannot go before the country with a programme and tell the country that you think the programme is good for the country and immediately the country has rejected it say that you would like to alter it. It won't work. It isn't right. It is almost like saying that you put before the country a false prospectus. The programme we put before the country we believed in. We are very sorry that the electorate rejected it. We think that the electorate is going to be sorry for having rejected it. In the course of time, as years go by, as circumstances change and the issues are altered, we may find it necessary to change some part of the programme. That will not be because we thought the programme was wrong but simply because we think that it might be adjusted to altered circumstances."

The Labour party is busily engaged in disregarding the advice that was given to it 28 years ago by one of its heroes, to whom its present leader unveiled a statue in Ebbw Vale earlier this month. I remind the Labour party of the undesirability of changing policy because one finds that it is unpopular, which is what the Labour party has done on housing policy.

I make it clear to my right hon. Friend that I welcome most warmly the proposals in the Bill. Unlike Opposition Members, I welcome especially the right that we are giving to local authority tenants to change their landlords. On the basis of figures that I think were entirely spurious, the hon. Member for Hammersmith claimed that almost all local authority tenants are satisfied with their landlords. I advise the hon. Gentleman that, alas, that is simply not the case. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the private sector?"'] I am dealing at the moment with the public sector. I advise the hon. Gentleman that if he were to visit council tenants in London, whether they lived in houses or flats, and made his own survey, asking whether those tenants were content with their landlords, I am afraid that the reply would be depressing. Indeed, the reply would not have allowed him to make the assertion that he did earlier.

I welcome that provision without reservation. It is a further development of our policy. Successive Governments used to believe that the criterion by which their housing policy should be judged was the number of houses and flats that they had built for letting in the public sector in perpetuity. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister became leader of the Conservative party, she altered our housing policy to give tenants a choice. We are now extending that choice, and that is to be warmly welcomed.

I turn from the extension of choice so far as landlords are concerned to the private rented sector. My right hon. Friend's proposals do not go far enough. With the assured tenancy scheme, even under my right hon. Friend's proposals there will still be security of tenure. With the shorthold scheme, it will still be possible for a tenant to go to the rent officer and ultimately to the rent assessment committee to fix his rent. The desirable objectives of bringing into use accommodation that at present is not in use or is under-used, of attracting new investment into building, and converting private accommodation for rent would be better served if we had said that from the date on which the Bill comes into force all future lettings will be at a rent and for a term as agreed between landlord and tenant. Although my right hon. Friend's proposals are a giant step forward, he may regard them as being only a stage towards the desirable objective of allowing landlords and tenants to agree on the rent and terms of their tenancies.

In the White Paper, my right hon. Friend proposed to abolish the cost floor and he has explained in his speech the reason why the Bill does not contain proposals to do so. I doubt whether it would be wise to abolish the cost floor in its entirety. The present cut-off date is 31 March 1974. It would be reasonable to make that date much later, but from a public finance stance it would be unjustified to abolish it entirely. Let us suppose that a new council house is built today at a cost of £50,000 and that a tenant moves in who has been a public sector tenant for 30 years. That tenant would be able to exercise the right to buy at a 60 per cent. discount and to buy for £20,000 a house that had cost the public sector £50,000. It would be right to advance the date of the cost floor and wrong to abolish it altogether.

My final point relates to the role of the district valuer. The district valuer is mentioned in the Bill, but there is an omission. At present, when a tenant wishes to exercise the right to buy, it is frequently the practice of the local authority to ask the district valuer at that stage his opinion of the open market value of the house or flat. If the prospective purchaser disagrees with the value placed on the house or flat by the local authority, which in the situation that I have described would have been made by the district valuer, the aggrieved would-be purchaser has the right to appeal but only to the district valuer, the very person whom the local authority asked for advice initially about the value of the house.

I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning replies he will assure the House that the Bill will include a provision that henceforward, if local authorities need advice — which, of course, they frequently do—before fixing the value of a house or flat which is subject to the right to buy, they should take advice from the private sector, so that there can be a genuine appellate procedure to the district valuer.

I repeat my welcome for my right hon. Friend's Bill and wish it a speedy passage through Parliament. I urge my right hon. Friend not to take too seriously the Labour party's temporary opposition to this excellent measure.

5.57 pm

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I should like to make just one point about the speech of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). He must know that some of us have always taken the view, and continue to take the view, that the sale of council houses, especially in areas of great need, was wrong and continues to be wrong. Although the sale of council houses was included in my party's manifesto for the previous general election, I should stress that I have never agreed with that.

Areas such as mine have terrible problems and our people have great need of homes and houses. In such areas, the sale of council houses simply removes houses from the public sector and people who need homes are denied them. It may not be the case in parts of the south and in London, although I am certain that even in London there are problems regarding the sale of some houses, but when one goes round council estates in areas of high unemployment such as my area, it is terrible to see council houses up for sale when nobody can afford to buy them. Yet at the same time we have an increasing list of people in need of housing.

I declare an interest as a member of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians. I am a building worker by trade. When I was genuinely working for a living, creating rather than talking, I was a carpenter and joiner. I know about housing problems because when I was married at the end of the war I lived for 12 years in rooms. To begin with we lived with my parents, then with my wife's relatives and then in rooms.

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Did they not have a house to spare?

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They certainly did not have a house to spare and I did not know anybody with houses to spare. I know what happens. Two ladies share a kitchen or two families a bathroom. That causes tensions and terrible problems can arise. We got a home only through both of us working for years and saving a little money for a deposit to get a mortgage. Then I discovered I had an even bigger debt. When I came to the House I owed as much on the mortgage as when I first borrowed it nearly 19 years previously.

It always amazes me that we seem to ignore realities. The Bill does not touch on what people are suffering, nor does it help them to deal with their problems. That is what worries me about these debates. Will the Bill provide even one additional home?

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The hon. Gentleman was the Minister for Housing and for a while I shadowed him. He knows that despite all the assurances that we have have had from the Government since the day they came to office, for most of our people—I am not talking about those with houses to spare — problems such as overcrowding have got worse and lists have got longer. The Government want to remove public ownership, but the only real answer to housing needs is the development of local authority ownership and building.

Earlier, we talked about rural areas. I was born and bred, not in a great urban area, but in a rural area, and I know about ordinary working people living in nice thatched cottages because I went into such homes and saw dirty floors, the lack of bathrooms and the lavvy at the end of the garden. How did people escape from that? Local authorities provided them with decent homes; no one else did. Private entrepreneurs did not come along and say, "There is a need for homes. We shall build them." There was nothing of the sort.

The Labour party has a proud record on housing. It goes back to the days of the greatest Minister with responsibility for housing, John Wheatley, and the first minority Labour Government. He was a crackpot Left-winger, like me, and a Roman Catholic. I am an Anglo-Catholic, but he was a Christian, like me. He was deeply concerned about the needs of ordinary working people and he introduced the Bill that began the process. I do not deny that a Conservative Government started building some council houses, but the process got off the ground under a Labour Government. That was the beginning of local authority housing.

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We built more then than now.

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That is absolutely true. The position is deteriorating. Only a few houses are being built now compared with the many built by the Labour party in Liverpool in opposition to the Government. If those are not included in the figure, one sees that practically none are being built by local authorities. That is terrible.

I agree with the Secretary of State on one point. Some Conservative Members have rightly pointed out that many big local authorities have not given their tenants a square deal. I do not deny that. Even in the same local authority decent houses are looked after well because tenants have an interest in keeping their gardens well and so on, but in multi-storey blocks of three or four storeys it is a different scene. Instead of talking about handing housing over to private enterprise, we should be deciding to pull down all the multi-storey blocks in every area and to replace them with nice semi-detached houses with proper facilities.

We could learn from Liverpool city council. Although this will take a few minutes, I should like to read to the House its list of principles in developing rented housing. The document states:
"Location All developments must be located in satisfactory long term housing areas, and on sites which meet the overall housing objectives of the Council. In particular, sites should be contributing to the implementation of intensive action programmes, and should be meeting the demands from needs groups identified by the Council.
Layout"— this is important—
"The following principles shall apply to all developments.
  • All developments should be of houses and bungalows.
  • Normally they should be built in small developments, in many cases larger sites would have to be sub-divided.
  • Through streets should be provided wherever possible rather than cul-de-sacs.
  • There should be no clusters of dwellings.
  • Wherever possible dwellings should be faced onto already existing roads to avoid a canyon effect.
  • Wherever possible developments should be semi-detached.
  • Where terraces are provided they should be in short streets without back alleys and parking should be provided within the curtilage.
  • The layout of a development should have a conventional road and pavement lay-out with front access to dwellings and no pedestrian/vehicular separation.
  • Communal open spaces and play areas should be provided, within the development.
  • Whenever sheltered accommodation is provided, it should be of two storeys only.
That is what needs to be done. That is the right way to tackle housing. During the general election, Michael White ofThe Guardian happened to come to my constituency. He came round with me while I was canvassing and that sort of thing. If I remember rightly. I believe that he referred to that visit as "going to Gorky" because I had been somewhat banished in those days. He looked at the new housing built by the local authority and the private housing close to it in different parts of my constituency. He said, "The great thing, Eric, is that you cannot tell the difference." Precisely.

In the past we went wrong. When I was on the council in Liverpool—during most of that time the Tory party was in power—we got more subsidies and more support if we built high-rise flats. That is the truth of the matter.

We built those high-rise flats and the Government housing figures went up. Macmillan was able to come to the House and boast about the numbers that had been built. It was disastrous. The Government were wrong and the local authorities were wrong for accepting such a policy—we were all wrong.

Now we must get rid of such high-rise flats and do the sort of thing that that wicked Liverpool council, which is now being surcharged and whose councillors have lost their positions, has done. I am glad to say that that housing policy is being continued by the existing local authority, but, unfortunately, again without any assistance from this Government. It would be lovely if the Prime Minister and the other Ministers came to the area and forgot all their prejudices, looked at what has been done and recognised that it is not private enterprise that needs to do it. The local authorities can get things done provided they tackle it in the right way. It is true that housing management has not always been carried out in the right way. We can learn from our mistakes. It does not mean that we have to go along the road suggested by the Government.

One point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) which I had not picked up before and which scared the daylights out of me concerned clause 106. That clause immediately made me think of my mother-in-law, who is 83 years of age. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) may smile, but it is no joke. I am talking about real people. My mother-in-law brought up four children, one of whom is now a university lecturer. He came from a council estate and he has a PhD and so on. What will happen to that old lady who now lives on her own? In the future she may be told that her house is too big for her and that she ought to move. My brothers-in-law have asked her to live with them and I have asked her to live with us, but she does not want to. She wants to live on her own as long as she can get around and do the things that she wants to do. She wants to live in the house in which she brought up her family. If such housing goes over to private enterprise or is forced into private enterprise, will someone come along and say, "The accommodation is too big. Out you get."? Will that sort of uncertainty hang over the heads of ordinary people? If that is so, it is the worst part of all that is in the Bill. Just about everything else about the Bill is bad anyway.

Another thing that is important concerns what will happen if tenants ask for their properties to be taken over by landlords. Let us consider what the brief from Shelter had to say. Perhaps the Minister will get up at the end of the debate and say that Shelter is wrong, give us that assurance and write it into the Bill. That brief says:
"Safeguards for tenants are inadequate. For example, the voting system, which will determine the outcome of any take over proposal. The proposal of a prospective landlord will go through unless at least 51 per cent. of the tenants log a specific objection. On an estate with 1,000 properties 501 tenants will have to lodge individual objections in this period. There is no 'ballot' as such and it is not at all clear what would happen if you were on holiday at the time! Objections will be lodged with the new 'landlords', i.e. there is no mechanism for ensuring that even those tenants who understand how to log an objection can be sure that their objection has been counted."
Is that true? If so, it is in line with what was said in the White Paper, which stated that the basic objective of the Government is to:
"introduce arrangements to allow council tenants to choose to transfer to other landlords".
It then went on to make clear that what the Government want to do is to diminish local authority ownership. That is the key to the Bill. They wish to make sure that local authorities do not have any role in housing. They want to hand it over to private enterprise by one means or another. In other words, the Government will be helping their friends to make even more profits out of the people than in the past. That is the reality. That is what the Bill is all about.

What happens if such properties are handed over to private local landlords? We have all had experience of such matters. I am sure that Conservative Members, especially those who represent large cities, will accept that they have had constituents, who live in private rented properties, coming along with a problem. If those constituents do not do so they are certainly different from the constituents of Liverpool, Manchester or elsewhere. In the past, my constituents have come along to me and said, "For the past two years I have been asking my landlord to do such and such a repair. It is not a very big repair, but I am getting on in life and I cannot do it myself." Those private landlords have failed to do that repair. In such cases we have had to go to the local health authority to put pressure on those landlords to do the job. In fact, that process is not as good as it used to be because we cannot get those jobs done compulsorily and charged to the landlord as we could in the old days.

If properties are handed over to local landlords, will there be a guarantee that they will get repairs done? Local authorities may not get repairs done as quickly as they ought, but those repairs do get done. Indeed, they are carried out by proper craftsmen. Local authorities employ proper craftsmen and also employ young apprentices to help those people. However, in the main, private landlords employ cowboy outfits. Sometimes, after they have been to do the repair, the situation is worse than it was before.

I ask my hon. Friends—they will do so anyway—to oppose this Bill line by line, bit by bit. However, I also plead that, in the process, they do not allow the Government to keep making the agenda. I hope that we will not, once again, give way on the Government's housing policies. When it comes down to it, over the years, the Labour party's policies have proved to be the right policies. They have proved good for the mass of ordinary people. Let us get back to those policies. We must say to the Government that when they go out and we come in again we shall restore to local authorities the right to build homes for the needy in the way that we did in the past.

6.18 pm

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I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in this debate on one of the most important Bills of the present Parliament.

At the outset may I say, as a new Member, how much I recognised the sincerity and passion with which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) spoke. May I also say how much we regret the fact that the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) was unable to open for the Opposition this afternoon because of an accident.

It is a pleasure to pay tribute to my predecessor in the Taunton division of Somerset, Sir Edward du Cann. It is unnecessary for me to remind the House of his great services to it as the founder and chairman of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, as a member and Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and as the chairman, for nigh on 13 years, of the 1922 Committee of Conservative Back-Bench Members. He is a good example of someone who has attained the highest distinction and service in the House without, in recent years at least, having served on either Front Bench.

But the principal tribute to Edward comes from his constituency. No words of mine could appropriately describe the great affection in which Edward and Sallie du Cann are held in Taunton, and the gratitude and respect for his 31 years of service to his constituents. Often, the older and poorer constituents—many of whom may not have voted for him—paid the most vigorous tribute to his assiduous work on their behalf. It is sobering for a new candidate to be told at such length on so many doorsteps how highly the constituents valued his predecessor's work and how much they expected of him. This was said in broad Somerset accents which I, as a Lancastrian, will not confuse the House by attempting to quote.

The Taunton division of Somerset resembles in shape, although not in size, a tadpole. The head—the centre of the population — is on the east side, and the tail stretches to the highest point of Exmoor. Of my electors, 71,000 live in the borough of Taunton Deane and only 4,000 live in the wide, sparsely populated area of west Somerset, the responsibility for representing which I share with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Taunton is without doubt the most beautiful and varied constituency that it is possible to represent. There is Taunton itself and Wellington, a most elegant small town which has been through difficulties in recent years with manufacturing industry but which now faces the future with great confidence. Two other small towns are Wiveliscombe and Dulverton, and there is a host of villages with glorious names such as Bishops Lydeard, Hatch Beauchamp, North Curry, and Combe Florey—the home of Evelyn, and now of Auberon, Waugh.

The foundation of my constituency's prosperity was agriculture and wool. The communal and individual fortunes made in the 14th and 15th centuries led to the skyline of Taunton Deane being studded with splendid church towers which are typical of that period. Some of their interiors were not enhanced by Victorian modernisers, but our parish church of St. Nicholas, Brushford, not only retains a 15th century screen, but has a 20th century side chapel designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who was the grandfather of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Within the side chapel lie the tomb and effigy of a modern knight recumbent with puttees and pith helmet. That is Aubrey Herbert, "the man who was Greenmantle" and sometime Conservative Member of this House for the Yeovil division, now temporarily in partibus infidelibus. Some hon. Members will be aware that Aubrey Herbert spent much of his time in the Balkans and was known as the "uncrowned king of Albania."

To this day, agriculture remains important—dairying, beef and sheep on Exmoor. I hope to contribute to future agricultural debates, Mr. Speaker, if I succeed in catching your eye.

Taunton is a growth point. It attracts a mixture of industry and people from all parts of the country. This, and its comparatively low and falling unemployment, is due to the expansion of retail, commercial, professional and high-tech business, especially close to the M5 motorway or on the many industrial estates. Those developments have implications for housing, which is the subject of this debate. Indeed, last Thursday, today and tomorrow the House is debating the three issues which were most important to my constituents during the recent general election campaign and which remain important—health, housing and education. Each of those issues is concerned with meeting social requirements by the provision of adequate resources, the efficient use of those resources and effective partnership between the public and private sectors.

I welcome the Bill for two reasons. First, it is long-awaited. It is vital to the revival of the privately rented sector, the efficient use of our housing stock and the encouragement of geographical mobility of the labour force. Almost precisely 20 years ago, when I was a civil servant at the Department of Employment, I was the secretary of a small group which examined the geographical mobility of workers. That was at a time when we had 600,000 people unemployed and a much more rigid economy than we have now. There has been very little movement during those 20 years.

My second reason is that the Bill has been pioneered largely by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning. He has been a personal friend for about 22 years, and his family home is in the historic county of Somerset, which is now, alas — the House will understand my use of a French revolutionary administrative expression—in the département of Avon. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), who is now a Minister of State at the Home Office, in developing and designing the proposals contained in the Bill.

I am glad to have the assurance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the best local authorities will continue to play a significant role in housing provision and organisation. Taunton Deane borough council vigorously supports the right-to-buy legislation and has sold 2,200 homes from a total stock of 10,700. However, nearly 40 per cent. of the letters that I receive relate to housing issues — mainly the housing or rehousing of people in some need. I pay tribute to the supremely civilised and efficient way in which Taunton Deane council tries to extract a quart from a pint pot. The high standards that it establishes will set high standards for the private sector, which will need to compete. I know that Taunton Deane works and will work closely with the housing association movement.

In west Somerset, there are special problems with a sparsely populated rural area, low-paid residents and house prices being forced up by the purchase of retirement and second homes. That problem was well expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Taunton Deane and West Somerset councils were alarmed by the cost floor proposals in the White Paper, and I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that the Government may reconsider this. I hope so, because it goes against the long-established local government tradition that an asset must not be sold for less than its value.

I commend the Bill to the House, but I add this. It is the highest honour and duty to which an Englishman— a British citizen—can aspire to be a Member of this House. That honour and duty carry with them the obligation to further the interests of one's constituents and to use one's judgment on the great issues of the day. Sometimes, the furtherance of those interests and the exercise of that judgment will not be entirely convenient to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, but I hope that this and future contributions from me will find merit and favour in the House.

6.30 pm

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I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"This House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, although it increases legal protection for private sector tenants from harassment by landlords, extends the role of housing associations ad increases their opportunity to obtain finance from the private sector, and gives an opportunity for some council tenants to choose to change their landlords, does not address the scandal of the record high level of homelessness in Britain, will disadvantage tenants in the housing association and private rented sectors by causing higher rents through phasing out of the Rent Acts without guaranteeing adequate income support for many on low or modest incomes, will undermine local democracy through the establishment of Housing Action Trusts that are not accountable to local voters, and will not provide for the increase in public investment in housing needed to help to ensure dry, well-maintained and affordable homes for all."
Before addressing the Bill, may I welcome the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) and thank him for his contribution—in particular for his generous tribute to his long-serving and greatly respected predecessor. All hon. Members greatly respected someone who often made being a Back Bencher a far more eminent position than that of a Front Bencher. The predecessor of the hon. Member for Taunton served, as he rightly said, long before I and many other hon. Members came to the House, but he set a standard that the House follows, and will follow, for many years. He was certainly one of the great contributors, and, clearly, the new hon. Member for Taunton will try to follow in that tradition of independence and respect for the constituents whom he serves.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman especially because he represents the other England. His constituency and mine are about as far apart in type as one could imagine. His is a rural, cider-drinking, agricultural, sun-filled Somerset constituency—

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They do not drink much cider in Bermondsey.

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Indeed not.

My constituency, on the other hand, is an inner-city area that suffered in the blitz and has been rebuilt. I guess, although I have not checked, that the percentages of private and public housing are probably mirror images in the two constituencies, too. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join us in contributing to the patchwork of debate here, to ensure that legislation produced by any Government is improved by the contributions of Back Benchers and Members of other parties. The hon. Gentleman may have immediately earned his reward from this debate by finding himself nominated to serve on the Committee that considers the Bill, thereby earning his spurs.

Housing is as much as ever a crucial issue for Britain in 1987. Britain has two fundamental housing needs upon which I hope that we all agree. The first is the need for increased investment to keep our housing stock in the state in which it should be; and the second—perhaps more dramatic and unusual — is to meet the exceptional amount of homelessness in our country. Never before have so many people presented themselves as homeless. To be without a home is to be deprived of one's most fundamental right, and that is something that we should try to address.

One must wonder about how certain the Government are of their way forward, given the fits and starts that accompanied the introduction of the Bill. The consultation period was not finished—in some respects—before the Bill was published. One of the dates by which responses were sought was 4 December and we ain't there yet. Secondly, this is a Bill that perhaps should or should not have been published in whole or in part and that had to be republished. When it was published, we saw that it had not apparently taken into account any of the responses made on many of the issues that resulted from consultation. On most issues, the proposals in the Bill are identical to what was proposed in the White Paper, and in consultation papers after that.

The Bill's strategy is to try to deal with the housing problems perceived by the Government in a way that I believe all Opposition parties consider wrong. The Government have chosen to make empty properties available by raising rents, which is a strategy that will inevitably increase, rather than decrease, homelessness. Tenants moving from fair-rent tenancies will have no choice but to go to open-market rent tenancies, to use the Government's phrase, instead of enjoying fair and affordable rents. That means that, with some exceptions, people will have to pay more, and some will not be able to afford it.

When I intervened to ask the Secretary of State a question during his opening speech, he spoke of those who will be covered by housing benefit, and entered three provisos. I accept that his statement about those who are covered by housing benefit is properly qualified by those provisos, and I do not quibble with them. My concern is for all those who will probably not qualify for housing benefit, who are just above the threshold for help and for whom rented accommodation — particularly, but not exclusively, in London — will rise in price, when it is already beyond their reach. Such people—they may be drivers, teachers, nurses or people in other jobs — run the risk of discovering that the Bill will make it more difficult for them to find housing, while landlords will obtain a better income from rent. So the issues of security and affordability are at the heart of the Bill.

We have a right to be suspicious of the motives of the private sector. In most cases, it is principally seeking an investment—not to provide good housing. That is why I am sad that, for example, the Government have not accepted that all private sector rented accommodation should be licensed in future, and that there should be continued supervision by those who are publicly accountable to ensure that the private sector, however big or small — it has decreased, and will not, I suppose, greatly increase — will be properly monitored and controlled.

The nature of the legislation harks back to legislation proposed in the past. One of the feelings after the Rent Act 1957 was that the Government had legislated not principally on the basis of an understanding of the effect of decontrol on the poor tenant, but on the basis of their belief in their political philosophy. The problem is that people do not behave as responsibly as any Government might wish, and the Bill does not protect tenants—as it should—against irresponsible behaviour by landlords.

Part II of the Bill deals with housing associations. In general, I welcome the extension of their role, and the Government's intention that they should do more. Housing associations are clearly a sector that have proved their worth. My concern is that the Government appear to be moving them from the public—as defined in the past — to the private sector. The housing association sector has always wanted to be in the third arm of housing — the voluntary sector, between the public and the private, but not of either. I hope that by the end of the Bill's passage we shall have sustained the independence of that sector and truly enabled it to grow and flourish.

The Government had the good fortune of the announcement last week by Nationwide Anglia, which has featured in every speech by every Department of Environment Minister that I have heard since then—[AN HON. MEMBER: "It should be welcomed."] Yes, it should. It was worthwhile and good. There were comments not just by politicians but by respected writers in the press, particularly over the weekend, suggesting that the private sector might not respond so willingly in all cases. The private sector will need a substantial return on capital to come into many of the areas that desperately need investment. My colleagues and I remain to be convinced that it will come into many areas to provide low-cost housing for rent, which is the desperate need in many of our urban and rural areas.

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I welcome the hon. Gentleman's helpful remarks. He was right to welcome that announcement by Nationwide Anglia. Perhaps he also welcomes, as I do, the announcement today by the private sector body sponsored by the Housing Corporation, the Housing Finance Corporation, that it will raise about £2 billion for housing associations over the next few years from the private market. That will go a long way to meet some of the understandable anxieties expressed by the hon. Gentleman.

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I welcome that. I make no bones about it—if money can be produced for the housing association sector, that is to be welcomed, because normally it has better, more local and more responsive housing management. Its track record is good. It has also produced a variety of housing management to meet different needs in different parts of the country, and for different sectors—sheltered housing, housing for the disabled and young people, and so on. I welcome that.

I say honestly to the Minister that I hope that the private sector can be encouraged—I am happy to do my bit—to support that sector of housing. If it can grow, many of the fears that I and others have will be alleviated, and we shall see a flourishing third arm. I hope that the Minister will not push housing associations formally into the private sector, and that they will be able to retain their independence.

Housing action trusts are the third substantial proposal in the Bill. The Minister was in my borough recently and knows well the horrendous problems that boroughs such as Southwark have, created by the legacy of system-built and standard-built housing that went up during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, for reasons that we all know. Therefore, I do not object to private money and Government money coming to rescue what local authorities cannot rescue themselves. There is no doubt that, with the present Government's policies, they cannot rescue it themselves. But I hope sincerely that efforts are made for the trusts to be partnership enterprises.

My objection to the Bill, and that of my colleagues, is that the trusts are not designed to be a vehicle for partnership funding between local authorities and central Government. That is the way in which it should have been done. It should have been a structure for both sources of finance, to rescue some of our worst and most rundown estates. It is because of the lack of engagement of the local authorities and local people that we object to housing action trusts. If the Government get the Bill through the House, it will be in the interests of local authorities to co-operate rather than not to, and I hope that they will do that, but I hope that we can persuade the Government to adopt a change in attitude to allow partnership with local authorities as well.

