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House of Commons

Friday 5 June 1992

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Stag Hunting (New Forest)

9.34 am

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) : I should like to present a petition which calls for a ban on stag hunting in the New forest. The petition has been signed by 36,563 people. They believe that seeking pleasure through the pursuit, terrorising, exhausting and killing of New forest deer is barbaric and unacceptable and should be outlawed immediately.

The petition reads :

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. The Humble Petition of Citizens of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, sheweth :

(1) That Fallow Buck are chased to exhaustion and death purely for pleasure within the New Forest ;

(2) This causes unnecessary suffering to the buck.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will take all such measures as lie within their power to make illegal the hunting of Fallow Buck with hounds. And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray etc.

To lie upon the Table.


Boundary Commissions

Mr. Secretary Clarke, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Howard, Mr. Secretary Hunt, Mr. Secretary Lang, Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew and Mr. Peter Lloyd, presented a Bill to make further provision with respect to the membership of the Boundary Commissions, the timing of their reports and the local government boundaries of which account is to be taken in their reports : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Monday 8 June and to be printed. [Bill 11.]

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Maastricht Treaty

9.35 am

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Do you read the Daily Mirror ? It has this morning published a poll about a referendum on Maastricht. You have heard the exchanges here in the course of this week. You know what a wonderful week those of us who realise that Maastricht has been an unmitigated disaster have had. The poll in the Daily Mirror --a very authentic poll--shows that the British people are 7 : 1 against. Now we all know that during the general election the polls got it wrong. But 7 : 1--I ask you! There is a big margin for error. I think that there should be a statement from the responsible Minister.

Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman knows that that is by no means a point of order for the Chair. It is nothing that I can deal with this morning.

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Tenants' Rights

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Lightbown.]

9.36 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry) : We talk a lot here about housing policy, but we need to be clear what and who matters in social housing--that is council and housing association housing. It is the tenant, the

customer--people--who matter. Often it is the tenant who knows best. The basis of the Government's approach to social housing is flexibility, quality of service, choice wherever possible and, above all, tenant involvement. The best way to achieve involvement is to give the tenants the opportunity to make clear what they want. People know what they want. They also know that they do not want to be told what is best for them. They want to exercise their power to choose and we want to make sure that they have the power to choose. That is a message which the citizens charter sends loud and clear. As the Prime Minister has said :

"the Citizen's Charter is not a recipe for more state action ; it is a testament of our belief in people's right to be informed and to choose for themselves."

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Baldry : If I may finish this point, the hon. Gentleman may have some comment to make on what I am about to say.

I am glad to say that it is not just the Government who have realised that people should have a right to be informed and the right to choose for themselves. In an interesting "Newsnight" exchange the other day during a half-hour investigation into why the Labour party lost the general election, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who is, of course, shadow spokesman on the environment, said that it was the Labour party's

"perhaps old-fashioned tendency to treat people in large groups as welfare recipients and I think people don't see themselves in those terms any longer. They see themselves as individuals exercising choice, freedom and power and they want to be able to be empowered to do that. That's the role of Government."

We all say alleluiah to that.

Mr. Fraser : Will the Government introduce a right for tenants to take over the management in the same way as they have a right to buy and, in some circumstances, to acquire freehold? My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and I advocated six years ago in Committee when we were housing spokesmen that tenants should have the right to take over the management. It was resisted then by the Government. Will the Government give that right, which cannot be vetoed by a public housing authority?

Mr. Baldry : I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman's comments because, if he bears with me, he will hear some good news about the right to management.

I want all local authority landlords to accept that tenants have a right to be involved in the running of their estates. More than that, I want all tenants to have the opportunity actively to participate. There is a clear link between quality of service and tenant involvement. Of course tenants, as customers, should command the highest standards of service, but large numbers of tenants are not

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content with that--they want more. They see participation as a way of taking a lead in transforming the quality of life for their community.

Although tenant participation in management need not involve the transfer of ownership of estates from local authorities, tenants have a greater say in the decisions made about their own homes and their own lives. To be successful, that requires information and the empowerment of tenants. Tenants have a statutory right to be consulted.

