HC Deb 10 March 1980 vol 980 cc935-1007 3.57 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I beg to move, That this House deplores the housing policies of Her Majesty's Government, which are making it more expensive to buy or rent a home than at any time in this country's history. The debate is about the high cost of Conservativism—the price that a Tory Government requires to be paid by owner-occupiers, by council tenants and by tenants of private landlords. That price was not mentioned in last May's Conservative manifesto. Indeed, the Conservative Party posed, above all other things, as the friend of the owner-occupiers. By posing as their friend it won thousands of votes by literal deception.

The election is over, and the families who were deceived face the need to pay the highest mortgage rate in our history. In addition to that burden, we are about to see the biggest increase in council house rents in our history, and the tenants of private landlords can look forward simply to paying higher rents and enjoying less security of tenure.

The debate about a related housing subject—the virtual ending of council house building, and the damage being caused by the policies of the Secretary of State for the Environment to hundreds of improvement schemes—must wait for another day. However, we wish to discuss the housing investment programme statement made by the Secretary of State on 21 February, intentionally late and intentionally inadequate. The full debate on that subject will not take place today, but there is one aspect of his announcement that must be dealt with now, namely, the correction that he attempted to make—quite wrongly—between previous years of low council rents and the recent reductions in council house building.

The implication of that statement was quite clear—that a high rents policy would enable councils to meet housing needs more easily. Whatever the Government's reason for forcing up council house rents it is not their intention to increase council house building. The Secretary of State's statement about meeting the needs and problems that have become increasingly specific and increasingly local is, quite frankly, no more than a bad joke. In most of the areas where the local and specific needs are greatest the Government have ended council house building altogether.

In town after town the housing investment programme allocation, which is supposed to finance new building, mortgages and investment programmes, will barely cover the cost of work that was started this year or last year, and, because of its size and its scope must be paid for next year and the year after.

I wish to give three examples of the intolerable situation that the Government have wilfully created, although there are many more authorities who are placed in that same intolerable position.

My first example is the city of Sheffield. After meeting obligations on outstanding contracts, Sheffield will be left with a little in excess of £500,000 in its housing investment programme allocation for next year. That is enough to build about 40 new houses in Sheffield in 1980–81.

The city of Bristol needed £40 million to meet its outstanding commitments on work already begun. It was allocated £12 million.

Camden has £45 million already committed to work in hand. It was allocated £44 million. In those boroughs, in and outside London, the net result of Conservative policy is no new housing at all. That is not surprising, since this year's housing investment allocation is 33.4 per cent. lower than last year's.

I hope that in passing I may explain to the Secretary of State how much we hope that we shall be spared nonsensical excuses about councils in previous years not using all their available funds. Next year local authorities are being offered 21 per cent. less than they will actually spend this year. It is a matter not of margins to allow for councils that do not want to press forward but of literal reductions in the money available, comparing what the Government will give with what has recently been spent. It is a matter of wilfully reducing the numbers of council houses that are built and completed.

As well as this level of housing investment allocation bringing to an end council house building in areas that most need council house building, since that same sum is supposed to finance improvement and rehabilitation programmes and mortgage schemes, many of those will be wound up during 1980–81 because there will be no money to finance them.

It is no wonder that the Tory chairman of the Association of District Councils said that he regarded the proposals as very grim and that a substantial number of the nation's older houses would decline beyond the point of no return. That is part of the legacy that the Conservative Party will pass on to its successors—years in which the housing stock will deteriorate and in which the number of new houses for rent in the municipal sector will decline.

The net result of the Government's policy—their reductions in investment and their insistence on increases in rents—is that they are now offering council tenants the opportunity of getting much worse and paying much more, for as the quality of houses deteriorates their rents will continue to increase. This year the average increase in council rents will be about 28 per cent.—an average figure of between £1.80 and £2. I give three typical examples.

First, after the rate support grant announcement, the city of Birmingham decided to make increases of up to £3 on its rents—rents that now have an average value of £9.04. It also decided to extend its normal practice from a 48-week collection to a 52-week collection. It had planned an increase in rents of between 21 per cent. and 22 per cent.—an increase that it hoped would last for at least a year—but, as a result of the Secretary of State's statement, when he announced the housing investment programme allocations and his desire that rents should go up by a further 60p during the autumn the Conservative-controlled housing committee in Birmingham at its next meeting will have to discuss what additions it should make to an already substantial rent increase of between 21 per cent. and 22 per cent.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

To illuminate the debate, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what proportion of average earnings these new rents will be and how they compare with the figures for five years and 10 years ago?

Mr. Hattersley

Yes. The comparison is easy to make. The increase for which the Secretary of State is asking is 28 per cent. That 28 per cent. is substantially more than wage increases that have been enjoyed throughout the country. The net result of that simple arithmetical sum is that people will be paying a larger proportion of their net income in view of what has been decided this year.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

The right hon. Gentleman may not have heard the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley). He asked the right hon. Gentleman to compare it as a proportion of income five years and 10 years ago.

Mr. Hattersley

I cannot do it for either of those periods. However, I can make the comparison that is important for today's debate. It is a substantially increased proportion of income, comparing the period of the Labour Government before May 1979 and the period of the Conservative Government. The net result of the 28 per cent. increase is that the Secretary of State wants council house tenants to pay more of their income in rents. It is as simple and important as that.

In some areas, where local authorities have taken the Secretary of State's word even more literally, the increase will be even larger. The obvious example is Wandsworth, where rents are increasing by up to £4.50 a week—an increase of 34 per cent.

Mr. Nicholas Scott (Chelsea)

What about the rates?

Mr. Hattersley

I thought that someone rather less perceptive than the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) would cry out "What about the rates?" Of course, Wandsworth has increased its rates less than most other boroughs, but it has increased its rents more than most other boroughs. That means that Wandsworth has decided to place the burden imposed on it by the Secretary of State mostly at the expense of council house tenants.

I give another example—Southend, which is proposing an average increase of £1.41 in April. Conservative Members, who are so quick on the uptake this afternoon, will understand exactly what I mean when I say that having proposed an increase of £1.41 in April, to make absolutely sure it has announced another increase of £1.4l next autumn.

These increases are the direct and absolute responsibility of the Secretary of State. They are increases that council house tenants face at the same time as they are obliged to pay substantial increases in their rate bills. I have no doubt that as the day wears on the Secretary of State and others will tell us that the increases in rates, which are also borne by council house tenants, are generally and specifically the result of profligate Labour councils, but the facts are very different. The average increase for the country is now well over 25 per cent., and that is the direct result of the Secretary of State's rate support grant statement.

Many Tory authorities that are to impose increases of up to 30 per cent. will argue that there is no other option open to them. The Opposition will argue—I believe that as the months go on we shall be able to demonstrate—that where Labour authorities have imposed increases greater than that it is also true to say that there was no other option open to them if they wanted to preserve services—and they were right to want to preserve services.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the White Paper issued by the Labour Government, under the auspices of the right hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett), which stated that council rents must go up as a proportion of income?

Mr. Hattersley

Yes. I am not trying to argue that council rents should never increase. If the hon. Gentleman, who is always impatient in these debates, had waited for a moment, he would have heard that I had something to say about what the increases would be. For the moment, I content myself with making the point that rent increases, like rate increases, are the direct responsibility of the Secretary of State. They have been advocated by him, they have been enforced by his rate support grant policy, and no doubt they will soon be reinforced if his new subsidy scheme becomes law. If that happens the level of housing subsidies will be largely determined and no doubt manipulated by the Secretary of State, and councils will once more be allowed or encouraged—or, I suspect, obliged—to create surpluses on their housing revenue accounts.

I do not believe that anything better illustrates the differences between the parties than the Government's readoption of the old Rent Act idea of making a profit on council housing. Of course we expect rents to go up from time to time, but the idea that they should be pushed to a level far above economic necessity and that legislation should be passed by the House to allow substantial surpluses to be carried on housing revenue accounts, seems absolutely wrong. It is no more than a hidden tax on council tenants, similar to the hidden tax that gas consumers are paying. I believe that that demonstrates the deep disdain that the Tory Party has always felt, and apparently still feels towards council house tenants.

I do not pretend that private tenants have escaped the baleful effects of Tory policy. The Conservative Government offer them more frequent rent increases combined with decreased security of tenure. Since Southend interested Conservative Members, I might tell them that last Thursday, on my way to the scene of that by-election, I picked up a document that had been left in the train by an earlier commuter. It was a piece of paper—indeed, an advertisement—circulated by "Business and Residential Tenancies". It invited participants in a seminar the previous day, which was held at the Carlton Tower hotel. For £95, one could attend and enjoy both lunch and pre-lunch drinks.

The seminar was to teach participants, among other things, the extent to which security can be avoided and ways of defeating security and regaining possession. It added that the principal afternoon session would be devoted to ways of maximising the advantage under the new Housing Bill. For £95, one got lunch, accommodation and some tips on how to kick out one's tenants. That not only says something about the right hon. Gentleman's policy; it says something about the sort of society that his policy is creating.

Perhaps I should not be surprised—I am sure that my hon. Friends are not surprised—that the Conservative Party continues to be the friend of the private landlord and the enemy of council tenants. What has come to the country as much more of a shock is the Conservative Party's callous disregard for the interests of owner-occupiers. Before May, no one was promised more. Since May, no one has been more cynically betrayed. Owner-occupiers read the plaintive description in the Conservative manifesto of the problems of rising mortgages, and I suspect that they really believed the promise that the new Government would lighten their burden. In fact, thanks to Government policy, the burden is heavier than ever before. There has been a record increase in the mortgage interest rate, announced and implemented on 1 January—3.25 per cent.—which has resulted in a record level of mortgage interest of 15 per cent.

The consequent increase in payments demanded of many families has been disastrous for them. Let me remind the House what the increases are. A family with a £5,000 mortgage today pays £8.20 a month more than it did before the general election. A family with a £10,000 mortgage pays £16.40 more a month than it did before the general election. A family with a £15,000 mortgage pays £24.60 more a month than it did before the general election. Those figures are all net of tax relief. However, until May actual payments will be much higher, because the new tax codes are not to be calculated until then. As a result, the family with a £15,000 mortgage has since January been handing over an extra £36.75 each month.

For many families struggling to buy their homes increases of that sort represent near disaster. Certainly, for many young couples who are hoping to buy their first house the present level of employment makes owner-occupation literally beyond their reach.

Mr. John Heddle (Lichfield and Tam-worth)

Will the right hon. Gentlman take time to read this month's edition of "Building Society Affairs", which is distributed by the Building Societies Association? It has probably come through his post within the last two or three days. The first paragraph reads: Nevertheless, despite the options given by many building societies to extend loan periods and a general willingness of societies to help out in cases of hardship, —the hardship cases to which the right hon. Gentleman has just referred— the majority of existing borrowers have freely decided to increase their repayments". It goes on: The demand for new mortgages does not appear to have been much reduced by the higher mortgage rate.

Mr. Hattersley

Let me trump the hon. Gentleman's building societies' ace with my Nationwide trump. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has this week received a similar document from the Nationwide Building Society—a society that, as the hon. Gentleman knows, traditionally looks after borrowers who are perhaps struggling to maintain their mortgages, because of its co-operative associations, which go back to working-class roots over the last 70 years. In its bulletin the Nationwide says that one in three of its borrowers has experienced the problem that the hon. Gentleman has tried to minimise. These borrowers have been unable to pay the increased payments, and one in three has found it necessary to extend his mortgage beyond its normal life. That may not seem a terrible thing to the hon. Gentleman, but it does to me —that one-third of all the mortgage holders with one of the country's largest building societies now discover that their indebtedness has to he pushed forward into a period when they hoped that they would be free of mortgage repayments.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)


Mr. Hattersley

I shall not give way again. I have given way four times. I do not want to detain the House and to prevent a long speech from the Secretary of State.

The second example that I should like to give from the same bulletin concerns the plight of first-time buyers. The first-time buyer is now required to spend, on average, 24 per cent. of his net income in order to obtain a mortgage. That is the largest amount of net income that first-time buyers have ever been forced to contribute towards their mortgages. It is even larger than the previous record of 22.5 per cent. which was endured during the dying months of the Administration of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).

Conservative Members must understand that for young couples on the borderline of buying a house the idea of paying one week's income out of four simply towards mortgage repayments makes home ownership literally impossible. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say something which gives them some hope that in the not too distance future the situation will be improved.

I say that because on 26 November we debated that subject at some length. We dealt in detail, which I do not propose to do today, with the Prime Minister's false and foolish optimism about mortgage rates, expressed by her in June and July of 1979. When she expressed that false and foolish optimism she led the building societies to believe that the minimum lending rate was about to fall. During our last debate on this subject the Secretary of State explained what went wrong. In the light of the Prime Minister's summer confidence, he was not reckless enough to blame the problem on the inheritance from the previous Government. Instead, he offered two other reasons for the Government being blown off course. Neither was the public sector borrowing requirement, which we charitably must assume the Prime Minister understood when she made her false promises in June and July. The two reasons that he offered were the failure to collect VAT increases and telephone bills, and increases in American and European prime lending rates.

I take it that one of those problems will soon disappear—the collection of back tax, but I fear that the height of international lending rates will remain with us. When we debated this subject last time, the Secretary of State described how high hopes were dashed at No. 10. He said: it was very much the Government's hope—and my hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear—that it would be a short-term position. However, —he said, smiling at the House- it did not turn out to be short-term."— [Official Report, 26 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 907.] That discovery, which came as such a surprise to him, caused great distress to the leader writers of The Daily Telegraph. They said: Mrs. Thatcher aptly described the Conservatives as the home owners party. Sustained high mortgage interest rates could easily affect that natural affinity". I have rarely had the opportunity of congratulating The Daily Telegraph on its perception, but on Thursday, after Southend, I look forward to doing so.

In order that the Secretary of State may make a belated attempt to restore his position as the home owner's friend, I hope that he will answer three questions about the long and medium-term prospects for mortgages in this country. I shall certainly not ask him any of the silly questions about when MLR is likely to be reduced that he used to ask from the Opposition Front Bench. That is not a sensible question to put to a Minister. I hope that he will attempt to answer seriously and directly the three questions that I wish to put to him, rather than taking refuge, in his usual way, in an official text, punctuated with Oxford Union abuse.