The final substantial part of the Bill is the opting out, rent-a-landlord, choose-one's landlord or change-one's landlord section—the titles are varied. Soon after his appointment, the Minister for Housing and Planning said:
"We need a diversity of ownership which will give tenants the right to choose their landlords rather than the other way way round."
I fear that that is not what will happen. It is not inevitable, if the Minister thinks about it. I fear that landlords will choose an estate, but tenants will not have the choice. In many cases, they will be limited, if there is a choice at all, to the landlord or prospective landlord who is interested in their estate. There are many problems connected with voting in, voting out, whether the result is more than 50 per cent., and getting approval. There will be problems if the majority vote to have a new landlord, and some opt back. There is great concern that what, in theory, is a good idea—the freedom to go to somebody who may manage one's home better—may not turn out well in practice. Much local authority housing, like much private rented housing, is badly managed, and tenants are trapped in badly managed accommodation that nobody should ask them to live in. It may not be the solution that one would hope for.

I hope that we can ensure that there is not the same risk as there has been, for example, with the right to buy. People have bought their homes and found that the service charges are expensive. They then realise that they have taken on something that represents a step into the unknown and is much more dangerous than they had expected or wished.

The Bill is intended to change the face of rented housing in all sectors—public, voluntary and private. But with housing action trusts and opting out, the Bill will subject public housing to the final stage of what has often been the Thatcherite programme for the public services. Public housing will be underfunded, demoralised, criticised and privatised. That is the great danger. We shall continue to need public sector housing in the foreseeable future, particularly for the poorest in our community, and there is a danger that it will now even get less of the cake than it has had in recent years.

My colleagues in the Liberal party welcome the element of increased choice for tenants, but the Bill offers just a once-for-all, one-way choice, for council tenants only— and in practice, not even for all of them. We have long advocated an increased role for the voluntary sector and housing association movement, but their intended future in the private sector is something that they and we should be gravely unhappy about.

My main criticism is that I am certain that the Government's plans will mean higher rents. The explanatory and financial memoranda make that clear. With the Tory cuts of recent years and the housing budget more than any other set to continue to decline, the Bill will do little for the low-paid and the poorly paid.

We have tabled an amendment, which you have selected, Mr. Speaker. It expresses concern about the major defects of the Bill. If it is not passed by the House, we shall have to vote against the Bill because it does not meet the principal housing needs in Britain today.

6.47 pm

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I agree with the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) on one point, and that is the distinction with which my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) made his maiden speech. He spoke with considerable eloquence about our former colleague, Sir Edward du Cann. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey rightly referred to the fact that he was an eloquent spokesman for the rights of Back Benchers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton painted an eloquent word picture of one of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom. Were it not for the fact that we know that he will be nursing and attending to the needs of his own constituents in the same way as his distinguished predecessor did, so that it will remain a safe Conservative seat, I can assure my hon. Friend that we should be down there post haste giving him mutual aid in the highways and byways of west Somerset.

Those of us who knew my hon. Friend in a previous incarnation not many yards from here will know that he will bring to this Chamber and to the work of the House independence, and the House will respect that. As he identified in his speech, he is an honourable Member who has a view, a feel, a touch and a sympathy for the matters of the day and the interests of his constituency. I and, I know, my right hon. and hon. Friends will look forward greatly to his future contributions.

I declare three interests: first, I started my working life as an articled clerk in a firm of chartered surveyors, collecting rents every Monday morning; secondly, I am a consultant to a firm of surveyors who, as far as I am aware, do not act for any residential interests, nor for any building societies, but they might in the future; and, thirdly, I am a non-remunerated vice-president of the Building Societies Association. I welcome the part of this Bill that will give the building societies' pension funds and private sector the confidence to invest long term and responsibly, to provide for the needs, wants and rights of those who deserve to rent.

I was impressed by the contribution of Mr. Tim Melville-Ross, the chief general manager and director of the Nationwide Anglia building society, in his interview on the "Money Box" programme on BBC4 this morning. He answered all the fears and concerns of Opposition Members. The building societies see political stability in the Government, who are not hidebound by political dogma, and can foresee the time when their investment of £600 million in flats and houses to rent in the inner cities, in particular in Glasgow, in partnership with local authorities and the Government, will help to regenerate the inner cities and provide decent homes for those who live in them.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton said—this point was not referred to in the speech of any Opposition Member—a large proportion of people now live in housing over which they have the right of security, but they do not have the privilege of mobility. Those who live in local authority rented accommodation are static and do not have the same opportunity as owner-occupiers to move about to seek work. By liberalising the rented sector, they will have a better opportunity to do that.

I am not convinced that local authorities are the most compassionate and feeling landlords. When I spent Monday mornings on my bicycle in a town in east Kent collecting rents, I was the landlord's representative, the link between the tenant and the landlord. If the tenant wanted a repair done, he knew that I would be his messenger to the landlord. There is no doubt that the rent roll of local authorities has become more computerised and the landlord and rent collector have given way to the district housing office, so the tenant has become alienated and isolated from the landlord. I wonder whether this poor management is the reason why some £250 million is owing by local authority tenants to their landlords. I wonder whether this is the reason why many local authorities keep houses empty for three months, six months, or 12 months. [Interruption.] The Library can confirm to Opposition Members who are intervening from a sedentary position that over 30,000 houses in the ownership of local authorities have been left empty for well over 12 months.

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Does the hon. Member have any comment to make to, or any message of compassion or concern for, people who are the victims of the record number of mortgage repossessions by building societies at this time?

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With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am referring to rent arrears and voids and to the mismanagement of local authority properties. I am not entirely convinced that local authorities are the best estate managers. The Bill will enable other organisations—building societies, pension funds, insurance companies and other approved landlords — to contribute to much-needed accommodation for those who deserve to rent. That is why I welcome in the Bill the opportunity for housing associations to borrow on the investment value of the portfolios they have built up over the past 20 or 25 years in the open market. That seems to me to make sound commercial common sense.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am sure he will catch Mr. Speaker's eye in the not too distant future.

I sound a word of warning to the Minister, and I would be grateful if he could find time to reply in his speech tonight. Thirty years ago there was a certain Peter Rachman, and it is incumbent upon every hon. Member, in particular those who serve on the Standing Committee of the Bill, to ensure that the likes of Mr. Peter Rachman do not occur again. One such gentleman on the national housing stage has received some notoriety in the press recently and has received the attention of the courts. I refer to a Mr. Hoogstraten. I do not wish to dwell upon the details of Mr. Hoogstraten or his string of companies, but I understand that if a local authority serves upon him a public health notice or notice under the Housing Act, he transfers that property into another company and so eliminates his liability for the repairs, the public health notice, or whatever.

I ask my hon. Friend to consider that, in the past 18 months, the House has passed the Companies Act, which imposes a personal duty upon directors of companies. Should they fail to comply with the conditions of the Act, they are personally liable in the magistrates' courts. I wonder whether it would be possible to bring in at the Committee stage a condition to protect tenants, to ensure that if a landlord exploits tenants or in some way denies their rights, the directors and officers of the company would be liable, as they are under the Companies Act 1986.

In conclusion, the Housing Act, introduced by the first Administration of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, brought in the tenants' charter and gave to tenants the same rights and security that private sector tenants had long enjoyed. Included in the tenants' charter was the right for tenants to take in lodgers and sub-tenants. On Fridays and Saturdays in the advice bureau in my Mid-Staffordshire constituency, I see a large number of single people who will never acquire the key of their own council house while they remain single because they will not attain the requisite number of points. But I am sure that they would be happy to have the sub-tenancy of a house that is too large for a long-term local authority tenant. I do not believe that local authorities, whether controlled by Conservatives, Labour or Liberal, are doing enough to pursue the benefits of the tenants' charter. That is why the housing lists in many hon. Member's constituencies are theoretically and technically as long as they are.

I welcome the Bill. It is imaginative. Home ownership is rising and will continue to rise because that is what the majority of hon. Members' constituents want; the independence and security of home ownership. But some will never be able to aspire to that privilege. We must ensure that they have a similar right to rent, and the Bill will go a long way down that path.

6.59 pm

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In line with your wishes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall be brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) on his maiden speech. I do not wish to embellish his remarks on the beauty of his constituency, because my vivid recollection from Taunton is of watching my county of Kent being thrashed by Somerset. However, I had a pleasant lunch in the village of Combe Florey. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will continue to make contributions to our debates in line with the standard set by his maiden speech.

The proposals in the Bill are complex and wide-ranging and certainly the most blatant and direct attack to date on private and public housing provisions. For this Government, that is saying a lot. The Bill is largely based on unsubstantiated dogma, rather than on any analysis of real housing problems. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said, it contains no references to housing needs or to the homeless. I remember that, as a young councillor on Paddington council in the early 1960s, along with my fellow Labour councillors I tried to expose the activities of a certain Peter Rachman. He has already been mentioned many times in the debate, and I suspect that he will be mentioned many more times. Despite our attempts to expose him, probably Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies did more to bring the activities of this man to the notice of the nation.

If enacted, this turgid Bill will make Rachmanism the law of the land. It is clear that the effects of part I relating to the private sector will reduce the security of tenure that is available to tenants. At the same time, it will reduce the amount of housing benefit — despite the lukewarm assurances given by the Secretary of State. Higher market rents will replace fair rents and no doubt there will be profiteering by unscrupulous landlords. The new Rachmans will use this legislation to harass tenants and to gain possession, because landlords will no longer need to be approved.

This legislation will inflict horrific damage on the private sector. Many of my hon. Friends have a good deal of private sector housing provision in their constituencies and they will develop that point as the debate proceeds. I shall concentrate on the effects that the Bill will have on many thousands of my constituents who are in public housing. They are typical of millions of people throughout Britain.

Tameside council is in my constituency and the real housing problems there are shown by a few short statistics. They are that 72 per cent. of all council tenants are already on housing benefit, that 9,142 people are on the waiting list for houses, and that 9,664 tenants are in rent arrears with the local council. There are over 1,200 homeless families. When those constituents heard that a new housing Bill was on the way, their expectations must have risen. They will soon be disappointed when they hear about this debate.

The Bill will redistribute homes away from the very people who need them to those who can afford to buy homes—even the spare home, about which the Secretary of State spoke. New homes will not materialise as a result of this Bill. With council house building at its lowest point since the 1920s, it was probably too much to hope that the Government would do anything other than make the situation worse. The Government attack what they see as the profligacy of responsible Labour councils that subsidise council house rents. In my area, the annual subsidy is £1·6 million. That saves the poorest members of the community about £1·60 per week in rent. Controls on such council spending will put yet another tax on the least fortunate members of society.

The financial basis for transferring council houses to new landlords or to housing action trusts is the latest Government jumble sale of public property, and it is worrying. In Tameside, houses will transfer at an average investment value of £2,800. This will give the new landlord plenty of rope with which to induce council tenants with short-term sweeteners before they are hanged by that same rope. While the sale goes on, the debt charges are left with the council and will have to be paid by a decreasing number of tenants. Is the Government's final solution to housing problems the imposition of extortionate rents upon the most needy, including the elderly and the disabled and those who are unable to transfer?

On Friday, hopefully, a number of hon. Members will present petitions to the House and I hope to have some petitioners from my constituency who believe that the housing crisis can be resolved by joining the campaign for homes and jobs. For every job created in the construction industry, another job is created in the wider economy. There are about 500,000 building workers on the dole and each one costs £2,400 a year in social security benefits and lost taxes. Therefore, the answer to the crisis is blindingly obvious to my constituents and, I suspect, to the Secretary of State's constituents. Why do the Government continue to ignore that?

I am happy to see and hear that opposition to the Bill is mounting and that it is coming from many unexpected quarters—including some Tories in the House and many more outside, and from many people who would normally support the Tory party. They realise that the Bill is based on sheer political dogma at the public expense. The dogma of home ownership at any price is being forced on them at a time when many people's ability to pay has been seriously impaired. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) said, that is instanced by the 700 per cent. rise since 1979 in mortgage defaulters.

The dogma is that private landlords are in some way better than council landlords, but there is no mention of the fact that since 1980 local authorities have been forced by the Government to increase rents by about 40 per cent. over inflation. We also have the dogma of Tory choice. However, it is choice for the rich and the profit-seeking landlords while the low-paid, the unemployed and the disabled will have no choice and in many cases will have no home because of this legislation.

Opposition to the Bill is growing. I have been in the House for over 17 years and I recently addressed the largest meeting that I have ever seen in my constituency. It is quite clear that tenants' groups are beginning to realise what the Bill means for them because there was a massive meeting on the Hattersley estate. Opposition is growing in my constituency and, I suspect, in the constituency of every hon. Member. I hope that the Bill will be amended in Committee and in the other place. At the end of the day, it should be amended out of sight, because that is what it deserves.

7.8 pm

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In my first contribution to the House, I hope that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) will forgive me if I do not follow exactly the line of his argument. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye in this debate which is of special relevance to the constituency of Birmingham, Hall Green, which I have the honour to represent.

For those hon. Members who are unfamiliar with Hall Green, I can tell them that it is an urban constituency of a primarily residential nature that stretches along the southern perimeter of Birmingham, the second great city of Britain. It is a constituency of contrasts. For the visitor approaching from Stratford in the south, it presents one of the most attractive tree-lined entry routes in the city of Birmingham. On the other hand, to the visitor approaching from the Bromsgrove or Alcester direction along the A435 a very different atmosphere presents itself. Decaying tower blocks stand like sentinels to remind the visitor of the municipal madness that spawned their creation. These tower blocks—many of them shoddily built with faulty materials to faulty designs and badly maintained — cost almost as much as conventional housing to put up because of their height and they have cost an arm and a leg in repairs ever since. Matters have been made worse by the fact that the local council has failed to defray any of those costs back to the original erring builders and contractors.

Unfortunately, in my constituency, faulty design and faulty materials are not restricted to tower blocks. The owners of Smiths' houses will readily testify to that. At this point, I pay a special tribute to my predecessor, Sir Reginald Eyre, who served my constituents with diligence and distinction for 22 years. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House remember his years in this place with great affection. His contributions on the subject of housing will be remembered well by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. A special tribute should be paid to his efforts on behalf of Smiths' homeowners, for whom he worked with great diligence. By his efforts, Smiths' houses officially received designated status under the Housing Defects Act. As I hope to take up the mantle laid down by him and to continue to strive for those who have to live in substandard accommodation, whether in the rented or in the private sector, I am grateful to have an opportunity to speak in this debate.

Although Hall Green is on the perimeter of the city of Birmingham, it has many of the housing problems normally associated with inner cities. It has an unusually large concentration of council estates, made up of tower blocks and conventional housing. Many of the estates are in an appalling state of repair — particularly in the Partons road and Dawberry hall areas.

I take issue with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) who implied that few of his constituents complained about council housing because 40 per cent. of the letters in my mail bag every morning come from tenants in the council housing sector. If the hon. Gentleman does not believe that council administrations are at fault in the management of their estates, let him come to Birmingham.

The examples that I have chosen illustrate the repeated failure of council administrations to manage, repair and improve their housing stock. Therefore, I particularly welcome parts II, III and IV of the Bill. They deal with the enlargement of the scope for housing associations, the setting up of housing action trust areas—I put in a plea for my constituency to be considered for a pilot scheme—and the option, which is only an option for council house tenants to transfer their properties to landlords who can better demonstrate an ability to refurbish, repair and manage their tenanted accommodation.

Parts II, III and IV of the Bill will be of enormous benefit to my constituents in Hall Green. I have described the number of complaints that come from them about the management of local council properties. I am certain that the Bill will greatly help them and I therefore support it.

7.13 pm

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My first job is to congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) on an eloquent maiden speech. I am sure that he will contribute to many debates in the House. I must warn him that in future we may find it necessary to criticise some of his remarks—and perhaps even to intervene in one of his speeches. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, although there were obviously some parts of his speech with which I disagree. I would also pay tribute to his predecessor, whom I have known here for a number of years and who was known as a very hard-working Member of Parliament.

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He was a wet.

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Indeed, he was something of a wet, and we shall see whether his successor is a wet.

There is an acute housing crisis in this country. Far too many families are forced to live in squalid conditions in bed-and-breakfast hostels. We have long waiting lists, in my local authority area as elsewhere. Many people are waiting to be housed for the first time and many of the families living in multi-storey blocks, some of them with two children, now have to wait years to be allocated a house by the council. Local authorities are unable to undertake a substantial amount of the repair work that is needed because of the cuts described by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley).

The Bill does not have much relevance to any of those problems. It is more relevant to the Government's continuing vendetta against the rented public sector, which they are again trying to undermine.

However, the Bill represents a positive response to those Conservative Members who have long urged the Government to do away with existing rent controls and regulations in the private sector. In the last Paliament, a number of Conservative Members attempted to bring in ten-minute Bills to do away with existing protection in the privately rented sector. On most occasions, if not all, I was the Labour Member who successfully defeated the measures. I was able to do so because Ministers were under an unofficial Whip not to vote. They did not want to give the country any indication that if they won the election they intended to do what some of their Back Benchers were urging them to do. One of the most enthusiastic supporters of a change in the Rent Act regulations was, of course, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow).

Under the Bill, council tenants are to be encouraged to find alternative landlords. Why tenants should wish to place themselves at the tender mercies of private landlords and property companies escapes me entirely, especially as such tenants would be on assured tenancies and thus subject to the payment of market rents. I cannot imagine many genuine housing associations being interested in taking over council dwellings. The aim is clearly to transfer properties from the public to the privately rented sector. That is the purpose of the so-called tenants' choice. The Bill provides no such right for private tenants who decide that they want to opt out. No one can be surprised at the absence of such a provision from the Bill, which excludes local authorities from being designated approved landlords for the purpose of the provision allowing tenants to choose an alternative landlord.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was right about the voting system, if it can be described as such, which would mean a sort of Russian style democracy in action. I am sure that my hon. Friends will want to pursue that point carefully in Committee.

The purpose of the proposed housing action trusts is to take over local authority housing in a given area and then, in due course, to pass it on to other landlords and not back to the local authority. Clause 57 requires the Secretary of State to consult the local housing authority and residents before such a transfer can take place, but that is all. There is no question in this case of any voting whatever. The Secretary of State makes up his mind and that is that, no matter how much opposition there is from tenants or the local authority. The Secretary of State simply introduces statutory instruments and the housing action trust can take over the property.

Who will be appointed to the bodies? In the main, it will be business people. There will be no democratic accountability and there will be no guarantee that the people appointed will have any knowledge of housing.

The day-to-day job of rehousing people in the ordinary process and of dealing with homelessness will not go to the proposed housing action trusts; it will remain with the local authorities, which will have all the remaining problems.

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But not the money.

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Yes, my hon. Friend is right to say that they will not receive the money either.

The Government are determined to replace the role of the elected local authority, in nearly all cases Labour-controlled. Where the Government feel that they can get away with it, they abolish the local authority as they did the Greater London council. What concerns me and my right hon. and hon. Friends is that increasingly democratic accountability is being eroded and undermined. That happened with the urban development corporations and will happen again with the housing action trusts. That is totally wrong and is just one reason, among many others, why the Bill should be opposed.

In response to my intervention earlier the Secretary of State admitted, perhaps for the first time in his life, that mistakes had been made during the introduction of the Rent Act 1957. Of course, many of the claims now being made about this Bill in relation to a revival of the private rented sector were made when the 1957 Rent Bill was passing through the House. It was said by the then Minister that the 1957 legislation would revive the privately rented sector and deal with many of the outstanding problems in housing. However, the result of the 1957 Act was a substantial reduction in the amount of rented accommodation and it led to the abuses that have caused such outrage in the country. Even the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle), who is known for his enthusiasm about the private rented sector, warned about the possibility of another bout of Rachmanism.

I am perhaps one of the few Members who happened to be a member of a local authority when the 1957 Act was in operation. Even with all the problems we had to face then we decided to rehouse the people, who were being evicted, lawfully, under the 1957 Act. I have some knowledge of what happened under that legislation and of the misery that was caused as a result of Tory dogma. The Secretary of State has a great deal of cheek to refer to dogma in the Labour party when it was Tory dogma that led to the 1957 Act and it is Tory dogma that is responsible for this proposed legislation.

In the private rented sector the emphasis is on market rents and such rents will undoubtedly be higher than would be the position if a mortgage were being paid. Also, a person paying a mortgage would obtain tax relief. The Evening Standard of 9 November contained some advertisements for rented accommodation and I shall quote some of the rents being asked. There were some houses available, not many, for rents ranging from £130 to £240 a week. One or two-bedroom flats were available from £30 to £70 a week. Undoubtedly, such rent levels would be much higher under this Bill.

We are concerned on this side with people who cannot find rented accommodation, cannot afford a mortgage or are living with their families in bed-and-breakfast hostels. How many of those people could afford the rents I have just quoted? Is there any indication that such rents would be lower? Of course, as I have said, if anything, rents will be higher as a result of the proposed legislation.

How many tenants would be able to claim housing benefit in order to pay such exorbitant rents? Housing benefit is being substantially reduced. Rent officers will assess how far the rents being paid are unreasonable, but only for the purpose of deciding whether housing benefit should be paid, not to decide whether the rent should be lower. The rent officer will have no such power any longer. Is it desirable for large public subsidies to be paid to private landlords in order for them to charge what would undoubtedly be exorbitant rents, certainly in areas of acute housing shortage?

The Secretary of State denied that existing tenants would be in any danger. He said that they are protected and that there is no question of existing tenants in the private sector being in any difficulty. However, it is interesting to note that the Secretary of State emphasised the powers in the Bill against harassment. It is interesting too that the White Paper said:
"It is important that existing tenants whose Rent Act rights will be preserved should be protected against the minority of landlords who may be prepared to harass them in order to obtain vacant possession and to relet at higher rents."
Is that not an indication of the fact that even the Government recognise that existing private tenants may well be at risk from the activities of property companies and landlords who know that if the tenants who are at present under regulated tenancies are forced out the accommodation can be relet at market rents?

Rachmanism — it was not just one unscrupulous person by any means — came about as a result of landlords knowing that if an existing tenant could be forced out, the place could be sold off with vacant possession at a much higher price or relet at deregulated rents. That was the incentive for Rachmanism. I say to the Secretary of State today that the same incentive exists as a result of the measure he is introducing. Many existing tenants have every reason to feel anxiety and fear that if the Bill becomes law their position as tenants will be greatly undermined.

The Minister who replies to the debate will of course say that there are powers in the Bill to deal with the activities of unscrupulous landlords or property companies. I agree such powers will be introduced but they will not be sufficiently effective. It may well be that they will not be used in many cases. It will be difficult to charge directors of large property companies who may use a third party to carry out their dirty work. Even if charges are brought and fines are applied by the courts, in nine cases out of 10 the tenant being pressured and intimidated out of their accommodation will not be allowed back inside those premises. Therefore, as my hon. Friends have been saying, we have every reason to fear the consequences of the Bill.

On the matter of security of tenure, I agree that there is a difference between this Bill and the Rent Act 1957. Under the 1957 Act security of tenure did not exist for new tenancies. It continues to exist under this Bill. However, although security of tenure will continue to exist in law for assured tenancies, it will be largely undermined as a result of the market rents. Once an agreement comes to an end between a landlord and tenant, shorthold or otherwise, and the landlord says that he wants much more in rent and the tenant is not in a position to pay, what is the use of security of tenure? The tenant will not have any recourse in law. Therefore, the provisions in the Bill relating to the private rented sector are 80 per cent. or 85 per cent. the same as those in the Rent Act 1957.

The Secretary of State lives in his own dream world. He spoke during his speech about anyone who had a house to spare to rent, so I asked my hon. Friends whether they did. They all said no. Perhaps the Secretary of State has friends on the Conservative Benches and in other places who find that language understandable. To them it does not cause the amusement and merriment that it does among Labour Members and people at large. This is an odd person to be Secretary of State at a time of acute housing crisis.

I agree with those Conservative Members who said that most people will resolve their housing position by obtaining mortgages. There is not much doubt that, insofar as people can afford to do so, they will want to own their own place. The Labour party, as we have said many times, has never been against owner-occupation. Far from being against it, we have encouraged it in almost every respect. For the record, to give substance to what I have said, in the late 1960s a Labour Government introduced the option mortgage scheme, which made it much easier for people on modest incomes to become owner-occupiers—strange action for a party supposedly against owner-occupation. If people want to become owner-occupiers, that is fine—let us give them every encouragement.

There is some agreement between Conservative and Labour Members about there remaining a substantial minority of people—more than Conservative Members think—who will not be able to obtain a mortgage. They cannot afford it and will recognise that from the beginning. It would be wrong if they were pressurised into obtaining a mortgage when clearly they did not have enough income to pay it off.

Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I believe that the responsibility for providing the necessary rented places should lie with the local authority, genuine housing associations and some co-operative projects, but, in the main, with the local authority. It is sometimes argued that local authorities are very bureaucratic and not concerned. My local authority of Walsall was probably the first to decentralise its housing system. The authority provided 28 neighbourhood offices in the borough and that type of decentralisation has been copied by a number of other local authorities, mainly by Labour ones.

The housing problem of those who are not able to afford a mortgage and who are often in desperate need of rented accommodation will not be solved in the private sector. That sector is interested in one objective only— making the maximum profit. If property companies and private landlords were not concerned with making the maximum profit, there would not be much justification in being involved in property. Why should a company be involved in lettings unless it wants to make the maximum profit?

All the evidence from private landlords to the Select Committee on the Environment, which looked into the private rented sector and of which I was a member, showed that they wanted the maximum return on their investment.

The Bill will not solve any housing problems. It is a charter for property companies, unscrupulous landlords and potential Rachmans. The only way in which we can help those people who are in need of rented accommodation, who have as much right as any Member of Parliament to satisfactory housing and who cannot afford a mortgage, is through local authorities and genuine housing associations. That is why the Bill should be rejected and fought at every stage—as my hon. Friend the Member for Walton said, line by line. When we go into the Division Lobby at midnight, we shall go in with the same justification as our Labour predecessors did in voting against the 1957 rent legislation.

7.34 pm

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Over the years, I have often had the privilege of following the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) in housing debates. We do not usually agree on housing, although there are some subjects—for example, Soviet Jewry—on which we do. At least the hon. Gentleman is frank. He does not believe in private renting and in that he is acting in fine Labour tradition. Richard Crossman, as Minister for Housing and Local Government, said that he had a natural prejudice against landlords, and the hon. Gentleman shares his attitudes. He is entitled to follow that fine Labour tradition if he wishes.