Consultation is more than merely talking to tenants ; it is about tenants actively participating in the management of their estates--the point that the hon. Gentleman just made. Enlightened local authorities see tenant participation not as a threat but as an enhancement of service delivery to their customers. This is happening at an increasing pace ; 47 tenant management organisations have so far been approved by the Secretary of State, with a further 44 in development phase.

Ms. Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) : Does the Minister include the tenant's right to be involved in the allocation of flats and houses on their estates in his definition of participation, consultation and management?

Mr. Baldry : Allocations policy must be for the local authorities to decide. In areas such as the borough that the hon. Lady represents, what gives rise to concern is the number of units of accommodation that the local authority is having difficulty in allocating because they are lying void, or are occupied by unlicensed occupiers, about which I shall say more later.

Tenant management is not an easy option for tenants. Management of council estates is a complex business which requires specific skills. That is why the development of a tenant management organisation may take up to two years. It is clearly important that the training of managers is seen as a priority. We are providing funding for the development of the Institute of Housing's new national certificate in tenant participation. Aimed at housing officers and tenants, it is geared towards increasing the number of trained tenant participation workers. We are also promoting the national housing and tenant resource centre which, when it opens in 1993, will be the first residential training centre in the United Kingdom specifically dedicated to housing management.

Although the task of tenant management may be daunting, the rewards are immense and measurable ; void rates reduced, vandalism reduced, litter and graffiti reduced and repair rates improved. All these are matters of concern to tenants and all are being tackled head on by local, highly motivated managers. I might mention, for example, the achievements of the tenants of Maiden lane in Camden. They wanted real influence over a wide range of concerns. They wanted a more active economy and a better life for their children and young people on their estates. While they were still working up their estate management board, which has recently been approved, the tenants on that previously depressed estate became actively concerned about youth provision and successfully sought Prince's Trust money. Another commendable example of tenant management is Action 5 Tenant Management Co- operative. Those visiting the Meadow Well estate in Newcastle after last year's disturbances will see the people who run that co-operative patiently picking up the threads of their

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community. Alderwood is a developing tenant management co-operative in Middlesbrough, where the tenants have demonstrated an eagerness and drive to become more involved in making their own decisions. The South Bank Estate Management Board within Langbaurgh on Tees is a developing estate management board, near to approval, where tenants want to take control of lettings, repairs, maintenance and the estate budget.

Practically every week we hear of new initiatives for tenants who want to become involved in the running of their estates. This week's edition of Inside Housing makes it clear that there are distinct benefits for councils seeking to change and that a growing impetus is coming from tenants. Working together has reached a point where there is no going back. As one tenant resident said in Kirklees : "The council officers were very arrogant towards us at first but once they realised we were here to stay they completely changed and now it's a matter of working together as partners."

Another resident in Leeds observed

"We are full of praise for the benefits the association's new relationship with the council has brought not least in overcoming some older tenants' fears that to tackle the council is to invite the wrath of a faceless bureaucracy."

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich) : Could the Minister be more precise about the definition of tenants? He talked about the benefits and advantages which derive from tenant participation and involvement, including bringing void properties back into use, and all hon. Members would agree with that. However, all his examples relate to local authority tenants. Does he accept that many private sector tenants face serious problems? What do the Government intend to do to encourage greater opportunities for participation by those tenants to help bring back into use many privately owned empty properties?

Mr. Baldry : The thrust of my speech is about tenants of local authorities and housing associations. The relationship between private tenants and their landlords is contractual. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning made clear during the general election campaign, there is concern about private tenants, and I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) and others will mention the large increases in registered rents, especially in London.

We undertook to review the guidance given to rent officers and rent assessment committees. I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) and my hon. Friends that we shall shortly publish a paper inviting submissions on the issue to be made to us, and we shall give hon. Members who are concerned about the matter the opportunity to make detailed representations.

I welcome the conversion of Opposition Members to participation. Mr. Raynsford indicated dissent.

Mr. Baldry : The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but not so long ago the Labour party was generally hostile to the concept of participation. When the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) was director of the Child Poverty Action Group he referred to the "serfdom" of the council estate. During the last Labour Government, in a report entitled, "Do we need council housing?", he observed : "some people will argue that municipal housing as such is a very good thing. That certainly does not tally with my experience of being on a council for 4 years when we were not receptive to the needs of many ordinary families."