First, does the Secretary of State share my view that mortgage holders ought to brace themselves for a long period of high repayments, and that while present international financial climates and domestic fiscal policies persist mortgage holders ought to be prepared to continue paying at the present uniquely high rate, or at about that rate?

Secondly, what can the Secretary of State tell us about the fundamental change that is being considered in building society policy—the idea that even when minimum lending rate falls there may not be matching reductions in the mortgage lending rate? That is part of the result of the building societies' need to recoup losses that they made when the Government pretended that help was at hand in the summer. But that is only part of the reason. I notice that hon. Gentlemen behind the Secretary of State are nodding. If MLR comes down, that is no reason to assume that building societies will move in the same direction. The Secretary of State must have discussed this with the building societies. He has a duty to tell the House what those discussions revealed.

Thirdly, will the Secretary of State answer in a sensible way—he has signally failed to do so in the past—my question about the effect of council house sales on the prospects for private mortgages? I put it to him in this way: the clear policy of the Government is to finance as many council house sales as possible out of private building society funds; indeed, a letter on that subject has been sent from Conservative Central Office to Conservative councils telling them whenever possible to raise the money for council house sales from the building societies.

If a large number of council house tenants apply to the building societies, there can be only two possible consequences. The first is that fewer mortgage demands, proportionately, will be met. Already only seven out of every eight applicants receive a mortgage. If the demand is suddenly increased, obviously one possibility is for a smaller proportion of demands to receive affirmative answers.

The alternative is for the building societies to increase their interest rates in order to attract new lending, so that they can finance new borrowing. The building societies fear that they will be forced into an unnecessary increase, in current terms, in their lending rates to attract the new capital to meet the demands of council house sales. Again I say to the right hon. Gentleman that he must have discussed this with the building societies. Again I say that he has a duty to tell the House the outcome of those discussions.

My fear is that the Secretary of State will not do so. Instead, he will take his usual refuge in insisting that all these difficulties are necessary and that all these hardships have to be endured to create the Conservative economic Eldorado in which even few of his own Back Benchers now believe. In 10 months, the public expenditure cuts, the increase in rents and the record mortgage rates have produced a reduction in industrial investment, a deterioration in the balance of payments, and a doubling of the inflation rate. The economic policy that is supposed to justify the hardship that has been caused in Great Britain, has not improved things at all. It has simply resulted in the British economy, the The Economist put it this week, "sliding into recession".

The cause of that unhappy condition, and the cause of the suffering facing tenants and owner-occupiers alike, is the same. It is the doctrinaire incompetence of the Government. The country knows it, even if the Secretary of State does not. We propose to vote in defence of the country's interest tonight.

4.24 pm
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House welcomes the measures that the Government are taking to bring public expenditure on housing into line with what the country can afford, to encourage the release of more privately rented accommodation, and to extend home ownership to a greater number of people than ever before.". There is a single word which illustrates the profound difference between the attitude of the Government in their first year and the approach of the Labour Government in their last desperate years. It is the word "responsibility".

It is the task of the Government to produce policies which are essential to the regeneration of the economy, and no one can seriously question that this involves lower levels of public expenditure. It is in this context that I have asked local government to play its part. The only result of the continued ignoring of economic reality is a decline that threatens to become irreversible in this country. It makes no sense to try to debate housing costs, whether for rented homes or purchased homes, outside the economic context.

Our debate today is not only about housing and public expenditure; it is also about the opportunist rejection of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) of policies which at one stage he loyally espoused when the Government of whom he was then a member found themselves compelled to pursue.

Today the right hon. Gentleman attacks the Government for reducing public expenditure by increasing rents in the public sector and for reducing public sector building. It is as though all those years of experience—and particularly 1976—might never have been. But the record of what he did, what he said and what he voted for is clear. His words are clearly recorded. He could not have set out the position more clearly when he said: An essential element in the programme for economic recovery is, and must be, a reduction in some element of public expenditure … I am sure that the people whom my hon. Friend and I represent have much to gain from the progress of economic recovery, and this is all part of the plan for bringing that about"— [Official Report, 11 October 1976; Vol. 917. c. 5.] What changed? I have asked the right hon. Gentleman that question from the Dispatch Box on a previous occasion. He gave no answer, of course, but everyone knows the answer. The Labour Party is back in opposition. It is out of power and it is once again trying to offer wholly unrealistic options to the country. It is now oblivious of the national interest, and no one in this House will be deceived for one instant by the arguments that the right hon. Gentleman has tried to put before the House.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He is making much play of the fact that the Government intend to reduce public expenditure on housing. Is it not a fact that if, as a result of his Government's policy, a large number of council houses are sold, tax relief on mortgage interest on each of those houses will have to be paid? It will mean that the Government will incur hundreds of millions of pounds a year extra in tax relief, which is public expenditure.

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Member will know full well that the consequence of selling a council house is to attract from the individual concerned a very substantial increase in the amount that he pays towards his housing costs, because he is attracted by the benefits of home ownership.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

Is not the Secretary of State aware that the burden of tax relief increases every time that the house is sold, and that in the future we shall be generating a constantly escalating level of public expenditure or loss of public income through increased tax relief year after year into the future, for as long as the house lasts?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Member will be fully aware of the benefits which come from encouraging people to buy and maintain their own homes without the subsidies from the public Exchequer of the sort that we characterise in the public sector. The hon. Member will be fully aware that there is an overwhelming demand among people in this country to own their own homes. I do not see what purpose he achieves by constantly suggesting that we should frustrate that demand in the way that his policies would achieve.

The House, rather than following the line of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, would be wise to stick with his words of 1976, which were that an essential element of economic recovery must be the reduction of public spending. The excessive plans for public spending that we inherited are one of the causes of the present level of interest rates in our economy. Building society rates cannot be insulated from the rest of the economy. Of course no one welcomes a mortgage interest rate of 15 per cent., but that rate becomes inevitable when general interest rates are at their present level. As we all know, building societies have to offer a competitive rate of interest for savings. Without those savings there would be no mortgages.

The previous Government were responsible for incurring £40 billion of extra debt during their period of office. Consequently, approximately half the current level of public sector deficit has to go to pay the interest charges on the dais incurred by the previous Government. That makes the scale of the inheritance of the present Government more clearly understood.

In 1976, having tried in their early years to pursue precisely the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman, the Labour Government were stopped in their tracks because they ran out of credit. But now that they are in opposition they try to reverse history and persuade people that the economic facts are other than they themselves discovered them to have been.

High interest rates are welcome to no one, but they follow from the determination of the Government to control the money supply and from the level of Government borrowing. They reflect the rising world price of money. When it became clear last autumn that monetary growth was excessive, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not hesitate to make the adjustment that was necessary. It was the only responsible option in an international context.

Already in Italy prime interest rates are 20 per cent. The West German Lombard rate has doubled to 8½ per cent. in the last year. In the same period French one-month discount rates have risen by more than half to 12⅜ per cent. In the United States prime interest rates are now approaching 18 per cent. We in Britain cannot ignore these trends. Everyone knows that our money markets are world markets and it serves no purpose for the right hon. Gentleman to imply that somehow or other we can isolate ourselves from these trends. The only way in which interest rates will fall is when our policies succeed in reducing the demand for money and credit, and the upward pressures on prices abate. There is no half-way house for this country. As inflation comes down through a balance of fiscal and interest rate policies and controlled public expenditure, so, too, will interest rates.

But the House will notice a curious contradiction in the right-hon. Gentleman's position. He attacks the present level of interest charges as they affect mortgages. He attacks the cost of owning a home. What he does not explain is that the single most consistent thing that he personally has done since the election is to call for higher levels of Government expenditure, which means more borrowing and therefore higher interest rates on the one hand, whilst on the other he is urging local government to push up its spending and increase its rates, thus adding to the cost of home ownership.

As the House listened to the right hon. Gentleman, did it bear in mind that he goes up and down the country with that single-minded purpose? It was in Leicester, last November, that he said to local government representatives: We believe in public spending and we support and will restore public expenditure to its proper level. To spend more in current circumstances would mean more borrowing by the public sector, which would mean more interest rate increases, a further squeeze on the capacity of the private sector to invest, and thus rising unemployment.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)


Mr. Heseltine

The higher interest rates in the economy would lead to yet higher mortgage rates for home owners. So the right hon. Gentleman's policies would, inevitably, hit even harder the group for whom he today pretends to care. He knows—because he went through precisely this dilemma as a Minister of the Crown—that that is the reality. He recognised it while in office. It is only in opposition that he seeks to pretend that it is otherwise.

I turn now to one of the points that the right hon. Gentleman made at some length, and that is rents in the public sector. The same basic economic premises apply, but perhaps with an additional problem, which is the distortion specifically imported by the rent subsidy policies of the previous Government.

Perhaps I can help by giving some of the figures which were requested by some of my hon. Friends but which the right hon. Gentleman conveniently did not have available. In real terms, housing subsidies for local authority housing more than doubled between 1973–1974 and 1978–1979, from £628 million to £1,373 million. Between 1974–1975 and 1978–1979 investment in capital spending was halved from £4.2 billion to £2.15 billion. The right hon. Gentleman was not the Minister responsible at the time, but he is implying that my policies have, in some way, changed direction. What he has not taken on board is that under the previous Government the rates of new capital expenditure in local authority housing fell year after year, and they fell, on average, over four years, by broadly the figure by which I shall be responsible for reducing them next year. So in a five-year context, the Labour Government will have been responsible for a reduction four times as large as I shall be responsible for next year. That is the fact of the matter and if the right hon.

Gentleman has not understood the consequences of what his Government did he has no right to come to the House and make the kind of speech he just made.

Not only that, but by the time the Labour Party left office the cost of subsidising every new council house built was running at approximately £30 per week, on average. That meant that new building had become so expensive that capital programmes were destroyed whilst the subsidy system distributed relief in an often random and unnecessary form to some of those living in council housing. So, over the year, the programmes were slashed at an annual rate of about 20 per cent.

Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)

Whilst there is some substance in what the Secretary of State is saying —I am the first one to admit it, otherwise I should not have argued against it from the Opposition Benches—he knows that the National Federation of Building Trades Employers is utterly disgusted with this Government's policy and members of that organisation perhaps helped to get the Conservatives into office. That organisation fears that this Government's policy towards housing will create a far worse situation in the building industry than there ever was under the Labour Government.

Mr. Heseltine

It is not for me to explain the views of the building employers, but the fact is that, given a choice between the policies of this Government and those of the previous Government, they would support the policies of this Government. I can think of one lot of policies only which the building employers would dislike more than the policies of the previous Government and that is the sort of policies that the hon. Member would operate if he had the chance.

For blatantly political reasons, the Labour Government refused to follow policies which they knew made economic sense. They allowed the rent subsidies to rise and gave in to the pressures to keep down rents to levels which all but a small group within the Labour Party recognised were unreasonably and unacceptably low.

The consequence of that short-term and expedient policy was to destroy the public sector housing programme, as both Labour and Conservative-controlled councils added up the bills and discovered that the price of the policies of the previous Government was too high to pay.

Therefore, it falls once again to this Government to try to restore responsibility and common sense to housing policy. Once again, as we have seen so often in the past, free of office the Labour Party condemns this Government for policies which, in its more honest moments in government, it knew and said were the policies that should be pursued.

Perhaps we could look more closely at rents. The Labour Green Paper on housing policy of June 1977 said: The Government consider that over a run of years rents should rise broadly in line with money income. The then Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) said, in The Guardian that this was the most reassuring news for tenants for a long time. With any likely outturn of earnings this year the net effect of the rent guidelines that I have announced is to bring rents back by the end of 1980 to the percentage of average earnings prevailing when that Green Paper was published by the last Labour Government. What I have done is to announce policies which were advocated by the Labour Government, who lacked the courage to carry them out.

Far from rents being kept in line with earnings, they dropped steadily year by year. As subsidies rose, rents dropped until by 1979–80 they were only 6.4 per cent. of income.

Mr. Frank Allaun

So they should be.

Mr. Hesekine

We understand the views of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) as long as he understands that the views he expresses have nothing to do with the views that his own Secretary of State supported when he was in office.

Of course the Labour Government in power thought at the time that they were buying credit. In reality, they were steadily destroying the credibility of much of their public sector housing programme. Back in 1976 that oft-lonely voice of reason in Labour Party policies—though now much maligned as history is rewritten—the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) said: I believe that we are right to plan in the longer term for the proportion of housing costs to be borne by rents to grow from 43 per cent. in 1976–77 to 50 per cent. by 1980."—[Official Report, 10 March 1976; Vol. 907, c. 453] What was the result? By 1979 rents, as defined by the then Chief Secretary, had actually dropped to 41 per cent. of costs. The Labour Government knew what should be done. They put forward and defended responsible policies up to the point where they were actually expected to implement them, and then for short electoral reasons they ran away.

Under a Labour Government council rents rose by 55 per cent. and earnings rose by more than 85 per cent. That fact speaks for itself. It led to the collapse of public sector housing in this country.

The same story is to be found, but over an even longer period, in the private rented sector. Too many rents are uneconomic and owners have responded exactly as one would expect. Premises have fallen into disrepair—

Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)


Mr. Heseltine

No, I shall not give way. I have given way four times already and this is only a short debate. As I was saying, premises have fallen into disrepair, and wherever possible landlords have sold up when they have had the opportunity. As a consequence, rented accommodation has become scarcer and scarcer. The demand in this sector now greatly exceeds the supply.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)


Mr. Heseltine

I am sorry; I have tried to make the point clear. I usually give way; if I did so it would mean that I would spend a longer time at the Dispatch Box, and this is only a short debate.