I agree with the hon. Member for Walsall, North when he pays tribute to the excellent maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) whose predecessor, Sir Reginald Eyre, was popular on both sides of the House. We look forward to hearing frequently from my hon. Friend.

Before saying a few brief words about the Bill, I want to express regret about something that is not in it, and in this I may carry the hon. Member for Walsall, North with me. I had hoped that the Bill would contain a measure to deal with the problem of cowboys. This point was in the Green Paper produced two years ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). I had hoped that there would be proposals to implement schemes whereby the only firms entitled to carry out improvement work were responsible and properly qualified, and on a local authority list. That idea has been floated, and there is no need for any more discussion on it. The proposals are well known. I am sorry that nothing has been done to implement them, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will return to them soon.

I must declare a well-known interest. I have been connected with the building industry for many years and the firm with which I am concerned is involved especially in the role of sponsored housing. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to "architectural experiments". He was talking about housing and flats built 20 years ago—system building—with the support of Governments of both persuasions. My right hon. Friend was critical of local government, so one should point out that the main drive for system building came from housing Ministers of both parties. At that time, I worked in the Conservative party's research department and later with the National Federation of Building Trades Employers. I listened to many debates in the House and heard continuous all-party support from the former housing Minister, Sir Keith Joseph, Mr. Pannell and many other members of both parties, pressing for those buildings to be built. We are now paying the penalties for those decisions.

That is why I am glad to note the part of the Bill concerned with housing action trusts. It will be especially useful not only in inner-city policy but in dealing with bad housing estates in outer-city areas or elsewhere, such as in my constituency. It is obviously much better if the work of the HATs were in conjunction with local authority work. This is not a ridiculous suggestion. I am sure that many local authorities will want to recommend that a HAT be set up in their areas.

Before the general election, many local authorities, especially if they were Labour controlled, saw the bad housing conditions, heard the continual grumbles of their tenants and knew that the problems had to be addressed. They said to themselves, "We shall sit back and wait for a Labour Government to produce, we hope, more money for us. We shall do nothing until then." They saw that that would not happen, so the option of sitting back and waiting for a Labour Government was closed.

Another option which was adopted by some local authorities was to sell the land to private enterprise. A third option, which has a much wider basis of support—it has grown since the general election—is that there should be co-operation between the local authority and private enterprise to tackle bad housing estates and to bring in the private funding, for which the White Paper called and which is implicit in the Bill. That must make sense. We know that it can be done because the urban development corporations have done it.

I hope that during the passage of the Bill, and in the subsequent administrative action, there will be a strong realisation of the need for co-operation between the HATs—I hope set up with local authority support — the UDCs and the proposed mini-UDCs. The Bill's schedules are detailed about how the HATs will work. Hon. Members who serve on the Committee can get their teeth into those details and ensure that they are satisfactory. We must ensure that there is proper co-ordination both on delivering the inner-city policy and, in conjunction with local authorities, on action to deal with bad housing estates. My right hon. Friend will be aware that there has been a great deal of criticism both within the industry and elsewhere of the large numbers of Departments, Ministers and organisations that separately address the inner-city policy. The HATs will be another contribution to that. It is absolutely essential to act quickly to bring together all those various strands.

The Daily Telegraph recently suggested that the Prime Minister was thinking of appointing a Minister for the inner cities. I sincerely hope that she does not do so. We do not need any more Ministers — we already have plenty, each with different Departments and jobs. If there must be a Minister with special responsibility for the inner cities, that Minister should be my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.] Am I interrupting the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts)? I am so sorry. The problem should be tackled not by one super-Minister but by effective, well-led task forces, responsible to my right hon. Friend, that can co-ordinate the activity on the ground. If I were asked to mention a name to head such a task force, in an administrative and executive capacity, I would not hesitate to recommend my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). He is the person best qualified to do the job.

A heavy responsibility rests upon the Department of the Environment to ensure that actions are properly followed through. The Bill, especially the part dealing with HATs, represents a major proposal to deal with bad housing, following on from what the UDCs are already doing. We have an opportunity, and we must use it effectively, to ensure that the right administrative arrangements are set in place to co-ordinate activity on the ground.

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This Bill must be judged against several tests of sensible housing policy. First, to what extent will it encourage the provision of good quality and suitable housing, especially in the rented sector? Secondly, will it allow the development and consolidation of new and, sometimes, novel forms of tenure, such as those that have developed during the past 10 years? They have proved very important. Thirdly, will it make housing provision more equal and less class-ridden than it is currently? Finally, will it improve housing conditions both in inner cities and in outer areas such as my constituency?

There are real fears, especially on Merseyside and in the north-west, that the Bill generally, and the new funding arrangements for housing associations in particular, will not help those in the greatest need. The Merseyside housing association movement is concerned that the new flexible arrangements for housing association grants will not work unless and until the Government concede that the grant provision within the funding arrangements should be at least 70 per cent. Because Merseyside is an area of high cost but low—and in some cases falling—property values, the fear is that the new funding arrangements will impede rather than encourage the developments of additional housing association properties from those in greatest need.

Another fear is that the changes in types of tenancy and the rent phasing arrangements will inhibit the mobility of those renting within the housing association sector. They may be caught by a controlled rent that, as soon as they move, transfer or exchange, will become decontrolled. That hardly squares up with the well-known philosophy of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), who once exhorted people to get on their bikes. It is not easy to get on a bike and look for a job elsewhere if transferring a tenancy results in a huge rent increase.

The housing association movement on Merseyside demonstrably provides for those in need, as do the local authorities. The Liverpool Housing Trust has some 4,200 tenants in its properties. The Minister may be aware that its survey last year, which was submitted to the Housing Corporation, discovered that 66 per cent. of its 4,200 tenants were wholly dependent on state benefit and that a further 18 per cent. mostly low paid were to some extent dependent on housing benefit. Therefore, a substantial number of poorer people are being decently housed by that association. We can imagine the consequence for those tenants of the proposed changes in rent structure.

The Bill must be amended, and that is even more essential in view of the recent changes in housing benefit regulations. Otherwise, there will be a dramatic change in the tenant profile. The proposed changes in the housing association grant system will mean that it will not be within the grasp of the poorer sections of the community to afford the rent for a housing association property.

The housing co-operative movement on Merseyside is also deeply concerned about the Bill. I am grateful to the Minister for opening the Southene co-operative in my constituency in September. He was fulsome in his praise of the development and the tenants involved. There are 15 co-operatives in the borough of Knowsley, and the movement is concerned that the distinctiveness with which it conducts its affairs will be undermined by the Bill.

This weekend I was fortunate to address a conference of the National Federation of Housing Co-operatives, which asked me to bring its comments to the attention of the House. It stated:
"The proposed changes to the Housing Association Grant Regime will make it more difficult to continue developing housing co-operatives in stress areas at rents which those in housing need can afford. In particular the Bill does not contain provisions to strengthen or develop the network of Secondary Housing Co-operatives, the organisations which have been essential catalysts in supporting the growth of the housing co-operative movement over the past ten years."
I ask the Minister seriously to note those comments.

The distinctiveness and democratic nature of a housing co-operative makes it a central and integral part of the design process, and the co-operatives fear that that process will not continue under these proposals. If the new grant system is accepted, the inevitable consequence will be package deals. For example, a builder will be asked to build a mix of certain types of houses, but the co-operatives will not have any say in the shape or form of the proposed co-operative estate or individual houses.

That would seriously undermine the co-operative principle in housing which has been so successful on Merseyside and increasingly in other parts of the country. When the Bill is in Committee I hope that the Minister will seriously consider taking the housing co-operative movement out of these arrangements altogether so that it can continue to flourish and provide for people's housing needs in its own distinctive but equally important way.

The housing association trust proposals and pick-a-landlord scheme cannot really be judged properly or finally until they are also seen in the context of the whole system of housing finance. I accept that on occasions council housing is not all that it might be, and I also accept that in some areas, because of the sheer volume of houses that local authorities' have come to control, it is very difficult to manage and maintain so much property. So there may be a role for something like a housing action trust, but it must be seen in the context of its finances and method of operation and be looked at on the basis of working in conjunction, in partnership, with local residents and local authorities.

Some cynics peddle the argument that Government, with a whole plethora of arrangements—development corporations, task forces and now HATs—are latter day colonisers of the inner city, bringing people in to do good works during the day who then clear off somewhere else in the evening. Those people who manage such initiatives seem to have no logical connection with local residents and local authorities who are part of that community. That may be a cynical comment on what has happened and what is proposed, but if the Government are not careful these proposals that are intended to help will alienate more than they encourage and this may well happen in both inner-city and outer estates. I understand that further legislation is proposed on housing finance. It would have been more sensible if the two things could have been brought together so that people could judge the financial as well as the administrative changes more fully.

I would like to know more about the possibility, under the pick-a-landlord scheme, that properties will carry with them a dowry rather like a marriage arrangement. How will that work and what effect will it have? Who will pay for it? The costs and upon whom they will fall are causes of considerable worry in certain circles.

My conclusions are based on a number of fears, the first of which is that arrangements, certainly in the north of England and on Merseyside, for private and housing association grant funding — flexible HAG as it is becoming known—might just choke off the supply of good quality housing for poorer sections of the community. Even if this is not the intention, it may be the effect. I hope that efforts can be made to resolve this in Committee, but there is a widespread and possibly justified fear that the housing co-operative movement, which is a lusty infant, may be strangled shortly after its birth if the Government do not give more detailed thought to how to apply these proposals to this sector, or if they should take it out of the arrangements altogether.

The housing finance system has not been properly examined. Any moves towards greater equality between tenure types are not under consideration and the proposals may end up, again unwittingly, tilting the balance even further away from those in greatest need and towards those who are in the best position to afford what is on offer. It could lead to resentment on the part of those who live in the inner cities and outer estates in the same way as we hear of resentment building up among local residents in the London docklands.

The Bill has the stamp of a measure conceived more in prejudice than in concern. Unless the Government accept the need for radical amendments, it is a Bill which may create more problems than it sets out to solve.

7.55 pm

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I rise to make my maiden speech deeply conscious of the value of the democratic process which in this country confers on hon. Members the privilege of speaking in this House. It is too readily taken for granted.

My first and most pleasant task is to pay a tribute to my predecessor as hon. Member for Gloucester, the right hon. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim. Mrs. Oppenheim made her maiden speech in this House 17 years ago this month. She was in her time here an extremely popular Member, popular for her charm, the warmth of her personality and her great ability, which took her to the post for Minister of Consumer Affairs. I know that right hon. and hon. Members will wish to convey good wishes to her in her new post as chairman of the National Consumer Council.

In her role in Gloucester, she has become something of a legend. She has always fought to secure the best possible interests of the city and has always been somebody to whom Gloucestrians could turn, knowing that, if there were any solution to their problem, Sally would find it. She is, as they say, a very hard act to follow indeed, but I will try to do so and to justify the confidence which the electors of Gloucester have placed in me. Most particularly I will seek to follow her tradition of never allowing officialdom to stand in the way of justice, fairness and common sense.

The constituency that I represent consists not only of the city of Gloucester itself but also of an area which comes within Stroud district council, which incorporates the area known as Upton St. Leonards, Quedgeley and Hardwicke, and also the two small villages of Elmore and Longney. The city of Gloucester is one of great heritage and tradition. It has a magnificent Norman cathedral where the Domesday Book was commissioned by William the Conqueror at Christmas, 1085. It is also the only place, apart from Westminster, which has witnessed the coronation of a monarch—Henry III—the burial of a monarch—Edward II—and the sitting of Parliament. If the course of history had been slightly different, I might have found myself making a maiden speech in my own constituency.

Today, Gloucester is a thriving shopping centre with well below the national average of unemployment. Its older businesses, which have incurred difficulties in the past, are now well on the road to recovery, and there are many new ones. The city has found particular favour with relocating financial institutions. The area known as Barnwood Fields is seeing the erection of a new headquarters for the Imperial Trident life assurance company, which will bring many jobs to the city, together with a new administrative office for the Cheltenham and Gloucester building society. The other very exciting development is the refurbishment of Gloucester docks, which offers for the foreseeable future substantial opportunities for employment and also forms a considerable tourist attraction.

Gloucester also boasts excellent communications and is set amid beautiful countryside. It deserves to be popular, its people are friendly, warm and loyal, and I predict that many new businesses looking for places to relocate in the future will find in Gloucester exactly the combination of resources and amenities that they seek.

Although Gloucester is the county town of Gloucestershire, it has a somewhat different atmosphere from the county, and some unexpected characteristics. It has an inner-city area with some fairly typical inner-city problems, of which the most serious is housing. That is why I sought to catch your eye in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Gloucester has well above the average level of home ownership. There are also some fine housing estates, including the new estate currently being built and known as Abbeydale III. Nevertheless, there are severe pressures on accommodation and especially on the council waiting list. Pressure is particularly heavy on family accommodation. Some families have been waiting eight years to be rehoused. Others, with two bedrooms fewer than they need, have had to endure that situation for more than five years. I am aware, too, that some people have been in bed-and-breakfast accommodation for two years, when the national average is usually measured in weeks. I conclude from those problems that the present system of housing provision, especially local authority provision, has not been successful—that it has, indeed, failed dismally. For that reason, I very much welcome the provisions of the Bill.

I was interested to hear the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) about the Labour party's original attitude to the right to buy. The right to buy was pioneered in Gloucester and the sale of council houses was already well ahead in the late 1960s. I would welcome a speeding up of the current rate of sale, as progress is slower than it should be. I do not believe that exhortations from the Government and glossy literature, however persuasive, will be sufficient to achieve the level of sales that one would like. I foresee a role for building societies and estate agents in a much more promotional and positive attitude towards securing more sales.

I am also disappointed that the Bill contains no proposals for portable discounts, which have been well explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), although I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning is considering the possibility of introducing such a scheme. Some clarification of the associated legal technicality is urgently required. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will shortly feel able to turn his attention to that.

I must also add my name to those who have expressed reservations about the abolition of the cost floor. If recently built property is to attract such a discount that it is disposed of at a price lower than the debt charge remaining for the local authority, that seems frankly ridiculous.

On a number of occasions, the House has debated the subject of capital receipts. It is well known that local authorities may spend only the prescribed proportion of 20 per cent. of capital receipts except on capital repairs in the year of receipt, and that that is taken into account in housing investment programme allocations. The defect of that arrangement is that it has no direct regard to the relative overall debt position of individual councils, some of which are in a far healthier position than others. I should like to see greater flexibility so that in certain cases larger proportions of capital receipts would be available to local authorities.

I welcome the proposals for the deregulation of the private rented sector, and I endorse the comments about the initiative taken by the Nationwide Anglia building society. Even as the law currently stands, however, I believe that more could be achieved — but for the activities of certain rent officers. I could show hon. Members two-roomed flats in Gloucester suitable for couples for which the rents have been fixed at almost half those for identical accommodation divided into two separate units for two people. The result is non-availability of rented accommodation for couples, who therefore have to go into bed-and-breakfast accommodation at a cost higher than the amounts that landlords would accept if the rent officers set rents at appropriate levels.

I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) about the need for co-ordination and for agency services. I have observed the activities of organisations such as the National Home Improvement Council, the neighbourhood revitalisation scheme and PROBE — the Partnership for the Renewal of the Built Environment. In many ways, they are precursors of the activities that I expect of the housing action trusts. If substantial proportions of private finance are introduced, as I believe will be achieved by the Bill, that must be accompanied by a high degree of co-ordination among the various parties involved. I therefore see the emphasis on an agency role as extremely important, not merely in the provision of finance but in the co-ordination which is equally essential.

I see the Bill as introducing a housing revolution. Many entrenched attitudes will have to change, but the Bill will offer choice, variety and freedom not hitherto experienced. I expect it to result in better housing opportunities not only in my constituency but for every family in the land.

8.7 pm

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) on his maiden speech. I am sure that his gracious tribute to his predecessor was much appreciated by all who were present when she was a Member. The hon. Gentleman's speech showed his deep interest in housing matters and I look forward to debating those issues further with him during this Parliament. The fact that there have been two other maiden speeches — those of the hon. Members for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) and for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) — and that so many new Members are keen to speak in the first major debate on housing in this Parliament reflects the importance of the subject.

I had assumed that a debate on housing policy would be introduced by the Government with an analysis of the housing needs of the people of our country and of the conditions in which they are expected to live, rather than stepping back a century and suggesting that the prime mover in housing policy is securing higher rents in the vain hope that this will lead to an increased supply of housing and property improvements. That did not work in the past and there is no evidence to suggest that it will provide solutions now. The history of housing development in Britain shows that high rents lead to squalid conditions and the need for public health legislation, to property speculation and to private profit by landlords. As the hon. Member for Gloucester reminded us, we need a sense of history. It is worth recalling that the history of rent controls, as outlined by the Secretary of State, is exactly paralleled by that of public health legislation because the rents taken from tenants were not used to improve conditions. Indeed, conditions became so bad that at the turn of the century our forefathers found it necessary to develop and promote publicly rented housing, available according to need.

The Bill has a narrower aim. Indeed, its first paragraph states that it is aimed
"at transforming the rented housing market"
It is worth asking the fundamental question: why was it transformed in the first place at the beginning of the century, and why was public sector housing developed on the basis of all-party political consensus? Surely we should not naively set the clock back, but recognise that it is ticking under a time-bomb of increasingly bad housing conditions and rising homelessness that threatens the inner cities and urban areas of late 20th century Britain.

I shall take first the issue of conditions. There is still a common assumption that the housing conditions that touched the public conscience with the television programme "Cathy Come Home" in the 1950s have been eradicated. The Government still persist in the view that the United Kingdom is "a well-housed nation". Indeed, that was stated in their manifesto. The Government have based their housing White Paper proposals on a rose-tinted view of housing conditions that are precisely contradicted by their own surveys. Only last January the Department of the Environment's research report on housing in multiple occupancy concluded:
"There are some exceedingly squalid conditions within houses in multiple occupation…their existence is an indictment of local and national housing policy".
However, the proposals in chapter 2 of the White Paper on repair and improvement to housing have been dropped between the publication of the White Paper and that of the Bill. It is not simply, as one Conservative Member said, that there is nothing about cowboys in the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill about improving the quality of Britain's housing. The Bill deliberately ignores all the evidence about the rapidly deteriorating state of Britain's housing stock.

The Association of Metropolitan Authorities has estimated that, in the private sector alone, repairs now cost £26 billion. A recent study by the National Economic Development Council put the price of repair in the private sector at £35 billion. It is worth reflecting that in 1975,1·75 million homes in Britain were over 100 years old and by 1991 that figure will have doubled to 3·2 million.

When will we address the severe problems of disrepair, not least in the private sector? The national housing and dwelling survey records that 1·2 million homes are unfit for habitation, 1 million or more lack basic amenities and that about 4 million are classified as substandard. It is worth reflecting also that more than half the unsatisfactory dwellings are occupied by households whose head is over 60 years old. Declining housing stock is occupied primarily by the elderly.

In my own city of Leeds 52,500 private sector dwellings are now substandard and in need of improvement, and 19,000 are unfit. The reason is the legacy of back-to-back houses in the city. Those are precisely the private rented houses that led the local authority to embark on programmes of renewal, improvement and replacement in the 1920s and 1930s. The figure for private, unfit houses in Leeds lacking basic amenities is 1,800. That contrasts with the number of local authority houses that lack basic amenities, now 490, as a result of improvement programmes. There is a stark contrast between the improvement record in the public sector in Leeds and that in the private sector.

I invite the Government to address the hard facts about housing and to provide some hard evidence to demonstrate that tenants' conditions will be transformed before they press ahead with legislation to deregulate all new lettings. The Secretary of State said earlier that he was interested in that issue, so when will the Government bring forward proposals to strengthen local authorities' duties and powers to require decent safe standards in the private sector and in houses that are in multiple occupation?

If the Bill does not address the condition of the housing stock, dare we ask whether it addresses people's needs for decent and appropriate housing? I have found it astonishing that the one word that did not appear either in the consultative White Paper or in the Bill was the word "homelessness". Last year, over 103,000 families were officially accepted as homeless by local authorities in England alone. That does not include homeless single people or childless couples who are not legally entitled to be registered as homeless with their local authority. The Bill fails to address the issue of homelessness and, in effect, does not offer homeless people anything.

In my own city of Leeds, at the end of September, 21,800 people were on waiting lists and a further 16,500 people were on a list to be transferred to a decent and appropriate home. I advise Conservative Members who say that that is simply the result of a failure of management by local authorities that it may instead have something to do with the fact that there is a shortage of decent and appropriate homes in our large cities. However, the Government have successively resisted all attempts to quantify housing needs. I invite the Government seriously to consider setting performance indicators for their policies to demonstrate to the country, in precise terms, that they are tackling Britain's housing needs. I need to be able to go home from the House and reassure the hundreds of constituents who come to me as their Member of Parliament that they have a chance that, in the near future or before they die, they will be offered a decent and appropriate home.

The Bill does not address conditions and needs, but simply states its intention to transform the rented housing market. The Bill's purpose is to attempt to open up housing in Britain to the big bang of the unfettered market. That belief in the magic of the market characterises the Bill. The Secretary of State seems determined to revive the word "rent". He has gone on record as saying:
"New investment can"—
he did not say will—
"be undertaken by the private sector but the whole thing is going to be infinitely more difficult at present rent levels".
There is an almost obsessional view that low rents are the cause of the dereliction of much of the country's public and private housing. However, in the statements that I have heard from the Secretary of State, there has not been any recognition of the need for investment in public and private housing. Higher rents are explicitly acknowledged as the impact of the Bill. The explanatory and financial memoranda state:
"The proposals in Part I of the Bill will result in higher rents for new tenancies".
The question is, who will be able to pay those rents? As some of my hon. Friends have pointed out, it will certainly not be young workers or those on lower wages. For example, nurses looking for private rented accommodation will face rents that they cannot afford.

I shall be interested to know from the Secretary of State what work has been done to assess market rent levels, because there has been some suggestion that in London they could be between £200 and £250 per week, and in Leeds between £70 and £80 per week. That envisages a massive increase in rents. In the future, how will homeless people be able to find housing at a price that they can afford, either through their income or through housing benefit?

Market rents will often be higher than the cost of home purchase. As the Halifax Building Society pointed out in its regional bulletin No. 13:
"Any new private housing built for rent will be as highly priced as housing for sale where there is a rising demand and in areas such as the south-east of England, the market will not supply homes for rent to meet the needs of people like skilled workers, young people on low incomes, or other groups, swelling council house waiting lists."
In other words, where people are too poor to exert economic demands, the private sector will not supply their needs. We cannot claim that their needs will be met because their rent will be covered by housing benefit when the DHSS has given absolutely no assurances that housing benefit will be increased.

Again the explanatory and financial memoranda state that there will be
"some increase in housing benefit expenditure."
That statement is contrary to the measures brought to the House a week ago which introduce reductions in housing benefit and make no allowances for this Bill. The Secretary of State said that housing benefit contributions would be reduced where property was not of a quality of a sufficiently high standard. Is he saying that tenants must pay over the odds for under-investment by landlords? Is he saying that tenants will pay a high price for the squalid conditions of their home?

Other hon. Members referred to the Quality Street initiative of Nationwide Anglia to provide inner-city housing for rent, but when asked on the radio whether it would be necessary for him to assume a high level of housing benefit, Mr. Tim Melville-Ross said that it would indeed be necessary to have sufficient housing benefit support to make the schemes feasible. One cannot have one without the other, even under the scheme which the Secretary of State has highlighted as the flagship.

The fallacy of the claim that allowing landlords to charge higher rents will result in better conditions is exposed by the research of the Department of the Environment. It showed that most such lettings were unprotected by the Rent Acts and were mainly only temporary lettings; that most occupiers had only one room and were sharing bathrooms and toilets; and that there were severe problems of disrepair, unfitness, damp and inadequate fire precautions.

The truth is that most private landlords are not providing a social service, nor are they sharing, nor letting their spare houses, certainly not in terms of providing secure, satisfactory rented homes at reasonable rents and especially not for those on low incomes. Their prime motive is to maximise profits from rental income and future capital gains. The decline in public-sector investment has certainly not been replaced by private-sector investment, although rents are at an extremely high level.

Behind the Bill's proposals is the idea that the private rented sector should be transformed to adjust to the needs of the market. There seems to be an uncritical willingness to bow before the false idol of the unfettered market. That is the dogma that lies behind the Bill.

The Bill fails to recognise Britain's housing crisis or to accept people's housing needs. I cannot see how the provisions will result in a significant, new supply of homes or how it will tackle rising homelessness. Rather, the provisions will lead to a redistribution of the existing supply of homes. Those who are able to pay higher rents will be able to mount an effective market demand, but at the expense of those who cannot pay. The price of housing will be forced up. There is no guarantee that people on low incomes will be able to pay the price of housing, nor is there a guarantee that housing standards will be improved.

I am reminded of the slogan that the Conservative party took as its banner in 1983—"The Resolute Approach". I was interested in the word "resolute", so I investigated where it came from. It was introduced from Norman French and in early documents it meant a severe and fierce determination to get rents in with the ultimate penalty of death. What an irony. The resolute approach seems to be the hallmark of a Bill which does nothing to address the housing crisis that faces thousands of people.

8.24 pm

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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) on his thoughtful and perceptive maiden speech. The House will appreciate his generous and well deserved tribute to his predecessor, and the eloquence of his advocacy for his constituency and the interests of his constituents. We welcome the breadth of the experience and expertise which he brings to the House and look forward to hearing him contribute frequently to our deliberations.

I also warmly welcome the Bill. The Housing Act 1980 offered council tenants the right to buy their homes, but an oversight in drafting denied that right to the majority of Southwark council tenants who live in my constituency, as the Act provided that only where a council held the freehold interest could the tenant force it to sell. The unwillingness of the coucil to waive that right, which it could have done, and its insistence on standing on that technicality, meant that a large number of my constituents had to wait up to five years before having the opportunity to buy. It was only with the Housing and Building Control Act 1984 that the right was extended to tenants of councils with a leashold interest. Since then, there has been no great improvement or enthusiasm by Labour-controlled Southwark council to sell homes to tenants who wish to buy. Indeed, protestations that it is now Labour party policy to encourage this are not borne out in my constituency.

This raises the problem of delay on a technicality. A large number of my constituents are tenants of leasehold properties where the lease has only a short term to run. The position may be unique in London and in the country. The largest landowner is Alleyn's College of God's Gift. In the past, they have granted, sometimes for 99 years and sometimes for less, a ground lease on a piece of land. In some cases, the council built on that land and in others it bought properties with short-term leases. Many of my constituents are tenants of Southwark council where Southwark coucil owns a lease of less than 21 years, holding it from the estates governors of Dulwich college. They are denied the right to buy.

