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Mr. Battle : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is in some difficulty. He is making allegations with the protection of the House. He has named people and their jobs--jobs which, for his
Column 1019information, they are still trying to do, although he claims that he speaks of the past. His comments are a slur on the professions of those people.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is attempting to use a point of order for the intervention that he wished to make. It is not a point of order. I remind all hon. Members that they have responsibilities when they speak in the House. We are dealing not with personalities but with a motion on whether there should be a time limit on the legislation that the House is about to enact.
Mr. Bruce : Thank you for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. When we talk about the time that we have to discuss the Bill, we should remember that many issues have not been properly considered, to the great disappointment of many of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches. Abuses have occurred within the system, not only in Labour councils, but in Conservative and Liberal ones. One could cite examples--as Labour Members often do--of individuals who will be caught by the legislation. In recent times no one has challenged the fact that civil servants are required by their contracts of employment not to take part in party political activities. I am trying to set the record straight. Real problems occurred which caused real fraud--[Hon. Members : "Fraud?"]--on ratepayers, particularly in Yorkshire. Opposition Members attempted to delay the Bill so that they could make further inroads into the clause designed to deal with that problem.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has just made a serious allegation which casts a slur not only on Opposition Members but on the integrity of the Chair. He suggested that Opposition Members tried to delay the Bill. I am sure that you will not permit that, Madam Deputy Speaker, and nor would any other occupant of the Chair.
Mr. Bruce : It is common currency that we are here to discuss a guillotine motion because the agreement reached through the normal channels to take two days to discuss the Bill was not observed by Opposition Members. Hon. Gentlemen are entitled to take further time, but they should not complain about the guillotine, because they did not get on with the substance of what had been agreed.
I have made my point. Although the Bill has been amended, it attempts to show that it is wrong for people to engage in twin tracking.
Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley) rose --
All parties should acknowledge that twin tracking is wrong. Someone who wishes to represent the community as a member of a local authority should not expect to earn his pay as a senior officer of another local authority, even more so when he or she is not turning up to do that job or, in the case of lecturers, are not in the timetable. I hope that that message will reach such people and that they will start to work in a more moral manner. However, I suspect that
Column 1020the legislation will not be tight enough and that the Government will have to return to the matter in another Bill.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : The speech of the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) was both disgraceful and disreputable. I doubt that he would have the courage or, indeed, the purse to repeat those statements, appending those names to them, as he did, outside the House. If anyone abuses the rights and privileges of the House, it is not Opposition Members but Conservative Members like him, who do great disservice to the House by attacking decent, honest people outside the House who cannot defend themselves.
It ill behoves the hon. Gentleman and many other Conservative Members to attack local authority councillors who work for other local authorities when so many Conservative Members have directorships. I am surprised that they have the time to come to the House, never mind the nerve. There is more than a whiff of hypocrisy on Conservative Benches and it is whirling round the head of the hon. Member for Dorset, South. He should be ashamed of himself. I am disappointed that the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) is no longer in his place. It was inappropriate for him to attack my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). I have always regarded the right hon. Gentleman as a fine example of a political thug. When a guillotine motion is moved, he plays his usual role as chairman of the 1922 Committee. He is a Uriah Heep in residence to the Conservative leadership.
The right hon. Gentleman took no part in the debate. I did not see him here during the debates on the Bill, yet as soon as the guillotine motion was moved he came here saying, "The Opposition waffled, spent their time abusing parliamentary privilege and tried to talk the Bill out." How the hell does he know? He was never here to listen. He just came to play the role given to him. I suppose that he does it fairly well, but his sincerity does not come over to me in great waves. He should have saved us his speech tonight. He did not bother to stick around to hear the rest of the debate on the guillotine motion.
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : I heard what the hon. Gentleman said about my right hon. Friend's interest in the Bill. Although I cannot swear to it, my recollection is that my right hon. Friend expressed some interest in it. Has the hon. Gentleman checked Hansard to ensure that his remarks about my right hon. Friend are true?
Mr. Banks : I would not willingly do a disservice to any hon. Member, even a Conservative Member. I sat religiously through the debate yesterday and on Monday on the Local Government and Housing Bill. There were few Members here and I know who they were. It is no great feat of memory to remember which Conservative Members were present, because so few were here.
Column 1021hon. Gentleman was not here. He may have wandered in and out, treating the debate as a buffet where he could pick up a little nibble here and there.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I reminded the House earlier that the motion does not relate to personalities. It is a serious motion and must be debated seriously. I am sure that the hon. Member will oblige me.