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Mr. Raynsford : It was in the 1960s.

Mr. Baldry : No, in the late 1970s. The transition has been caused by the Conservatives taking forward philosophy and thinking, which the Opposition have had to keep up with. The National Consumer Council at the time described many council tenancy arrangements as "one-sided, primitive and incomprehensible". In an attempt to catch up, the Labour party began to publish many consultation and policy papers, one of which, as recently as 1989, provoked the comment from the liaison officer of Sheffield's federation of tenants' and residents' associations--one cannot get a greater monument to corporate socialism than Sheffield--

"Labour clearly hasn't spoken to the users of the service. To be honest, most of what I see here"

in the policy review

"is paternalistic garbage. It still boils down to we know what's best for you'."

I am delighted that that is no longer part of Labour party philosophy, but we brought about that transformation as a result of driving forward initiatives.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : Let us get back to reality. Today's debate is about tenants' rights and participation. It refers not to council tenants, but, presumably to all tenants. Do tenants in the private sector have rights? I want to hear what those rights will be.

I have a specific question for the Minister. Until the general election, it was the Government's clear policy, explicitly stated by previous Secretaries of State, that councils should no longer be providers of housing. Do the Government still pursue that policy?

Mr. Baldry : The answer is straightforward. Tenants in the private sector have rights. They are clear, statutory rights set out in legislation.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's second question is also very clear. I understand that he was the Labour party's housing spokesman in the previous Parliament. He will have been involved in considering recent legislation. He will know that we see local authorities as being enablers of housing provision and as landlords. As enablers, they should liaise with housing associations to provide housing. It is a matter of concern that many local authorities and elected councillors do not appreciate that their role is an enabling rather than a providing one.

Mr. Soley : That is a dodge with a vengeance. The former right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury and all his predecessors as Minister made it clear that the Government's policy was to end the councils' role as providers of housing. Everyone has always agreed that they have an enabling role, too--there has been no argument about that. The issue is whether they should be providers. Is it still the Government's view that they should cease to be providers--yes or no?

Mr. Baldry : The answer is that local authorities are enablers and they, together with housing associations and others and the private sector, should provide. Their principal role, however, is as enablers. It is surprising that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, who was doubtless involved in Standing Committee debates in the previous Parliament, finds that concept difficult to understand. The primary role of local authorities is as enablers. Of course, they still will have--and many do have--a responsibility as landlords. It is of concern to us that many of them, in exercising their responsibility as landlords, are failing in

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that duty to themselves and to their tenants. However, their primary responsibility as enablers is to make things happen.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : In answer to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), my hon. Friend made it clear that the Government policy has not changed in that respect and that local authorities are not envisaged as providers. Therefore, the new build programme in local authorities is very limited. Will my hon. Friend's speech cover the Government's policies for ensuring that housing associations are able to build in every local authority area. I am particularly thinking of those in the south and south-west where there is a considerable shortage of low-cost housing for rent. Will my hon. Friend ensure that housing associations are able to take on those tasks effectively and speedily? He will be aware of the campaign waged by The Western Morning News in the south-west on releasing more capital assets to enable local authorities to build more houses. If local authorities cannot do that--some of us accept that that may have to change--housing associations must be able to do it.

Mr. Baldry : I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. We have substantially increased this year's budget for the Housing Corporation to nearly £2 billion, which will substantially increase the number of units that it can build--up to 55,000 for each year in 1993 and 1994. Within that budget we expect it to allocate resources according to need, including allocating resources to rural areas. The Housing Corporation has a special housing programme for rural areas, in addition to the moneys that it would normally advance to housing associations in those areas. We also want to ensure that those moneys reach the smallest villages. It has a special rural programme for that purpose. We have made available special capital allocations to rural local authorities to assist them. Ensuring that there is an adequate and good supply of housing in rural areas is just as important as making adequate provision in urban areas. We must never forget that.

Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West) : In response to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), my hon. Friend suggested that the main thrust of his speech would concern the tenants of local authorities. Some of us are concerned about the way in which the tenants of some housing associations are being treated on matters such as repairs and prompt service. Will my hon. Friend deal with that during his speech?