I understand from informal overtures to the estates governors that they would be prepared to negotiate the freehold reversionary interest which lies behind that of Southwark council, if Southwark council were willing to facilitate the opportunity for individual tenants to purchase. This Bill will ensure a wider choice of tenancy, home ownership and tenure to all. Although that is not the prime purpose of the Bill, it could with adaptation cover this issue. It is a small point nationally, but is of crucial interest to a large number of my constituents.

Another aspect of the delay worries me. It seems unfair that tenants who applied at the proper time to purchase, but where no action has been taken by the local authority, sometimes for a year, 18 months or even two years, continue to pay rent while at the same time the valuation of their property increases. Before this Bill is enacted, I hope that there will be an opportunity to provide for those tenants. When the appropriate time for action to be taken by the council on their application arrives, I hope that, from that time onwards the valuation is fixed and that any subsequent rent payment is paid to a stakeholder or a deposit holder or held in a trustee account on behalf of the tenant. Therefore, when the time comes to complete the purchase the rent paid in that interim period, with accrued interest, can be used to discharge part of the purchase payment.

It has also been argued that there are insuperable difficulties with regard to providing proper management costs broken down estate by estate. That may be a confession of failure on the part of local authorities. However, if that is an insuperable problem or one that will cause considerable delay, surely this Bill is an opportunity to bring in professional estate managers to advise and to cost the sums to which the services will amount. I believe this is a reform that should be made.

I wish to pay particular attention to the right of the council tenants, if they do not wish to buy, to choose their landlord. I have already mentioned an oversight in the drafting of the Housing Act 1980 that denied the tenants of Dulwich their right to buy. From my reading of the present Bill, I wonder whether there has been a similar oversight. In particular, I refer to clause 86, which lays down that any tenant of a freehold landlord will have the right to choose another landlord. However, a large number of Southwark tenants in Dulwich are not tenants of a freehold landlord. They are tenants of Southwark, the leasehold landlord that holds ground leases from Dulwich college. In those circumstances, does it mean that those tenants would be denied the right to change or to choose a new landlord? I believe that the Bill, as presently drafted, does just that, and I believe that that will cause great problems.

One instance of such problems is represented by the Kennolds estate on Croxted road. The ground landlord of that estate is Dulwich college and the leasehold landlord is Southwark council. Individual tenants on that estate would be unable to change their landlord within the terms of the Bill. We must pay attention to this problem before the Bill is enacted.

Another problem that exists in my constituency and perhaps nowhere else arises where Southwark council is the ground landlord and there is a head lessee, a housing association. In this instance I wish to refer to the Ruskin park housing estate. That estate was built in the 1960s by the London county council and was subsequently held by the Greater London council. In about 1972, a number of tenants wished to buy their individual flats on that estate and they clubbed together to form a housing association. The GLC granted the Ruskin park housing association a long leasehold interest of some 99 years. Therefore, the tenants who bought their flats became 99-year leaseholders.

However, those tenants of the GLC who wished to remain tenants found themselves in the position envisaged by this Bill. That is to say, the whole shooting match was granted, by way of long lease, to the Ruskin park housing association and, for those tenants who wished to remain GLC tenants, individual flats were leased back to the GLC. That arrangement was extremely successful from 1972 until almost the present day.

On the demise of the GLC, the freehold interest that lay beneath the Ruskin park housing association long lease could have been—in my opinion, it should have been— sold to that housing association by the London residuary body. However, that interest was transferred to Southwark council, which became ground landlord. Therefore, at present Southwark council is ground landlord, Ruskin park housing association is head lessee, from which some individual flats are leased on long leases by owner-occupiers, and a small proportion of flats are still occupied by what were previously GLC, now Southwark, tenants.

The unexpired term of the lease on such flats is now 70 years and that lease is a wasting asset. Owner-occupier tenants are faced with great difficulty when trying to sell on the open market, because financial organisations such as mortgage corporations and building societies are not anxious to accept security of such a short duration. Therefore, we are faced with the anomaly whereby the owner-occupiers, those who have entered into a contract of home ownership, have a wasting asset that is extremely difficult to sell. We are faced with the curious situation that might allow those who are Southwark council tenants to choose a landlord different from Southwark council. It gives a spurious sense of superiority or advantage to those council tenants who wish to exercise their right to choose their landlord in those circumstances. Therefore, it militates against those who are owner-occupiers.

I have outlined two problems where there is a delicate balance between the leasehold and the freehold interests. In years gone by, a leasehold was a versatile way of organising tenure while at the same time maintaining the cohesion of an estate. That balance has been a problem that has bedevilled my constituency in recent years. The beneficent landlord, Dulwich college, developed the practice of granting ground lease to individuals. When those leases began to come to an end, that practice caused some conflict.

Twenty years ago, my constituency predecessor—my political opponent, but personal friend—Sam Silkin, now Lord Silkin of Dulwich, played an important part in the deliberations of this House considering the introduction of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. That Act was introduced to enable those who are long lessees of houses to have the right to enfranchise and obtain a freehold interest so that they may feel that they will not lose their capital asset at the end of the term of the lease.

That problem has arisen again now, in a slightly different form. The House should consider another estate within Dulwich, the estate on Farquah road, Grenville court and Marlow court. The tenants of that estate have made representations to me because they feel that, under the present freehold-leasehold balance, they share the same difficulties of the owner-occupiers on the Ruskin park housing estate. They have leases that have 70 years to run—originally they were for 99 years. Those leases do not represent a marketable asset. Many of the tenants in that estate are retired.

Those retired tenants have contemplated using one of the financial devices that are now available for the retired with a capital asset, such as the home income plan. However, they have discovered that financial organisations are not prepared to accept a lease that has a declining term to run when considering the anomalies that have arisen as a result of well-intentioned but incomplete legislation.

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My constituency has similar problems of leasehold enfranchisement. I understand that building societies will lend money in the circumstances described by the hon. Gentleman where the lease has more than 50 years to run. The rule normally applied by the building societies is that, provided that 25 years remain beyond the term of a normal mortgage, the property is regarded as a mortgageable asset. Serious problems arise when mortgages have fewer than 50 years to run.

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I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. But such a lease is a wasting asset and becomes less marketable. I have no doubt that there is a market and that some institutions will fund such purchases, but that does not have the same freedom as the open market asset. If there was an extension of leasehold enfranchisement flats, we could make progress in this difficult area.

An interesting concept in the Bill is that it almost admits the existence of a tenure which relates to freehold interests in flats. For years, there has been a philosophical debate about whether the flying freehold exists—whether one can have a freehold that does not sit on the earth's surface. But the tone of the Bill suggests that one could have a freehold stacked on top of another freehold. If that concept was accepted, there would be no reason not to enfranchise flats and thereby obviate the problems being experienced by my constituents in Grenville court and Marlow court. It is a serious issue because of the wasting asset, but it is even more serious psychologically when someone of advancing years has a diminishing lease. We must try to reassure that person by finding a solution to the problem.

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When the Labour party tabled an amendment in exactly those terms to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987, why did not the hon. Gentleman vote for it?

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I am talking about this case. I have neither the memory not the expertise of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) in this area, but I believe that we could extend the right in such circumstances. The hon. Gentleman and I share views on the broad issues in many respects, but we differ on some matters of detail.

The Bill is a great step forward and offers wider choice. It provides a vehicle for righting some of the oversights and anomalies in the law, and I hope that in Committee it will be amended to deal with even more inadequacies and anomalies. I welcome it warmly.

8.42 pm

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Earlier today, during questions on overseas development, we talked about starvation and the tragic circumstances of Ethiopia. If, during those brief exchanges, an hon. Member had suggested that our policy towards starvation should be to feed the fat and starve the lean, it would have been rejected out of hand. But Government housing policy is exactly that: helping those who have and depriving those who have not. Indeed, if one drew an analogy with starvation, it would not be going too far to suggest that the Government's cure for starvation is to cut supplies of food. During the past eight years, the Government have talked about a shortage of homes to rent. But Government policy and cuts in the housing investment programme have meant the loss of more than 500,000 homes to rent which would have been provided by local authorities had they continued the rate of building that existed in 1979. The trouble with the Bill is that it does nothing to assist those who are in the greatest need. Indeed, it continues the policy of rewarding the haves and punishing the have nots.

One example is mortgage interest relief. If an unmarried couple takes out a mortgage of £60,000 and pays tax at the higher rate, it will receive a subsidy towards repayment of the mortgage of £3,600 per annum, or £63 a week. Even if they were standard rate taxpayers, they would receive a subsidy of £1,620 a year. I mention £60,000 because it is bout the cheapest price at which someone could buy a one-bedroomed flat in my constituency. That is about the rock-bottom price in Norwood, even in the more difficult parts. I am not talking about council houses, but about ordinary conversions of Victorian dwellings.

If we had assured tenancies in similar premises, with people starting homes for the first time no landlord would rent those premises at a return of less than 10 per cent. over what he has paid. I cannot imagine that the Government will give a subsidy to the needy couple of £3,600 per annum. They will get only a pittance of housing benefit on such a rental. That is another example of the Government feeding the fat and starving the lean.

This year, mortgage interest relief will give a revenue subsidy of about £5 billion to those who, on the whole, are fairly well housed. I am talking not about first-time purchasers or people at the lower end of the market, but about people who are fairly well housed, many of whom took out their mortgages some time ago. The subsidy on mortgage interest is about two and a half times the capital investment which will be permitted to local authorities—about £2,000 million in the current year.

Another example of massive Government investment which aids the haves and penalises the have nots can be seen in docklands. I welcome the revitalisation of docklands, but money has been poured into homes which are changing hands, not at £60,000 but at £250,000. The Government have diverted—almost perverted—housing investment in favour of the haves and against the have nots.

Private housebuilding has grown during the past eight years, but there have been deliberate inhibitions on building and improving homes which will be available for people to rent. The drift of Government policy is not to address the serious problem of needy cases, but to reward those who are already relatively well-endowed. Homelessness is only the tip of the iceberg of the cold comfort which is meted out to those in serious housing need. I say "the tip of the iceberg" because 100,000 people accepted as homeless, 200,000 people applying to be treated as homeless and 6,000 to 7,000 a night in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London are bad enough. There is a much larger housing problem, which the Bill does not cover, of about 1 million people living in homes that are unfit for human habitation and, according to the Government's figures, almost 2 million people are homeless in the sense that they want homes of their own and stand no reasonable chance of getting one.

The Bill will add to the near nomadic and despairing mass of people to whom housing policy should be addressed, but who are not addressed by this Bill, or by any other Government statements on housing policy during the past two years. Instead of providing access to housing, the Government put more bars on the cage which encloses many people in housing need.

The vast majority of British people are reasonably well housed and financed. The first priority should be to provide access for all people to affordable housing of a reasonable quality in the right place. Neither tenure, the landlord or other considerations matter as long as there is access to housing of reasonable quality at a reasonable price. The second priority should be to improve the quality of existing housing so that occupants are more content with what they have. One of our housing problems is the fact that people are not content with the houses in which they live.

The third priority should be to improve the physcial quality of housing by grants to owner-occupiers, or by making capital available to local authorities to improve the environment and the standards of management of their homes. We all recognise—my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) emphasised this—that there has at times been massive investment which has brought about great disaffection with housing because of the way in which people behave towards their environment and partly because of the way in which it behaves towards them.

The Bill should address itself to the problems of housing need, but it does not. It will intensify the ghettoisation of many of our estates. In my constituency, and in places such as Southwark and Lewisham, the pick-a-landlord scheme will not have the effect of people living in the worst managed and sometimes neglected housing opting out of the system through pick-a-landlord. Those who live in the best-managed, best-maintained and best-designed accommodation will tend to opt out, to leave the residue even more on the margin than before. That is exactly what the right to buy has done. It presents a serious problem in places such as London, in which there is a grave shortage of housing to rent; it has taken out the best and made the residue even worse than before, leaving little hope for the survivors.

The best that one can say about assured tenancy is that it is not quite as catastrophic as it might have been if it had been designed in the context of the Rent Act 1957. There is security of tenure and an appeal against an unreasonable market rent, based on the experience of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, which applies to business tenancies. I have several hard criticisms to make. First, the Government have departed from what could have been a bipartisan policy on assured tenancies. Previously, we had an agreed policy of having approved landlords; assured tenancies were linked to new investment in housing; and there was also security of tenure.

In almost every other sphere of public welfare, we approve or disapprove of people. We disqualify people who do not drive their cars properly on the road, just as, under the old assured tenancy, we could disqualify a landlord who was not up to scratch. That has gone by the board. If people do not run a cafeteria correctly and affect public health, they can be disqualified, too, as can those who run food shops or food factories. So why cannot we have a continuation of an assured landlord principle, whereby this House approves the landlord and lays down that he should be qualified to provide a certain quality of housing—which is not something that everyone can do? The Government have abandoned that bipartisan approach to assured tenancy and with that departure goes any possible support for their present innovation.

Secondly, the Government have repeated the mistakes of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, by laying a minefield of legal traps. Under clause 6, if a tenant does not, within one month, serve a counter-notice disputing the revised rent put forward by the landlord, that rent is binding upon him. If a tenant is lucky enough to benefit by renewed prosperity, and goes away for a month, he can come back to an unpleasant surprise and find that his rent has been raised in his absence without the possibility of appeal. I ask the Government not to re-lay the minefield for business tenants in a statute dealing with residential tenants, who have less experience in dealing with legal matters.

Thirdly, the assured tenancy cannot possibly help people in need. I cannot see those in need in my constituency being able to afford what I think will be a minimum rent of about £120 a week. The golden rule will operate: the higher the cost, the lower the space. People will take tenancies that they cannot afford, or space that is insufficient for their needs and, in a year or so, they will be back in the homeless queue and the local authority will be left to pick up the pieces. No doubt, the Government will then starve the local authority even more of resources, and then blame it for its so-called incompetence. The consequence of assured tenancy, and even at the lower end of the market of the new shorthold unsecured tenancy, will be to increase the growth of homelessness and intensify the ghettoisation and despair of those at the bottom of the housing ladder.

Housing associations have a good record. They have been sensitive to social needs, have provided mainstream housing and have acted experimentally—for example, rehabilitating people coming out of mental institutions, and so on. They usually work on the principle of 100 per cent. nominations from their local authorities, which is wholly absent from the arrangements of housing action trusts and pick-a-landlord schemes. Almost the worst aspect of those is that the housing action trusts and the pick-a-landlord arrangements will mean opting out of any access for housing in those schemes for those on the housing waiting list. The Bill will pull away and distance the associations from their target customers—those in greatest housing need. It will steer associations towards the better endowed, and deprive them of access to funds for low-cost housing to meet the real needs in our community.

Absent from the Bill altogether is anything to do with empty property. I am sure that many hon. Members know of that problem in their inner-city urban areas. Landlords keep property empty for a year or two at a time. In a way, the Government are right, in inner-city areas, to stimulate the idea of land being put on to the market. There is no excuse for a local authority, housing association or private home owner to keep empty a property that could be made available for housing accommodation. If the Government want more housing for letting, why do they not compel the sale of homes that are in private hands and are often neglected for years, much to the disadvantage of owner-occupiers or tenanted neighbours who resent the blight in their roads that results from deserted premises?

At the end of the day, the Bill is irrelevant to housing needs—especially of people in London. In London we face an economic and social catastrophe in housing such as we have not had for a long time. In my constituency house prices have nearly doubled in a year. That means that not only people at the lower end of the market and the homeless are disadvantaged and have no access to housing, but nurses at my local hospital, teachers in our local schools and social workers for the local authority cannot get housing. Even people in middle income groups—skilled and semi-skilled — cannot gain access to housing because of the way in which the Government have cut back on the housing investment programme. Nothing in the Bill will help. The Government are reinforcing the deprivation of a lost generation, particularly in urban areas such as London.

I looked through my advice bureau on Friday night and examined the housing case of each person that came to ask me what the Bill will do for him or her. A nurse told me that she cannot carry on as a theatre sister because of appalling housing conditions. The Bill will do nothing for her. What will it do for the family living in overcrowded private accommodation which cannot go on the housing waiting list? What will it do for a woman who could not come to my bureau on Friday because she is a patient in Maudsley hospital? She has been driven mad by the operation of housing policy in London. She wants to be near her mother, and away from a lonely existence in which she has no friends. She is a young tenant, although there are many elderly tenants who would like to be with their children because it would save their lives.

There is nothing in the Bill or in Government policy that helps those in the greatest need. I should have thought that there was no greater indictment of the Government's housing policy than their ability to stare the problem in the face and ignore it.

8.58 pm

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Throughout this Parliament, there will not be a more important Bill, nor more important issues than those debated today. In that I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), whose maiden speech was first class and in whose constituency, before moving to Portsmouth, I lived when his predecessor represented it so well in the House.

The supply of adequate food, clothing and shelter at an affordable price is fundamental to the basic needs and comforts of everyone. While we have been much more enlightened on food and clothing, the provision of shelter, to which we are returning with another Housing Bill, has been bedevilled by controlled markets, restrictions and rationing — perhaps indispensable in war time, but having little connection with reality in a free country in a long period of peace and with rising prosperity.

The Bill takes significant steps in the right direction. In Portsmouth, many of the initiatives proposed are already under way. While there is much to be done and there is no room for complacency, I have never before come across a council that is so loosely attached to dogma and so widely receptive to any sensible ideas for action that will result in meeting housing needs. Such needs exist in Portsmouth as in the constituencies of other hon. Members.

Portsmouth has been selling council houses since 1953, a whole generation before it became fashionable and then compulsory to do so. Many thousands have been sold. Over 22,000 council-owned houses remain and while, in recent years, new build has concentrated on the ever popular warden schemes for the elderly, there has been a steady addition of more general housing. But it was recognised long ago that the private sector had a major part to play in the provision of homes.

Portsmouth council has a constant programme of home maintenance and improvement, and it is wholly convinced of the justice of the criticisms—as I am, and as are many hon. Members on both sides of the House—of the badly designed, ill-suited mass developments, which it is now widely accepted add to rather than reduce social problems.

At one time I lived in Exeter, in the middle of a housing estate that was built all around the farm of which my father was the tenant. He was a councillor for that housing estate and for one further down the road that was also in his ward—

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A very good councillor he was, too.

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My hon. Friend is right. I can tell the House about my first-hand experience and my feeling that it was wrong to develop a mass of council houses in one place in those days. The sale of council houses has done more than anything else to produce the mix of ownership that there should have been from the start in such housing after the war.

Portsmouth city council has shown great courage, particularly in facing up to major development and in getting rid of much of the unacceptable mass housing. There has been new construction at Portsea. The council has also completely demolished Portsdown park, which received the experts' plaudits in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but which has been a complete disaster in human terms—precisely the sort of disaster that was so eloquently referred to by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer).

I have no doubt that Portsmouth city council will endorse positively the propositions set out in the Bill, particularly that the council should play an increased enabling role in encouraging houses for all provided by the public and the private sector, as well as by housing associations. That should be done undogmatically. We want homes from wherever they come.

In Portsmouth, as in many other places, we want to see an end to too much reliance being placed on bed and breakfast accommodation. While it no doubt has a role as a temporary expedient, it should have no part to play in longer-term needs, particularly those of families, whether single parents or not. My surgery, like those of other hon. Members, is full of people coming in with their housing problems. If anybody thinks that we are not as genuinely interested in sorting out those problems as anybody else, they must live in cloud cuckoo land. The DHSS-funded bed and breakfast accommodation, the bed and breakfast DHSS-funded house—whatever one may call it—is unacceptable. The Bill should help in ending that because the present legislation has given rise to that unacceptable face of housing.

The city council for many years has been working in co-operation with the Portsmouth Housing Association, the Care and Repair Service and the Southlands Housing Association. I cannot speak too highly of the professional approach of those Associations in contributing deep sincerity and practical solutions to the problems of homelessness, disrepair and underinvestment to which the present state of the law contributes so lamentably in Portsmouth as elsewhere and about which the Government are attempting to do something in the Bill.

While some people in housing associations are worried that their essential and original objectives might be compromised, and some are inclined to view the Tory Government with suspicion, even when they are bearing gifts, I have no doubt that they will take up positively the new powers and responsibilities offered to them and will involve their tenants increasingly in their operations. At the moment councillors can take up their problems, if they are in the council sector, and the housing associations must ensure that they have good contacts with their tenants, and that their hopes and aspirations are met.

The system of grants for home repairs and improvements has inbuilt delays which should be investigated and improved. Housing associations would very much welcome less bureaucracy in that respect.

The part of the Bill which has the potential to enable the greatest provision of more homes relates to the private rented sector. I do not claim that it is the ultimate panacea in providing homes, but it will have an important and useful role if its future is uninhibited by the excessive legislative control which has existed for some 70 years. I give the Bill eight out of 10 because it goes a great way towards removing those barriers which have existed for so long.

A moment of cool reflection should tell even the most dense person that greater harm has been done, not just to landlords or property owners, but to countless tenants and would-be tenants, by the non-availability of property to let, by so much property being inadequately improved and maintained, and by severe restrictions being placed on personal mobility and unnecessarily complicated legislation and case law. Little of the case law is in language which can be understood by a normal person, let alone a Fellow of All Souls, but it applies to virtually every step in a dangerous minefield. We have had Act after Act and case law after case law. When I practised at the Bar I tried to understand some of it — when I had to for a particular case—and with relief I forgot it as soon as I could when the case was over.

In a rational world, to alleviate all this would not be a matter for deep party political controversy. It is profoundly depressing that the Opposition parties do not have any answers to reform the Rent Acts or to the provision of private rented accommodation and the contribution it could make to solving housing problems. Part of the responsibility carried by Conservative Members, in supporting the Government, is that people can look only to us for real solutions to those problems by a partnership between all agencies which is undogmatic. When Government Members have proposed that it is undogmatic, we have had a reaction from the other side—but it is undogmatic.

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If the hon. Gentleman agrees with increasing the supply of rented accommodation to solve the housing problems he sees at his surgeries or advice bureaux, why for doctrinaire reasons are he and his Government against increasing the supply of public accommodation?

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The supply of public rented accommodation has been increasing. If the hon. Member comes to Portsmouth, I will show him scheme after scheme. If it is not happening in his area, he should question his council. People will get no new ideas whatever from the Labour party, which remains hostile to all but the public provision of housing for rent. We have just heard that from the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts). The Opposition are bankrupt of ideas and want nothing but massive subventions of public money while preserving as intact as possible the stock in trade of local politicians—votes through dependency and housing rationing. That is what they are wedded to.

For years the Opposition were against the sale of council houses. They said that it would not work and that they would not have it. They were saying that even while party voters, party members and councillors were buying them like hot cakes. That continuing attitude was exemplified in the sterile and depressing speech by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) who opened the debate and set the scene for all his hon. Friends.

We heard the spokesman for the Liberals. That party's policy on housing, as on many other things, keeps up with events. The Liberals are against reforms such as the sale of council houses, until they are seen to work and until—what is more important to Liberals—they are seen to be popular. When that happens, hey presto, they are all on board telling their local electorate that it was always a Liberal idea anyway. They say that on the basis of some obscure 19th century Gladstonian principle, or extract it from the musings of Lloyd George who had plenty of time to muse in the 1920s and 1930s.

During the betrothal period—if I may call it that—of the Liberals and the prototype SDP they managed to agree at last that Tory practices and ideas, many of which, including housing associations, are extended in the present Bill, were good things. That is in the Liberal's motion and it was in the speech by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). It remains to be seen what the other SDP, the one led by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), will come up with in its new slimline form. I do not see the right hon. Gentleman's name on the Order Paper above the motion in the name of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey. We shall have to wait to see what the right hon. Gentleman comes up with. The right hon. Member for Devonport rather reminds me of a legendary fish called the aspidochelone. That legendary fish fools mariners into believing that its back is an island and, when they are all crammed upon it, it submerges and drowns them all. None of the Opposition parties will tackle the rent Acts and so we must.

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We would if we could.

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The hon. Gentleman would if he could, but in wholly the wrong way. We must be bold and we will be bold.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) spoke about the sale of council houses. If we had tackled the sale of council houses on the basis that the Opposition did not agree with that policy, and would change it all back when they came to power, we should never have sold any. In that case, the countless number of people who now own homes and who represent a real shift in resources from the rich to the poor, from those who own to those who did not own, would never have taken place. That was opposed on every occasion until finally the Opposition could oppose it no longer.

The Bill could be bolder in terms of the assured shorthold tenancy, and we could leave rents to be freely agreed by market forces. In any case, the level of housing benefits will settle the matter. The Opposition hate it when we talk about market forces.

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Is the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) also opposed to market forces being applied to private mortgages? If he is, may we conclude that he is against mortgage tax relief?

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Mortgage tax relief is a great incentive to home ownership and home ownership is the greatest freedom that we have ever had. I am in favour of continuing it. It harnesses market forces. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Laissez-faire".] We do not want everything to be laissez-faire.—[Interruption.] The Opposition want "Gooseberry Fair" with the Government constantly between what the people want and economic forces. For Opposition Members, it is gooseberry fair, rather than laissez-faire; the Government should be into everything. [Interruption.]

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May I return to the point that I was making?

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I was talking about market forces, which is what got the Opposition going. Market forces have led to no shortage of food or clothing. Market forces work in every other matter. One cannot do without food or clothing and in war time they were both rationed. The controls were lifted at the end of the war and now there is plenty of food and clothing to be had at reasonable and affordable prices. However, if one refers to market forces in relation to housing, you start to talk about dogma.

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Order. The hon. Gentleman should not keep referring to me.

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I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I should have said that the Opposition parties start to get very excited.

The provision dealing with assured shorthold tenancies does not leave rents wholly to market forces. In any case, the level of housing benefits will settle matters. The market will soon notice at what level housing benefits are set. All the gurus will somehow work out what the level of housing benefit should or should not be. It is likely that, hey presto, market forces will come near to that level without the need for expert opinion from rent assessment committees—something that has happened over many years of restriction. As I said, the level of housing benefit will have a great effect on the rents market.

The Bill provides for the Secretary of State to designate areas where such rent fixing is not to apply. That provision should be altered. The Secretary of State should designate only the areas where it ought to apply. For assured shorthold tenancies, it should be assumed that rent fixing does not apply. I should like to see some changes in clauses 20 and 21 of the Bill.