The position in the private rented sector is hardly surprising. Controlled rents have been basically unchanged since 1956—they average about £1 a week. In the rent-regulated sector, rents have risen by just over 100 per cent. Yet earnings and repair costs over the same time have risen by about two and a half times as much. In 1970 fair rents produced an estimated net yield of about 7 per cent. By 1980 it was down to 3 per cent. The House cannot run away from the consequences of those figures. The only thing that will happen is that the supply of accommodation in the private and the public sector will decline and the people who will suffer most will be those who are looking for homes.

No responsible Government can ignore these facts. The private rented sector could and should play a major role in meeting housing needs, especially for the young, the single and the mobile.

Mr. Straw


Mr. Heseltine

I shall not give way to the hon. Member, and I must ask him to try to understand the reasons why I cannot. The facts are very thin on the ground—

Mr. Straw


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

Order. The Secretary of State has indicated that he does not intend to give way. This is only a short debate and hon. Members are only wasting time.

Mr. Heseltine

Therefore, we are taking sensible measures. The Housing Bill will end the system of controlled rents and will replace it by fair rents. Tenants will be protected by rent allowances and by supplementary benefits. In the regulated sector the three-year period for fair rent revision will be reduced to two years and phasing will be in two cequal stages, rather than three. The changes will be over a three-year period. Shortholds will add to the supply. The simplified regime for lettings by resident landlords will also add to the supply and assured tenancies will encourage new building for rent.

For the first time in years a Government have looked for constructive ways of halting and reversing the decline in this sector. The contrast with the behaviour of the previous Government is vivid. Sixteen months after they had promised it they had still not published a report on the private rented sector. Once again, the Labour Government refused to face the fundamental issues, and the net result, as ever, was damage in the end to the very people whom they claimed to be trying to protect.

Year after year under the last Labour Government the number of homes to rent declined. They were totally inactive. They commissioned evidence; they had a review and then another review; then they sought more evidence. They thought, they talked, they argued and they consulted, but they actually did nothing at all. They did not even dare to publish their own review. We can only suppose that their review was a blistering indictment of their own policies.

I turn now to rates—perhaps the burden that the householder resents most of all. Let there be no doubt about where the responsibility for the burden of high rates this year will lie. It will lie with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and his colleagues who have embarked on a deliberate campaign to encourage local authorities to spend more.

I never cease to be amazed by the right hon. Gentleman's effrontery. But to put down the motion that we are debating today in the light of his record over the last few months is perhaps setting new standards, even by his own. Only five weeks ago on 2 February 1980, the right hon. Member was off on one of his weekend frolics. He told his audience: I am sure that when it is in your power to avoid making cuts you will do so… of course in many, perhaps all, areas that will mean rate increase. … or to put it more precisely, extra rate increases. While the right hon. Gentleman was travelling the country urging more rate increases and extra local government expenditure I was actually pleading with local authorities to reduce the level of their expenditure. I had already asked them to reduce spending by 2.5 per cent. next year compared with last year. I had introduced a rate support grant settlement which was absolutely fair[Interruption.]—but the percentage of the rate support grant was exactly the same as that which Labour Members introduced themselves. They actually based their assessment on the assumption of a 5 per cent. and an 8 per cent. change in wages and prices respectively. They forced that down local authorities' throats. If they really believe that, against that background, my rate support grant settlement is anything other than fair, they are not aware of the figures. But of course we are fully aware that they are not concerned with the figures. At every meet- ing with local government that I attended I asked that not a penny more should be raised than was absolutely essential. I revert to the right hon. Gentleman's speech of 2 February. He said: Most of you"— he told Labour local councillors— will choose the additional increase, and in doing so, will receive the wholehearted support of the Labour movement. There we have it. That is the Labour Party encouraging the level of public expenditure to be increased and urging its members and its councillors to push it up. There it is begging and imploring them to put up the rates. The right hon. Gentleman cannot be disappointed with the results that he has achieved. It is not as if the Labour Party has let him down. It may not be much that Opposition Members can agree about, but when it comes to putting up the rates they have a clam-like solidarity.

I start with the right hon. Gentleman's home town. It is interesting to start with Sheffield because the right hon. Gentleman has explained to us how the Labour Party works in Sheffield. The House may have seen the article which appeared in New Society on 31 January. It states: We ran the city with fists of stainless steel, a metal no decent Sheffielder would cover with a velvet glove. We took all the Committee chairmanships. We ensured that every board of school governors had a majority of Labour Party members. We met as a Labour group on the Monday before the full council meeting and examined every sentence of the council minutes with meticulous care. By the end of the meeting every line in the whole, 100-page document was either official policy or subject to official amendment. There were no free votes. Any councillor who sought without approval to alter philosophy, proposal or punctuation was automatically disciplined. No one in Sheffield need have any doubt about who is clenching the iron fist this year, as the rates are squeezed up by 45 per cent. in one year. The ratepayers of Sheffield, by the standards of the Labour Party, have not come off that badly. In Liverpool Labour has put up the rates by 50 per cent. In Wolverhampton it has put them up by 56 per cent. Every day new records are broken. Labour may have put up the rates by a staggering 177 per cent. in Stockton-on-Tees, but there is still time for later results by late runners to break Labour's record in this rate-fixing contest. For the right hon. Gentleman it is still very much a case of 177 not out as he wields his bat.

It is interesting to consider the right hon. Gentleman's advice to put up all the rates, to increase expenditure and to increase all the bills. Let us consider how much he has achieved in London. Last week the Evening Standard published a league table. It seems that 11 Labour authorities have achieved greater rate rises than those achieved by the highest placed Tory councils. All the right hon. Gentleman's friends are on the roll of honour—for example, Lambeth, Hackney, Lewisham and Southwark. They are all there with rises over 45 per cent.

There is an increased burden and it is Labour's burden. It averages £2 a week for ratepayers in Lambeth and Islington. The price of municipal Socialism in Camden has now reached £408 a year. That contrasts dramatically with the much more responsible behaviour from Conservative authorities throughout the country. In many Conservative-controlled authorities there has been an increase in line with or less than the rate of inflation. In London, 12 Conservative authorities have lower increases than the smallest Labour increase.

In Blackburn the Conservatives on the finance committee reduced by 5p the Labour plan. In Preston we see an increase of 14 per cent., in Sevenoaks 14 per cent., in Leeds 16 per cent., in West Lancashire 15 per cent. and in West Yorkshire 14 per cent. There is not the slightest doubt about the pattern that is emerging—responsibility and restraint in Conservative authorities compared with a conscious and determined policy in Labour authorities, led by the right hon. Gentleman, to spend, spend and spend again.

Last year the right hon. Gentleman told local authorities: Don't get mad, get even. With whom does he think they are getting even? Ratepayers are faced with having to find the extra money to pay the bills. Employees are forced out of jobs because their employers cannot afford mounting rate bills. Small businessmen are unable to carry the overheads. How does he explain to the family in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in a three-bedroomed semi that it is paying £269 a year so that the council may get even, when the same family in Leeds is paying less than half that amount?

That brings us back to the word with which I began—responsibility. We have adopted, and we shall continue to follow, the policies which we know are necessary in every area of economic and social policy. We shall be constructive. The measures in the Housing Bill will bring about the widest expansion of home ownership in the shortest period that the nation has even known as council houses are sold to their tenants. There is no shortage there of people wanting to take on the burden of home ownership. And in a range of other ways we shall help—for example, by building for sale, by starter homes, by an improved and streamlined home improvement grants system, by the AIMS scheme and by the promotion of shared ownership.

We shall encourage the concentration of the available resources on priorities. The House will be pleased to know that in the fourth quarter of 1979 starts and completions of dwellings specially designed for the chronically sick and disabled were running at new record levels. Grants for improvement and conversion were at the highest level for over four years. In the private sector builders are looking for ways to assist buyers, especially first-time purchasers. Through the speeding of the planning process I am helping builders. The building societies have agreed to make available £400 million this year under the support scheme.

Within the realities of the economic position our approach is fundamentally constructive. We recognise that the basic objective behind all our policy has to be the restoration of economic sense. We shall not hide behind the futile rejection of reality that characterised the housing policies of the previous Government. We shall continue to strive to bring about that sense of restraint in local Government spending for which the nation looks.

4.59 pm
Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

The Secretary of State referred to local authorities. A great many Conservative local authorities regard him as an utter disaster. I think that those were the words uttered by that well-known Conservative, Sir Horace Cutler, only this weekend when describing his policies. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know what his rate support grant settlement means to local authorities, he should ask the Conservative-controlled Essex county council. He will find that it is critical of the policies that he has introduced.

The South-East of England is frequently considered to be an area where there is more prosperity than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. That view is probably justifiable. However, for those of limited means who seek a home of their own, the position is probably more difficult in the South-East than in many other parts of the country, because people in other parts of the country are understandably attracted to the South-East in search of employment and promotion. That lengthens local authority waiting lists in the South-East, raises the price of houses and cuts down on the availability of all types of property.

The Labour council in Harlow, side by side with the Harlow development corporation, has enabled young people to obtain a tenancy after a comparatively short time. In this respect Harlow has been an oasis in a sea of Conservative gloom. Because there is no sex discrimination on the waiting list for second-generation applicants in Harlow, we often house people from outside; if a Harlow boy or girl marries someone from outside or vice versa, Harlow is always expected to provide the couple with a tenancy unless they wish to buy. There is no authority under Conservative control in the surrounding area which has a housing policy remotely approaching in quality that which has been pursued in Harlow new town.

The Government's policy is likely to end all that. First, the Government intend to force councils such as Harlow which do not sell council houses to sitting tenants to do so. That will reduce the number of houses available for reletting. Secondly, the Minister is refusing to hand over the only land held by the development corporation scheduled for housing development to the district council when the development corporation is wound up later this year. Thirdly, the cuts in central Government funds for housing will also hit Harlow. More applicants in need of housing—and not only in the immediate Harlow area—will have no alternative to buying, and prices are far beyond what most first-time buyers can envisage paying.

It is all very well for the Secretary of State to praise the ideal of home ownership. I agree with him, but it is impossible to buy a house in Harlow or the surrounding areas for less than £20,000. In North Weald, which is part of my constituency, the lowest price even for a two-bedroomed house is £30,000. A better, four-bedroomed house in West Essex may cost at least £50,000. I have with me a copy of the latest edition of the West Essex Gazette which contains advertisements of houses for sale. The price of the vast majority of those houses is way beyond the capacity of the ordinary couple who are first-time buyers. That is typical of practically the whole of Essex.

In these circumstances, not merely Socialists but Conservatives are concerned about their young people being forced to leave the villages and the areas in which they were brought up. Some time ago I led a deputation of the Conservative-controlled Sheering parish council to the Epping Forest council to ask it to build-houses in its parish for rent, but it refused. The policies that the Secretary of State and his party are pursuing are making matters infinitely worse for ordinary people who want a house.

Southend, which has already been mentioned in the debate, is also part of Essex. In Southend, too, one cannot buy a house for less than £20,000. Because of the increase in mortgage repayments this year, even after tax relief the average first-time buyer must pay £127 a month instead of £105 a month for a house of that price. That is what this Government are doing for first-time buyers in areas in the South-East such as Southend.

It is bad enough for a young couple who are first-time buyers when both are working, but when the second child arrives the wife must almost inevitably give up work, and then the couple cannot afford the mortgage repayments. I regularly have in my housing advice bureau people who cannot afford to live in the properties which they are seeking to buy, and who want to sell the house and obtain a council tenancy, for which they are not eligible.

If the Secretary of State goes ahead with his policy of giving people in the new towns and in council houses generally the opportunity to buy, many of them will be homeless later. They will not be able to keep up the mortgage repayments, and there will be no local authority houses available to rehouse them.

We face a serious position. Costs in general are extremely high in the South-East. In addition to meeting high fuel costs, rates and so on, many people have to commute to work. The price of a season ticket from Southend to central London—a journey that many people must make—rose from £524 a year to £634 in January.

In those circumstances, the burden being placed on ordinary people as a result of this Government's policy is tremendous. That should be recognised throughout the country, but particularly in the South-East, where unfortunately many people were bamboozled into voting Conservative at the last general election because they thought that they would get something out of it.

On Thursday the people of Southend, East have the opportunity to pass, judgment on what this Government have done to date to increase burdens on people. The by-election was hurriedly fitted in before the Budget in case the position became even clearer to those living in Southend. I hope that they will take the opportunity to speak out clearly not only for their own area but for the people of the South-East as a whole, where the Conservatives have failed to keep their election promises. It will be the first opportunity that people have had to show that they believe those promises to have been compounded of hypocrisy and guile. I very much hope that when the result is known on Thursday night it will be seen by all that the people of Southend at any rate have seen the light.

5.8 pm

Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)

Unlike the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) I have no intention of making a political speech. I believe that housing is above politics.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on his vision and foresight and his ability to look at the exciting housing possibilities without making a distasteful issue of the matter simply for the purposes of a by-election on Thursday.

All hon. Members, of whatever party, are increasingly concerned with a seemingly endless number of people in distress who come to their advice bureaux and give heartbreaking examples of homelessness and the lack of any possibility of obtaining a house. The prospect for many is of the inhumanity of bed and breakfasting, and often the misery of sleeping rough, having to sleep out in all weathers, or in cars. How has this state of affairs come about? Right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches bear a great deal of the responsibility. Much of the blame must lie with them.

Apart from the natural distress that arises from present housing conditions, there is in addition the break-up of families and, as a consequence, I believe, a considerable increase in juvenile delinquency. Young kids are left to roam the streets while their parents sleep in cars. It is common throughout the country, and it is a national disgrace that the previous Administration allowed it to build up. It is even more disgraceful for them suddenly, following a change of Government, to try to pretend that all the blame should be placed on the present Government who have been in office only 10 months.

I wish to draw attention to a number of resources which in my view are worthy of deeper and more speedy consideration than developing a wholly new housing programme. Costs have got totally out of hand. Bureaucracy has interceded, with arguments between the Housing Corporation, the Department of the Environment and all the other bodies, resulting in a lengthening of the time necessary for the housing association movement to produce as many units of accommodation as could be provided if that system were improved and if some of the bureaucracy were removed.

I hope to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction that he intends to bring about a simplification of the system so as to enable housing associations to produce the high standards of accommodation which they are now providing but in quite inadequate numbers.