Mr. Baldry : I hope that I have made it clear that I am concerned for all tenants--tenants of local authorities and housing associations--and what we want to promulgate in all our policy is best practice. I will say something about extending best practice to the tenants of housing associations.

For some years, widening choice for tenants and giving them more say in their housing has been a major policy initiative of the Conservative party and the Conservative Government. With the citizens charter, tenants' choice and involvement will be further reinforced through strengthened rights to repair and improve, estate action, housing action trusts, right to buy, rents to mortgages and leasehold reform.

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In January, we launched the new council tenants charter. It shows tenants how they may get better value for money and higher standards of service from their landlords, what to do if things go wrong, and, most importantly, how they can take a more active role in running their housing. It provides examples of best practice and it is a framework of action by tenants and landlords for the future. The charter strengthens existing rights. In particular, we intend to introduce legislation for an improved right-to-repair scheme in the Housing, Land and Urban Development Bill this autumn. It will give local authority tenants a simpler and stronger right to repair than they have now for the most urgent minor repairs. Tenants would contact approved contractors direct when their landlord has not carried out a repair covered by the scheme within a specified target time and the local authority would pay the contractor direct.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) : Does the hon. Gentleman recall the mid 1980s when the original right-to-repair scheme, was introduced? Perhaps his hon. Friends would like to help him remember. At that time, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of District Councils went to the Government and said that the scheme would not work, that it would be a bureaucratic nightmare, that it would be impossible to operate, that no one would use it and that no one would benefit in getting better repairs. We in the local authority associations offered a much simpler, alternative scheme that the Government of the day turned down. Will the Minister tell us whether the proposed right-to-repair scheme is the one that was turned down by Ministers at that time? Is he intending to reintroduce it?

Mr. Baldry : The scheme that we intend to introduce will give local authority tenants a simpler and stronger right to repairs. That is what we wish to be achieved. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and Labour- controlled associations, such as the AMA, will be keen to co-operate to ensure that the tenants' right to repair is upheld and that the most urgent minor repairs are dealt with as speedily as possible.

We promised in our manifesto to give tenants a new right to improve. Currently, secure tenants of local authorities and housing associations can carry out improvements to their properties with their landlord's permission. When the tenant moves on, the landlord may decide to pay the tenant compensation reflecting the investment made in the property, but he may not. Few tenants of local authorities or housing associations take advantage of their right to improve and many local authorities do not use their powers to pay compensation. That is why we have decided to extend and improve the existing scheme.

We propose to place on landlords a duty to pay compensation to tenants who have made improvements to their properties. That will give tenants the necessary security to proceed, in the knowledge that they will receive proper recompense if they move to another dwelling. We are drawing up detailed proposals and will consult all interested parties later this year.

I am afraid that there are still many manifestations of bad housing management in the local authority sector, such as high void and arrears rates, long turn-round times between lettings, squatting, vandalism on estates and slow processing of right-to-buy claims. I note that the hon.

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Member for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey) has left the Chamber. Practically every week one reads of fresh difficulties being experienced by local authorities in carrying out their proper role as landlords. This week's Municipal Journal reports that Southwark, which is London's largest housing authority, with nearly two thirds of its population as council tenants, estimates that 20 per cent. of its stock is illegally occupied. It is difficult to have an allocations policy if 20 per cent. of one's stock is illegally occupied. Southwark's new housing chairman, Mike Gibson, is reported to have warned that Labour could lose control of the borough if the illegal occupation of council homes was not sorted out. He claimed that up to one in five council homes could be illegally occupied in the borough, he called for an immediate clampdown on freeloaders who did not deserve a council home and, with 55,000 homes on Southwark's books, Councillor Gibson said he believed that up to 11,000 homes could be illegally occupied. When it is borne in mind that there are currently 15,000 people on the council's housing waiting list, the fact that 11,000 homes are illegally occupied, in the largest housing authority in London, must be a matter for concern.

That is why we are introducing performance indicators. Those indicators are central to the improvement of housing management. I hope that the residents and tenants of Southwark--indeed, of other local authorities which have high void rates--will make it clear to their elected councillors that such conduct by them as landlords is no longer acceptable.