I said that we should be bold. In ancient Athens, in the time of Pericles—I am sure that my hon. Friends, at least, will have heard of him—lived a gentleman called Artemon. He used to remain at home with two servants—probably of the civil kind and probably ex-members of the ADC—holding a shield of brass over his head in case anything should fall on him. I believe that the ways of Artemon have no place in the Department, and I am pleased to see that they do not have much place in the Bill. When the Bill is passed, Opposition Members, in the House and in the media, will delight in highlighting the way in which market forces are being exploited by ruthless and evil landlords.

Time and again, we have heard about Rachmanism. We have been told that we must not give rise to Rachmans again. None of us agree with the policies of Mr. Rachman and his boys. However, there will always be ruthless and evil landlords, just as there will always be ruthless and evil people—under Governments of any political complexion, in any country and in any political system. Any society has such people, just as it has the good and honest people.

Many more evil things will be done if we keep the controls and the stupid restrictions that we have had for so long, which have stopped many people having proper homes at reasonable, affordable market rents. I have no doubt that we shall be able to allow ourselves years because this is not a short-term Government. We have had nearly eight-and-a-half years and a further eight-and-a-half years will certainly be enough to cement this reform into the ways of the country. When the reform has been cemented, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) said, the Opposition will accept it as the currency of practical politics, just as they have accepted the sale of council houses, and will not dare to get rid of it.

9.19 pm

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Halfway through his speech the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) said that he occasionally goes to the bar. I wonder whether that is where he came from before his speech, because I have never heard so much irrelevant claptrap in all my life. Unfortunately, the reality of what he and his right hon. and hon. Friends are advocating is that it will maintain the twilight zone in this country between those who can afford to buy or choose their housing and those who, because of unemployment or poor wages, are increasingly being forced into a situation without any real opportunity to determine their living conditions or the type of housing in which they wish to live.

This Bill is about the erosion of rights. There is a subtle erosion of the rights of tenants in the private sector and a major erosion of the rights of local authorities in terms of working with housing associations and other agencies, both in the public and private sectors, to intervene in the housing market to determine the needs of the community, what resources will be allocated to public and private housing and how best those resources are applied. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) said, Labour Members are not really interested in whose name is on the rent book or whether the accommodation is in the private or public sector. We want a real choice in housing for those who wish to buy or rent. This Bill erodes even the small choice available now.

As a member of a local authority before coming to the House, I am not going to apologise for the role being played by local authorities now and previously in the provision of housing. Much has been said by Conservative Members blaming local authorities for the current state of the housing market. The position would be infinitely worse if it was not for the role of the local authorities. I hope to describe my experience as a member of the local authority in Wigan. One of the reasons for the problems that exist today is a historical one. In the 1960s, both Labour and Conservative Governments not only forced local authorities into system building but it was built into the grant system. Local authorities did not receive a grant for new build unless they built properties more than four storeys high. In addition, local authorities were forced to implement no fines concrete system developments and other untested and untried methods of construction. Today we see local authorities trying to cope with the multi-million-pound mistakes of those days while those responsible live out their retirement in Tenerife and other places. Those people were responsible for selling housing construction methods more akin to Mediterranean housing than that required in this country.

At present, local authorities such as mine are having to deal with the problems of the Government's erosion of investment in the public sector. Major problems in housing now are a direct result of the Government's policies over the past eight years. In the country as a whole, investment in public sector housing has been slashed by 75 per cent. and in my authority it has been slashed by 80 per cent. in real terms. In the last year of the Labour Government, our HIP grant was £19 million and this year it is £6·4 million. Not a single new house has been built since 1983. This year, our allocation for new build of £4·5 million has been cut to zero. That is in an authority left with a legacy of private sector mismanagement in terms of its housing stock.

The authority has set out in an imaginative way, along with housing trusts and housing associations, to try to change fundamentally the provision of housing in the public and private sectors in Wigan and the role of the residents in the private sector. The local authority has sat down with housing associations and residents in almost every part of the borough to set up housing action areas. Residents elect representatives for the local committees and, with the local authority, determine their refurbishment needs, both in property and the environment. Housing associations and building societies are sitting down with the residents and the local authority to determine the best way in which that refurbishment can occur. That is providing real choice in the private sector and providing public funding to maintain private housing stock.

In the main, that housing is occupied by the elderly and by tenants of absentee landlords. The latter have caused the local authority the greatest problem in improving private housing stock. Too often, after a programme of reinvestment and improvement, the only houses that have not been improved are those still in the hands of absentee landlords. These difficulties, which will continue to occur, show that private landlords are not in the ball game of investing in communities, improvements in the environment and property. They are concerned with high rents and making profits and running from these communities.

Despite massive grant cuts, the public sector's policy is to refurbish properties—heating, lighting and so on— and to relieve the serious problems of urban deprivation on estates. The local authority is sitting down with residents, who form residents' committees, to determine the estates' needs. That neighbourhood approach is being developed throughout the borough.

There are 17 authority estates earmarked, but that programme has been curtailed because of the Government's cuts in the housing investment programme. Many council tenants are trapped in houses now too big for them because their family needs have changed; the authority wants to give them the opportunity to move to other accommodation so that their houses are used for those on the waiting lists.

Our priority estates programme aims to identify the problems and to find the necessary resources. It is about improving management techniques and involving other services in housing. The housing problems cannot be solved in isolation; they are part and parcel of the environment, socially and economically. Local authorities are taking up the challenge left by the Government's social policies. Where problems exist, they have been manifested, in the main, through housing. Direct action by local authorities in improving the environment in which tenants live will turn around the social problems on many estates. The Bill and the Government's attitude to investment in local authority housing make it infinitely more difficult for that change to occur.

If the Government were really serious in their argument that the sale of council houses provides additional resources for local authority investment, why do local authorities such as Wigan have millions of pounds tied up because of Government capital receipt controls? Those millions of pounds, obtained because local authorities have been forced to sell properties, cannot be used to alleviate their housing needs. If the Government were serious, they would allow local authorities to use those receipts for investment in the public and private sectors. The Government refuse to do that, so millions of pounds worth of assets, which could be utilised to the benefit of the housing stock, are locked away.

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Does not the fact that capital receipts are available reduce borrowing, so that, in effect, the local authority has the use of such money?

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That is not—[Interruption.] I hope that my hon. Friends will allow me to answer that intervention in my own way. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) obviously does not understand the whole concept of Government expenditure controls on local authorities, especially those on capital receipts. That ignorance has been displayed by other Conservative Members during the debate. The controls on capital receipts have resulted in millions of pounds of resources not being spent on housing stock. Consequently, residents have to put up with poor conditions such as lack of heating and the need for rewiring and other refurbishments. My authority has already approved proposals to carry out that work, but the Department of the Environment will not approve the allocations.

My authority has an affinity with housing associations. It is a true partnership. The authority understands the needs of its community and involves housing associations in its housing strategy. The authority's area is divided into zones, each with a designated housing association. Within the overall housing policy, there is a range of options for people in both the public and private sectors, and resources are allocated on a 50:50 basis. In the housing action areas in the private sector, we are encouraging housing associations to provide low-cost rental accommodation. That is revitalising many parts of our area.

There are sheltered homes and homes with special facilities for pensioners, again provided on a 50:50 basis with housing associations; special housing for the disabled and paraplegics; and housing for single people and women's refuges. Currently we are constructing two specially devised places for the mentally disabled and one for the rehabilitation of offenders. The authority, working with the housing associations, is using its resources to diversify and give a real choice to those in need in the community. The Bill will undermine that.

We think that housing will become a bigger crisis than the National Health Service. We cannot view the Bill in isolation; it must be considered in the context of the debate on housing benefit regulations last week. Again, Conservative Members showed an ignorance or misunderstanding of, or a malevolence towards, £640 million being sucked out of the housing benefit system. It is the eighth cut in housing benefit since the Government took office and, as a result, the role of housing associations will be restricted. If we are not careful, it will change dramatically from its traditional role of providing housing for low or no-income groups.

Without major amendments to the Bill in Committee, housing associations will have to operate on a basis of market rents and who can afford to pay them, rather than on a basis of local housing needs. That has been regretted by the overwhelming majority of those involved in the housing association movement, including some Conservative Members.

The Department of Health and Social Security legislation places housing associations in an impossible position. The ending of fair rents for both new projects and existing homes when tenants move out will mean that those in greatest need will not be provided with alternative or affordable forms of housing.

There is another problem with those in the twilight zone, those who are neither eligible for housing benefit nor earning high incomes. These proposals will mean that up to 40 per cent. of their income will go on market rents. It will mean that many, particularly in the north, who want to move to other parts of the country to look for work will be unable to do so because of this legislation. Not only is this unacceptable; it is illogical to encourage people to move around the country in search of work and then, by this Bill, to make it financially impossible for them to do so. Forcing market rents on housing associations is highly irresponsible. We must return to this when the Bill goes into Committee.

Another concern of housing associations relates to the Government's concept of affordable rents. I am not totally in favour of housing associations and the concept of affordable rents, but it is one way in which housing associations are attempting to procure a compromise from the Government in regard to their current policy on rents and housing associations. When the Minister replies to the debate, I should be glad if he would comment on the proposals on affordable rents put to him by the housing associations, and say whether the Government will consider amendments to allow affordable rents for housing associations, which will ensure that we do not reach the position where working people are priced out of the market and cannot afford to come into new or rehabilitated property run by housing associations.

Housing association tenancies are another cause for concern. Here again, the Government are placing housing association tenants in a very different position from tenants in council and private accommodation. Housing associations are in neither the public nor the private sector, and the Government should recognise that. The Bill should be amended in Committee to include the principle of housing association tenancy to ensure that housing association tenants are protected in a real sense and do not find themselves in a different position from council tenants or tenants of private landlords. This is a major deficiency of the Bill, and I would welcome the Government's views on it. They have already received proposals from housing associations in relation to this omission, yet they have seen fit not to include in the Bill some safeguards for such tenants.

The Government are trying to change the way in which housing associations are funded. There is a real need to protect housing associations from fluctuation in the money markets. More and more will become involved in mixed funding schemes. There are some which will need flexibility in relation to the housing limits in terms of HAG. It is proposed that the limit will be 50 per cent., but this total inflexibility can cause difficulties, particularly for smaller housing associations when it comes to mixed funding schemes. Here again, the Government should allow some flexibility to make certain that, when this is introduced, the housing associations which become involved in these schemes over a period are not affected by market fluctuations when it comes to their long-term investment in new build and rehabilitation.

There are some items that I would like to see considered when the Bill goes to Committee. The first is the abolition of the grant redemption fund. This again is an area where housing associations should be allowed some leeway in the amount of rent money which is ploughed back into rehabilitation and new building projects. The Government's present proposals are restrictive in relation to such funds.

We would also like to see the Government review the revenue deficit grant for major repairs. The consultation paper suggested not only that revenue deficit grant be unavailable for future projects but that it should be phased out in respect of existing schemes. The housing associations recommend that this step should not be taken so that capital support can be provided over a period; this will make further payments of revenue deficit grant necessary for the long-term future funding of new build in the housing association sector.

My final point concerns the long-term relationship between local authorities and housing associations. Unfortunately, some associations have already made it clear that they are prepared to take advantage of the Government's proposals to try to pinch large parts of local authorities' housing stock. As a former member of a local authority who has had a good relationship with housing associations, developed in unison, I am sure that every Labour council will bitterly resist any attempt by housing associations to undermine the policies, principles and assets of local authority housing. Housing associations hoping to make a major capital gain in the short term should think again, because in the long term great damage will be done to the relationship built up between local authorities and housing associations.

9.40 pm

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It is appalling that only one Liberal Member has spoken in the debate, although the House will no doubt be expected to vote on the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel). It is even more appalling when one considers that my predecessor, Mr. Stephen Ross, who is soon to be ennobled and given a seat in the other place, was responsible for the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, which has done so much damage to local authority housing in this country. I should put on record at the outset that for some years I was a director of a building society. I was also chairman of a local authority housing committee. It is a source of great pleasure to me that, since I ceased to hold that office, but relating to that period, the Audit Commission has complimented the authority on the way in which it handled its housing stock.

It is significant and a sign of the social revolution that the Government have begun that in a debate on a topic so often regarded as the preserve of socialism, no fewer than three quite exceptional maiden speeches have been made by Conservative Members.

I welcome the fact that, although the housing benefit system is to continue, local authorities will be able to restrict benefit paid on unreasonable rents. Where rents are considered excessive by the rent officer, the subsidy paid to the local authority will be limited to the appropriate market rent for the dwelling in question. As a councillor, on several occasions I took up the fact that excessive benefit was being paid, in some cases as a result of artificially high rents established in back-to-back deals between landlord and tenant.

There are three areas in which the Bill does not go nearly far enough. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) gave the Bill eight points out of 10. That was a reasonable score.

First, the Bill does not go far enough in terms of attracting private enterprise capital. The Government have an exceptional record in freeing the finances of building societies. Only last week, my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary made an announcement enabling building societies to go out into the market place to increase their borrowing. As yet, however—I say that deliberately because there is more to be published on finance in connection with the Bill — the Bill does not seem to go nearly far enough in attracting pension fund finance. Pension fund managers look especially for capital growth. Sun Alliance was established in our town and, as the chairman of a housing committee, I looked for a formula that would attract pension fund finance to housing associations to give them the capital growth that they sought. That is perhaps even more important since the recent movements on the stock market. It is quite possible to encourage pension finance into housing associations because it is cash flow positive.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Is he aware that one major pension fund has interests in Holland and this country, but has 15 times the amount of money invested in housing associations for property for rent in Holland than in this country because of the restrictive provisions of the Rent Acts? Does my hon. Friend agree with the excellent provisions in the proposed legislation that remove those restrictions so that the British side of that pension fund can find it more attractive to release further funds for investment for the purpose that he described?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was not aware of that information, but it illustrates my point that there is a need to attract pension fund finance into private rented housing in this country. It will provide a dynamo to generate an increase in the range that is available to tenants. That is what we are seeking and is the raison d'etre of the Bill.

I appreciate that my next point is a narrow view and am sure that my right hon. Friend will be aware of that. However, I hope that when the Minister replies he will refer to it because it is of considerable concern to my constituents and to other hon. Members. I refer to the fact that the right to buy was not extended to deal with Greater London council holiday homes. Although I endorse fully the Government's view that the right to buy should not be extended to sheltered accommodation or to other specialist accommodation for disabled people — I am sure that most hon. Members can see the merit in that—there is no merit in continuing to deny the right to buy to occupants of GLC holiday homes which have since been transferred to the London residuary body.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Yes, I should be delighted.

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I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be delighted. As he is such an enthusiastic defender of the right to buy and wants to see it extended, even if I may say so in a farcical manner, is he in favour of private tenants having the right to buy their accommodation in law, regardless of any landlord and objection? If not, why not? What is the distinction between private tenants and other tenants?

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I am sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman suggest that it is farcical. My constituents would greatly resent that comment. Indeed, I think that I should call upon the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that statement. What is farcical about my constituents who have occupied GLC holiday homes on the Isle of Wight for about 10 years and who are pensioners wanting to buy those homes? Does the hon. Gentleman own his own home? I bet that he does. I am quite certain of it, but he thinks that that is farcical.

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I know that the Whips have probably told the hon. Gentleman to do a stint and to make it last, but having given way to me perhaps he will pay attention. I am asking him a simple question. If it is all right for tenants in the public sector to buy their own accommodation through the right to buy, what objection does he have, if any, to private tenants having the same right? It is a simple question, so let us have the answer.

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I am certain that I did not mishear the hon. Gentleman say that my suggestion, which was that the right to buy should be extended to GLC holiday home tenants, was farcical. I wonder why he thinks it farcical to allow pensioners who have occupied their holiday homes on the Isle of Wight for several years to have the same right to buy as other tenants in the public sector. There is nothing farcical about it.

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Answer the question.

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I should also like to address the question of—

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I have asked the hon. Gentleman a question.

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I have already given way twice to the hon. Gentleman. If he continues to interrupt, we shall never get through the business.

The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 has caused considerable problems in the management of local authority housing. The difficulties of bed-and-breakfast accommodation are well known and rehearsed. The terms of residency to be established under the Act are taken by most local authorities to be six months in a 12-month period. That usually proves a connection with a local authority. I ask my right hon. Friend to embody that custom and practice in this legislation and I suggest that the period should be 18 months. It would answer many of my constituents' problems if under that Act a local connection were established after 18 months.

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Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there should be an 18-month residential qualification before one can register as homeless and that it is to be restricted to certain areas? How will he define those areas? If in one local authority area a landlord evicts a person and he crosses the street to the next borough, will he be disqualified from having a home?

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I shall come to that point. I checked this information with the Library and this has been my experience as chairman of a housing committee. It is the custom and practice among local authorities, although it is not embodied in the Act, that six months in a 12-month period normally establishes a local connection.

Many of my hon. Friends have considerable difficulty with that Act, particularly in seaside resorts where there is seasonal labour. Certainly the Act has caused considerable ill feeling on the Isle of Wight because many seasonal workers from elsewhere who man the hotels and operate the many attractions in our lovely resort—I urge all hon. Members to give us a visit—do not. always go home at the end of the season. Within a short period they have established a residency occupation, such as I have described, and then find themselves made homeless because at the end of the season the hotel no longer provides them with accommodation. Within about 12 months they are accommodated by the local authority and by using the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 they have effectively jumped the queue and taken homes which would have been allocated to island residents or their children. That causes considerable local upset and concern.

I believe that we should go a little further with regard to the question of capital receipts. That question is continually exercised in this Chamber. The argument goes that, if the Government wish more and more housing to be built, why are the authorities, which have sold their housing stock through the right to buy, not allowed to use the capital receipts that they receive? I believe that my right hon. Friend should put an end to that argument by embodying in this Bill the repatriation of all capital receipts from local authorities to the Treasury. That would put an end to that debate once and for all.

For too long in this country landlords have been at a disadvantage. Often landlords have not been encouraged to let their properties. Indeed, on the Isle of Wight we have several large houses that could be put to better use. However, every time I speak to those constituents who are landlords they express their concern as to whether they will ever see their properties again. I am certain that the Bill will increase the level of private rented accommodation and provide the sort of choice that we wish to see for those tenants who do not own their properties, but who wish for a wider choice of rented accommodation than has been previously available.

I am especially delighted with the response that has already come from housing associations. They appear to be gearing themselves up to go out into the public sector and take over many of our council estates. Several Opposition Members have said that they believe that the Bill will work to the detriment of tenants. They believe that many estates that are not so well managed and whose housing stock is poor in comparison to others will be left in the ownership of local authorities, while those estates that are better managed and have newer housing stock will be taken away by housing associations. They believe that that change of landlord will come about as a result of the voting structure contained in this Bill that enables the tenants to vote for a change of landlord.

I do not believe that local authorities will be left with the more rundown estates. I believe that even the value of those estates will attract housing associations. I believe that many such older estates offer an attractive investment potential for housing associations. I believe that those associations will put themselves out to acquire such rundown estates and will believe that it is financially advantageous to do so.

I believe that the bulk of the Bill is welcome. I have already outlined the areas where it does not go far enough. I would register a score of eight out of 10 for the Bill, but a major disappointment is the fact that the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 will not be amended within this Bill.

9.59 pm

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The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) saw fit to tax the Opposition with the words of the late Aneurin Bevan. It is a foolhardy Tory who throws in our face the words of Aneurin Bevan. The hon. Gentleman said that he had heard Aneurin Bevan's speech in Blackpool, but he should have quoted his much more important speech on the first occasion that he addressed the House as Minister responsible for housing. That was a true analysis of our current housing crisis. I commend that instructive speech to the hon. Member for Eastbourne and to the House because it tells us a thing or two about our problems today.

Aneurin Bevan reminded the House then, and we should be reminded now, that the only way to deal with such a great housing crisis was to ensure that local authorities were properly resourced and marshalled. He promised to ensure that resources were made available to enable local housing authorities to do that. He did rather more than that. He identified the fact that that housing crisis owed much to the failure over many years of private finance, and especially speculative finance, to resolve the problems of housing need. Speculators cannot properly take on board all the housing needs of all our people. Bevan said that, at best, they can cater for the most well-off and the upper end of the housing market for rent and sale. That is the best for which one can hope from private speculation and from the market, which is raised to such great heights by the Government and which Conservative Members believe can tackle our housing problem Bevan pointed out the fallacy of relying on market forces and the need to mobilise and marshal the resources of local housing authorities to respond to local needs, as the market could never do. Most importantly, he mentioned the dangers of playing off local authorities against building societies. I shall quote this especially important part of his speech, and it is a pity that the hon. Member for Eastbourne is not here to hear how the man who he held out as a reproach to us would address the problems. Bevan said:
"The conflict will be—and I warn hon. Members of it— between public housing on the one hand and the moneylender on the other. Many of these agencies that started off as building societies are now nothing but money-lending societies."—[Official Report, 17 October 1945; Vol. 414, c. 1225.]
Those words echo the problem that we have today, and we would do well to heed them.

The Bill does not encourage a supportive relationship in which one sector complements the other, as the Opposition would like building societies and local authorities to complement each other. The Bill proposes that the role of local authorities will be undermined and that building societies will be encouraged to fill the vacuum. That is not in the long-term interests of building societies, nor is it in the interests—short, medium or long-term—of local authorities and of meeting the housing needs of our people. The Government should wake up to the fact that there is no easy answer to providing housing for rent. They are trying to delude the building societies and the House and are not addressing the deep-rooted problems of meeting housing needs.

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Despite the hon. Gentleman's reservations, does he agree that it makes more sense for building societies to be involved in creating new properties, especially for rent, rather than recycling money to buy secondhand homes?

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We have never been opposed to creative schemes to unlock resources — to involve local authorities and building societies in joint enterprises. On the contrary, before it was abolished the GLC had a successful scheme in London with the Abbey National, and we were going to set up more such schemes up and down the country before the Government imposed restrictions on local authorities' capacity to enter into them. We have nothing against such co-operation, but it must be part and parcel of a much wider system that unlocks large amounts of resources to address the problem—not a piecemeal, ad hoc approach to a deep-rooted crisis. We do not believe that building societies hold out the answer to the needs of the private rented sector, so we do not intend to go down that road, either.

In so many ways, the Bill is typical of the Government's approach to all aspects of our problems in the inner cities. It is a combination of muddle on the one hand and the market on the other, with a great dollop of malice for good measure. Muddle, market and malice characterise the attitude of Conservative Members. [Interruption.] They do not like to hear that, and I do not blame them; I would not like it if it was addressed to me. However, that is the whole basis of their approach in the inner city; we do not buy it, and nor do the public.

I say "muddle", because there is no coherent vision in the Government's proposals of the future shape of housing provision in society. We want such a vision. We genuinely want a healthy private rented sector based on fairness and equity, and in which there is no room for harassment of tenants and the winkler-out. We genuinely want a thriving sector that meets the real need of people who wish to own their own homes. The record of successive Labour Governments and local authorities bears that out. In that speech on 17 October 1945, when Aneurin Bevan addressed the House in a way that the hon. Member for Eastbourne would not have found attractive, he promised to make—and did make—moneys available to local authorities under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act 1899. So, even in 1945, Labour was addressing these issues, as we have sought to address them in government and in local authorities, and as we shall try to address them again. It is right that people who want to own their own homes should do so, and be assisted to do so. There is a place in our vision for that, just as there is a place for those people who will never be able to afford their own homes, or who have reached a stage in their lives when owning a home is not feasible and who want decent accommodation to let in the public sector. That should be available as part of a coherent housing scheme and as part of a credible vision for homes for all our people.

At various stages of one's life, one needs different sorts of accommodation. When one is young and single, one needs readily available accommodation. When starting a family, one should be able to afford to buy a house at a price that a young family might be expected to pay— not the £75,000 to £80,000 that people in Brent, South have to pay for a little flat in which to start a home. We want local authorities to have the power to help people to buy their own homes. We also want rented accommodation to be available to meet people's needs at various times in their lives.

When one is elderly and looking for a place that is a bit smaller, when one is looking for support in the form of sheltered accommodation, and for a place that is integrated into a wider community, so that one is not separated into an old people's ghetto, but part of a housing estate in which old people play an integral part, have a role to play and are not isolated, such accommodation should be available, too. We should not have what I have at the moment in my constituency, with old people rattling about like peas in a pod, in four-bedroomed houses and three-bedroomed flats, who cannot get the housing that they want because of the restrictions outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) in his speech.

That is our vision for housing. How do we achieve it? One thing is sure. We do not achieve it by leaving it to the vagaries of the market, because there is no way in which it can cater for old people or for the young person seeking a start in housing. There is no way in which the market can cater for the special needs that we correctly identified as belonging to that area that is served best by housing associations.

We have not heard from Conservative Members—I wait to hear it from the Minister when he winds up—precisely how our housing associations will meet the needs of the mentally ill, the disabled, the young person at risk or the single mother in the way that we would have them meet those needs, if there are financial restrictions on raising money and the rents that they will be required to charge. How are those needs to be met under the new order that the Conservative party has decreed for housing? There has been a deathly hush among Conservative Members, who have given no answer to that question, and we now look forward to an answer. We shall press for an answer in Committee because all those who rely on us to meet their special needs demand it. They will not have the silence and smugness which characterise that which comes, I am afraid to say, from Conservative Benches.

Therefore, the housing associations' role should not undermine but complement the proper role of local authorities. In that regard, I refer the House to a scheme that deserves commendation. I hope that the Department of the Environment will take heed of it, and that it will seek to ensure that local authorities, in their new strategic role, whatever that is to mean, are not precluded from entering into an arrangement or partnership with housing associations. A new estate in Brent was opened last Thursday, providing homes for 600 people. Before that, those people had been in desperate housing need, and were among the 800 families from my constituency and its borough in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. They were provided with homes as a result of a partnership between the Metropolitan Housing Trust and the London borough of Brent. The new estate cost £5·4 million to build.

The interesting thing about the estate was that it provided a mixture between people who were coming together for the first time to buy their property in a shared home ownership scheme, and people who were renting the property. Thus there was that mix, which is so important, between people who had an equity stake in the buildings and people who, because it suited them, were renting property. The estate also had a variety of accommodation. It catered for the small family, for the larger family requiring four bedrooms and for the unit of a young married couple who required only one bedroom.

A range of housing would eliminate the development of a ghetto or siege mentality which affects many of the sprawling municipal monstrosities. They are monstrosities, and no one pretends otherwise or seeks to defend the indefensible which exists in some parts of the inner cities.