Mr. Banks : Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. People will start talking about us soon, I am sure. All I want to do is to reply to some of the points that have been made. If hon. Members make comments, I feel that it is incumbent on me to defend my hon. Friends who I believe have been unjustly and unfairly attacked both inside and outside the House.
I oppose the guillotine motion. I am not worried very much about contempt of the House. I accept that the Government need to get their business through. The position will be reversed very soon, I am glad to say, and then, no doubt, I shall support guillotine motions. I am not, therefore, opposed to guillotine motions as such, but I am worried about the contempt that this motion shows not for the House but for the homeless in London and the nation as a whole. We dealt on Monday with a number of issues that did not relate to housing. We dealt with local government issues and the hon. Member for Dorset, South spent a lot of time talking about something that had already been dealt with. What we have not had a chance to debate properly and that we are now being prevented from debating properly are the housing aspects of the Bill, the Lords amendments and our amendments. Many Conservative Members are prepared to close their eyes to the reality of this enormous housing and homelessness crisis.
It was wrong for the hon. Member for Dorset, South and the right hon. Member for Woking to suggest that the Opposition were deliberately dragging their feet. I could talk with feeling for hours about the plight of the homeless, both in my constituency and in London as a whole. I do not need to feign anger about that. My sincerity is not synthetic. I do not need to drag out the proceedings just for the sake of doing so. I see homelessness on a daily basis and it angers me deeply. I wanted to carry on making my contribution last night.
I accept that the Government want to get their business through, but there was no need for them to step in as early as they did. We could have sat through the night or into the early hours--until 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning. It is a damned sight more comfortable to make speeches here at 4 o'clock in the morning rather than to sleep on the embankment at that time, so I do not consider that I would have been deprived or that my comfort would have been greatly endangered or impaired if I had had to be here then to debate these important issues. For some reason or another, however, the Government wanted to pull up stumps and get away as early as possible.
Column 1022Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, but he directly criticised the sort of conduct that the hon. Gentleman now advocates. Does he disagree fundamentally with his hon. Friend the Member for Copeland?
Mr. Banks : I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend on virtually everything that I hear him say. I have sat behind him during the proceedings on God knows how many Bills and I have watched him see off so many Ministers of State and Secretaries of State for the Environment that I have lost count. I am sure that my hon. Friend will continue to do that. He has already seen off five, and I am sure that he will see off a few Leaders of the House before the next election.
The Minister said that the time may well come when Bills have to be timetabled. I was not filibustering last night and I am not attempting to do so now. I do not believe that any Opposition Member was filibustering. How, therefore, were we abusing the procedures of the House last night?
Mr. Hunt : I do not want to make too much of this. I know that the hon. Gentleman could talk and talk. I am in no position to criticise him, because I made one of the longest speeches in the House since the last war. Therefore, I do not want to enter into competition with him. However, I recall that the hon. Member for Copeland directly criticised those hon. Members who felt that one of their duties was to take the House through the night.
Mr. Banks : But that was only if it was a deliberate ploy just to drag out the proceedings on the Bill. I said that that was not the case. If the Minister had approached us and said, "Let's finish at 4 o'clock in the morning," I feel sure that he would have had a reasonably sympathetic hearing. That would have provided us with an opportunity to discuss at some length and in some detail 650 amendments. It is very difficult to set them aside, just like that. One has to make an attempt to structure the debate around them so that we can understand what is going on and perhaps, even at this late stage, prevent the Government from committing a gross folly by the passing of ill-drafted legislation. It was not a question of talking through the night just for the sake of talking, but if we had had a few more hours we could have used them constructively. Ministers, however, did not come forward with that proposal. They decided that things were looking a bit tough and that they were not sure how it was going to go, so they got in very quick last night. Consequently, there is a whole mass of amendments that we shall have to discuss in a miserly two hours. That does not do justice to the terrible housing crisis, nor does it do credit to the way that we conduct our business or to the way in which legislation reaches the statute book. The Minister knows that. I have said before that his is the most acceptable face of extremism that has surfaced in the environment team since 1983. I hope that I have done him no disservice by saying that.