Mr. Fraser : It should be made clear that the phrase "illegally occupied" means, in that context, that the person whose name is on the rent book may not be the person who is occupying the property, even though that person is paying the rent. It is not the same as squatting-- [Interruption.] I recognise that it is a real problem, but the Minister should be fair about it. If we were to get rid of people whose names were not on the rent book, we would have an equally difficult housing problem. I am not saying that we should be complacent about it, but the Minister should not give the impression that these are void or vacant properties or even properties that are not occupied by people in housing need.

Mr. Baldry : I hope that Hansard will record with care what the hon. Gentleman said and that all my hon. Friends who represent London constituencies will make sure that his words are carried far and wide in London. The hon. Gentleman is advocating that it is fine if one is an illegal tenant or occupant so long as one pays the rent. One can buy the keys from whoever one likes--if the caretaker is flogging off keys-- providing one pays the rent. In that case one is okay. It is no wonder 20 per cent. of Southwark's housing is illegally occupied if elected representatives to this place seem to see no difference between illegal occupation and squatting, the only difference being that someone is paying the rent.

I find that staggering. I am sure that many people living in London and waiting for tenancies will find such complacency absolutely staggering. I hope that that will be made clear to everyone living in boroughs where there is housing stress, for it is little wonder that their local Labour councils find it difficult to cope with voids and illegal occupation when their elected representatives are so complacent.

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Mr. Soley : My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) was not advocating anything. I hope that the Minister will read carefully in Hansard what he said because he will note that it is a complicated problem rather than a nice simple one-- [Interruption.] I urge him to read the Official Report, though I accept that the Minister may need some advice to understand the position. Indeed, to understand it one must know something about the housing and legal problems involved.

Will the performance indicators that apply to local authorities also apply to the Government, who have 16 per cent. of their housing stock empty, which is far higher than even the worst local authority anywhere in the country?

Mr. Baldry : Hon. Members need not read Hansard to know what the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) said. He was clearly saying that it was perfectly all right to have illegal occupation, providing someone was paying the rent.

Mr. Fraser rose --

Mr. Baldry : That is a recipe for selling keys and for increasing the numbers in illegal occupation. We shall all be able to read his comments in the Official Report, and I hope that his words will be read widely abroad.

Mr. Fraser rose --

Mr. Baldry : I will not give way. It is no good the hon. Gentleman seeking now to justify what he said.

Mr. Fraser : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It will be within the recollection of the House that I asked the Minister to give a factual description, and I said that there was no case for complacency. I used words to the effect that there was no complacency over these matters. It is a courtesy of the House, if one hon. Member misrepresents what another hon. Member has said, to give an opportunity for the hon. Member concerned to counter the allegation, which in this case was wholly wrongly based in relation to what I said.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : That is not a point of order for the Chair. Hon. Members are aware of the arrangements that exist here. It is up to the hon. Member who has the Floor to decide whether to give way. Whether it is wise to do so is not for me to judge.

Mr. Baldry : All Members present and anyone who reads the Official Report will be able to judge what the hon. Gentleman said. He is a former Minister. I hope that as many people as possible in London will have an opportunity to read in full what he said.

Mr. Raynsford rose--

Mr. Baldry : I will give way to the hon. Gentleman shortly, after I have answered the question put by the hon. Member for Hammersmith about performance indicators, but we must make progress.

The Government will set themselves high standards in seeking to reduce voids in Government properties. We are determined to do that and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the targets that we shall be setting ourselves will be as tough as, if not tougher than, any target we set for local authorities.

The performance indicators are central to the improvement of housing management. Authorities are now required to reply annually to tenants on their

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performance on a wide range of housing management functions, such as their repairs and maintenance services, levels of rent arrears and empty properties. We are currently evaluating the first reports. Councils are now more accountable to their tenants as their customers, so tenants are able, for the first time, to judge the service being provided by their landlord, to compare it with others and to participate more fully.