Is anyone seriously suggesting that housing action trusts hold the answer to that? Can anyone honestly say that housing action trusts consisting of appointees, presumably of the great and the good, without any roots in the local community, in no way democratically accountable and in which tenants will play no role at all, can rejuvenate the inner cities? If so, how, and on what experience will they draw? Where will the resources come from.

We suspect that the resources would come from resources that would otherwise be allocated to tackling the problem of some of the worst estates, which never in a million years would become the subject of housing action trusts or would be able to attract private investment on the market.

Is it seriously suggested that the City of London, which can hardly raise sufficient capital to invest in British industry, will suddenly be drawn into my constituency to rejuvenate Stonebridge and Church End? Of course that will not happen. Those communities will be allowed to stew in their own juice, while such resources as are available will go to housing action trusts. Those communities will become even more alienated and embittered than they are.

Stonebridge has an active forum in which local tenants and the estate management seek to come together to address their problems. They came together last year to address the problem of security in Hiscock house, a block of flats that had a serious fire which has been of considerable concern to local people on and off the estate. A bid was put in to the Department of the Environment to get porters in Hiscock house to do something about the vandalism and despair about which the Secretary of State for the Environment told us he was concerned in his opening remarks today. We are still waiting. We have had one rejection and we are waiting to see whether we get another.

I hope that the Minister in his summing-up, or later by letter, will have some good news for me and my constituents, because we need that money desperately to encourage tenants to take responsibility and to give them hope that they have a future bounded by safety and security rather than by crime and the fear of crime and the hopelessness and despair that come from an environment scarred by vandalism. I do not believe that housing action trusts offer anything to people trapped in those positions. If anything, they will make the situation infinitely worse.

Where do we go in the future? To what are we to look for some sort of vision about housing and the meeting of housing needs? Certainly not to the Government. I have sat through the debate and heard every speaker, but I have heard not one bleep from Government Members about what they want for housing or the quality of life of people who live on estates, whether private or public. We have heard nothing about the issues that are absolutely vital when seeking to provide a decent housing environment. We have heard nothing about light, space, gardens, safety and security or about giving people an environment in which their characters can grow and develop and something good can come out of their lives. We have heard nothing about that from Conservative Members.

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We are not likely to, either.

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There is a dearth of information about that. That is not good enough because people are entitled to better. It has been said that the Bill is irrelevant. In one sense I wish that it were, because the great sadness about the Bill is that, while it will certainly do no good, it has the capacity to do infinite harm. It will be opposed root and branch by the Opposition. Every dot and every comma will be argued and it will be fought at every step in Committee. Our people must be served and the Opposition are going to see that they are.

10.20 pm

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I am pleased to contribute to the debate. It saddens me to see the negative attitude of many Opposition Members to the housing issue and to the important parts of the Bill. To the Opposition those parts seem totally irrelevant, but they are important for the nation's good.

I was worried by the speech by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) and by his attitude towards building societies. The hon. Gentleman seems to forget that building societies were formed in communities by local people who realised that they would be able to attend to future housing needs and to housing finance better than any other group of people or any subsequent authority that might receive powers from central Government to look into housing. It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman spoke in the way that he did.

I have great faith in building societies, and I hope that some of the exciting developments in which they are involved can be further developed. That can be done by people who really know what they are doing.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about muddle and malice. Surely the muddle and malice is all on the Opposition side. Opposition Members will talk about anything to do with housing as long as their remarks are negative towards a positive Bill such as this one. They have malice and over the years they have shown that malice towards those who are enterprising and who want to provide housing to meet the needs of the people. That malice has been prolonged, noisy and utterly unreasonable. It has cost the nation dear in terms of its housing stock and in terms of the freedoms that people are entitled to expect and to have.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about our lack of discussion about gardens, plants and paths. Does he not realise that without freedom to choose, those things are as nothing and that it is only through the policies that we pursue and offer to the nation that those freedoms are available? They are freedoms that are prized by our people, and they have chosen them in their decisions at the ballot box on three occasions in recent years.

It has always been a Conservative principle that the ownership of property offers a way forward for citizens to be free and independent. Since 1979 we have offered our citizens that possibility. We have moved away from state ownership which in itself is difficult to defend. The reluctance of Labour authorities to co-operate in the sale of council houses over the past few years is another example of the arrogance of power. That power is delegated by central Government to local government, and local government is not entitled to it as of right for evermore.

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I take it that the hon. Gentleman agrees with the sale of council houses. Would he agree with an amendment to the Bill providing that local authority houses that go to private landlords will continue to carry the right to buy, and at the same discount as at present?

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That is a matter for the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends appear to be exceptionally naive in assuming that there should be a direct comparison between properties freed under the Bill and council-owned properties that tenants have been given the right to buy. They fail to understand that one of the major arguments in favour of the right to buy is that it gives back to the tenants freedom of movement and the freedom to choose what they do with their property. It enables them to relate to others in a free market. We wish that to be extended to the rented sector, and that is in addition to the public housing that has been returned to tenants by way of sale.

In any event, the reluctance of local authorities to co-operate with Government policy on the sale of council houses has been overwhelmed by the people themselves, and Opposition Members have come to realise that. The softening of the Opposition's approach to the sale of council houses is a clear indication of that and of their reaction to the people and what they really believe.

The Government have achieved a movement towards the building of new houses in the private sector. That is very important because it has led to the regeneration of the building industry. Builders are pleased by the reaction of those who are now able to choose what sort of property they buy, where to buy it and how to deal with it afterwards.

Change is desperately needed in the private rented sector, and that is why I welcome the Bill. Opposition Members who feel that we are doing something new, radical and dangerous, do not realise—perhaps they simply do not wish to remember—that at one time the majority of private residences were rented. That was before the plethora of controls governing rents and the determining of tenures under leases. There is little evidence that at that time the contract entered into between landlord and tenant was the basis for exploitation of either by the other.

Of course, at the end of the last war, some Government action was needed to assist with the nation's pressing housing needs. The hon. Member for Brent, South referred to action taken by the Labour Government after 1945. I suggest to him that it was not until the 1950s, under Conservative Administrations, that we managed to break through and provide the housing that the country needed. The Socialism that appeared in the years after the war did nothing to help our needs. It imposed only greater restrictions to deter people from providing the housing resources that the country needed. When the Socialists were in power, it became open season for Government and their newly and sadly politicised colleagues in the town halls—

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I put it to the hon. Gentleman that conditions in Chapeltown in his constituency have arisen because that area has the largest concentration of private landlords in the city of Leeds. Has he not one kind word to say for the local authority's housing action area, which has started to improve conditions in Chapeltown?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter, which I was going to deal with a little later. We wish, by passing the Bill, to address one of the reasons for the bad housing in Chapeltown. We wish to enable landlords in all areas to improve their properties because it is worth while to do so. In some cases, conditions have become extremely serious. Decay has set in well in some areas of our cities. That has been going on for 20 or 30 years. It is a direct result of long-term Socialist attacks on landlords and of long-term Socialist refusal to assist or co-operate in the renovation and improvement of properties because of their restrictions on landlords being able to modernise and improve properties, enjoy some benefit from them and make them worth while as an investment.

As I was saying, the Labour Administrations during the 1960s onwards made it open season for landlords and they became the bad men of the landlord and tenant world. Restrictions on letting and an appalling national economic structure destroyed the private rented sector, or what was left of it, and gave rise, in some instances, to certain behaviour by frustrated property owners. I am not excusing the appalling behaviour of certain landlords because it is not in any way defensible. Nevertheless, it is understandable that under the enormous pressures of artificiality created by Socialist Administrations there were bound to be attempts to avoid the law from time to time.

As someone who has lived in the north all my life I find it a disgraceful tragedy that so many fine old terraced houses and so many fine blocks of flats and properties in the north have been allowed to fall into such gross disrepair and decay, and with them whole districts of our cities, as a direct result of a destruction in the market of rented property.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) referred to Leeds and other cities. As I tried to say before, it is important to recognise the need in those cities for finance to be brought in far more than has been the case up to now in order to renovate and improve property and, what is more, to give some hope to property owners that their properties will be useful in the future, that they will have a proper return from them and that it will be worth while to do things to them, thereby giving tenants, as the hon. Member for Brent, South said, a better quality of life as a result—[Interruption.]

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My hon. Friend should notice that our colleague the hon. Member for Leeds, West and other Labour Members keep shouting, "Improvement grants." Will my hon. Friend remind them that under this Government there has been the most massive expansion of improvement grants that there has ever been? There has been up to £900 million for the improvement grants system. Will he remind our colleagues from Leeds that it is under the Leeds Labour party, as well as any other, that the run down of the inner city occurred? Will he remind them that projects such as the technical and vocational education initiative, which would improve the skill and opportunity of people in those areas, were totally ignored by the Leeds Labour party?

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Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a speech, not an intervention.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson), for that important intervention. I agree with everything that he said. There is no doubt that Government policy has been enlightened. Finances that have been reasonably available without damaging the economy have been made available for home improvement grants. As a result of that, perhaps some of the worst defects have been avoided. Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Leeds, West should recognise that local government cannot avoid criticism. The hon. Gentleman should not assume that local government can get away scot free. Local government's hypocritical and appalling record in local housing must be answered during the Bill's passage.

Many local authorities have been allowed to build up massive rent arrears, not because of tenants' poverty but because of weak or, even worse, uncommitted management which failed to ensure that the money was made up. Let us consider the resources that have been wasted because of the failure to put out repair and maintenance to private tender. One need only look at local authorities, such as in Leeds, to see that that is exactly what has happened.

What about housing development in the 1960s? Many decisions were made nationally—as we admit—and locally, but local authorities must take full blame for the present position. The number of demolitions of blocks of flats and streets of houses that were built then is sad, and shows that the planning at local level left much to be desired. I hope that in future local authorities will not have the powers that they had then and will not make the desperate mistakes that destroyed the quality of life of so many people. If the private rented sector had been encouraged and helped by those councils, the position would be much better.

The Bill is overdue and is very much welcomed. It recognises the changing position through our strong economic growth and the new needs of the people, many of whom are now more mobile and wish to live for a time, if not permanently, in rented accommodation. It gives the necessary encouragement for those who wish to provide housing for rent and allows a bargain to be struck between a landlord and a tenant with the minimum interference. It provides a basis for a strong, competitive and expanding private sector, which is what we require when renting properties. The Bill will allow standards to be improved and facilities to be uprated. It will improve the chances of older property being acquired and made useful once more. That, combined with the use of housing action trusts, which I welcome, will help to breathe new life into vast areas of our towns and cities.

Local authorities complain that the new legislation will increase waiting lists for rehousing for the homeless. I do not accept that—I believe the contrary to be true. It is important, however, for local government to realise that removing certain commercial parts of their work will at least allow them to attend to the needs of those for whom they act in a particular role. I remind them of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 and of the roots of local authority, which were to help people rather than to control them and their lives. The growth throughout this century has been into matters that should properly be left to those who understand them. The days of the local authority as a business operator in many services should surely be numbered.

Housing can be an emotive subject, but I see no reason why it should be a prerogative of the Opposition to be emotive about something so important. As a believer in individual choice and power for people, I see the Housing Bill as a further essential step along the road to freedom.

10.45 pm

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I shall not weary the House by repeating the arguments put so powerfully by my hon. Friends. However, a number of points affect my constituency and my country. This Bill, like so many before the House, has nothing to do with Wales. During the opening speeches of this debate and during Second Reading debates on other Bills, it was evident that the Government were dealing with the problems of London, and sometimes of only one or two London boroughs. In Wales, the Bill will be viewed as an alien, irrelevant imposition.

To malice and muddle on the Conservative Benches we could add another "m"—mythology. The Government are victims of their own propaganda and mythology. When it was said that the Labour party has been in favour of selling council houses, there was a universal bray of disbelief from Tory Members. How do they explain that the constituency with the largest Labour majority also has the largest number of owner-occupied houses? I refer to the Rhondda Valley. That authority has been Labour-controlled for almost all of the past 50 years and has been selling council houses for almost every one of the past 20 years. It has a record of splendid creativity in housing.

The Labour party is biased against private landlordism because of a bitter memory that goes back through generations over the centuries. There was once a bipartisan approach to housing—an agreement that there should be an alternative to the private landlord. Every fair-minded person who has worked in local authorities throughout the years accepts that there have been excesses in municipal landlordism that have to be corrected. One method of doing so is to create mixed communities.

There are some awful features to the Bill. An entirely new concept of democracy is creeping across Conservative Benches. In the Education Reform Bill, democracy means a 20 per cent. majority. Under this Bill, 51 per cent. must vote against a proposal. In theory, no one could wish to vote in favour, yet the proposal will go through. That sort of democracy can be understood only by the Tontons Macoutes. Such democracy is meaningless and the Bill must be amended in Committee and on Report.

The assured tenancy provision will, in fact, reduce security of tenure. The Bill confines succession to a spouse, yet in many families the remaining single person now has a right of succession. The rent review assessments are very much in the landlord's favour. The panels will not be allowed to take tenant improvements or length of residence into account. The criterion for rents is to be what might reasonably be expected on the open market. In an area of high demand, poor tenants will have to move to cheaper accommodation. That is thoroughly unjust.

The Bill will create two classes of tenants—those lucky enough to have a secure tenancy with a local authority and those on an assured tenancy with a new landlord, where there will be no right to a secure tenancy at an affordable rent. The power of local authorities is being oppressed. People in local government have a vote too, and they were elected democratically. It should be remembered that only eight Tory Members of Parliament were returned from the 38 Welsh constituencies. Yet the Government constantly seek to stretch their tentacles of undemocratic power into areas that are none of their business.

I accept that we need an engine of imaginative power in parts of local authorities to do something about the problems on estates, many of which have grown out of the sheer size of an estate and the one-tenure system. However, we do not need a body such as the housing action trust that is envisaged in the Bill. It will be unrepresentative of local people. There have been many such bodies in Wales recently. In an area known as the Abergavenny triangle, it is said about the nominated bodies that they bring to rural Gwent the Welsh accent that is spoken at Eton and Harrow, not the one spoken in Grangetown or Llanfairpwllgwyngyll.

There is a move to pack these bodies with unrepresentative Government placemen. We can see very little to be enthusiastic about in a housing action trust to which not only will the housing powers be transferred from local authorities but the planning and environmental health powers as well. This is a new body that will extend the mandate of the Government into Wales; the enemy within will have even greater power there.

I read today in the main newspaper in Wales that the new Secretary of State is to produce a master plan in the new year, after his brief visit to a few of the valleys. In those valleys, in Cynon Valley and Merthyr, housing problems, as local Members have said, are not just in parts the worst in Britain, but the worst in Europe. How on earth can there be a master plan when this whole Bill is off target and is irrelevant to Wales?

The Newport authority, part of whose area I represent, has an extraordinary record in housing innovation. I wish hon. Members would look at this instead of sticking to their doctrinaire, narrow view of the whole mass of Labour authorities throughout the country. The local authority has modernised all the pre-war stock. Energy conservation measures have been installed in nearly all the houses. Virtually all the pre-war and post-war houses have central heating. There have been innovative schemes of repair, shared ownership, stay-put schemes for the elderly, schemes for mobile homes, and other schemes which have been of great value.

Where we now need a period of stability and imaginative rebuilding in housing, we see instead something which is based on malice and a doctrinaire vie.

. I would like to refer to a statement made earlier, in which a fellow Member for Gwent, one of the greatest Members that this House has seen, was quoted by hon. Members on the Government Benches. His words were caricatured and misused. What Aneurin Bevan said when he was made Minister of Housing was that what he wanted to create above all else in the housing programme was that lovely feature of all Welsh and English village life, where the carpenter, the teacher, the blacksmith and the solicitor live side by side in one street, what he called the rich tapestry of a mixed community.

That was a high ambition, but what do we see in Britain today, after 10 years of Thatcherism? Do we see a beautiful picture, a rich tapestry, a balanced community? No, we see a jigsaw, a society whose housing is divided by sharp lines, divisions of poverty and of privilege. On one piece of the jigsaw we see privileged estates hiding behind barbed wire, with guards in front of them to keep out the rest of the population and to guard against crime; on another piece of the jigsaw are the shunned estates, places where crime and fear have built up. That is the jigsaw society of housing that has been created by this Government. The Bill will drive a wedge deeper into those divisions.

10.48 pm

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I would like to join other hon. Members in congratulating my three hon. Friends who have made their maiden speeches tonight on this important Bill. I certainly welcome the Bill in its attempt to open up the private sector for renting. I have listened very carefully to what hon. Opposition Members have said about local council provision in their own areas. I have to say that my own experience, certainly in the London borough of Newham, is quite different.

I was born in Newham and lived there for the first 29 years of my life. If anyone wants to see how a local authority can mismanage local council housing provision, he should go to the London borough of Newham. There is no doubt that the council has destroyed very happy east end communities.

I wish, however, to address my brief remarks to part IV, which deals with the change of landlords and secure tenants. I am proud to represent the town of Basildon, the largest and finest new town in the country, where 16,000 properties are rented from the new town commission and 6,000 are rented from the council.

A few years ago, negotiations began between the Department of the Environment and the local authority about the local authority taking over the 16,000 properties. I am glad to have the opportunity today to draw attention to the disgraceful political posturing that has taken place in the past 18 months in relation to those negotiations.

There is no doubt that the former Socialist council in Basildon wasted a great deal of ratepayers' money on political propaganda expressly to damage the chances of Conservative candidates in local elections last year and this year and to damage my candidacy in the general election. I well recall taking a delegation to meet Lord Skelmersdale earlier this year when he was shown something that I can only describe as a video nasty, the star of which was a leading personality from EastEnders. I am not sure that the television personality concerned even knew where Basildon was, but the local authority paid him a large fee to appear in that video nasty. The video showed an elderly person trying to carry a giant letter along the street, supposedly representing the increased bills that tenants might have to pay if housing associations or other bodies rather than the local authority took over responsibility for their housing. It also showed disgraceful scenes of tenants being kicked out of their homes and thrown on to the doorsteps.

Leaflets were also put through people's doors, printed and published at ratepayers' expense and at the instigation of the then Socialist local council. The object, of course, had nothing to do with caring about people's housing needs and everything to do with trying to damage Conservative candidates' chances in the local elections and my chances in the general election. I am happy to say that those calculations went wrong and we doubled our majority in the constituency of Basildon.

My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for new towns has told us on a number of occasions to reassure tenants that when responses from local associations and others who might be interested in taking over some of the 16,000 properties are received there will be some kind of referendum or full consultation with tenants.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) that, just as Labour Members have done a U-turn in their views on the right to buy, they will do the same on the right to rent.

10.53

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I have been asked to be extremely brief, so I hope that a certain incoherence will be forgiven, Madam Deputy Speaker. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words on behalf of the 35,000 people on the housing waiting list in Manchester and the hundreds of homeless people there, none of whom sees any relevance in the Bill and all of whom will oppose it as strongly as I do.

In the short time in which I have been a Member of Parliament I have noticed a consistent strand in the Government's legislative proposals. I have been reminded today of the proposals in the White Paper on primary health care. The consistency is that in primary health care, if one charges enough for a prescription and for visits to the optician or the dentist, one prevents people having that health care. The same applies to housing. If one charges enough for housing, one stops the people in greatest need having access to housing. That is what the legislation is about.

The Bill will increase the number of homeless people in Manchester, push up rents, encourage despicable landlords, increase harassment and eviction, and reduce real choice in the housing market.

I shall refer briefly to three areas of the legislation: part I on the private rented sector, part IV on the so-called tenant choice and part III on the housing action trusts. Part I, relating to the private rented sector, will reduce the tenure that is available to tenants and, at the same time, reduce the amount of housing benefit that is available. Unlike the fairy-tale scenarios that have been painted by Conservative Members during the debate, I want to show what I believe the results will be in Manchester if the legislation becomes the law. First, the market in Manchester will push up rents rapidly. They will increase without the complementary increase in housing benefit that would allow those on low incomes or who are wholly dependent on housing benefit to afford any accommodation.

Secondly, security of tenure will be substantially reduced and will be non-existent for those tenants with resident landlords. Notice to quit will depend on the grounds that the landlord intends to use for claiming possession, irrespective of the validity of that claim. Especially worrying is that in many cases of rent arrears, a court will be obliged to order possession against the tenant even if, for example, the arrears arise because of the payment periods of housing benefit and not because of any fault of the tenant.

Thirdly, it is presumably intended that the level of market rents will fall as the market is glutted with private rented accommodation. However, there must be great doubt as to whether there will be such enthusiasm on the part of potential investors to enter such a volatile market. Those new landlords who do so are likely to be seeking a quick return on the capital invested. They are likely to be tempted into purchasing partly or fully-tenanted properties and illegally to evict tenants to take advantage of the fresh legislation. Although the amendments to the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 are to be welcomed, they are not especially strong and are unlikely to deter determined landlords from making a fast buck from this legislation. We have already heard today that Rachmanism will return, and I believe that that is exactly what will happen in the private rented sector in Manchester.

The next part of the scenario is that homelessness in that sector will inevitably arise from harassment and illegal eviction, from inability to pay the high rents and from the inaccessability of the sector due to the changes in DHSS regulations from April 1988 that we have heard about. We have heard the Minister say on television, on "This Week, Next Week", that he is relying on housing subsidy to pay for the increased rents. However, when I asked him during the debate on housing benefit whether that would be the case, he refused to answer. Indeed, he could not answer because we have already seen the cuts that he has made in housing benefit. He admitted the latest round of £640 million. They will not apply to this sector because under the new changes there will not be any provision for rent in advance or for deposits. Low income people will not be able to afford to enter the sector because of those changes in the DHSS regulations

I am especially worried by ground 1 in schedule 2:
"Suitable alternative accommodation is available".
That means that when a landlord takes over accommodation he can look for suitable alternative accommodation and evict someone. Can the Minister give an absolute assurance tonight that elderly people living in under-occupied rented accommodation will not be evicted if the landlord claims that there is suitable alternative accommodation?

Is there real choice in the legislation where it speaks of tenant choice or picking a landlord? Or, is it the landlord who will pick a property? Since the Government are so convinced that public sector tenants will fare better under alternative landlords, can the Minister assure us that those tenants will be given the choice to opt back into public sector housing?

On housing action trusts, why is there no statutory obligation, such as that on local authorities, on alternative landlords, particularly regarding homelessness? Why will they not have to house vulnerable elderly people, those fearful of domestic violence, young people who might be subjected to sexual or financial exploitation, families with young children, and people who are vulnerable because of mental or physical handicaps or disability? Why will alternative landlords not have the same statutory duty to house those people as do local authorities?

11 pm

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I welcome this important and necessary measure. It is set against a background of the massive social change of the past decade and an enormous growth in the number of households of single persons. That is putting new strains on our present housing system and a revision of the underlying laws is required. Time does not allow anyone who speaks at this stage to go into all the Bill's ramifications, so I shall concentrate on housing associations in London and on empty properties.

I welcome the greater status which the Bill gives to housing associations, and I believe that, broadly speaking, it has cross-party support, although at times one would not have thought so tonight. However, I am worried that, as all London Members will know, in London there are enormous problems and anxieties whether the housing association movement will continue to be able to look after those less fortunate—its traditional role—if there is insufficient housing association grant. The Minister knows my fears because we have discussed this on more than one occasion. I hope and trust that the Government are taking on board the need to give a grant higher than 50 per cent. in London, if housing associations are to continue to do that. I am pleased to see him nodding his head.

The main employers in London, almost to a man, woman and authority, confirm the difficulty in recruiting and holding staff. It would be worrying if, as a result of this legislation—I hope to serve in Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I have a supporters' club. It would be worrying if the Bill were to remove the present provision of housing for essential workers in central London.

Empty property and homelessness are not given a high profile in the Bill. In Committee I hope that we can discuss the use of empty properties, not because that is uniquely the answer to homelessness—obviously it is not—but because it is one of many possible ways of tackling homelessness. We need to find more effective ways of using empty properties and not only those in the public sector.

I confess that I have some sympathy with the Bill announced recently by Lord Scarman. It will require local authorities who were keeping properties empty for more than six months to make them available to co-operatives, housing associations and groups, unless there is a good reason for them to remain empty.

We must also discuss private properties and recognise the distinction between ownership and use of those properties. Ownership is critical, and we should do anything that tackles that matter. I recognise that, in parts of central London, there are rows and rows of empty properties, and that cannot be justified. Such properties are often deteriorating. It should be possible for a local authority, particularly a local authority charged with a providing role—increasingly the Government see local authorities with such a role—to make use of such properties and to return them to the owner after a fixed time in an equivalent or even better state. If we are serious about tackling homelessness, we must consider this important matter.

With those brief comments, I give the Bill my blessing and look forward to taking part in the Committee considering it.

11.5 pm

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The Bill has been sometimes described by Conservative Members as the "pick a landlord" Bill. However, we are all aware that people are worried that it will turn into the "Revive Rachman" Bill. Conservative Members have a deep-seated prejudice against local authorities having the freedom to build; to use the receipts from the sale of council houses to build further housing; and to set a budget that is appropriate to gearing and appropriate to the assets held by such authorities in respect of housing.

The important thing that local authorities want to do is to provide housing for the people on their waiting lists. If Conservative Members were honest, they would agree that most of the surgery cases that they see on a Friday or a Saturday ask such questions as, "Can we get a local authority house?", "Can we get repairs done to the local authority house that we have?", "Will the repairs be done by well-qualified workmen and not by cowboys?'", "What about our improvement grant that has been in the pipeline, but has been blocked?" Such grants can be in the pipeline for anything up to nine years. We also face the problems of homelessness and people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The Bill does practically nothing for people in such categories, and is a monumental irrelevance in areas such as Wales where so much of the housing dates from the 1870s to 1914. In Wales there is an urgent need for the greater provision of improvement grants to bring houses up to date. That is more important than what the ministerial team have put in this irrelevance of a Bill.

Let us consider the problem that is created by local authorities' inability to build. Conservative Members often quote the fact that they think that they invented the right to buy council housing. What do they see is the great virtue of the right to buy council housing? Is it the act of acquiring one's own home and therefore the ability to put one's efforts and skills into repairing and improving that house? Is it the achievement of the euthanasia of the local authority landlord? We hope that they consider that the great virtue is acquiring one's own home and that Conservative Members are not activated by some deep-seated, dogmatic hostility to local authorities and their housing role.