I refer next to a number of the other resources which I have not heard mentioned so far. I understand that about 650,000 properties throughout the land are lying empty. I said when the previous Administration were in office, but it was pooh-poohed and shouted out of court, that much of the blame could be laid at the door of the onerous restrictions contained in the Rent Act. With the opportunity for rent rebates and other aids to people, I believe that a sensible rent structure under a fair rent system will be more equitable and will encourage the private sector to play a greater part in the provision of rented accommodation.

There are an additional 60,000 police houses, prison officers' houses and others which are empty. Local authorities, county councils especially, should be made to justify their reasons for keeping those houses empty. Over the weekend, I was glad to read that a few prison officers' houses were to be let or sold. I cannot remember all the details, but apparently the Home Secretary intervened, and a number of these houses are to be brought into use. It is criminal to allow, for whatever reason, massive numbers of houses to remain empty given the quite miserable and desperate situation that exists.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction will find a moment in his reply to touch upon the hundreds of thousands of under-occupied houses. In the council housing sector there are many three and four-bedroomed houses with only one occupant. I agree that it would be inhuman to tell the single occupant of such a house that, since his or her family had left, the house must be vacated. However, housing authorities should make more strenuous efforts to provide greater incentives in order to encourage such people to move into flats. I know of cases in my constituency—and I suspect the position is the same throughout the country—where flats built for one occupant house families of three or four when, just down the road, there are three and four-bedroomed houses with single occupants. There must be a way of providing sensible incentives to persuade people to change their accommodation.

Mr. Scott

Is my hon. Friend aware that at the moment there is an actual disincentive for people to let out parts of their houses privately because they are charged capital gains tax on those parts of their houses which they use for private renting?

Mr. Irving

My hon. Friend is right. It is a problem which I hope will be tackled in the forthcoming Budget.

I wish to refer also to local authorities, of which I have some experience. I am still a member of two authorities. It is well known that local authorities of both parties are sitting on hundreds of acres of land which cost them nothing. They have had it for years and years. There should be a way in which those acres could be split up into small plots which would attract small builders. In that way, houses could be built at low cost because the land could be provided for a nominal charge, either leasehold or freehold.

I was interested to read a report last week of an occasion recently when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, for whom I have the greatest and fondest regard, opened a house in Salisbury. It had been built for less than £15,000. Its real value was double that. The explanation was that in Salisbury the land had been provided at a nominal cost. I shall pass the relevant newspaper cutting to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction in case he missed that report. A great deal of encouragement needs to be given by the Department of the Environment in order to bring into use land which at the moment is lying idle whilst people wait in misery for homes.

I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say that he intended to raise some of the restrictions imposed by the Rent Act. There is no doubt that protection for the poor and for lower income groups can be, should be and is rightly provided through the rent and rate rebate system. However, despite all the publicity given to it, we still have not got over the message to people that those aids are available. In my area, about 30 per cent. of those entitled to rent or rate rebates fail to claim them. Perhaps the Minister could consider a further programme of publicity. Very often it is those who least deserve to suffer who do so, because they tend to look upon these rebates as charity. They are nothing of the sort. They are aids as of right. There are flats whose rents are perhaps higher than they would be normally which could be made available to such people if they took advantage of the available rebates.

I support the Government's proposed amendment to the motion. With imagination, good will and co-operation, a great deal can be done in the next 12 months to reduce the miserable plight of the homeless.

5.20 pm
Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) said, but I do not share his optimism. I believe that the housing situation is likely to lead to civil unrest unless we do something quickly. Nothing on the skyline gives one confidence for the future. I agree that housing should be taken out of party politics. I think that a number of hon. Members who are present today could co-operate to solve our housing problems in three years, given good will.

Both major parties are to blame. But the actions of the Conservative Government over the last 10 months have been beyond comprehension. It is absolute nonsense to try to deal with our housing problems in one blanket measure. As the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) said, the main pressures on housing are in the South, the South-East and possibly the West Country. To allocate housing investment programmes overall for housing authorities throughout the country will lead to enormous problems. We should consider individual problems such as the length of their lists and the amount of local authority stock.

According to the recent Building Societies Association pamphlet, the average price of a house is £27,403 in the South-East and £16,845 in Yorkshire. All my children were brought up on the Isle of Wight but, sensibly, three of them have left because they have been priced out.

My second daughter now teaches in the North-East. I went there at the new year and found that one can buy a perfectly good centrally heated terrace house at Stanley in County Durham for under £8,000. The equivalent on the Isle of Wight is £16,000, and we are a low-wage area.

I am sorry that the Secretary of State has not been more daring with the private sector. I agree with the hon. Member for Cheltenham that more could be done by private landlords. If there is no money for public expenditure, let us use the bricks and mortar that exist; we should use properly the assets we have.

I was sad to read in The Sunday Times Business News about a watering down of the free enterprise zones idea for such areas as Dockland. If there is a chance to start again, without having to unravel the Rent Acts, so that letting is left to the open market, let us try it. People will invest if they can get a fair return.

I should like to revamp the whole rent and rate rebates system. I am in favour of housing credits and a tax credit system. Then people who needed help would get it through the tax system. Without more houses to let we shall never get the mobility of labour which is necessary to combat unemployment.

A year or two ago, the Isle of Wight could have attracted skilled workers if only the housing had been available. Those concerned did not want to leave their present properties in the North-East and on the East Coast because they had problems selling them and they did not know if they would be able to return.

Shorthold it a good idea, but it will not work because no one will dare to let on that basis for up to five years. It is worth an experiment in areas where housing is short, such as the South-East, but when people know that the Labour Party has threatened to put such lettings back under the Rent Acts, no one will try it. The Secretary of State is glib when he talks of shorthold helping to solve this problem.

A growing problem for people who have houses is that they may have to sell them because they cannot afford the mortgages. I was speaking to some teachers on Friday night—and no one will ever convince me that teachers are overpaid. One of them had been teaching on the Isle of Wight for 15 years and earns just over £6,000. His mortgage is £15,000, so his monthly repayments are £196 gross—40 per cent. of his monthly income. He has nothing left to spend on himself. Bank managers are telling these people that they will have to sell their houses because they are beyond their means.

Students also face difficulties. Two of my sons who are at agricultural college get just over £330 a term. Immediately, they must pay out £280 or £290 for board and lodging. There is nothing left, so I have to cough up—and I thought that I had got rid of them!

Students at college are paying a fair whack. This is the stupid part of the system. They pay £20 to £25 for one room and use of a bathroom, so they at least are paying market rents—but we give them no help. Student grants are too low to cover such costs.

In the short term, resources should go to authorities in the greatest need. I must make a plea for my own constituency. The population is increasing by well over 1,000 a year. Only 13 per cent. of the houses are local authority stock. I dread going home sometimes because people queue up outside my door with housing problems. Some of these people have prams and say to me "I have nowhere to go tonight."

Medina borough council on the Isle of Wight completed 87 houses in 1978–79 and has started another 36 at Cowes this year. Apart from that, there is nothing on the skyline except a brewery site on which it is hoped to start 80 units some time next financial year on a two and a half year scheme. South Wight borough council will start precisely eight flats in the next financial year. These efforts compare with a waiting list of 2,400 in Medina and 1,030 in South Wight. The problem is growing all the time; 28 families are in bed and breakfast places in Medina and four in South Wight. There is no hope.

We could at least make much greater use of short life property. Perhaps the Minister could have a word with his Conservative friends on Portsmouth council and point out that the council could make better use of the houses in Cumberland Road. In areas such as Redbridge, many houses stand empty because of road schemes which will now never take place. 'They could be taken over by short life housing associations.

There are over 80 empty prison houses on the Isle of Wight. I have tabled question after question asking when the council will be able to take them over. They should not be sold. The local authority should be allowed to take a five-year lease on them and put people in them. Yet we are told that they must be sold. We should make more use of mobile homes on properly managed sites. We shall have to come to this. Decent mobile homes on good sites can be provided much more cheaply than ordinary housing.

Rateable value levels should be raised so that people who need them most can qualify for improvement grants. I know a handicapped person who has had to take central heating out of her house to get an improvement grant. Repair grants should he introduced for owner-occupiers of houses that are over 100 years old. Many hon. Members must have heard elderly people complaining that their roof was in bad repair and that they could not afford to do anything about it. As owner-occupiers they cannot get help with such repairs. I thought that there was a move to achieve this, but it seems to have fallen through. I want it introduced—and I will be first in the queue for a grant.

The Department of the Environment has nowhere near enough statistics, or statistics which are sufficiently comprehensive, about what is happening in different parts of the country. I have put down many questions seeking such statitics, only to discover that, for instance, the Department does not know the length of waiting lists in different areas.

If such figures were made readily available, people might be encouraged to retire to Milton Keynes instead of to the South Coast. It is a desirable place with marvellous facilities. Perhaps they might then consider the East Coast rather than the South and West. This is a free country and we cannot stop people from retiring where they want, but we could point out that house prices are much lower in many other desirable areas. They could be advised to think carefully before flocking down to our neck of the woods.

Something should be done to help those elderly people who cannot even pay their insurance premiums. One woman frightened me to death by writing to say that she was not going to pay her insurance premium because she could no longer afford it. As someone whose property has burned down, I wrote back saying "For God's sake renew your premium." Someone must help people in that difficulty. I am sure that many people are totally uninsured. The value of most houses now is probably £30 plus per square foot. Too many people are under-insured; I expect that applies even to many hon. Members.

We should provide better protection for long leaseholders of flats. Some people in that position are in trouble in London and in my constituency, since they face repair bills that they never expected. I hope that the Minister will use his influence with the Chancellor to raise the starting level for stamp duty. A level of £15.000 is absolute nonsense; it must be raised to £30,000, if not done away with altogether. We must also raise mortgage relief from the £25,000 limit.

I introduced the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 to this House. The only person who voted against it in Committee was the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). Conservative Members did not vote against it. They tabled amendments and I was grateful for the assistance of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi). The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act should not be watered down. When half of all households now comprise one or two people only it is important that we should give priority to those most in need.

Mr. Shersby

Does the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) think that local authorities should be under an obligation to house people from overseas, who have no connection with their local authority, before the indigenous population who are on the housing waiting lists to which he has referred.

Mr. Ross

I listened to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) the other day and he was talking nonsense then. The courts have interpreted the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act rather well. The Italians who tried to get a house in Horsham did not get it. The Abyssinian lady had been married to an Englishman who had died abroad and she had been back in this country since June last year. She was offered a house by the GLC but Hillingdon council challenged her to take it to court and got its rich deserts. That kind of case is rare. It is not true that the Irish are flocking in from Dublin and queuing up for houses in Rugby. That is absolute tripe. Conservative Members have done their cause no good by raising such hares.

The newspapers always take such stories up but for goodness sake I hope that we are compassionate enough to give priority to families with young children, to pregnant women and to the elderly who are the vulnerable members of our society. If we are unable to provide sufficient housing, they are the people who must have some priority. I ask hon. Members to study statistics before rushing into print accusing all and sundry of queue jumping. The vast majority of those housed under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act have been on housing lists for at least five years. Less than 1 per cent. of those who have moved into houses in the last year have been waiting for under 12 months.

I believe that some modifications could be made to the guidance notes, and that the six-month rule in some seaside areas should be updated or widened in scope. There are possibly one or two small loopholes in the operation of the Act, but, apart from that, it is not working at all badly and I am grateful for the chance to put that on record today.

5.32 pm
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Despite our disagreements I am grateful for the chance to follow the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) in this debate.

Local authorities should take a new look at the way in which they propose to deal with the problem of housing those young people who have lived here all their lives and who are now looking for a home of their own. The average price of a semi-detached house in my constituency is £35,000. That is totally out of the reach of the average young man and woman wishing to marry and start life together. That kind of problem is brought up every week at my surgery.

My local authority in Hillingdon has started an equity sharing scheme and I wish to tell the House how it is proceeding. The average young couple who come to see me usually afford a mortgage of £12,000. Some can manage a little more, some can manage less. Those are the figures from my area, and I realise that figures vary substantially from one part of the country to another. The figures are probably higher in my area because there is a lot of highly paid employment. Whether that employment is in light engineering in West Middlesex or at London airport, young people in my area are able to earn good incomes, but they certainly are not able to buy houses at £35,000.

Under the equity sharing scheme they can purchase as little as 30 per cent. of the value of a house. Most of the property being sold by Hillingdon council is in the £30,000 price range. That means that young couples are able to buy 30 per cent. or more of the value of their house and rent the rest, though I am told that quite a number of young couples buy as much as 50 per cent. and rent the remainder. All local authorities should examine the possibility of expanding opportunities for equity sharing. Equity sharing gives many youngsters the opportunity to get a foot on the house purchase ladder, thus enabling them to look forward to a home of their own rather than having to rent from a local authority.

I should like to see more starter homes for young people. I should also like to see some of the land to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) referred being sold off in individual plots to young people, on the basis that they could have a home built of a certain design. There could be a variety of house designs and house sizes to suit differing needs and pockets on the same development. We must tackle the problem of the sale of land as well as the sale of completed housing.

There needs to be a degree of flexibility in the housing investment programme grant. The price of property in my constituency is substantial and I believe that the variations in the prices of property all over the country should be in the forefront of the minds of Ministers as they examine these problems. We realise that there is a lack of land in the great conurbations, but there is land in the centre of cities such as London, and I welcome the setting up of the urban development corporations. We must develop the vacant land in the centre of London in order to rehabilitate the centre of our great city.

The cost of travelling from Uxbridge to central London is around £400 a year. That is a crippling burden for a young person who is starting work in London. Most young people cannot buy homes in London or easily find homes to rent. We must do something pretty fast to provide homes for those young people we need in London—the young people who will work in industry and commerce and who will contribute to the life of the country when others have retired. That is a problem that needs to be looked at.

Mr. Newens

I am following the argument of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) with great interest. Can he say how the Government are in any way helping the policies that he advocates? Surely the Government are making it more difficult to put such policies into operation.