The Minister was reasonably co-operative in the early stages. That is accepted. It is not that we want to connive with the Government. Wherever possible, however, we want to ensure that debates are held at a time when people outside can hear them. In many cases, what we say in this place falls on deaf ears on the Government side and is never heard outside the House. That is a great shame, not because of the value of what we say per se but because of
Column 1023the importance of these decisions to the homeless, to those who are waiting for a house and to those who are living in sub-standard accommodation. That is what this part of the Bill is all about. It is an awful and apposite comment on the attitudes and standards of today's Tory party that virtually no Conservative Members were here last night. A few of them came into the Chamber when they thought that there was to be a Division. The rest of them kept away. I think that some of them kept away because their consciences were troubling them. They did not want to hear the arguments. The feeling abroad in the Conservative party is that, if Conservative Members do not listen to the arguments and if they try to sweep the evidence under the carpet, the problem will solve itself.
Mr. Holt : To pursue the hon. Gentleman's line of argument, if he is suggesting that the Labour Benches are more frequently occupied than those on this side of the House, and if we were to take a count during every hour that every Bill is discussed in this place, I can guarantee that, although he individually would come out very high on the list--because I, too, am an assiduous Member of Parliament and sit here for long hours--his party would lose handsomely.
Mr. Banks : I thank the hon. Gentleman for some of his remarks. There are many debates that I do not attend and I do not take part in the proceedings on many Bills, not because I am not interested in them but because they are not necessarily relevant to my constituency. However, on crucial issues such as social security, housing, education and the National Health Service that affect millions of people, including those who have been dispossessed and put in a much worse position, both economically and socially, by this Government's policies, he will find that these Benches are very well filled, because the Opposition concentrate on issues that affect working-class people most particularly. This is one of those issues. That is why, last night, the Labour Benches were well attended, but the Conservative Benches were green acres of emptiness.
Mr. Ian Bruce : I hate to take issue with the hon. Gentleman, but 10 Labour Members are present. The hon. Gentleman told us that the Bill is of much importance to the Labour party. Are we to believe that only 10 Labour Members are interested in it?
Mr. Banks : We are discussing not the Bill but the guillotine motion, which is intent on allowing only two hours for debate. I hope that when we debate the Bill the hon. Gentleman will make a speech. It is noticeable that Conservative Members always debate guillotine motions because they want to use up time. Yesterday, we had an important debate on housing for four and a half hours, yet not one Conservative Member spoke. The Minister had the gall to complain that he had had to listen to Labour Members' speeches for four and a half hours, but that complaint should have been directed at Conservative Back Benchers and not at Labour
Column 1024Members. I was prepared to sit down in the hope that I could tempt the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) into saying something about homeless people in London. Conservative Members are ready to make speeches on the guillotine motion because they want to eat up the time.
Mr. Harry Barnes : My hon. Friend was challenged about whether he had checked Hansard to see whether the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) had spoken on the Bill. I have done some research on my hon. Friend's behalf, and I can tell him that until 10.45 pm yesterday-- Hansard is not printed after that--he had not spoken, although he had voted in three of the four Divisons.
Mr. Banks : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, who is an assiduous researcher. I pledge that, when I am a Minister, my hon. Friend will be sitting next me in my ministerial office as my personal adviser. I promise not to sack him.
Mr. Banks : That is not very nice. My compliment deserved a better return than that. This is a cruel place, even on the Labour Benches. I shall vote against the guillotine motion, and I hope that, if Conservative Members have no great interest in the Bill, they will do what they did last night--sit it out and let us speak for the homeless in this country, who are not represented here and who are not looked after by Conservative Members. We do not want Conservative Members to waste the precious two hours that we have, which will not be long enough to make the case that we want. We shall have years in the future to undo the damage that the Government and this wretched Bill will do to the homeless.
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : I want to comment on the guillotine motion because I am in two minds about it. I have much sympathy with the Government moving the guillotine motion in view of last night's time-wasting. I spent four years in the House in enforced silence and developed acute sensitivity to time-wasting. Few hon. Members are more alert to it than I am.
I am sorry that the motion has been introduced because the Government are doing themselves a disservice by causing some Lords amendments not to be discussed and explained. I am thinking of Lords amendment No. 269, which, knowing the ways of the House, I expect will be cut out in the two-hour debate on the remaining Lords amendments, which will follow if the motion is agreed.
Lords amendment No. 269 deals with the vital matter--I know that this view is held by hon. Members on both sides of the House--of rural housing. It closely follows an amendment that I moved on Report, which caused me to do something that I had not done for many years--to vote with about 20 of my right hon. and hon. Friends against the Government. I was therefore most anxious to speak to Lords amendment No. 269, which is similar to the one that I failed to persuade the House to agree to in June.