If Conservative Members wish to encourage the ownership of property, logically, it must be right to encourage local authorities to continue to build. If it is right for local authority tenants to be able to buy their own homes it must also be right to allow local authorities to continue to build local authority housing so that the tenants of the next 10 years have the same right to buy as those tenants of the past 10 or 20 years. One cannot buy a house if it has not been built.

The Bill will make it economically impossible for local authorities to continue to build. That means that local authorities have no elbow room in which to carry out their statutory duty to inspect houses in multiple occupation. Landlords who allow their houses to run down, such as in my constituency and in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist), are virtually inviting the local authority to close down such flats so that the local authority can serve notice for a mandatory grant under the Housing Act 1985. However, for the local authority to do so it must have alternative accommodation in which to house the tenants from such multiple occupation houses. At the moment the authorities do not have such alternative accommodation and they simply cannot carry out their statutory duty. Will the Bill help people in those conditions? Certainly not. I hope that that will be put right before the Bill becomes law.

11.9 pm

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I must declare an interest. I work for a company involved in the private rented sector. Were it not for the existing restrictions on that sector, the company would be much more involved than it is.

Before the introduction of shorthold tenancies and assured tenancies in recent years, many private landlords had given up and were selling their properties as they became vacant. Those two measures have transformed the position. The proposals in the Bill will go further to revitalise and rejuvenate the sector, but it would happen much more quickly if more attention was paid to another key area — tax incentives to private landlords. It is a matter of great regret that the capital allowances introduced in the Finance Act 1982, in response to the recommendation of the Select Committee on the Environment in 1981–82, were phased out from 1984 to 1986.

It is encouraging that the Local Government Bill includes proposals for councils to pay 30 per cent. grants to the private sector, including housing associations. However, besides the return to capital allowances, I want to see tax relief on rental payments. That has encouraged and stimulated private investment in rented housing in other countries, and until some tax relief is available for the private rented sector here, it will always be the poor relation of owner-occupation. If the Minister introduced some tax relief, he would be rewarded by a private rented sector expanding at a rate that he could not have believed.

11.11 pm

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I congratulate the hon. Members for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) and for Gloucester (Mr. French) on their interesting, well-constructed maiden speeches. I disagreed with them, although of course I could not intervene, but I hope that we shall hear equally interesting and well-constructed speeches from them in the future.

I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will say on what the £25 million extra for the homeless can be spent. May the local authorities use it to provide hostels or permanent accommodation, or is it just extra money to pay the ever-increasing bed-and-breakfast bills that are being run up by local authorities as a consequence of increasing homelessness?

We, and some Conservative Members, want to know whether the Government intend to abolish the housing cost floor. The Conservative Association of District Councils opposes that, as does all local government. If it was abolished, more council houses might be sold, but for less than it costs the local authorities to build them. A council could build a new council house and the day after it had been let, the tenant—who had lived in another council house and therefore qualified—could buy it for about half or even one third of the cost of building it. That would be completely wrong.

The Secretary of State said that the Bill which will follow this one will be aimed at subsidising people, not bricks and mortar. I and my hon. Friends oppose that principle completely. If we subsidise people, as we do in the owner-occupied sector, the amount of money coming from the Exchequer could increase dramatically, without an extra house being built or modernised. The best housing subsidies are those which initiate the building of new houses and the improvement of older houses, as the subsidy system before the Housing Act 1980 used to do. In that case, a local authority received about 60 per cent. of the moneys needed to build new houses and modernise older ones.

Some hon. Members mentioned mobility in the owner-occupied sector and not in the public sector. People can choose to buy a house, then sell it and move somewhere else. That is one-way mobility. Someone can sell a house in the south or in London and move north, where there are no jobs. But one cannot sell a house on Merseyside, or in the north of England, and move down south to look for a job, because one cannot afford to buy another one. So the one-way mobility that existed to some extent before has been destroyed by the Government allowing massive inequalities to develop. House prices have escalated beyond the reach of ordinary people in London, the south and other areas, while they have fallen in places such as Merseyside.

Listening to some of the speeches by Conservative hon. Members tonight, one would think that the Bill was being introduced by a Government who had just come to power for the first time, after having been out of office for eight years. It is as though it is all happening in a vacuum. The Bill must be set in the context of the Government's record over the last eight years—a record of which they should be ashamed. Public and private house building has slumped—from more than 322,000 new homes built in 1975 to 200,000 in 1986. Only 30,000 public sector homes were started in 1986, compared with 150,000 in 1975. Yet Conservative Members claim that they want to increase the supply of rented accommodation.

One third of our homes were built before 1919, and more than a million of them are unfit after nine years of Conservative Government. One in four homes is unfit, lacks basic amenities or is in substantial disrepair. The Government's own survey shows that £19 billion is urgently needed for repairs to council homes, but the Government have denied local councils the resources to take the necessary action.

The worst scandal — and Conservative Members know it—is that, having advocated the sale of council assets so that the money was available to build more homes, the Government now prevent councils from using those assets and capital receipts. By their housing policy, the Government have contributed to a divided Britain. Home ownership has been encouraged, and we welcome that — but even for those who can barely afford it, which has led to terrible difficulties. There has been no help for people in such difficulties.

Under this Government, interest rates have been, on average, 50 per cent. higher than under previous Labour Governments, and the number of people with mortgage arrears jumped from 8,500 in 1979 to more than 70,000 in 1986. The Government have the audacity to talk about rent arrears when they have inflicted those sorts of circumstances on owner-occupiers and caused arrears in mortgage repayments on the scale that I have described. Low-income council tenants have faced steeply increasing rents and reductions in housing benefits under the Government.

Of course, the legislation says nothing about homelessness and how to deal with it, except that the housing action trusts that take over properties from local authorities will have no responsibility, having taken them over; nor will the private landlords or organisations to which they hand them on have responsibility for accepting homeless families, or nominations for people in housing need from the local authority. That is the only reference to homelessness in the legislation—to make it more difficult for local authorities that are left with responsibilities for the homeless under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977—to deal with them.

Homelessness reached record heights last year, with 103,000 households—the equivalent of 250,000 men, women and children—accepted as homeless by local authorities in England alone. That compared with 53,000 in 1978. In June 1987, there were 23,000 households in temporary accommodation—double the figure in June 1984. The number living in bed-and-breakfast hostels in June was 11,000—4,000 more than 12 months before, under a Conservative Government. Homeless families, particularly from ethnic minorities, tend to end up in bed and breakfast; and the massive increase in council waiting lists that has taken place under the Government is the measure of the hidden homelessness in this country.

There has been a massive increase in council waiting lists; in England, in April 1986, 1·35 million were on the lists—an increase of 200,000 compared to 18 months before.

That is the background. That is the housing crisis that the nation faces, which the Bill does not address in any way. We have the Housing Act 1980. I served on the Committee, which started in 1979, immediately after the Conservatives won the general election. We heard all the arguments and the scenario. They said on Second Reading and in Committee that what we had to do to solve the housing shortage was to revitalise the private rented sector. They said that but for those wicked Rent Acts that Labour Governments had put on the statute book, limiting the rents that could be charged to tenants by landlords, and but for the security of tenure that meant that landlords could not get rid of tenants easily, there would be no shortage of housing. All the empty houses in private ownership would come on the market. People would invest their capital because they could get a fair return, and the private sector would provide the houses that were needed. So the Government said that they had solved the problem in 1980. They decontrolled 200,000 tenancies and introduced the concept of assured tenancies. They allowed fair rents to be increased every two years, and to be increased higher than previously.

The Government's piece de résistance was the shorthold tenancy agreement, which meant that when people became private tenants they could have security of tenure only for the length of time that the shorthold tenancy agreement lasted—one, two, three or four years. At the end of that period, the landlord could give 14 days' notice and evict the tenant. Thus, the security of tenure problem was overcome.

If the tenant wanted to renew the shorthold tenancy, he had better be a good tenant. That meant not trying to get one's rent fixed or trying to get a fair rent assessed. He did not go to the rent officer, or else at the end of the shorthold period, out he went and in came someone who could pay a higher rent. A coach and horses was driven through security of tenure by the 1980 Act. There has been no security of tenure for the past six or seven years, but what has happened? Where are all the properties? Why have they not come flooding on to the market? Why is homelessness increasing? Why is there still a crisis? I shall tell the House why. The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) gave the game away. In fact, the Tory Association of District Councils puts its finger on it. It doubts whether the market rents now proposed by the Government are a better way of seeking to revise the private rented sector, as in many cases it must mean rents at the level of mortgage payments without the benefits of tax relief.

One cannot subsidise the public rented sector and housing associations or the owner-occupied sector and then allow landlords in the private rented sector to charge what they want, and not have the private rented sector doing anything but offer a dearer alternative. If access can be gained to a subsidised sector, whether owner-occupied or public rented, no one in his right mind will take the dearer alternative.

One can revitalise the private rented sector only if one does one of two things—stop subsidising all the other sectors, including the owner-occupied sector, or start subsidising the private landlord. Even this Secretary of State for the Environment is not Right-wing enough to do that. It would be an outrage if the Tories went mad giving money to private landlords to make a profit out of housing. If he wants to suggest that, let him do so, and we shall fight him.

I shall say this for the Government. In an attempt to revitalise the private rented sector, they have attacked the subsidy systems to the public rented sector. They are doing it again in the legislation. There are no longer any Government subsidies to talk of to local authority housing revenue accounts, because rents have already been forced up to levels where most local authorities make profits on those accounts. In this legislation, the Government will outlaw rate fund contributions to those accounts to put the final seal making the rents for those in the public sector, whether council or housing association property, as high as the private landlord will be allowed to charge.

People must be denied access to the public rented sector or the public rented sector must be made as expensive as the private rented sector if the Government are to stand any hope in their aims to revitalise the private rented sector. It is all part of the strategy to prevent people from getting access to the public rented sector — housing associations and council housing— for people to be dependent upon the private sector. That is why no more council houses are being built. Since 1979, the axe has been wielded; there is no more money for the housing associations or for general purposes.

The so-called respectable arm of the public housing sector—many associations run by people who would be happy on a Conservative constituency association—were amazed when the Conservative Government cut their funding and stopped them building houses for general use as well. If the Government are to stop funding housing association and council housing, they will have to stop the lot, because that will make people dependent upon the private landlords, and it is all part of a total strategy. That did not work, so the Government are going further and producing an extreme Bill.

We opposed the sale of council houses 10 years ago. Let me say what I mean by that: our policies at the 1983 and 1979 elections were exactly the same policies as those of the alliance. The Labour party did not oppose the sale of council houses; we opposed the compulsion on local authorities to sell houses when they did not want to. The right-to-buy policy consisted of central Government telling local authorities which had been opposed to the sale of council houses that they had to sell them. We never opposed the selling of council houses in principle; we have opposed compulsory selling. The Bootle Labour council pioneered the sale of council houses, as did many other Labour local authorities

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My constituents will find this difficult to understand, because they remember that the Labour-controlled Norwich city council put every obstacle in the way of the purchase of council houses

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The Norwich Labour council was elected on the policy of opposing the sale of council houses.

The Labour party opposed central Government dictating to local authorities. We have a strong tradition of opposing the Government dictating to local authorities. We said 10 years ago that, if local councils were forced to sell council houses, the best would be sold and local authorities would be left with the worst.

If council housing is so bad, such a terrible failure, I do not know why the Government think everyone has been buying it. Approximately 20 to 30 per cent. of the best council houses have been bought by people as sitting tenants because they are desirable accommodation built by Labour and Conservative councils. If council housing is so bad, why are the Conservatives boasting that it is a good thing to buy council houses? Of course there are problem estates, and many of the worst have been left to local authorities.

The Government will not give the right to buy to sitting tenants—this is why the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) is wrong—but will, in one way or another, through this Bill, sell off council housing over the heads of tenants, against the tenants' wishes. The Government will sell off houses, without the permission of the tenants, to housing action trusts and private landlords

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So that the House and his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) can be clear about Opposition policy, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that it is now the policy of the Labour party not to repeal the right to buy?

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The answer to that is yes, and the hon. Gentleman knows that. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) expressed a personal view and did not state the policy of the Labour party. We are now addressing the wicked policy of the Government on housing action trusts. They talk about freedom. If there are elections, they will be rigged. An election system in which an estate of tenants will decide whether they will be handed over to a housing action trust is a system worthy of Stalin.

What is proposed is not the right to choose a new landlord. The tenants may have no say whatever in what happens, because under these proposals an organisation, a private landlord or a housing association approved by the Housing Corporation can say to a local authority that it wants to take over an estate and can put forward proposals. There must then be a vote by the tenants on that estate, and 51 per cent. of the tenants—not 51 per cent. of those who vote — have to vote against the proposal or it will go through. In other words, 40 per cent. of the tenants could vote against the proposal, no one could vote in favour of it and, under this legislation, the estate could still be handed over to the housing action trust and then on to a private landlord. That is not freedom of choice. It is enforcement and the strangest kind of freedom that I have ever heard about.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) said that we would not do anything about the Rent Acts. We would do a lot about the Rent Acts. We would introduce a charter for private tenants. This legislation is a charter for the private landlord. If Conservative Members believe in freedom of choice and the right to buy, why do they not support Labour party policy and give the right to buy to private tenants? If you believe that people should have the right to opt out of being council tenants, why not give private tenants—

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Order. The hon. Gentleman must recognise the Chair when he is speaking.

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Why do Conservative Members and the Government not give private tenants the right to opt out and to choose social ownership, to choose to become tenants of a council? If Conservatives believe in freedom, they should let it work both ways. That is what a Labour Government would do. We would close Rent Acts loopholes such as bogus holiday lets and the use of licences instead of tenancies. We would introduce regulations to stop exploitation of service charges and would repeal the shorthold tenancy proposals which have driven a coach and horses through security of tenure.

We would give a right in law to an effective and efficient repair service for private and public tenants. Neither private nor public tenants have that at the moment. We would introduce provisions for full information about the name of the landlord and about other matters, because many landlords will not tell tenants who their landlords are. Some tenants of 40 years standing cannot find out who their landlords are. Is that freedom? We would introduce stiffer penalties and more adequate safeguards against harassment and illegal eviction, and place on the private landlord a duty to ensure the safety and welfare of his tenants.

We do not accept that these higher rents, these assured tenancies, are assured. In reality, an assured tenancy is an insecure high-rent tenancy, an assured shorthold is an insecure short letting and a market rent is a high rent. It is not just a market rent, it is a profit rent that will penalise people in the public and private rented sector, and we are against it. We have policies for real choice and will introduce a private tenants' charter when we form a Government.

We will introduce what some Conservative Members were calling on the Government to introduce—mobile discounts for families with children who are stuck in flats and who need help with deposits so that they can buy houses and become owner-occupiers. Those people have suffered as a result of the Government's housing policies. We would launch a massive council and housing association low-rise building programme in order to do something about the shortage of rented accommodation. Aneurin Bevan said that the best form of rent control is when nine people are chasing 10 properties, and not the other way round.

I remember attending my first advice bureau as the newly-elected Member for Bootle. A woman came to me and said, "I've got a problem." I asked, "What's your problem?" She replied, "It's a housing problem." I said, "That's usual. It would be that. What's your housing problem?" She said, "It's about my roof." I replied, "What about your roof?" She said, "I want one." There are thousands, millions, who need homes, and the way to deal with the housing crisis is to build more homes. There must be more homes for rent in the public rented sector. There must be a major house building programme and the right sort of housing must be built. I accept that there are some problem estates and that mistakes have been made, but the majority of council housing is low-rise with gardens in an attractive environment in popular estates, where the right to buy has been popular for all those reasons.

I plead guilty to that which we, the Opposition, have been accused of by Conservative Members during the debate. We are against a free market in housing. We do not accept that housing should be left to the free market. We do not believe that a decent house—a decent home—is a privilege. It is a right, not a privilege, in the same way that a decent education and access to health care are rights. Housing should not be a matter for profit and speculators. We should not be handing over the inner cities to profiteers, private landlords and speculators.

The Opposition will repeal the proposed legislation, if it is enacted, when we next form a Government. We shall ensure that the market place does not determine whether someone gets a decent house. Criteria of need are as important as the ability to pay.

11.36 pm

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I think that everyone has paid tribute to the shade of Aneurin Bevan today, and I pay tribute to the splendid quotation that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) tossed into the pudding. If rent control consists of more supply than demand, that is exactly what the Government would wish to endorse.

I may have lost count, but I believe that I am the 30th speaker in the debate. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will forgive me if I do not take up every argument that they have advanced. Apart from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, no Privy Councillors have contributed to the debate, and it seems that we have progressed quite a deal faster as a result.

We have heard three excellent maiden speeches, and everyone, including the hon. Member for Bootle, has paid tribute to those who delivered them. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) is a strong supporter of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. French), a near parliamentary neighbour, spoke of the pressure on housing in areas that are economically successful and the delay that is still to be found in implementing the right-to-buy policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) spoke also of that delay. We shall be introducing provisions in the Bill to meet the arguments that my hon. Friends have advanced. As the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has said, Labour-controlled councils have sold council houses over many years, and have done so efficiently. I wish that the leaders of the Labour groups that have done so would bite the leaders of others who seem not to listen so attentively.

It is ironic that the hon. Member for Bootle is claiming, rather like Russian scientists in the Stalinist era who claimed to have discovered everything, including gravity, to have discovered the policy that led to the sale of council houses. The Labour Government's circular 70/74 advised that it was "generally wrong" to sell council houses. However, the Labour Opposition have now endorsed the right to buy, so they are coming along.

There was little in what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said was wrong with the present system with which I and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends would disagree. The hon. Gentleman was eloquent and accurate when he spoke of his direct experience and described the failures of Governments both Labour and Conservative, and both central Government and local government, in design, architecture and planning during the 1950s, 1960s and on into the 1970s. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the houses that Liverpool city council are building, or altering, on the Speke estate, for example, are fine. The design is far better than that of past housing.

I know that the hon. Member for Walton will not consider it anything other than a compliment if I describe him as an old-fashioned Socialist who believes that the problems must be solved by state provision above all, perhaps even state provision alone. The divide came between him and Conservative Members and, indeed, among some of his hon. Friends on how the new communities that we all want to build should be built. We say by partnership and plurality of provision, by owner-occupation as well as state provision. That is the sort of thing that the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) described in the estate that he mentioned. That sort of estate carries through the principles of Estate Action — that used to be called UHRU in my Department—and the priority estates programme and so on. That seems to us to be the way forward. That point was also made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) in what I thought was an extremely positive speech. We need plurality of provision if we are to avoid the grand mistakes of the past. Those mistakes were made by some people saying "numbers at all costs"—the hon. Member for Brent, South made that point—and others saying that we should centralise according to a pattern.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) has a long expert background in all these matters. He made an extremely constructive speech on the way in which one can solve some of the problems at community level. Even among some of the poor housing that we built in the 1960s, if the community strength is revived—he is an expert in doing that by the co-operative route, but there are other routes—some of that housing can be made tolerable. He has taken me to places in his constituency where that is being done. The hon. Member for Newport, West made the same point.

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I never once said that everything should be done by the state through a centralised method. I have always agreed that there should be co-operative housing. I have always supported private housing. I said, and I continue to say, that the real need now is to build council houses for people in need because of the terrible problems facing our people at the moment.

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The hon. Gentleman is the last person I would wish to misquote. I was unintentionally and wrongly transferring to him the views of Liverpool council. Liverpool will not work with the co-operative movement or housing associations — [Interruption.] Attitudes may now be changing. So little of the well-designed provision is available because Liverpool has not spread the skills out by co-operating with many of the bodies that have offered to help.

We deal with the private rented sector in part I of the Bill, not because we are so naive as to think that it will solve all the problems but because we know that we need that weapon in our housing armoury in a way that most other European countries have. For example, France has such a weapon and I recently visited that country to look at some of its estates and how it is dealing with them. Some of the estates are just as bad as, if not, in some respects, worse than the estates that we built in the 1960s. France is bringing the private rented sector into partnership with the state to solve some of the problems.

The hon. Member for Bootle said that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was not Right-wing enough to subsidise the private rented sector. That is wrong. My right hon. Friend is Right-wing enough to do that and he has provided powers for local authorities to do that. What is more, local authorities, including some Labour local authorities, are doing just that. Surely that is right.

A whole range of my hon. Friends said that they welcome the fact that we are trying to get provision back from the private rented sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) said that we are not going far enough. I am sure that he will keep us on the straight and narrow. My hon. Friends the Members for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) and many others welcome the fact that we are doing that. This country lacks the important weapon that can be provided for meeting housing need in the private rented sector.

The one thing that almost shocked me in the otherwise interesting speech of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) was that he said, as did many others, that the Bill was going to bring back into existence Mr. Rachman, or his modern equivalent. Where have they been? I know that in his constituency there are people operating now who are just as bad as Mr. Rachman ever was. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire mentioned the name of one, who I believe operates there but certainly operates in Kensington and Chelsea not far away, and in Brighton and Hove, where I recently looked at some of his properties. How do we get rid of such people? The Labour party tried to make it as near impossible to rent at all as it could. That has not driven those wide boys out of business. Those characters will not be driven out of business like that. They will be driven out of business only when there is a range of alternative property available from better and serious landlords with investment. That gives people the choice, which means that they do not have to go to Mr. Hoogstraten.

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The 1980 Act, which enabled these people to return to business, combined with the dramatic cut in housebuilding, reduced choice.

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Not at all. If the hon. Gentleman reads the article recently published in, I think, The Observer about the landlord about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire talked, he will find that that man was in action before 1980. These laws have not driven those people out of business. They will be driven out—reference has been made to them—by the serious investors who, recognising that at last the House says that there is a permanent place in our armoury for private investment in renting, will start to put big money in again. The first has come forward. Nationwide Anglia is not the only player in this field; the Halifax has already been putting money in.

I recommend that those who are looking into this subject should go to France. It is a natural part of the investment portfolio of, for example, the insurance companies there to put money into private rented housing. That is at the long end of their portfolio. Because they do not want the quick returns, they are able to charge reasonable rents, often with some element of Government subsidy, and we are making it possible in the Local Government Bill for local authorities here to do that. That is why those rents are affordable. It is the short-term operators, the wide boy operators, who have to get the quick buck and the high rents. That is why we want to make it clear that we have to get the serious flows of savings back into providing accommodation for rent. I know that some Labour Members, including, I suspect, some on the Labour Front Bench, know in their hearts that we are right. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne pointed out, Labour Members will come along behind. I am not worried by the catcalling going on. On the catcall scale, it is a good deal lower than during the right-to-buy debates, so perhaps we are on our way already.

A number of points were made about assured tenancies and registration. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that we were willing to look at practical schemes, but we must be careful lest we make the position worse. If there is a scheme that is alleged to look into the hundreds of thousands of small landlords letting their properties on assured tenancies—that cannot really be done without an unimaginable level of bureaucracy—people such as the person whom my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire mentioned will get on to that list, and the system will not have the capacity to look properly into it. We should be careful that, by inventing a registration scheme which is just a token we do not put the imprint of approval on those whom we do not want approved. It is a difficult task. The hon. Members for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), for Southwark and Bermondsey and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) made those points. We shall carefully consider suggestions, but I believe that this matter is much more difficult than hon. Members said.

Clause 106 is a bugbear to some hon. Members. I hope that I can give the assurance sought by the hon. Member for Walton and other hon. Members. All constituency Members who have worked with local authorities on housing matters know that they do not now put people into absurdly large accommodation or very expensive places, charging the cost to the DHSS. Local authorities already use these sorts of powers, and clause 106 is meant to provide a safeguard so that there are not abuses. I think that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey accepted that in the spirit in which it was offered. I assure the hon. Member for Walton that we shall discuss how best to use the powers relating to space so that the unkindness and unfairness to which he referred do not occur.

The proposed housing association reforms were welcomed by all my hon. Friends. It is nice to have my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) on my side. Indeed, it is rather encouraging. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said that we must support and re-establish the independence of housing associations. That is precisely the Bill's objective. In much of the voluntary sector there is a case for saying that, having been sucked into virtually 100 per cent. dependence on the state for funding, some of the originality and vitality is beginning to be lost. However, housing associations are doing some immensely good work and, partly because they are smaller, their standard of management is higher than that in the larger local authority estates. Several Opposition Members fairly made that point.

The Bill points the way to re-establishing independence and getting away from Treasury control over the amount of provision. However, it will be worth doing only if the sums add up and if the housing associations can continue to provide accommodation at affordable rents for those whom they are designed to help. They are voluntary—we cannot force them to do it. All that would happen would be that the supply would slow down.

I wish to reassure the hon. Member for Brent, South who praised the work of specialist and housing associations. One is RADAR and another UJIMA—although that is now fairly large and confident. There are also the co-operatives. There are bound to be special needs, and that provision will continue to be funded with something like the present 100 per cent. for some time, and perhaps for ever. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch said, in the high-cost areas there is bound lo be a need for funding at well above 50 per cent. We have simply given an average for the whole of the country.

I have seen schemes function with much less than 50 per cent. funding, but still letting at affordable rents—and some without any housing association grant where the local authority has contributed the land. Therefore, although we shall watch carefully to ensure that the sums add up, and we believe that they can, the insurance is that the 100 per cent. old system will run alongside while the scheme develops.

The most radical part of the Bill deals with the housing action trusts. It is the first time, apart from the new towns, that central Government will play a role in the improvement of some of the worst housing. If I were a sceptical voice on the Opposition Benches—and there have been one or two today—I would welcome the HATs. As the dwindling number of Opposition Members who have served in Government will know, it is easy for Ministers to stand at this Dispatch Box and lay down the law to local authorities about how easy it all is and how everything must be done in this or that way—preferably with rather less money. We are actually putting our money where our mouths are.

The hon. Member for Brent, South asked what we would actually be doing. The principles involved in the PEP and estate action work are the sort that we want to achieve—often the sort of arrangements in the very best co-operative housing estates that are now working with the private sector. We shall learn all the lessons that we can and then show how, even in the worst estates, those lessons can be applied to rescue some of those who feel abandoned. Hon. Members should not be frightened of that. I was pleased to hear a number of Opposition Members—for example the hon. Member for Knowsley, North—say that the proposal should not be condemned out of hand until we know more about the financing. I have spoken to other Opposition Members, who have not participated in the debate, who made similar comments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, in his maiden speech, made some relevant points. It is easy to say that something that we should do better is the co-ordination of the different services aimed at improving the estates. HATs do give one way forward for experimenting with new forms of co-operation between the different powers and services that need to be employed.