Mr. Shersby

I do not agree that the Government are making it difficult. I believe that the establishment of the urban development corporations is a major step in the direction of helping to redevelop the centre of London. Most of the land in constituencies such as mine has already been developed and green belt land is not available for development. Young people need to be able to live close to their work in big cities. I should like to see the centre of London populated once more by young people. I should like to see young mothers with babies in prams there. We need young communities in the centre of London rather than the ageing population of some London boroughs.

I believe that that problem can be tackled only by such bodies as the urban development corporations, and I welcome the recent remarks in this House of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). The right hon. Gentleman is to place his very substantial knowledge of London's housing problems at the disposal of the urban development corporation in its dealings with dockland.

I hesitate to mention the problem that none of us can escape. That is the problem created by so many young couples up to the age of 20 who have started a family without having somewhere suitable in which to have that family. Such young couples are probably living with their parents. That arrangement may work well for a short time, but frictions eventually develop and family stresses and strains are set up when a young family is started in such circumstances. It is incumbent on young people to remember the grave difficulties which they face, and which many others in previous generations have faced, in obtaining suitable accommodation and to try to plan their families accordingly. Young people should recognise that a happy home must have room for children to grow up and enjoy life without being crammed into one room.

The speech by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was exactly what I expected from him a couple of days before an important by-election. I was sorry that he descended to such trivia when we are trying to consider the real problems that face those whom we represent. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham raised the debate to its correct level.

The level of rates is a major burden for home owners. The eight big spenders in London are the Labour-controlled boroughs of Lambeth, Hackney, Lewisham, Southwark, Waltham Forest, Newham, Hounslow and Islington. Brent and Camden follow close behind. Why do those boroughs charge their ratepayers so much? The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has done everything possible to encourage them to sting the ratepayers for all that they can afford. That is intolerable. It does not make life easier for a young couple living in Brent, Hackney or Lewisham. Conservative, Labour and Liberal councillors should recognise that the level of rates is one of their gravest responsibilities. It is incumbent upon them to keep local expenditure down to a level which people can afford. Rates should not be increased just because councils refuse to reduce any of their services.

I have no doubt that in many of those big-spending boroughs there are many inessential projects which could be cut in order to reduce the rate burden. I compare Lambeth—Ted Knight's Socialist paradise—with the borough of Hillingdon. Lambeth rates are up by 49 per cent. and Hillingdon's by only 14 per cent. The reason is that the leader of the Hillingdon council and his colleagues have chopped £6 million off expenditure in the last year. For example, the ski slope on Western Avenue has been transferred to private enterprise. It provides as good a service to sportsmen as it did when it was a burden on the ratepayers. The councillors in Socialist boroughs should take note that their responsibility is great. They must cut down the substantial burden on ratepayers, particularly young ratepayers.

I am anxious about the many young couples who seek homes in the London area. The answer to their problems is to give them the opportunity to buy their homes through a shared purchase scheme. I hope that the Minister will explain what plans the Government have for encouraging local authorities to expand that type of scheme.

I hope that the Minister will deal with the question of the land owned by local authorities which could be made available to young people. I hope, too, that he will explain his policy for encouraging young people to be more mobile and to occupy homes in other parts of the country if that is consistent with their employment opportunities.

This is a valuable debate. It gives hon. Members the opportunity to say frankly what they feel about the problems in their constituencies. I hope that we keep the debate on that level.

5.44 pm
Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)

I do not agree with the hon. Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), who suggested that housing is above politics or that it should be made to be so. The solutions offered by both sides are political. They take into account the different vested interests. Government Members, by and large, represent property interests. They have rightly spoken at length about the needs of the homeless and of the need for young couples living with their parents to be rehoused. Much of what they have said is true. I do not doubt their sincerity. However, the problems cannot be solved unless we honestly acknowledge the differences in policy between the Conservative and Labour Parties and the implications of such policies.

I shall deal with one aspect—the rising costs and implications of the home ownership that was offered during the general election campaign. That offer, in Thurrock and elsewhere, was one reason for the large swing to the Tory Party. People were told that at last they were to be given the chance to buy their council homes. It was suggested that the Labour Party was totally opposed to that policy. Of course, that is not true. Labour Party policy is that homes may be sold only when the young couples and the homeless about whom Government Members have spoken so eloquently have been properly and adequately housed. Only then may housing be made available for sale.

If people really want to know what the Tory Party policy amounts to and what its implications are they must examine closely the activities of the GLC since it began its sales drive in 1977. It was launched by Sir Horace Cutler, in a blaze of glory. He said that the sales policy was justified on the ground that it would lead to substantial financial savings for the council.

What has happened since? People are unwilling to buy many types of council property. They are unwilling to buy flats in high-rise blocks. By the end of 1979 only 3 per cent. of sales were of council flats. Only 16 per cent. of houses and flats have been sold in the inner London boroughs where the majority of GLC property is located. Most sales are of homes in estates outside the immediate GLC area where the GLC owns 30,000 properties. Regrettably it owns and manages two estates in my constituency.

The tenants of GLC properties in Thurrock are much like council tenants elsewhere. Many cannot take up the offer of a council house sale. In Thurrock, as elsewhere, many council tenants live on supplementary benefit. Others live on low or irregular incomes, are unemployed, or are unable to obtain a mortgage because they are aged or single parents. Only a small proportion of council house tenants in Thurrock, as elsewhere, can take the opportunity of buying a council house or flat, which they were told would be offered to them at substantial discounts.

GLC tenants on the two estates to which I referred have found exactly what the Tory promises amount to. I shall give two examples. The first involves a constituent who has given me her permission to cite her case and to explain what has happened to her. Her name is Mrs. Wilkinson, and her story starts in October 1977, when she first applied to buy the council house in which she lived and which the GLC was prepared to offer for sale. That was shortly after Sir Horace Cutler had made his great offer of council houses for sale for all.

Ultimately, in January 1979, she and her husband were offered the house at £7,990. They were offered a discount, which enabled them to buy the house with a mortgage of only £1,500. They had a good reason for doing that. Mr. Wilkinson was obliged by an injury sustained during his time as a prisoner of war to take early retirement from his job of some responsibility in the Post Office. He is no longer able to work in the Post Office, and he receives a small pension from it. He is able to do another small job as well.

The procedures were put into operation to allow them to take up the original offer. Completion date was to be 18 February this year, but two days before that the Wilkinsons received a letter from the GLC giving one clear working day's notice in which to contact the relevant offices, saying that the council—legally, of course—had withdrawn its offer because the house was to be revalued.

In other words, while the Tories may have promised people that they could buy their own council houses they gave no indication of how long the GLC would drag out the process without the tenants knowing at the end whether they would be gazumped. So much for the responsibility of which the Secretary of State spoke this afternoon when he described the Tory attitude on housing policy. Does "responsible" mean that the GLC will engage in gazumping, which, while not illegal, has been the subject of moral condemnation on both sides of the House?

I have written to Sir Horace Cutler about the plight of the couple—I have yet to receive a reply—seeking the reasons for the revaluation, which was not required under the terms of the Secretary of State's recent circular. The Wilkinsons have been given a new offer, which increases the price of their house by £800. Since Mr. Wilkinson has retired, and in view of Mrs. Wilkinson's age, they have decided somehow to scrape together the extra money in order to buy the house. That £800 may not be much to the Secretary of State or to many Conservatives but to this couple it is certainly a great deal to have to find, especially after months of anxiety.

Another letter from constituents relates similar experiences. I will not give the constituents' name, since I have not yet had the opportunity to seek their permission to do so. Their house was assessed in May 1978 at a market value of £10,170. A 30 per cent. discount was offered for their agreeing not to sell for eight years, which brought the price down to just over £7,000—a figure that they accepted. In November 1979 their hopes were raised even further when the GLC said that they qualified for a 50 per cent. discount, bringing the price to just over £5,000, which, once again, they accepted. Finally, the GLC issued a new offer which put the price up to £6,410. Once again the GLC was guilty of long bureaucratic delays. It showed no honour and no responsibility towards the would-be purchasers, but it showed a willingness to engage in gazumping.

GLC tenants have therefore had the opportunity to see what Tory policies amount to over a three-year period. I have cited the example of two cases involving my constituents, but a number of revaluations are taking place throughout the GLC area. It is difficult to get the precise number. The revaluations range from 1,300 to 4,000. A large number of tenants, like my constituents, have undergone long and protracted negotiations without knowing what the ultimate purchase prices of the houses would be, what size of mortgages they would have to arrange, and what sort of repayments they would have to make.

The Secretary of State is well aware of what is happening in the GLC and elsewhere. However, in reply to parliamentary questions he has told us that he has no idea how long local authorities are taking to negotiate the sale of council houses and that he this no note in of how many revaluations are being issued. He does not know how many tenants are placed in the position of my constituents whose problems I have described. Is the right hon. Gentleman adopting a responsible attitude on housing policy when he cannot take the trouble to secure these two vital pieces of information, particularly since this is supposed to be his great policy for extending home ownership?

I hope that the electors in Southend this week and elsewhere in the future will realise just what a con Tory promises are. The Tories are compelled and prepared to act legally, but they are not prepared to act responsibly to ensure that their actions towards their tenants are morally right. So much for the notion of extending home ownership at prices that people can afford. People are faced with uncertainty and irresponsibility on the part of Tory-controlled local authorities, aided and abetted by the Secretary of State.

6 pm

Mr. John Heddle (Lichfield and Tam-worth)

Deception is a fashionable vice, and all fashionable vices pass for virtues. The Opposition motion is deceptive and has absolutely no virtue. It is deceptive because it implies that the problems presently visited upon home owners, upon tenants and upon those seeking to buy their own homes or seeking to rent flats and houses are the fault of the present Government. There is no virtue in such a deception.

We heard the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hatters-ley) talk about high mortgage interest rates, and depressing they are, too, but this Government inherited an economic situation created by his Administration's pre-election spending bonanza which is now working through the economic system and remains still to be worked out. I ask the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues why it was that during the five years of his Government the supply of private rented accommodation dwindled drastically and diminished by 125.000 homes per year. He knows that the only way to mobilise our static and wooden work force, locked in their homes because of the dead hand of rent control, and give the mobility that our stagnant economy so desperately needs is to give people a choice—the choice whether to rent or to buy.

Instead of encouraging builders to build homes for sale, the Labour Government pursued the dogmatic path of land nationalisation by implementing the extravagant and self-destructive Community Land Act, which, happily, is now being dismantled by the present Government. That Act caused the supply of building land to dry up, causing builders to go out of business because there was no land on which they could build new homes, which meant that the demand for new homes, particularly among first-time buyers, exceeded supply, which in turn meant that during those five disastrous years between 1974 and 1979 house prices rocketed by an average of 30 per cent. per annum, a point conveniently missed by the right hon. Gentleman in his opening speech.

Instead of encouraging landlords to make private rented accommodation freely available on the open market, to give an opportunity to those who could not afford to buy or who did not wish to buy their own homes, the Labour Government enacted the Rent Acts of 1974 and 1977.

It is no wonder that the supply of private rented accommodation dried up. It is no wonder that the housing waiting lists, about which hon. Members on both sides have spoken, grew out of all proportion during those five years. It is no wonder that homelessness has risen to astronomical proportions, and it is no wonder that the right hon. Gentleman's Government were forced to enact the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977.

I join the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) in throwing out a challenge to the Opposition. Because of their stubborn refusal to acknowledge that rent control strangles the supply of homes to rent and increases human misery, we shall never solve our housing crisis unless and until some brave and moderate voices on the Opposition Benches—and there are some—publicly acknowledge that the Labour Party agrees that the ultimate answer lies in a gradual programme of decontrol.

I ask the Opposition to agree that this Government's shorthold tenancy provisions in the Housing Bill are a brave attempt to breathe a breath of fresh air into the heretofore stagnant private rented sector. Furthermore, will they agree that the provisions in the Housing Bill relating to assured tenancies will encourage builders to build new homes to rent, as they did between the wars—the Wates, the Wimpeys, the Taylor Woodrows, which mixed our housing estates, with home owner beside tenant? They will be able to do so again through the provision of assured tenancies, freed from the stagnation of rent control.

I draw the Opposition's attention to their own consultative document entitled "Housing Policy", of June 1977, Cmnd. 6851 to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred earlier. I direct particular attention to this passage in paragraphs 8.10 and 8.11: The needs of many people… will only be satisfactorily met by renting, and under present arrangements most of them would not have a very high priority in public sector waiting lists. If the decline continued unabated and no action were taken to compensate for the loss of accommodation from the sector, many people—particularly new or mobile households—might not be able to find the housing they need. So the answer to the Opposition's motion is simple—"It is in your hands, gentlemen". If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will have the courage to admit that the control of the private rented sector has caused the drying up of the supply of homes to rent, the way will be found. The most effective way of easing the burden on those wishing to rent or to own a house is for the Opposition to come clean, to face the truth and to put their policies where their thoughts are—to admit that rent control makes for misery and for homelessness, that land nationalisation causes bankruptcy and unemployment in the building industry and does not help the building of new homes.

Let the Opposition admit that now is the time to cast off the cloak of dogma and agree that the nation's housing crisis will be solved only in a free and fair market place where demand equals supply. It is that challenge which is embodied in the Government's Housing Bill, which couples the aims and ambitions of so many people to buy their own council houses with the opportunity for private landlords once again to provide flats and houses to rent and so give people a choice in where they wish to live.

6.5 pm

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

The Secretary of State for the Environment seemed to be outlining monetarist policies, which is usually the job of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Industry in this Government, as well as of the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister.

Strangely, the Secretary of State defended cuts in public expenditure. He extolled them as a virtue. It seems strange that a man who extols cuts in public expenditure as a virtue should, when he announces cuts, try to mislead people about the scale and scope of those cuts.

A cut of 21 per cent. in the housing investment programme turns out to be a cut of 34 per cent. The Secretary of State says that the rate support grant is not a cut at all; it is 61 per cent., the same at the rate support grant settlement introduced by the last Labour Government. If it is not a cut, he is falling down in his duties and responsibilities to the Prime Minister, who is urging cuts. It is either a cut or it is not. The Government Front Bench cannot have it both ways. Ministers cannot on the one hand claim that they are cutting public expenditure and, on the other, when they make the cuts claim that they are not as bad as all that and are not really cuts at all.