One of our undoubted success stories has been the estate action programme, which aims to transform rundown local authority housing estates into places where people want to live. As well as physical improvements to estates, the measures that estate action promotes are intended to involve tenants in their management as well as providing them with choice in housing and opportunity for economic and social development and employment. The success of estate action is underpinned by the development of an effective partnership between the authority and tenants.

I am also glad to say that we now see the results of other Government initiatives to involve tenants, such as the success of the housing action trust programme. Two HATs have now been established in Hull and in Waltham Forest. The ballot of tenants in Liverpool will start on 20 July. With more than 5,000 tenants in Liverpool eligible to vote, it could be the largest HAT to date and could bring extensive improvements in housing in Liverpool. We are also discussing further HAT proposals with the local authorities in Birmingham, Brent and Tower Hamlets and it is hoped that the tenants in each of these areas will be given an early opportunity to vote for a HAT.

As a consequence of the citizens charter initiative, tenants have now been given the opportunity to propose HATs for their own estates and we hope that many will do so. By ensuring their participation in making crucial decisions, HATs will guarantee a sense of pride and ownership among tenants of some of the most rundown estates. We have also been active in promoting the interests of housing association tenants. Under new powers in the Housing Act 1988, the Housing Corporation has issued "The Tenants' Guarantee". It sets out basic performance standards for housing associations and gives important rights and expectations to new housing association tenants. The Housing Corporation has also issued housing associations with detailed performance criteria and has introduced a regime of key performance indicators to assess how well associations are measuring up to the task.

The Housing Corporation's new "Strategy for Tenant Participation" sets out five objectives to encourage greater tenant involvement in the management of housing association stock. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington will be keen to know that the package includes revised performance expectations to encourage more housing associations to give greater say to their tenants, increasingly through delegated management, co -operation with the Housing Corporation to deliver our manifesto commitment to set up an independent ombudsman to handle tenants' complaints, targeted revenue grants to support major investment schemes with substantial tenant involvement, backed up by national investment targets for tenant-controlled developments, an emphasis on extending the range of participation options

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open to tenants and three-year regional tenant participation strategies which set out targets and resources required.

We are, of course, still committed to helping all the tenants who want to buy their own homes. The introduction of a statutory rents-to-mortgages scheme will offer a valuable new route into home ownership for tenants who are financially secure but cannot quite afford the full right-to-buy price.

Rents-to-mortgages has been successfully piloted in the new towns of Basildon and Milton Keynes. The evidence from those pilots is that some tenants who would not have been able to become owner-occupiers under the right to buy were able to afford to purchase on rents-to-mortgages terms. We intend to introduce legislation this autumn, as promised in our manifesto, so that this new low-risk route into owner-occupation is also open to local authority tenants. We are also concerned to empower tenants in the private sector. To assist leaseholders who wish to take over the freehold of their block and have a greater say in its management, we have decided to give long leaseholders in residential flats the right to enfranchise. They will be able to purchase collectively the freehold of their block at market value or collectively agree to nominate a third party purchaser.

Mr. Raynsford : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Baldry : No, because I have given way a lot.

It is our intention and commitment that a decent home should be within reach of every family. Our policies for social housing are designed to provide the improvements in standards and opportunities for tenants to control and influence their own housing. We are fast moving away from the old municipal paternalism whereby tenants were told what was best for them and we are moving fast towards arrangements that give people more choice and encourage fresh ideas and solutions to management problems. The measures we are taking encourage tenants to take control not just of their own lives but of the environment in which they live. In this way, we are reversing neglect and mismanagement and substituting sensitive local management directed at the needs of tenants rather than the needs of some distant landlord.

There is increasing awareness of the need to treat the customer and people with respect, to consult, to deliver effective service, to report on performance and to respond to the signals the customer sends. With this Government, people matter, tenants matter. We are committed to securing a better deal for council tenants. We will introduce more choice, improve management of estates and create new rights as part of the tenants charter. Our aim will be to give tenants a choice of landlord wherever possible, and to make management of both council and housing association stock more responsive to the needs of tenants.

We will improve the way in which council housing is managed by bringing in new private sector providers operating on contract to the local authority. We will introduce more competition and choice, thereby improving services to the tenant and increasing accountability ; and we intend to give council tenants new opportunities themselves to improve the flats or houses in which they

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