§ The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Michael Spicer)
Some 54 per cent. of households in England were owner-occupiers in 1979, 59 per cent. in 1983 and 65 per cent. in 1987 and 1988. Survey results for 1989 are not yet 449 available, but between 1979 and 1988 the number of owner-occupier households has increased by nearly 3 million.
§ Dr. Twinn
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the steady progress made by the Government over the past seven years in extending owner-occupation. Does he agree that the time is now right further to extend that, particularly by helping council flat tenants through bringing in the rents-to-morgage scheme as soon as possible?
§ Mr. Spicer
We are looking at several ways of increasing home ownership among lower-income groups. The rents-to-mortgage scheme is one of the options that we are considering, but we are also looking at other schemes such as increasing shared ownership and part-mortgage schemes.
§ Mr. Cryer
In pursuit of the right to buy, does the Minister intend to introduce rights for private tenants to buy their property or is the discrimination by the Tory party against private tenants and in favour of private landlords to continue? When will he consider those who cannot afford to buy, people who want decent homes at reasonable rents? The Minister must know that local authorities, which have traditionally provided such homes, are short of funds to build council housing, which remains the basic prerequisite for people who need housing.
§ Mr. Spicer
Unlike the Labour party, we do not believe in the sequestration of private property. I hope that people will look at the Labour party's pronouncements and writings on that subject, because it avowedly believes in the sequestration of private property. The hon. Gentleman asked about reasonable rents. I totally agree that we want a more thriving rented sector, especially in the private rented sector. One of the ways to reduce rents in the private sector is to supply more properties.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson
Does my hon. Friend accept that those encouraging figures are very much due to the successful Government policy over the years of selling council houses? Is he aware that the Labour-controlled Norwich city council has never been keen on that policy and is still actively discouraging the sale of council houses? Does he agree that such a policy does nothing to increase the housing stock in Norwich or anywhere else?
§ Mr. Spicer
Norwich has to comply with the law. My hon. Friend is right in saying that the right-to-buy policy has been a tremendous success. More than 1.2 million households have now exercised that right. The pressure from people to buy is increasing and we think that about 80,000 people will buy this year. My hon. Friend is right to press his council to comply with the law.
§ Mr. George Howarth
When will the Minister recognise that there is no virtue in either owning or renting a property, but that the real difficulty is that the housing finance system is more chaotic and useless than that of any other European country? When will he introduce proposals to increase people's choice of whether to rent or buy, and when will he reform the housing finance system? The real problem is that people do not have a choice.
§ Mr. Spicer
I agree that we want a more thriving rented sector. However, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman will not agree when I say that we want that to be largely in the private and housing association sectors. Therefore, it is of 450 great concern to us that the Labour party is preparing policies further to undermine and possibly to kill off the private rented sector, as that would kill the choice that the hon. Gentleman goes on about.