Lords amendment No. 269 deals with the problems experienced by organisations that are anxious to maintain a stock of houses in rural areas for people of modest means who cannot afford to take on a mortgage for 100 per cent.
Column 1025home ownership. The intention of the moves in this House and in the other place was to ensure that such a stock of houses remains available to people of modest means as a first step on the ladder through shared ownership with a housing association or other body. I have had a difference of opinion with the Government. At the suggestion of a number of organisations outside the House, I wanted to ban the staircasing of ownership to 100 per cent. We have had arguments across the Floor of the House about maintaining houses for shared ownership, and I have had arguments with the Government. When I failed to get my way in June, I gave notice that the Government would hear more about the issue. I said that the battle would be taken up again in the other place, and it was. Three weeks ago, Lords amendment No. 269 was debated in the other place and the Government were defeated by 111 votes to 38--a heavy defeat ; hence the Lords amendment.
If nothing had happened since that vote I should be taking a poor view of the timetable motion and should be encouraging my right hon. and hon. Friends once again to take on the Government and insist that something be done for rural housing. However, that is not necessary because the Government have taken some excellent and most welcome steps to help to ensure that a pool of housing will remain available for people of limited means as a first step to part ownership. The Government do not want to ban staircasing up to 100 per cent., as I do. They prefer that part owners who staircase ownership up to 100 per cent. and wish to sell their house must sell it back to the housing association from which they originally bought it. I found the Government's preference unattractive when it was announced by my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State because it was not properly backed by undertakings that sufficient and appropriate sums of money would be made available to organisations to use their pre-emptive right of repurchase rather than to allow the house, as currently happens, to be sold into the open market and therefore lost to the next generation of young couples in rural areas to start on the first step of home ownership. I am glad that the Government have given those clear undertakings that adequate funds will be available. My attitude has therefore changed.
I warmly welcome the Government's proposal. As I understand it, the cash will be available through a separate budget. I was pleased to hear that the Government have announced that they are inviting the Housing Corporation to propose a significant increase in its special rural programme for rented housing to allow 1,000 approvals next year, 1,200 in 1991-92 and 1,500 in 1992-93. The Housing Corporation is being invited to identify separately, for the first time, a rural element within its low-cost home ownership programme to allow 250 approvals next year, 300 in 1991-92 and 350 in 1992- 93. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning said : "This will be welcome news for young people in rural areas who want affordable housing without having to move away."
I strongly endorse that comment.
Mr. David Nicholson : My right hon. Friend knows the strong support that I and other Conservative Members have given him during this period. What have the organisations concerned with rural housing said about the arrangements?
In view of the Government's welcome change of mind, I have decided that I will not oppose their intention to remove Lords amendment No. 269 from the Bill. I do so on the basis that we try the Government's option for an experimental period of 18 months. I give notice that I shall expect the Government to carry out a review at the end of that period and that, if it has not worked out, I shall return to the matter.
Mr. Holt : I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has noted that, contrary to the parliamentary convention that a Member remains in the Chamber during the speech following his, the hon. Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks) is not present.
I come to the point about which my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) asked. I am supported in my view by many of the organisations that first drew the problem of rural housing to my attention. I shall quote only the National Agricultural Centre's Rural Trust which, referring to the period since the Government's defeat in another place, said :
"In the short time available, we have achieved the maximum possible with regard to guarantees concerning the financing of repurchase. We have therefore agreed that an 18-month trial period will help to ascertain whether Planning Committees and landowners--or their legal advisers--will find these guarantees sufficient."
I welcome the Government's action. It follows my efforts last year in the debate on the Local Government and Housing Bill to assist rural housing. On that occasion, I was backed by 65 of my right hon. and hon. Friends on an amendment to the right-to-buy provisions to ensure that council houses that had been sold to their tenants and had restrictive covenants placed upon them--whereby they remained occupied by local people--did not get out of that net through a loophole in the law, resulting in those houses being let as holiday homes. We closed that loophole. I am glad to say that this is the second year running when I have been able to do something to promote rural housing for local people.
Having been able to get off my chest a good many of the comments that I would have made had we not had the guillotine motion, I am glad to support the motion.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : I shall try to observe your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, about not engaging in comments on personalities. I must remind hon. Members that the House began to engage in such matters when the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and suggested that he did not deliver his speech with a straight face. My hon. Friend is a naturally pleasant person and his pleasant demeanour should not be mistaken for joviality. At least my hon. Friends have only one face, which is more than can be said for many Conservative Members.