I admit that I feel for the members of the Government Front Bench. They have a difficult job to do. They were given a very difficult job over the weekend by the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), who has asked them to cut public expenditure even more but to do it in such a way that services are not cut. It has not dawned on the right hon. Gentleman that one cannot cut public expenditure in such sectors as housing without affecting services. It seems that right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches want to cut bureaucracy rather than services, so that, for example, instead of reducing the council house building programme perhaps we should sack the rent collectors who would collect the rents from the houses when they are built. It seems that that is the sort of alternative that the Secretary of State has laid before him.

Over the past 11 months, we have had policy statements from the Government which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) pointed out, will push rents higher than the level of rents that would have been created by the last Conservative attempt—the Housing Finance Act 1972, which introduced the idea of fair rents in the public sector. We shall soon reach a state of affairs in which rent increases in the public sector will mean that council house rents are higher than the fair rents assessed by rent officers on housing association properties and, indeed, for the time being, in the private rented sector in some areas.

Council house rents are being forced up dramatically as a result of cuts in subsidies and the reduction of housing investment programme moneys for local authorities. In areas with Conservative-controlled councils, council house rents are being pushed up further as those local authorities empty housing revenue accounts and rate fund contributions in order to keep rates down, taking that choice as a result of the rate support grant cuts that they have had from the present Conservative Government.

I take as one example what is happening in Sefton, in my local authority area. I suppose that the Secretary of State would describe the Sefton council as a responsible authority. It is having to impose a rate increase of only 21 per cent. on the people of Sefton. However, a rent increase of between £3 and £4 is being imposed and there are massive cuts in services, including the most despicable act that I have ever known in my experience in local government—the closure of a special school, St. Paul's school, in my constituency, for the educationally subnormal. The children will be bussed 10 miles to a school that already has physically handicapped children in it, and they are to be educated together instead of separately. There will be massive cuts in services. That is but one example.

The 21 per cent. cut in the housing investment programme has hit even Conservative-controlled Sefton, which does not build council houses and has only a small housing investment programme. Its total expenditure for the present financial year, 1979–80, is £9,812,000. It requested £14,223,000—which was bold—but was given only £7,896,000. That £2 million deduction means a cut not in local authority house building but in local authority home loans, grants to housing associations, expenditure on improvements such as damp-proof courses, and other essential items.

There are 4,000 people on the waiting list in the Sefton area, yet rents are rising, houses are not being built, and the present housing stock is being sold. In Sefton, as in other areas, there has been a build-for-sale initiative. I am not opposed to the idea of local authorities joining in partnership with private builders or their own direct labour departments to build houses for sale, but I am opposed to that policy being presented as the means to solve a local authority's housing problem, or as an alternative to local authority house building. It should be considered alongside local authority house building, as an alternative and a fringe activity that could help some people and increase the number of houses available for owner-occupation.

Wimpey was sold land at a reduced cost—less than the market value—by the local authority in Sefton. The houses that are being built should be sold for £16,000. However, Wimpey returned to the local authority and said that because house prices and building costs had escalated during the past six months the least expensive houses would now cost £20,000. An income of more than £8,000 a year is needed to qualify for a mortgage on such a property—if such a mortgage is available at the present time, or if a purchaser can afford the high interest rates. That scheme will not help those who are in need in my constituency.

Because of the Government's policies and because of the cuts that are hurting those in greatest need, I find that more and more people—people who are not normally involved in political issues—are complaining bitterly about the consequences of those policies and cuts. I received a letter from the Reverend David Rouch, the Minister of St. John and St. James', Linacre Lane, Bootle. He said: I would like to bring some situations that are taking place with the parish here and are likely to continue while the present economic situation is taking place. I heard this morning that several parishioners who have made the effort to save and to scrape deposits, etc., to purchase a house are now selling these houses to Merseyside Improved Houses so that they can rent accommodation from M.I.H. My grouse is not that M.I.H. are doing something which is obviously very practicable from their point of view, but I feel in one way or another young couples with children are being penalised when they have made the attempt to purchase their own property. If a situation exists that causes a minister of the Church to write to me it is not surprising that the country faces such difficulties in housing. It is not surprising that this censure motion has been tabled by the Opposition.

A massive attack is being mounted upon owner-occupiers by the Government. They will be hit by high interest rates, higher mortgage repayments, a massive slump in house building, and the sale of council houses. It will be more diffi- cult for existing owner-occupiers to sell their houses on the open market, especially those with lower-priced properties who sell usually to first-time buyers, often moving out of the public rented sector.

Wimpey, Barratt, and other building firms are opposed to the sale of council houses—Labour Members sometimes keep strange bedfellows—because it is less likely that people will buy their houses when they can buy their council homes as sitting tenants.

In all areas of Wales—where the steel industry is closing down—and in parts of Merseyside—where unemployment is rocketing as a result of Government policies—owner-occupiers are losing their stake in the country. They are unable to sell their houses, because nobody wishes to live in those areas. Unlike the rest of the country where house prices are escalating, house prices are tumbling in those areas, and the whole concept of owner-occupation is being destroyed.

The Government's housing policy must be taken as a whole. Part of it is their wish to sell council houses. Part of it is their wish to stop council house building. Part of it is their wish to increase housing costs in the owner-occupied and public sectors. On their own admission they wish to revive the privately rented sector.

They believe the myth, which they have perpetrated, that the privately rented sector can be revived by getting rid of the effect of the previous Labour Government's wicked rent Acts, by relaxing security of tenure, and by allowing private landlords to charge higher rents. The Conservative Party tries to lead us to believe that the numbers of people who invest money in the privately rented sector will increase as a result of their policies.

That is a myth, and the Labour Party knows that it is a myth. It is a myth, because we subsidise council tenants, the tenants of housing associations and owner-occupiers. While they are subsidised and the private landlord is not subsidised, his alternative will always be a dearer alternative. People will move into the private sector only if they cannot gain admission to the other sectors, if the costs in the other sectors are pushed up, or if scarcity of accommodation in the public sector is created to the extent that the privately rented sector is the only alternative.

The Government's policies will create such scarcities in the public sector. They will make owner-occupation a difficult prospect. They will push up the costs in all the other sectors. The privately rented sector can grow only by attacking the other sectors. That is the strategy behind the Government's housing policy.

6.19 pm
Mr. Nicholas Scott (Chelsea)

The self-indulgence of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) has made the ending of this debate even more frantic than it would otherwise have been. I shall try to speak briefly in supporting the amendment in the names of my right hon. Friends not least because the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and others, is not accurate.

The only terms in which one can judge the cost of housing, either in the public or the private sectors, is in real terms. It is not true that, in real terms, housing in either the public or the private sector is more expensive than it has been at any time in this country's history. The motion is inaccurate. It comes from a party that presided over the doubling of prices, unemployment and debt, and it appears to be a bit thick.

I want to use the few minutes that I have to address my right hon. Friend on the problems of the privately rented sector in inner London. This area of housing policy is unique in this country. I am sure that I shall carry my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) with me in what I am about to say.

Competition for housing in the privately rented sector in inner London is greater than in most other areas of the country, because the members of the indigenous population who are seeking privately rented accommodation are in direct conflict with tourists, short-stay visitors and business people who come to this world-famous city. For many years we had the process of what came to be called creeping hotelisation. Now we have many flats in large blocks in central London used for short-stay accommodation, thus reducing the supply of privately rented accommodation for Londoners.

The situation with regard to mansion blocks in Chelsea, Kensington and the cities of London and Westminster and elsewhere in central London has become a scandal. Many of these blocks are traded around companies which are not in this country, but are in Lichtenstein, Saudi Arabia and Monte Carlo. They are held often for only a few months at a time, and the voids—that is the technical term—are increased. Service charges are jacked up to provide artificial gearing and the company is then traded on to another purchaser. Meanwhile, my constituents and those of my hon. Friends who also experience this difficulty see the roofs over their heads being treated in a socially and economically irresponsible manner.

I was looking at one block in my constituency the other day. It is now owned by a company in Saudi Arabia. Of the 24 flats in that perfectly sound block, within yards of Kensington High Street, 18 have been empty for two years. The wiring is hanging from the ceilings and no repairs have been done. It is a scandalous waste of housing resources.

There should be some means of giving the residents of those blocks the right to buy, if not the freehold, at least a long leasehold and to manage the blocks in their own interests. At the very least they should have some control over the management of those blocks, perhaps by setting up some common ownership company or residents' association which would have certain inalienable rights of control.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) has quoted to me the case of a block in his constituency, the lease of which has been sold to a company registered in Curacao, where moneys paid by the tenants by way of service charges for the replacements of the lifts and the repair of the boilers were on a massive scale, running into thousands of pounds, and were paid to the agents of the previous owner. The company in Curacao has appointed new agents, and these agents are now approaching the tenants asking for the charges that have already been paid. This kind of harassment is only too common in central London. At the very least, there should be provision for an agent, a company or a trustee, operating under United Kingdom law, to be responsible for these matters and for the funds paid in respect of service charges to be protected if the company concerned goes into bankruptcy or moves out of this country.

There are many other proposals, on service charges in particular, and on the general question of the way in which private tenants are being treated under the existing law, and will continue to be treated under future law, which need airing and into which I should like to go in more detail, but I shall leave it at that. I simply plead with my hon. Friend, when he winds up the debate, to recognise the special difficulties which are imposed upon tenants in the privately rented sector in central London. If we want any kind of balanced community and do not want to turn central London into one vast hotel catering only for tourists and short-stay visitors, some action is necessary.

6.25 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) for keeping his speech short.

It is evident that many Conservative Members genuinely believe that the Government's proposals will lead to a revival of the privately rented sector. The Secretary of State, in his opening speech, spoke of the Government's aim of halting and reversing the decline in the privately rented sector. I suggest that the Government are about to make the same mistake—for the same reasons—as their predecessors made 23 years ago when they passed the Rent Act 1957. They are about to make the same mistake for the same reasons because their understanding of the privately rented market in housing is false. It is based on the view that the reduction of security of tenure will lead to hundreds of thousands of empty properties coming on to the market. The truth is that if we take away security of tenure, as the Government's proposals do in part, and if we raise rents, it will still be economically more advantageous for landlords to seek to sell into owner-occupation than to rent.

Those who doubt what I say should look with care at the words of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) when, 24 years ago, he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. In moving Second Reading of the Rent Bill he used language that was almost the same as that used by the Secretary of State this afternoon. The right hon. Member for Down, South said: It will halt the drain upon rented accommodation, it will release additional accommodation which is under-used or wasted … and it will give to persons who are moving or setting up home the opportunity to find accommodation in the market."—[Official Report, 21 November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1775.] The belief—I am sure that it was genuine—was that the Rent Act 1957 would lead to an increase in the supply of rented accommodation. What actually happened? In the four years following the passage of the 1957 Act the privately rented sector declined at twice the rate at which it had declined after the passage of the 1954 Rent Act, which brought back security of tenure.

Between 1951 and 1956, privately rented accommodation declined by about 180,000 a year. After the passage of the 1957 Act it declined by a staggering 325,000 a year. But between 1966 and 1971, when the Labour Government's Rent Acts were back in force, the decline had been halted to some extent and was back to 140,000.

Whatever the genuineness of the Government's intentions, the truth is that their proposals in the Housing Bill and other measures to revive the rented sector will not lead to that revival. Instead, they will lead to an increase in rents, to a reduction in security for private sector tenants and to an increase in waiting lists and potential misery. They will not lead to the revival of the privately rented sector that the Government seek.

Southend, East has been on the agenda today. When I was in Southend last week it was noteworthy that Conservative canvassers were not going out of their way to draw to the attention of the electorate just how valuable these proposals in the Housing Bill would be. It is not surprising, because 15,500 households in Southend are in the privately rented sector. About 24 per cent. of households in Southend—almost twice the national average—are privately rented. The Conservatives in Southend know, even if the Conservatives in the House do not know, that the Housing Bill's proposals on the private sector will lead to an increase in misery for those 15,500 private tenants in Southend because of higher rents and worse accommodation.

It is true that some people will benefit from the Government's proposals on the privately rented sector. We had a foretaste of who those people would be in The Sunday Times Business News last Sunday. In the column headed "What's Up.", under the heading Living with a hot property", we were told: The Housing Bill now making its way towards the statute book spells good news for the few property companies which have retained substantial residential portfolios. Top of the list are the Bradford Property Trust … already worth more than 250p a share against a share price of 172p. The Bill, allowing shorter leases and more regular rent increases in specific cases, will push up the asset figure even further. It is clear from The Sunday Times, just as it was from the document that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) found on the train, that the property speculators aim to benefit from the Government's proposals. In the privately rented sector, just as in the council and owner-occupied sectors, there is a staggering gap between the promise and the performance of the Government. Owner-occupiers were promised lower mortgage rates but they have discovered higher mortgage rates. Council tenants were promised the right to buy their houses but, as we have heard, that right has in many cases been rendered otiose by the bureaucratic delays of authorities such as the GLC.

In future, we shall find that this Secretary of State, far from being the man who helped the housing situation, will go down as the man who brought housing back to the kind of crisis proportions that existed in the 1950s. Under Labour, waiting lists were getting shorter, but the right hon. Gentleman will end his time as Secretary of State as the man who reintroduced into housing lengthening waiting lists of hundreds of thousands of people.

6.30 pm
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)

The country today faces the gravest housing crisis in the political lifetime of any hon. Member. That of itself is a grim enough truth. Even more offensive is the fact that this crisis has not come about by accident. It is the direct consequence of the deliberate policies of the Tory Government.