Then we come to the part of the Bill which has caused the most panic—salutory panic—among some of the worst local authorities, the right to choose, the right to transfer, tenants' choice. It was welcomed by a great many of my hon. Friends—it would take too long to list them all. There were a number of special points, such as that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich, which we will look into, and we will write to him. I can assure the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) that the right to buy will indeed be transferred with the houses; I can give him an unequivocal answer to that point. We will look into it in more detail in Committee.

The hon. Member for Walton rightly raised the voting system. I can assure him that there will be a vote. I can also assure him that there is no significance in the change of wording between the White Paper and the Bill. We envisage that there will be a vote at some stage. We have been criticised for the proposed voting system. I have no doubt that this will be looked into in great detail in Committee. The point that was not mentioned by any Opposition Member is that we are ensuring that anyone who does not want to be transferred from the local authority will have an absolute right to stay with it. They can have sub-leases back to the local authority. This works very well in a range of private accommodation where there is a multiplicity of different leases.

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It will not work.

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If the hon. Member does not know that, he should be careful before he says that it will not work. I think that it can.

I do not know how widely these powers will be used, but I do know that there are some places in this country, including the constituencies of Opposition Members, where I have been and where I believe that these powers will be of great interest to tenants, because there are very poor managements. This is clearly acknowledged by many people. I have a whole range of cuttings here, from the South London Press, from the Yorkshire Post, from the Manchester Evening News, from the Leicester Mercury, listing situations where it is perfectly clear that local management has almost broken down. Sometimes, let us be fair, Labour councillors are saying that, and are trying to improve the situation. But in not all those cases are they successful; and very often the combined power of the direct labour organisation, the district Labour party and other reactionary forces in the neighbourhood prevent them from making any progress.

We need the safety valve. Why should not all our council tenants have rights to the same sort of privileges as were given to them voluntarily by some of the better Labour councils, such as Glasgow? Why should it depend on the kindness of their Labour rulers whether they have these rights? We think that they should have the rights by statute.

It is clear that Labour is at sea on its housing policy, as it is on much else. One of their honourable colleagues wrote recently that Labour
"offered nothing at the last election to the home owners, nothing to deal with the house price folly in London, nothing to those anxious to get on to the housing ladder."
The same author went on to say that Labour was now an
"under-party…relegated to the periphery of British life. "We represent,"
he said,
"a world that is going. Our structures and attitudes are policies of the past".
He said that Labour was now
"a penny-farthing with delusions of grandeur".
I would not have used such uncharitable language myself, but the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) obviously knew a little bit more about it than even we on the Government side of the House do.

There are hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench and on the Opposition Back Benches who know that they have to modernise their housing policy. The best of their housing councillors, the best of their housing administrators working for many Labour councils, know that they have to come into the modern world on housing as on so much else. They know that in this country we need a serious private rented sector. They know that the great council estates are unmanageable because they are too big. They know that they need more pluralism. But still the poor old chaps will be told to vote against it here for a year or two, until the attitudes change, while the world passes them by, at which point they will belatedly come along with us. We shall welcome them when they eventually come, and we look forward to that time, because we know that otherwise history will pass them by utterly.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 16, Noes 324.

Division No. 85]

[11.59 pm

AYES

Alton, DavidMichie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Ashdown, PaddyOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Steel, Rt Hon David
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Howells, GeraintWallace, James
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Kennedy, CharlesTellers for the Ayes:
Kirkwood, ArchyMr. John Cartwright and Mr. Ronnie Fearn.
Livsey, Richard

NOES

Adley, RobertBright, Graham
Aitken, JonathanBrittan, Rt Hon Leon
Alexander, RichardBrooke, Hon Peter
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBrown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Allason, RupertBrowne, John (Winchester)
Amess, DavidBruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Amos, AlanBuck, Sir Antony
Arbuthnot, JamesBudgen, Nicholas
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Burns, Simon
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Burt, Alistair
Ashby, DavidButcher, John
Aspinwall, JackButler, Chris
Atkins, RobertButterfill, John
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Baldry, TonyCarrington, Matthew
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Carttiss, Michael
Batiste, SpencerCash, William
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyChannon, Rt Hon Paul
Bellingham, HenryChapman, Sydney
Bendall, VivianChope, Christopher
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Benyon, W.Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bevan, David GilroyClarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnColvin, Michael
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterConway, Derek
Body, Sir RichardCoombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasCoombs, Simon (Swindon)
Boswell, TimCope, John
Bottomley, PeterCormack, Patrick
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaCouchman, James
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)Cran, James
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Critchley, Julian
Bowis, JohnCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesCurry, David
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardDavies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Brazier, JulianDavis, David (Boothferry)

Day, StephenJanman, Timothy
Devlin, TimJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dickens, GeoffreyJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dorrell, StephenJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dover, DenKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Dunn, BobKey, Robert
Durant, TonyKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dykes, HughKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Eggar, TimKirkhope, Timothy
Emery, Sir PeterKnapman, Roger
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Knowles, Michael
Evennett, DavidLamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fairbairn, NicholasLang, Ian
Fallon, MichaelLatham, Michael
Favell, TonyLawrence, Ivan
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Fookes, Miss JanetLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Forman, NigelLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Lightbown, David
Forth, EricLilley, Peter
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Freeman, RogerLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
French, DouglasLuce, Rt Hon Richard
Fry, PeterLyell, Sir Nicholas
Gardiner, GeorgeMcCrindle, Robert
Gill, ChristopherMacfarlane, Neil
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMacGregor, John
Glyn, Dr AlanMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMaclean, David
Goodlad, AlastairMcLoughlin, Patrick
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMadel, David
Gow, IanMajor, Rt Hon John
Gower, Sir RaymondMalins, Humfrey
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Mans, Keith
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Maples, John
Greenway, John (Rydale)Marland, Paul
Gregory, ConalMarlow, Tony
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Grist, IanMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Ground, PatrickMates, Michael
Grylls, MichaelMaude, Hon Francis
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hampson, Dr KeithMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Hanley, JeremyMellor, David
Hannam, JohnMeyer, Sir Anthony
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr)Miller, Hal
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Mills, Iain
Harris, DavidMiscampbell, Norman
Haselhurst, AlanMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hawkins, ChristopherMitchell, David (Hants NW)
Hayes, JerryMoate, Roger
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneyMonro, Sir Hector
Hayward, RobertMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidMorrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Heddle, JohnMoss, Malcolm
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelMoynihan, Hon C.
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)Neale, Gerrard
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Needham, Richard
Hind, KennethNelson, Anthony
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Neubert, Michael
Holt, RichardNewton, Tony
Hordern, Sir PeterNicholls, Patrick
Howard, MichaelNicholson, David (Taunton)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Onslow, Cranley
Howe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyOppenheim, Phillip
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)Page, Richard
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Paice, James
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Patnick, Irvine
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Patten, John (Oxford W)
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasPattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Irvine, MichaelPawsey, James
Irving, CharlesPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jack, MichaelPorter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jackson, RobertPorter, David (Waveney)

Portillo, MichaelSummerson, Hugo
Powell, William (Corby)Tapsell, Sir Peter
Price, Sir DavidTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Raffan, KeithTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Redwood, JohnTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Renton, TimTemple-Morris, Peter
Rhodes James, RobertThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Riddick, GrahamThorne, Neil
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasThornton, Malcolm
Ridsdale, Sir JulianThurnham, Peter
Rifkind, Rt Hon MalcolmTownend, John (Bridlington)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Roe, Mrs MarionTracey, Richard
Rossi, Sir HughTredinnick, David
Rost, PeterTrippier, David
Rowe, AndrewTrotter, Neville
Rumbold, Mrs AngelaTwinn, Dr Ian
Ryder, RichardVaughan, Sir Gerard
Sackville, Hon TomViggers, Peter
Sainsbury, Hon TimWaddington, Rt Hon David
Scott, NicholasWakeham, Rt Hon John
Shaw, David (Dover)Waldegrave, Hon William
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Walden, George
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Waller, Gary
Shelton, William (Streatham)Walters, Dennis
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Ward, John
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Warren, Kenneth
Sims, RogerWatts, John
Skeet, Sir TrevorWheeler, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Whitney, Ray
Soames, Hon NicholasWiddecombe, Miss Ann
Speller, TonyWiggin, Jerry
Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)Wilshire, David
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Squire, RobinWinterton, Nicholas
Stanbrook, IvorWolfson, Mark
Stanley, Rt Hon JohnWood, Timothy
Steen, AnthonyWoodcock, Mike
Stern, MichaelYeo, Tim
Stevens, LewisYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)Tellers for the Noes:
Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnMr. Robert Boscawen and Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.
Sumberg, David

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 324, Noes 214.

Division No. 86]

[12.13 am

AYES

Adley, RobertBlaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Aitken, JonathanBody, Sir Richard
Alexander, RichardBonsor, Sir Nicholas
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBoswell, Tim
Allason, RupertBottomley, Peter
Amess, DavidBottomley, Mrs Virginia
Amos, AlanBowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Arbuthnot, JamesBowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bowis, John
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Ashby, DavidBraine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Aspinwall, JackBrazier, Julian
Atkins, RobertBright, Graham
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Brittan, Rt Hon Leon
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Brooke, Hon Peter
Baldry, TonyBrown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Browne, John (Winchester)
Batiste, SpencerBruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBuck, Sir Antony
Bellingham, HenryBudgen, Nicholas
Bendall, VivianBurns, Simon
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Burt, Alistair
Benyon, W.Butcher, John
Bevan, David GilroyButler, Chris
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnButterfill, John

Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Heathcoat-Amory, David
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Heddle, John
Carrington, MatthewHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Carttiss, MichaelHicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Cash, WilliamHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHind, Kenneth
Chapman, SydneyHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Chope, ChristopherHolt, Richard
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hordern, Sir Peter
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Howard, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Colvin, MichaelHowarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Conway, DerekHowe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Cope, JohnHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Cormack, PatrickHunt, David (Wirral W)
Couchman, JamesHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Cran, JamesHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Currie, Mrs EdwinaIrvine, Michael
Curry, DavidIrving, Charles
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Jack, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry)Jackson, Robert
Day, StephenJanman, Timothy
Devlin, TimJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dickens, GeoffreyJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dorrell, StephenJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dover, DenKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Dunn, BobKey, Robert
Durant, TonyKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dykes, HughKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Eggar, TimKirkhope, Timothy
Emery, Sir PeterKnapman, Roger
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Knowles, Michael
Evennett, DavidLamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fairbairn, NicholasLang, Ian
Fallon, MichaelLatham, Michael
Favell, TonyLawrence, Ivan
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Fookes, Miss JanetLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Forman, NigelLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Lightbown, David
Forth, EricLilley, Peter
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Freeman, RogerLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
French, DouglasLuce, Rt Hon Richard
Fry, PeterLyell, Sir Nicholas
Gardiner, GeorgeMcCrindle, Robert
Gill, ChristopherMacfarlane, Neil
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMacGregor, John
Glyn, Dr AlanMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMaclean, David
Goodlad, AlastairMcLoughlin, Patrick
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMadel, David
Gow, IanMajor, Rt Hon John
Gower, Sir RaymondMalins, Humfrey
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Mans, Keith
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Maples, John
Greenway, John (Rydale)Marland, Paul
Gregory, ConalMarlow, Tony
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Grist, IanMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Ground, PatrickMates, Michael
Grylls, MichaelMaude, Hon Francis
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hampson, Dr KeithMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Hanley, JeremyMellor, David
Hannam, JohnMeyer, Sir Anthony
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Miller, Hal
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Mills, Iain
Harris, DavidMiscampbell, Norman
Haselhurst, AlanMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hawkins, ChristopherMitchell, David (Hants NW)
Hayes, JerryMoate, Roger
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneyMonro, Sir Hector
Hayward, RobertMontgomery, Sir Fergus

Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Moss, MalcolmSquire, Robin
Moynihan, Hon C.Stanbrook, Ivor
Neale, GerrardStanley, Rt Hon John
Needham, RichardSteen, Anthony
Nelson, AnthonyStern, Michael
Neubert, MichaelStevens, Lewis
Newton, TonyStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Nicholls, PatrickStewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)Sumberg, David
Onslow, CranleySummerson, Hugo
Oppenheim, PhillipTapsell, Sir Peter
Page, RichardTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Paice, JamesTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Parkinson, Rt Hon CecilTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Patnick, IrvineTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Patten, John (Oxford W)Temple-Morris, Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Pawsey, JamesThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethThorne, Neil
Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Thornton, Malcolm
Porter, David (Waveney)Thurnham, Peter
Portillo, MichaelTownend, John (Bridlington)
Powell, William (Corby)Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Price, Sir DavidTracey, Richard
Raffan, KeithTredinnick, David
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyTrippier, David
Redwood, JohnTrotter, Neville
Renton, TimTwinn, Dr Ian
Rhodes James, RobertVaughan, Sir Gerard
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonViggers, Peter
Riddick, GrahamWaddington, Rt Hon David
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasWakeham, Rt Hon John
Ridsdale, Sir JulianWaldegrave, Hon William
Rifkind, Rt Hon MalcolmWalden, George
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Waller, Gary
Roe, Mrs MarionWalters, Dennis
Rossi, Sir HughWard, John
Rost, PeterWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Rowe, AndrewWarren, Kenneth
Rumbold, Mrs AngelaWatts, John
Ryder, RichardWheeler, John
Sackville, Hon TomWhitney, Ray
Sainsbury, Hon TimWiddecombe, Miss Ann
Scott, NicholasWiggin, Jerry
Shaw, David (Dover)Wilshire, David
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Winterton, Nicholas
Shelton, William (Streatham)Wolfson, Mark
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Wood, Timothy
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Woodcock, Mike
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Yeo, Tim
Sims, RogerYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Tellers for the Ayes:
Soames, Hon NicholasMr. Robert Boscawen and Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.
Speller, Tony
Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)

NOES

Abbott, Ms DianeBlair, Tony
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Boateng, Paul
Allen, GrahamBoyes, Roland
Alton, DavidBradley, Keith
Anderson, DonaldBray, Dr Jeremy
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBrown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryBrown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Ashdown, PaddyBrown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Ashley, Rt Hon JackBruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Ashton, JoeBuchan, Norman
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Buckley, George
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Caborn, Richard
Barron, KevinCallaghan, Jim
Battle, JohnCampbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Beckett, MargaretCampbell-Savours, D. N.
Benn, Rt Hon TonyCanavan, Dennis
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Bermingham, GeraldCartwright, John
Bidwell, SydneyClark, Dr David (S Shields)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)
Clay, BobLewis, Terry
Clelland, DavidLivsey, Richard
Cohen, HarryLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Loyden, Eddie
Corbett, RobinMcAllion, John
Corbyn, JeremyMcAvoy, Tom
Cousins, JimMcCartney, Ian
Crowther, StanMacdonald, Calum
Cryer, BobMcFall, John
Cummings, J.McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cunliffe, LawrenceMcKelvey, William
Darling, AlastairMcLeish, Henry
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)McNamara, Kevin
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)McWilliam, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)Madden, Max
Dewar, DonaldMahon, Mrs Alice
Dixon, DonMarek, Dr John
Dobson, FrankMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Doran, FrankMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Douglas, DickMartin, Michael (Springburn)
Duffy, A. E. P.Martlew, Eric
Dunnachie, JamesMaxton, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethMeacher, Michael
Eadie, AlexanderMeale, Alan
Eastham, KenMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Evans, John (St Helens N)Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Fatchett, DerekMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Faulds, AndrewMitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Fearn, RonaldMoonie, Dr Lewis
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Morgan, Rhodri
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Morley, Elliott
Flannery, MartinMorris, Rt Hon A (W'shawe)
Flynn, PaulMorris, Rt Hon J (Aberavon)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMowlam, Mrs Marjorie
Foster, DerekMullin, Chris
Fraser, JohnMurphy, Paul
Fyfe, Mrs MariaNellist, Dave
Galbraith, SamuelOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Galloway, GeorgeO'Brien, William
Garrett, John (Norwich South)O'Neill, Martin
George, BruceOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Godman, Dr Norman A.Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Golding, Mrs LlinPatchett, Terry
Gordon, Ms MildredPendry, Tom
Gould, BryanPike, Peter
Graham, ThomasPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Prescott, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Grocott, BruceQuin, Ms Joyce
Harman, Ms HarrietRadice, Giles
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyRandall, Stuart
Healey, Rt Hon DenisRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Heffer, Eric S.Reid, John
Henderson, DouglasRichardson, Ms Jo
Hinchliffe, DavidRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Robertson, George
Holland, StuartRobinson, Geoffrey
Home Robertson, JohnRogers, Allan
Hood, JamesRooker, Jeff
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Howells, GeraintRowlands, Ted
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Sedgemore, Brian
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Sheerman, Barry
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Illsley, EricShort, Clare
Ingram, AdamSkinner, Dennis
Janner, GrevilleSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
John, BrynmorSmith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Soley, Clive
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Spearing, Nigel
Kennedy, CharlesSteel, Rt Hon David
Kinnock, Rt Hon NeilStott, Roger
Kirkwood, ArchyStrang, Gavin
Lamond, JamesTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Leadbitter, TedTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Leighton, RonThomas, Dafydd Elis

Turner, DennisWilson, Brian
Vaz, KeithWinnick, David
Wall, PatWise, Mrs Audrey
Wallace, JamesWorthington, Anthony
Walley, Ms JoanWray, James
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)Young, David (Bolton SE)
Wareing, Robert N.
Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)Tellers for the Noes:
Williams, Rt Hon A. J.Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Alun Michael.
Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put,

That the bill be committed to a Special Standing Committee.—[Mr. Alan Roberts.]

The House divided: Ayes 208, Noes 322.

Division No. 87]

[12.27 am

AYES

Abbott, Ms DianeDunnachie, James
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Allen, GrahamEadie, Alexander
Alton, DavidEastham, Ken
Anderson, DonaldEvans, John (St Helens N)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterFatchett, Derek
Armstrong, Ms HilaryFaulds, Andrew
Ashdown, PaddyFearn, Ronald
Ashley, Rt Hon JackField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Ashton, JoeFields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Flannery, Martin
Barron, KevinFlynn, Paul
Battle, JohnFoot, Rt Hon Michael
Beckett, MargaretFoster, Derek
Benn, Rt Hon TonyFraser, John
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Fyfe, Mrs Maria
Bermingham, GeraldGalbraith, Samuel
Bidwell, SydneyGalloway, George
Blair, TonyGarrett, John (Norwich South)
Boateng, PaulGeorge, Bruce
Boyes, RolandGodman, Dr Norman A.
Bradley, KeithGolding, Mrs Llin
Bray, Dr JeremyGordon, Ms Mildred
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Gould, Bryan
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Graham, Thomas
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Grocott, Bruce
Buchan, NormanHarman, Ms Harriet
Buckley, GeorgeHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Caborn, RichardHealey, Rt Hon Denis
Callaghan, JimHeffer, Eric S.
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Henderson, Douglas
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Hinchliffe, David
Canavan, DennisHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Holland, Stuart
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Home Robertson, John
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Hood, James
Clay, BobHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clelland, DavidHowells, Geraint
Cohen, HarryHughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Corbett, RobinHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Corbyn, JeremyIllsley, Eric
Cousins, JimIngram, Adam
Crowther, StanJanner, Greville
Cryer, BobJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cummings, J.Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Cunliffe, LawrenceJones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Darling, AlastairKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Kirkwood, Archy
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Lamond, James
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)Leadbitter, Ted
Dewar, DonaldLeighton, Ron
Dixon, DonLestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)
Dobson, FrankLewis, Terry
Doran, FrankLivsey, Richard
Douglas, DickLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Duffy, A. E. P.Lofthouse, Geoffrey

Loyden, EddieRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
McAllion, JohnReid, John
McAvoy, TomRichardson, Ms Jo
McCartney, IanRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Macdonald, CalumRobertson, George
McFall, JohnRobinson, Geoffrey
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Rogers, Allan
McKelvey, WilliamRooker, Jeff
McLeish, HenryRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McNamara, KevinRowlands, Ted
McWilliam, JohnSedgemore, Brian
Madden, MaxSheerman, Barry
Mahon, Mrs AliceSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marek, Dr JohnShore, Rt Hon Peter
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Short, Clare
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Skinner, Dennis
Martin, Michael (Springburn)Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Martlew, EricSmith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Maxton, JohnSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Meacher, MichaelSoley, Clive
Meale, AlanSpearing, Nigel
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Steel, Rt Hon David
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)Stott, Roger
Millan, Rt Hon BruceStrang, Gavin
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Moonie, Dr LewisTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Morgan, RhodriThomas, Dafydd Elis
Morley, ElliottTurner, Dennis
Morris, Rt Hon A (W'shawe)Vaz, Keith
Morris, Rt Hon J (Aberavon)Wall, Pat
Mowlam, Mrs MarjorieWallace, James
Mullin, ChrisWalley, Ms Joan
Murphy, PaulWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Nellist, DaveWareing, Robert N.
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
O'Brien, WilliamWilliams, Rt Hon A. J.
O'Neill, MartinWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWilson, Brian
Patchett, TerryWinnick, David
Pendry, TomWise, Mrs Audrey
Pike, PeterWorthington, Anthony
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Wray, James
Prescott, JohnYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Quin, Ms JoyceTellers for the Ayes:
Radice, GilesMr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Alun Michael.
Randall, Stuart

NOES

Adley, RobertBowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Aitken, JonathanBowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Alexander, RichardBowis, John
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBoyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Allason, RupertBraine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Amess, DavidBrazier, Julian
Amos, AlanBright, Graham
Arbuthnot, JamesBrittan, Rt Hon Leon
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Brooke, Hon Peter
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Ashby, DavidBrowne, John (Winchester)
Aspinwall, JackBruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Atkins, RobertBuck, Sir Antony
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Budgen, Nicholas
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Burns, Simon
Baldry, TonyBurt, Alistair
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Butcher, John
Batiste, SpencerButler, Chris
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyButterfill, John
Bellingham, HenryCarlisle, John, (Luton N)
Bendall, VivianCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Carrington, Matthew
Benyon, W.Carttiss, Michael
Bevan, David GilroyCash, William
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnChannon, Rt Hon Paul
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterChapman, Sydney
Body, Sir RichardChope, Christopher
Bonsor, Sir NicholasClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Boswell, TimClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bottomley, PeterClarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaColvin, Michael

Conway, DerekHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Cope, JohnHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Cormack, PatrickHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Couchman, JamesHunt, David (Wirral W)
Cran, JamesHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Critchley, JulianHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Currie, Mrs EdwinaIrvine, Michael
Curry, DavidIrving, Charles
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Jack, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry)Jackson, Robert
Day, StephenJanman, Timothy
Devlin, TimJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dickens, GeoffreyJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dorrell, StephenJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dover, DenKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Dunn, BobKey, Robert
Durant, TonyKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dykes, HughKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Eggar, TimKirkhope, Timothy
Emery, Sir PeterKnapman, Roger
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Knowles, Michael
Evennett, DavidLamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fairbairn, NicholasLang, Ian
Fallon, MichaelLatham, Michael
Favell, TonyLawrence, Ivan
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fookes, Miss JanetLightbown, David
Forman, NigelLilley, Peter
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Forth, EricLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanLuce, Rt Hon Richard
Freeman, RogerLyell, Sir Nicholas
French, DouglasMcCrindle, Robert
Fry, PeterMacfarlane, Neil
Gardiner, GeorgeMacGregor, John
Garel-Jones, TristanMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Gill, ChristopherMaclean, David
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMcLoughlin, Patrick
Glyn, Dr AlanMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMadel, David
Goodlad, AlastairMajor, Rt Hon John
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMalins, Humfrey
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMans, Keith
Gow, IanMaples, John
Gower, Sir RaymondMarland, Paul
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Marlow, Tony
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Greenway, John (Rydale)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gregory, ConalMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')Mates, Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Maude, Hon Francis
Grist, IanMawhinney, Dr Brian
Ground, PatrickMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Grylls, MichaelMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Mellor, David
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hampson, Dr KeithMiller, Hal
Hanley, JeremyMills, Iain
Hannam, JohnMiscampbell, Norman
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Harris, DavidMoate, Roger
Haselhurst, AlanMonro, Sir Hector
Hawkins, ChristopherMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Hayes, JerryMorrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneyMoss, Malcolm
Hayward, RobertMoynihan, Hon C.
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidNeale, Gerrard
Heddle, JohnNeedham, Richard
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelNelson, Anthony
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)Neubert, Michael
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Newton, Tony
Hind, KennethNicholls, Patrick
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Holt, RichardNicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)
Hordern, Sir PeterOnslow, Cranley
Howard, MichaelOppenheim, Phillip

Page, RichardStevens, Lewis
Paice, JamesStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Parkinson, Rt Hon CecilStewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Patnick, IrvineStradling Thomas, Sir John
Patten, John (Oxford W)Sumberg, David
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreySummerson, Hugo
Pawsey, JamesTapsell, Sir Peter
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Porter, David (Waveney)Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Portillo, MichaelTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Powell, William (Corby)Temple-Morris, Peter
Price, Sir DavidThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Raffan, KeithThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyThorne, Neil
Redwood, JohnThornton, Malcolm
Renton, TimThurnham, Peter
Rhodes James, RobertTownend, John (Bridlington)
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Riddick, GrahamTracey, Richard
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasTredinnick, David
Ridsdale, Sir JulianTrippier, David
Rifkind, Rt Hon MalcolmTrotter, Neville
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Twinn, Dr Ian
Roe, Mrs MarionVaughan, Sir Gerard
Rossi, Sir HughViggers, Peter
Rost, PeterWaddington, Rt Hon David
Rowe, AndrewWakeham, Rt Hon John
Rumbold, Mrs AngelaWaldegrave, Hon William
Ryder, RichardWalden, George
Sackville, Hon TomWaller, Gary
Sainsbury, Hon TimWalters, Dennis
Scott, NicholasWard, John
Shaw, David (Dover)Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Warren, Kenneth
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Watts, John
Shelton, William (Streatham)Wheeler, John
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Whitney, Ray
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Wiggin, Jerry
Sims, RogerWilshire, David
Skeet, Sir TrevorWinterton, Mrs Ann
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Winterton, Nicholas
Soames, Hon NicholasWolfson, Mark
Speller, TonyWood, Timothy
Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)Woodcock, Mike
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Yeo, Tim
Squire, RobinYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Stanbrook, Ivor
Stanley, Rt Hon JohnTellers for the Noes:
Steen, AnthonyMr. Robert Boscawen and Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.
Stern, Michael

Question accordingly negatived.

Bill accordingly committed to a Standing Committee.