The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce), who has left the Chamber, referred to the Local Government and Housing Bill and the activities and employment of
Column 1027councillors. I do not know what other jobs the hon. Gentleman has, but he certainly displayed all the qualities necessary to become a journalist for the Sun.
The Local Government and Housing Bill is a controversial and massive Bill. It will affect the housing of people in our constituencies and the administration of local government. It will place restrictions on elected members of councils. It will attack democracy by limiting the number of people who hold elected offices and restricting the political affiliation and activities of people employed by local government.
The Bill is an important piece of legislation on which, as one who has had some experience in local government, I should like to have spoken at length. The Opposition Benches are awash with Members with considerable local government experience and many points on the Bill have already been made.
Not many hon. Members, even on the Opposition Benches, have experience on the shop floor. Even fewer have spent considerable time as shop stewards for trade unions. In that respect, I consider myself to be part of a small, exclusive group. I shall therefore limit my remaining remarks to the Employment Bill. I support the remarks of the shadow Leader of the House-- my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)--and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). I was congratulating myself on remembering the hon. Gentleman's constituency of Orkney and Shetland when I realised that I could not remember the political party to which he belonged. However, that is by the by.
I served on the Standing Committee on the Employment Bill. I agree that the debates were constructive and were conducted efficiently and expeditiously. We covered all the clauses and schedules, and Report and Third Reading took place without any time restrictions. As far as I am aware, there were no time restrictions in the other place. It is therefore a bit galling that the passage of the Bill is to be marred by this guillotine motion when there is much more to discuss. It is disgraceful that the Government should seek to curtail debate on a Bill which the Leader of the House conceded was controversial and important. It affects workers' conditions and the welfare of millions of people. The Bill is a further example of the Government's antipathy towards working people in general and the trade union movement in particular. It further shifts the balance away from employees towards employers and is yet another example of the Tory party's master and servant mentality.
The Bill and many of the Lords amendments are riddled with cynicism. On the pretext of opening up new opportunities for women, for example, the Bill opens up the possibility of women working below ground in the coal mines. Some people might ask why I should criticise that because it is part of equality for women at work. However, the Government have not addressed the fact that conditions underground are not suitable for women and they have no intention of addressing that problem before bringing in this legislation. When taken in connection with the Social Security Act 1989, the Bill provides for women to have their unemployment benefit stopped if they refuse to take employment down the mines--although the conditions are not suitable for them--under the "actively seeking work" rule.
Column 1028On the pretext of opening up new opportunities for young people, the Bill opens up further opportunities for exploitation by employers, which has implications for the health and safety of young people in employment. On the pretext of opening up new opportunities for meaningful training, the Bill destroys the former tripartite arrangements for training and hands total power, and a considerable amount of taxpayers' money, to private employers who are elected by no one and responsible to no one and who represent no interests other than those of employers and business.
The final insult to add to injury is that it is claimed that the Bill will lift barriers to employment. In practice, it will make it easier for employers to sack workers without having to give them reasons and to avoid paying proper compensation when they are sacking them.
The Lords amendments, which we are now to consider in a restricted time, cover important issues which deserve more time than we are to be allowed. They include health and safety at work, the administration of safety procedures, and the welfare and conditions of women at work. The time set out in the motion to discuss those important issues is wholly inadequate, so the House should reject the motion.
Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : As I said at the time, I greatly welcomed the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and the news he brought to the House. Apart from that speech, this afternoon and last night have been miserable occasions for the House and the conduct of our business.
I want to talk about the housing aspects of the Local Government and Housing Bill because, as the Opposition recognise, I am interested in these matters. However, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) promised us more "guillotines" if there were ever a Labour Government, I want to reflect on the origin of that word.
The British historian Thomas Carlyle described the originator of the term as a "respectable practitioner". If he had not been a Frenchman, I suspect that he might have been a member of the British Medical Association. Carlyle reports that Dr. Guillotin brought forward a proposal to improve the ventilation of the hall in which the National Assembly met. Perhaps we could do with his services sometimes in this Chamber. Carlyle continues :
"but greater far, he can produce his Report on the Penal Code', and reveal therein a cunningly devised Beheading Machine which product popular gratitude or levity christens by a feminine derivative name, as if it were his daughter : La Guillotine! " Carlyle concludes :
"Unfortunate Doctor! For two-and-twenty years he, unguillotined, shall hear nothing but guillotine, see nothing but guillotine ; then dying, shall through long centuries wander, as it were, a disconsolate ghost his name like to outlive Caesar's."