This afternoon the Secretary of State met the challenge of that indictment head-on in his characteristic way. He decided to make a speech about several other subjects. Yet the fact is that this is the first Government for a generation and more who have simply decided not to have a house building programme. The Secretary of State was quite open about it last month when he made his statement on housing public expenditure. The House will recall that statement. It was the one in which the right hon. Gentleman, in his inventive way with statistics, pretended that the cut in housing investment was 21 per cent., rather than the 33.4 per cent. cut in local authority investment that was revealed by closer examination of the figures. The right hon. Gentleman said then: The emphasis of public sector housing policy now must be to meet a particular need, such as those of the elderly and the handicapped … rather than on the general provision of new houses … In future, growth must be based increasingly on the private sector and homes for sale."—[Official Report, 21 February 1980, Vol. 979, c. 667–8.] That announcement came as a blow not only to families on council waiting lists but to private builders as well. For months before the general election last year those worthy gentlemen had littered the country with leaflets and posters opposing nationalisation of the building industry, but with the Secretary of State's statement they woke up to the realisation that their profits depend on public expenditure.

Even before his statement, in January, those gentlemen had issued a stern warning to the Secretary of State. Mr. Basil Gwyn, the chairman of the National Council of Building Material Producers had said: Building material producers are concerned about the possible further decline of house building in the light of the rumoured cuts in Government money for Councils' housing investment. The Government should consider the serious consequences of a substantial decline affecting the housebuilding industry and its suppliers at a time when the expected improvement in the private sector is small. That was before the Secretary of State made his statement about housing investment. The situation has got worse since, and today it has been announced that the builders have asked the Chancellor for special help in his Budget. Mr. Ronald King, the president of the House-Builders Federation, has said that urgent measures had to be taken if private housebuilding output was to expand and begin to fill the gaps that will be caused by the recent cuts in public sector building". The only consistent and reliable demand for the services of these building companies is a steady programme of council house building. In building for home owners they had to depend on that Friedmanite concept called "the market". The market depends on demand, and that other Friedmanite concept known as "monetarism" has inflicted a body blow on demand. When the Labour Government were in office, demand for homes for sale was buoyant.

Last summer, soon after taking office, the Minister for Housing and Construction paid a tremendous tribute to the achievements of Anthony Crosland and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), when he said: Owner occupiers now account for about 55 per cent. of all households in England and Wales. That was the result of five years of Labour Government. The Minister went on amongst couples in their thirties about 70 per cent. are now owner-occupiers. Much of that revolution also took place during five years of Labour Government. Indeed, it was because of the profits that they piled up under Labour that the building industry could afford to finance its anti-nationalisation campaign. But things are now very different. The builders have today asked for a cut in minimum lending rate. When Labour was in office, MLR stood at 14 per cent. or more for 127 out of 1,887 days during which they held office. Under the Conservative Government MLR has stood at 14 per cent. or more for 272 out of the 311 days in which they have been in office. Yet it was the Prime Minister who, in opposition, declared that an increase in interest rates to 14 per cent. is a potential disaster for home buyers… it is the home buyer and the small business who are having to pay the price for the Government's economic failure."—[Official Report, 8 February 1979; Vol. 962, c. 550.] It was the Prime Minister who declared in those unforgettable words: Our plans for a 9½per cent. mortgage are absolutely unshakeable."—[Official Report, 26 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 951.] Those words were also spoken in opposition, but in government all that the right hon. Lady could say a couple of weeks ago in the censure debate was: The mortgage rate had to go up in spite of our efforts to get Government borrowing down."—[Official Report, 28 February 1980; Vol. 979, c. 1597.] The absolutely unshakeable Opposition spokesman had, as Prime Minister, become the poor, weak victim of circumstances.

It is no wonder that it was to the Prime Minister personally that this letter was addressed, courtesy of the "Your Letters" page of the Daily Express. When I voted Tory at the last election I did not expect a magic wand to be waved and for things to miraculously improve overnight. As someone said the situation would become worse before it improved. However, I did not expect to have to sell my home within eight months of Mrs. Thatcher taking over, which is what will happen now that the building society has put up its rate to 15 per cent. without extending the repayment period. Because we live in a slightly larger than average house, people assume that we are well off. But all we have is our monthly income. Our savings went years ago and with the mortgage increase coupled with the forecast of a huge rates rise there will not be enough to go round. That letter was headed: Now I can't afford to keep my house. What has Maggie done to us? The only slim comfort for that disillusioned Tory voter and for the 5¼ million others who are buying their homes on a mortgage is that they are not alone in their misfortune. It is true that the Government have put up their mortgage repayments by a whopping 20 per cent. But if those people were council tenants they would have to pay 28 per cent. more in rent, for that is the guideline that has been laid down by the Secretary of State. It represents an increase in the coming years of £1.80 a week over the present average council rent of £6.56.

The Secretary of State is trying to pretend that that is the kind of increase that would or should have taken place under Labour. He was at it again this afternoon. In his statement last month he talked about a commitment in the previous Government's Green Paper to increased rents in line with earnings.

The Secretary of State suffers from two incorrigible tendencies and he will have to try to do something about them. The first is a reckless and chronic urge to seek to mislead the House. The second tendency is, if anything, even more serious for a politician so blatantly on the make. Not only does he fail in his attempts to mislead, but the failure is too easily exposed.

The Labour Government had no commitment to increase rents in line with earnings. The foreword to the Green Paper, in any case, pointed out that it was no more than a consultative document. [Interruption.] Yes, that is what Green Papers are for. It gave no such commitment, but simply said: The Government consider that over a run of years rents should keep broadly in line with changes in money incomes. When questioned by the right hon. Gentleman about the Green Paper my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar said quite flatly: I do not envisage that increases in rents will be higher under the future formula than they have been in the past two or three years."—[Official Report, 28 June 1977; Vol. 934, c. 252.] In the three years previous to my right hon. Friend's statement rents had risen at something like half the rate of rise in average earnings.

Mr. Peter Bottomley


Mr. Kaufman

If the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) wishes to ask me whether I have figures for specific local authorities, my answer is that I am not able to produce them, but I shall be glad to give way to him.

Mr. Bottomley

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I want only to put to him the question that I put earlier to his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). Is he able to give the proportion of rent to average earnings today, five years ago and 10 years ago? That would seem to get to the heart of the motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Gentleman is asking for a dogmatic statement of the kind of proportion of earnings that rents should represent. That is the kind of proportion that the Government are seeking to lay down. In our consultative document we indicated broad guidelines.

I have already quoted the record from 1974 to 1977. I shall now quote the record from 1977 to 1979. It shows that in the two years following my right hon. Friend's statement average earnings rose by 28 per cent., while average rents rose by 14 per cent. Rents were up half as much as earnings. Rents went up half as much in two years as the Secretary of State is ordering the councils to raise them in one year. The right hon. Gentleman is forcing council rents up this year at four times the rate at which they rose in Labour's last two years. That simple fact should be noted by every one of the country's 6 million council tenants.

The Secretary of State claimed that, under Labour, council house building fell because rents did not go up enough. His policies are forcing rents up higher than ever before, but they are forcing building down lower than ever before. The higher rents that he is forcing on local authorities are not being used to finance more new houses, because there will be fewer new houses. The Secretary of State's logic is as threadbare as his policies.

It looks as though private tenants will suffer just as severely as council tenants, because the Housing Bill makes two attacks on private tenants. First, it ends rent control for the 200,000 tenants who still benefit from it. Secondly, it lays down that all 2 million private and housing association tenants should in future have their rents put up every two years, instead of every three years as at present.

It is even possible to gauge the rough scale of the rent increases for these tenants that the Government are expecting. For the financial year 1978–79 the cost of rent allowances for those tenants was £84 million. Now the Government are budgeting for an additional £72 million in rent allowances for the year 1982–83. That means that the Government are anticipating that their legislation will put up the cost of rent allowances for private and housing association tenants by 86 per cent. That is a frightening pointer to rent increases of the kind that private tenants can expect.

But none of this should come as any surprise, for Ministers at the Department of the Environment seem to be obsessed with forcing up rents. Only a few weeks ago the Under-Secretary of State delivered a tirade against Manchester city council for not putting rents up enough. That same week the Minister for Housing and Construction told the House that rent controls should have been ended years ago. The Secretary of State has bitterly attacked what he describes as the manifest consequences of holding rents down artificially over long periods.

The only occupant of the Government Front Bench who does not seem to be fully persuaded of the need to increase rents is the Attorney-General. During the weekend the nation was moved to read of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's struggle against his landlord's attempt to put up his rent by more than seems justified. Labour Members commend the Attorney-General for standing up for his rights as a tenant. We are gratified that he is availing himself of the protection afforded by Labour's Rent Acts. We believe that his example will be an inspiration to countless humbler tenants who otherwise might not have the courage to resist grasping landlords. But if the Attorney-General is rightly fighting against a rent increase for himself, why will he be voting tonight in favour of rent increases for millions of others?

Millions of families in towns and cities throughout Britain are suffering as a result of the Government's housing policies. Let us pluck one such town out of the air. For the sake of argument, let us call it Southend-on-Sea. In Southend, thousands of mortgagors are numbered among those who, as the Financial Times has put it, are the losers under the Government's economic policies—those on earnings of less than twice the national average, and in particular young house buyers.

In Southend there are 17,000 private tenants who will within the next three years, face rent increases of 80 or 90 per cent., thanks to Tory Government policies. In Southend there are 8,800 council tenants who face rent increases of 28 per cent. in the next financial year because the housing department there assures me that it is abiding by the Government's formula on rent increases. To show that it means what it says, Southend council is putting up rents four weeks today by an average of £1 a week. A 13 per cent. rent increase will be the Prime Minister's Easter egg for the council tenants of Southend.

The Government prate on about their belief in cutting taxes, but their rent and mortgage increases are tax increases. What is more, they are increases in direct taxation, because householders have no choice—they have to pay them. They are big increases. For council tenants over the coming year it is a tax increase of £560 million. For home owners it is even greater—a tax increase of £996 million.

That is the measure of the Government's failure in housing, and that is why we ask the House to vote for the motion tonight.

6.49 pm
The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. John Stanley)

The debate has been conspicuous for a number of things, not least the number of aspirants to the post of housing director for the borough of Southend.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), when he made his remarks about housing cuts, did not remind us of his own experience in that area. By way of balance, he might have pointed out that he was a member of a Government who reduced the housing programme by half. He was a member of a Government who reduced capital expenditure on housing by more than £2,000 million in real terms, and he was a Minister in the Department of the Environment when net capital expenditure fell by more than £900 million over two years.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman, when in that post, bore the burden of collective responsibility fairly lightly on his shoulders. I recall a remark that he made in 1974: It is clear that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, for obvious reasons, would like every Department to spend as little as possible. We are hoping to confound my right hon. Friend. I have gone round the country addressing special conferences of local authorities urging them to build far more houses and put my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in trouble.—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 5 December 1974; c. 180.] The local authorities chose not to listen to the right hon. Gentleman and the housing programme collapsed over the next four years. I am only sorry that he did not indicate that over the last four years of the Labour Government the housing programme fell every year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) made an important speech which was appreciated, I believe, by the whole House. He has great experience both of local authority and housing work. I share the concern he expressed about the multiple bureaucratic processes that housing association projects have to go through. As he may know, I have set up a working party with the Housing Corporation and the National Federation of Housing Associations, which I hope will be reporting shortly. It is one of our major objectives to tackle and simplify that problem within the next few months.

I also agree with what my hon. Friend said about under-occupancy. I am sure that he will welcome the provisions in the tenants' charter of the Housing Bill under which all local authority tenants, housing association tenants and new town tenants will have the right both to sublet and to take in lodgers. I also agree with what he said about the need to improve the take-up of rent allowances. He may like to know that at this moment we are conducting a national campaign to improve the take-up which is running in the national newspapers and on regional television.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) made an important contribution. I should be grateful if he would provide me with the details of the mansion blocks to which he referred. I should like to examine as closely as I can the position there, to see whether the service charge provisions of the Housing Bill should be reconsidered in the light of the information that he provides for me. I am grateful to him for having raised that matter.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) suggested that it was nonsense to refer to the levels of underspend under the previous Administration. But, if we are to have a serious debate about cuts, particularly the percentages of cuts, it is important that the House should be aware of the extent to which hundreds of millions of pounds of public money went unspent on the housing programme. In the last two years of the Labour Government the housing capital programme was underspent by nearly £800 million. If that does not indicate the scope of the wastage, I do not know what does. I am aware that Opposition Members are in- clined to say that it was all due to Conservative-controlled council's underspending, but I should like to give them the facts.

Let us look, for example, at what went on in certain local authorities. Let us look at the local authorities in the constituencies of the then Housing Ministers in the Department of the Environment. For example, was Tower Hamlets using every penny of the multi-million pounds that was being pushed in its direction by the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore)? It was not. That authority was £6.6 million underspent over those last two years. Going to the other side of London, to Brent, was that authority spending every penny of the millions that the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Frecson) was giving to it? The answer is that it certainly was not. That authority let £6.7 million go down the drain.

The background to the housing cuts about which we have heard so much today is that in the two years up to the last general election public resources were not being used, and they could not even be used in the constituencies of the Housing Ministers.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred to Sheffield. I should like to give him the full background to the position there, as he specifically referred to that city. In 1978–79 Sheffield underspent by £4½ million. Was that reflected in that city's allocation for the following year? No, it was not. Up went the allocation once again. Then a remarkable thing happened. The financial profligacy of the Department of the Environment Ministers at that time was so self-evident that the Labour councillors in Sheffield felt compelled to write to the Department actually asking for their allocation to be cut. If the House has any doubt about that, I refer to the letter dated 27 March last year—less than a year ago—from the director of Housing in Sheffield to the Department of the Environment in which he said: The council has instructed me to write informing you that it will not require an allocation in excess of £25 million for its capital expenditure under the housing investment programme for the financial year 79–80. That was an authority that already had an allocation of £32½ million.

The essential background to the cuts we have had to make is that there were hundreds of millions of pounds raised from the taxpayers and so much money was going out that it could not be used by the local authorities.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Can the hon. Gentleman assure us that, if this situation arises during his period as Minister for Housing, that money will be rapidly reallocated to those housing areas that badly need it.

