Page last updated at 22:05 GMT, Monday, 31 March 2008 23:05 UK

Rebel MPs lose council house vote

Council homes
The rebels wanted more money to repair and build council homes

Thirty Labour MPs have rebelled against the government to call for more money for council house building and repair.

In one of the biggest revolts since Gordon Brown became prime minister they called for more money to "acquire, rehabilitate, and build" more homes.

They were backed by the Liberal Democrats, but the move was rejected by a margin of more than three to one.

Ministers said it was unnecessary as Labour had increased spending on social housing by 30% since coming to power.

The rebels included five former ministers, Frank Dobson, Peter Kilfoyle, Michael Meacher, Frank Field, and Kate Hoey.

'Unrealistic'

It follows other parliamentary revolts over post offices closures and the war in Iraq in the past two weeks.

The first amendment to the Housing and Regeneration Bill called for more resources to build and repair council homes - but was rejected by 259 votes to 74, a majority of 185.

This is the return of the council house
Iain Wright
Communities minister

Mr Meacher said the supply of council housing needed to be vastly increased and it was "unrealistic" to rely on the private sector to build the required homes.

A second amendment called for more "accurate" and "balanced" information to tenants whose councils are considering stock transfers, which was rejected by 263 votes to 210 - a majority of 53.

Labour's Austin Mitchell said the changes would prevent the "bribery, bamboozlement and bullying" of councils into privatising housing stock.

Transfer ballots

He said some ballots on stock transfer were "a travesty of democracy from which [Zimbabwe's] President Mugabe has almost certainly learnt lessons, from his observers in this country".

But junior communities minister Iain Wright said it was a "myth" that the government had "starved council housing of funds", saying there had been a 30% real terms increase in council house spending.

Winding up the debate, he said the amendment on council house funding was unnecessary because the secretary of state was already required to act "reasonably" in allocating the annual subsidy.

Insisting that the Bill would create incentives for councils to build more homes, he said: "We are moving into an exciting new era where ... we make sure councils have a direct delivery role.

"This is the return of the council house."

But he conceded that some stock transfer ballots had been "slightly one-sided" at times and agreed to have talks with Mr Mitchell with a view to tabling amendments in the Lords.

The Bill was given a third reading without a vote and now goes to the Lords.



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