I fear that we may recall that in future timetable debates. I sat through most of Monday's proceedings and spoke on Monday. I can confirm the judgment of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House that we debated the issues in an orderly and sensible way on Monday despite the fact that, as I reminded the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), one of the issues was the community charge, which I would have thought was a fairly major issue between the Government and the Opposition.
Column 1029I have shown a considerable interest in the housing aspects of the Bill. I spoke principally on housing on Second and Third Readings and two or three times in Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale has dealt with one source of concern on housing. However, another important issue--which, I regret, we shall have a limited time to debate because of the Opposition's antics yesterday--is the preservation of council accommodation for old people in relation to giving them the right to buy.
I have somewhat conflicting views on that issue and I have had representations in opposite directions from my constituents. The Opposition made a legitimate point in the other place--no doubt it will be made again this afternoon--about the danger of limiting council accommodation by extending the right to buy to that accommodation, especially in areas where council accommodation is limited. I hope that the housing officer of my own local authority, Taunton Deane, will not mind me quoting from his letter. He says : "To expose these properties to the Right to Buy would increase the risk of abuse, i.e. the real motivation for purchase may not come from the elderly secure tenant but instead the prime mover may be a younger relative with an eye on the inheritance The effect of these proposals will be particularly severe in certain rural locations where a small group of properties (normally bungalows) are specifically reserved for the elderly."
From my constituency surgery experience, I can testify to the son-in-law situation. On two occasions, elderly constituents have come to me accompanied by their sons-in-law. In one case, an elderly constituent had a flat with stairs and because that person suffered badly from arthritis, it was unsuitable accommodation. The council was able to rehouse my constituent in a ground floor flat which was far more suitable to that person's condition. It was then discovered--I must confess that my authority was somewhat at fault for not having made it clear--that this accommodation was designed for old people and therefore was not subject to the right to buy. My constituent was angry, but the son-in-law was angrier. I am sure that the House will appreciate the concerns and issues involved. There is a danger of abuse if the earlier Lords amendment is sustained. Others may ask why we should not extend the right to buy to elderly people. Again I must cite a constituency case. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is not here, because he would be interested in my next point. In my constituency and elsewhere in the south-west, including the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), the Secretary of State for Defence, there are a number of properties that were formerly Greater London council homes for retired people. When the GLC was abolished, there were discussions about what should be done with those homes. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West has rejoined us.
At first, the idea was--and this would seem logical--that the local district council should take over these GLC retirement homes. For some reason, which I have never been able to ascertain, the Association of District Councils turned that down. As a result, the homes went to one housing association, which recently sold them to another housing association. There are a number of issues involved. A year ago, people asked me, "Why do we not have the right to buy?" I am afraid that even if we carried the earlier
Column 1030amendment passed in the other place, they would not have the right to buy because a housing association owns the properties. Perhaps the Minister will elucidate during our debate on the Lords amendments. It is an important point that I should have liked to have time to explore during our debates on the Bill.
Mr. Holt : I am not sure where my hon. Friend's sympathy lies. Suppose that one partner is old and the other much younger. Surely the older partner would want to ensure the younger's security and would want the right to buy even if he or she was an old age pensioner.
Mr. Tony Banks : Does the hon. Gentleman recall why those seaside and country homes were built or purchased by the London county council, and then the GLC? It was to give elderly Londoners the opportunity to move to more pleasant surroundings in their twilight years. All that has gone now, and the sale of the houses will ensure that there is no future possibility of nominating Londoners to enjoy the benefits of seaside and country air. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that that ought to be taken into account?
Mr. Nicholson : I do not wish to prolong my speech, although the hon. Gentleman has made a legitimate point. If we had been able to debate these matters properly yesterday, we should certainly have wanted to discuss this point.
I am in a dilemma, although, on the whole, I welcome the judgment of Solomon that my hon. Friend the Minister has made on the Opposition amendment carried in the other place, which he will put to the House shortly.
I understand that, as so often on these occasions, the practices in the House yesterday did not represent a sustained attempt by the official Opposition to delay business. When guillotine motions were introduced by the Labour Government of the 1970s, they were, I suspect, the result of sustained resistance by a united Conservative party to a number of controversial measures. Increasingly--we hear this from the more approachable Opposition Members--such occasions are maverick occasions and do not represent official resistance.
Mr. Battle : I sat through the whole debate on housing yesterday. The speeches are there in Hansard for all to read. We dealt with very few of the major issues because of the large number of Government amendments on the Amendment Paper.
Is the hon. Member now telling the House that the debates that we had on rents--