Mr. Stanley

I am glad that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has made that point. That is one of the reasons why in this next financial year we have moved to a single block system—to ensure that local authorities have the maximum freedom to spend their allocations.

I turn now to the points made about the mortgage rate. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and the hon. Members for Harlow (Mr. Newens) and for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) referred to this matter. What we have not heard at any time during the debate is how the Opposition square their call for interest rates, and therefore mortgage rates, to go down with their repeated calls for virtually every item of public expenditure to be increased. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick reeled off a number of days. The days that I was hoping he would reel off were the number of days that MLR would have to stay at its present level if the public expenditure commitments of the Opposition were implemented. One cannot keep track of the number of commitments for increasing public expenditure, but in the past six months the Opposition have made commitments to increase expenditure on housing, education, social benefits, the National Health Service, steel, overseas aid and, no doubt, a great deal more.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has been doing his bit to increase the borrowing requirement and therefore further increase interest and mortgage rates. I see that he said in his speech to the Labour Party local government conference last month: We must reassert our reputation as the public expenditure party. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that he can carry conviction by making speeches outside the House beating the drum for more public expenditure and then making speeches in the House call- ing for lower interest rates, he is deluding nobody but himself.

Much of the debate has been taken up with the problems of first-time buyers. Here the position of the Opposition is ambivalent, to put it mildly. The Opposition are wringing their hands about the problems of home owners when Labour councillors up and down the country are denying thousands of council tenants the chance to become home owners. The Opposition are complaining about housing costs when the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has himself been urging Labour councils to make house purchase for council tenants as expensive as possible. This is what he said recently: I hope no Labour councils will anticipate the Housing Bill's passage by being prepared to sell council houses before the Bill receives Royal Assent. That means that every council tenant will have to pay more and yet the Opposition are complaining about housing costs.

The Opposition say in their motion that it is more expensive to buy now than at any other time in our history. Yet they are committed to withdrawing access to home ownership to council tenants on a bigger scale than ever before.

I return to the comments of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick and his comments about rents. He said —and this was particularly interesting—that the Labour Party was not committed to maintaining the increase in rents in line with earnings. But the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook said in the house on 15 January: We pledged ourselves—and we kept our pledge—to keep rent increases and levels of earnings increases in line."—[Official Report, 15 January 1980; Vol. 976, c. 1465.] That is what he said. The only thing about that was that the right hon. Gentleman was not correct because in the period of the last Government they did not keep the increase in earnings and the increase in rents anything like in line. In fact, when the Labour Government left office rents were lower in proportion to average earnings than at any time in the past 20 years, and on the available figures they were probably lower than at any time since the Second World War.

In fact, during the term of office of the last Government we saw a massive switch in public expenditure away from capital expenditure programmes towards rent subsidies. At least one Labour Member foresaw the havoc this would cause to housing revenue accounts. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) wrote a most illuminating pamphlet entitled "Do we need Council Houses?" in which he said that this switch would "play havoc" with housing revenue accounts. One has only to look at the housing revenue accounts of certain London boroughs to see exactly what sort of havoc has been created by holding rents down and not maintaining them in line with earnings.

A most important point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham on the question of empty houses. He is right, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House would want us to do everything possible to bring empty houses back into use. I must refer the right hon. Member for Spark-brook to the fact that there is a conspicuous number of authorities—mainly Labour—which have very large numbers of empty houses. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will approach the Labour leaders in those London boroughs which, on their own figures, have more than 2,000 empty dwellings. I hope that he will approach the Labour leader in Camden about the 2,263 vacant dwellings there and the Labour leader in Southwark about the 3,024 empty houses there. Further, in Lambeth there are 3,250 empty houses and in Islington there are 3,519.

The debate has brought out vividly the inconsistency in the Opposition's approach to the question of housing costs. They have complained about mortgage

interest rates, yet they have made insistent calls for increased public expenditure which can only send mortgage rates still higher. They have complained about housing costs being the highest ever when Labour councillors are adding massively to those costs by imposing the most swingeing increases in rates. They have complained about the rent guidelines, but having spent five years in Government they did not have the courage to implement their own policies. They have complained about the shortage of rented accommodation when they have done nothing whatever to revive the private rented sector and they have halved the programme in the public sector. They have complained about insufficient funds, yet they have refused to add to their allocations by selling council houses. They claim that it is difficult for people to buy houses—and I do not disguise in any way the 15 per cent. mortgage interest rate—but council house sales are running at an all-time record level, the number of local authority mortgages in the last six months was actually higher than for the last four years and some 200,000 more people have become home owners since we came into office. The Opposition say that they are concerned about the problems of first-time buyers, yet their one and only housing policy commitment has been to say that they will withdraw the right to buy from 6 million council tenants.

I suggest to the House that if ever an Opposition motion deserves to be thrown out, it is this one.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 251, Noes 309.

Division No. 218] AYES [7.04 pm
Abse, Leo Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Conlan, Bernard
Adams, Allen Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Cook, Robin F.
Allaun, Frank Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S) Cowans, Harry
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith) Crowther, J. S.
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ernest Buchan, Norman Cryer, Bob
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Ashton, Joe Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Cunningham, George (Islington S)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Campbell, Ian Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Campbell-Savours, Dale Davidson, Arthur
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Canavan, Dennis Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Beith, A. J. Cant, R. B. Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Carmichael, Nell Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)
Bidwell, Sydney Carter-Jones, Lewis Deakins, Eric
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Cartwright, John Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Dempsey, James
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough) Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Dewar, Donald
Bradley, Tom Coleman, Donald Dixon, Donald
Bray, Dr Jeremy Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Dobson, Frank
Dormand, Jack Kerr, Russell Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Douglas, Dick Kinnock, Neil Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lambie, David Robertson, George
Dubs, Alfred Lamborn, Harry Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Duffy, A. E. P. Lamond, James Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Dunnelt, Jack Leadbitter, Ted Rooker, J. W.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Leighton, Ronald Roper, John
Eadle, Alex Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Eastham, Ken Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Litherland, Robert Rowlands, Ted
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Lofthouse, Geoffrey Ryman, John
English, Michael Lyon, Alexander (York) Sandelson, Neville
Ennals, Rt Hon David Lyons, Edward (Bradford West) Sever, John
Evans, John (Newton) Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Sheerman, Barry
Ewing, Harry McDonald, Dr Oonagh Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Faulds, Andrew McElhone, Frank Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)
Field, Frank McKay, Allen (Penistone) Short, Mrs Renée
Fitch, Alan McKeivey, William Silkin, Rt Hon John (Depiford)
Flannery, Martin MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Silkin, Rt Hon S.C. (Dulwich)
Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston) Maclennan, Robert Silverman, Julius
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McMahon, Andrew Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central) Snape, Peter
Ford, Ben McNally, Thomas Soley, Clive
Forrester, John McNamara, Kevin Spearing, Nigel
Foster, Derek McWilliam, John Spriggs, Leslie
Foulkes, George Magee, Bryan Stallard, A. W.
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Marks, Kenneth Steel, Rt Hon David
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Marshall, David (Gl'sgow.Shettles'n) Stoddart, David
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Stott, Roger
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Strang, Gavin
George, Bruce Martin, Michael (Gl'gow Springb'rn) Straw, Jack
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Mason, Rt Hon Roy Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Ginsburg, David Maxton, John Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Golding, John Maynard, Miss Joan Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Gourlay, Harry Meacher, Michael Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Graham, Ted Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Mikardo, Ian Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Grant, John (Islington C) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Tilley, John
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride) Tinn, James
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Torney, Tom
Hardy, Peter Mitchell, R. c. (Soton Itchen) Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Watkins, David
Haynes, Frank Morton, George Weetch, Ken
Heffer, Eric S. Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Wellbeloved, James
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) Newens, Stanley Welsh, Michael
Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Home Robertson, John Ogden, Eric White, James (Glasgow, Pollock)
Homewood, William O'Halloran, Michael Whitehead, Phillip
Hooley, Frank O'Neill, Martin Whitlock, Williiam
Horam, John Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wigley, Dafydd
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Paimer, Arthur Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Huckfield, Les Park, George Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Hudson Davies, Gwllym Ednyfed Parker. John Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Parry, Robert Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North) Pavitt, Laurie Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Pendry, Tom Winnick, David
Janner, Hon Greville Penhallgon, David Woodall, Alec
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Woolmer, Kenneth
John, Brynmor Prescott, John Wrigglesworth, Ian
Johnson, James (Hull West) Price, Christopher (Lewisham West) Wright, Sheila
Johnson, Walter (Derby South) Race, Reg Young, David (Bolton East)
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda) Radice, Giles
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Richardson, Jo Mr. Hugh McCartney and
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Mr. Terry Davis.
Adley, Robert Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Braine, Sir Bernard
Aitken, Jonathan Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Bright, Graham
Alexander, Richard Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Brinton, Tim
Alison, Michael Best, Keith Brittan, Leon
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Bevan, David Gilroy Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher
Ancram, Michael Bitten, Rt Hon John Brooke, Hon Peter
Arnold, Tom Biggs-Davison, John Brotherton, Michael
Aspinwall, Jack Blackburn, John Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Blaker, Peter Browne, John (Winchester)
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Body, Richard Bruce-Gardyne, John
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Bryan, Sir Paul
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Boscawen, Hon Robert Buck, Antony
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Budgen, Nick
Bell, Sir Ronald Bowden, Andrew Bulmer, Esmond
Bendall, Vivian Boyson, Dr Rhodes Burden, F. A.
Butcher, John Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Parris, Matthew
Butler, Hon Adam Holland, Philip (Carlton) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Hooson, Tom Patten, John (Oxford)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Hordern, Peter Pattie, Geoffrey
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Pawsey, James
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford) Percival, Sir Ian
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Peyton, Rt Hon John
Channon, Paul Hunt, David (Wirral) Pink, R. Bonner
Chapman, Sydney Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Pollock, Alexander
Churchill, W. S. Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Porter, George
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Suttton) Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South) Jessel, Toby Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Price, David (Eastleigh)
Clegg, Sir Walter Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Prior, Rt Hon James
Cockeram, Eric Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Proctor, K. Harvey
Colvin, Michael Kaberry, Sir Donald Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Cope, John Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Raison, Timothy
Cormack, Patrick Kershaw, Anthony Rathbone, Tim
Corrie, John Kimball, Marcus Pees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Costain, A. P. King, Rt Hon Tom Rees-Davies, W. R.
Critchley, Julian Knight, Mrs Jill Renton, Tim
Crouch, David Knox, David Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Lamont, Norman Ridsdale, Julian
Dickens, Geoffrey Lang, Ian Rifkind, Malcolm
Dorrell, Stephen Langford-Holt, Sir John Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Latham, Michael Roberts, Michael (Cardiff V)
Dover, Denshore Lawrence, Ivan Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lawson, Nigel Rossi, Hugh
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Lee, John Rost, Peter
Durant, Tony Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Royle, Sir Anthony
Dykes, Hugh Lester, Jim (Beeston) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo) Scott, Nicholas
Eggar, Timothy Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Elliott, Sir William Loveridge, John Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Emery, Peter Luce, Richard Shelton, William (Streatham)
Eyre, Reginald Lyell, Nicholas Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Falrbairn, Nicholas McCrindle, Robert Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
Fairgrieve, Russell Macfarlane, Neil Shersby, Michael
Faith, Mrs Sheila MacGregor, John Silvester, Fred
Fell, Anthony MacKay, John (Argyll) Sims, Roger
Fenner, Mrs Peggy McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Skeet, T. H. H.
Finsberg, Geoffrey McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Speed, Keith
Fisher, Sir Nigel McQuarrie, Albert Speller, Tony
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) Madel, David Spence, John
Fookes, Miss Janet Major, John Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Forman, Nigel Marlow, Tony Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Sproat, Iain
Fox, Marcus Marten, Neil (Banbury) Squire, Robin
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Mates, Michael Stainton, Keith
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Mather, Carol Stanbrook, Ivor
Fry, Peter Maude, Rt Hon Angus Stanley, John
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Mawby, Ray Steen, Anthony
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stevens, Martin
Gardner, Edward (South Fylde) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Mayhew, Patrick Stokes, John
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Mellor, David Stradling Thomas, J.
Glyn, Dr Alan Meyer, Sir Anthony Tapsell, Peter
Goodhew, Victor Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Goodlad, Alastair Mills, Iain (Meriden) Tebbit, Norman
Gorst, John Mills, Peter (West Devon) Temple-Morris, Peter
Gow, Ian Miscampbell, Norman Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Gray, Hamish Molyneaux, James Thompson, Donald
Greenway, Harry Monro, Hector Thorne, Neil (llford South)
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds) Montgomery, Fergus Thornton, Malcolm
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Moore, John Townend, John (Bridlington)
Grist, Ian Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Grylls, Michael Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Trippier, David
Gummer, John Selwyn Mudd, David Trotter, Neville
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll) Murphy, Christopher van Straubenzee, W. R.
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Myles, David Jiggers, Peter
Hampson, Dr Keith Neale, Gerrard Waddington, David
Hannam, John Needham, Richard Wakeham, John
Haselhurst, Alan Nelson, Anthony Waldegrave, Hon William
Hastings, Stephen Neubert, Michael Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Newton, Tony Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Hawksley, Warren Normanton, Tom Wall, Patrick
Hayhoe, Barney Nott, Rt Hon John Waller, Gary
Heddle, John Onslow, Cranley Walters, Dennis
Henderson, Barry Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally Ward, John
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Osborn, John Warren, Kenneth
Hicks, Robert Page, John (Harrow, West) Watson, John
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham Weils, John (Maidstone)
Hill, James Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire) Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Wheeler, John Winterton, Nicholas
Whitelaw, Rt Hon William Wolfson, Mark TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Whitney, Raymond Young, Sir George (Acton) Mr. Spencer Le Marchan' and
Wickenden, Keith Younger, Rt Hon George Mr. Anthony Berry
Wiggin, Jerry

Question accordingly negatived.

Question. That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 32 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.

Mr. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to, pursuant to Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply).

Resolved, That this House welcomes the measures that the Government are taking to bring public expenditure on housing into line with what the country can afford, to encourage the release of more privately rented accommodation, and to extend home ownership to a greater number of people than ever before.

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