The figures for the sale of council houses reached a high level around 1972 and then dropped inevitably in 1973, with a deteriorating economy, as there was unquestionably—[Laughter.] This is the point that we have tried to make over and over again. In the latter half of 1973, the economic crisis began and the present Government took two years before they were prepared to recognise the fact. Things began to go wrong before the end of 1973, as oil prices soared ahead, which had an effect on the country's economy, and for the present Government to try to deny that that happened is shameful.
There are great advantages to be gained from the sale of council houses. For a start, it does not diminish the overall stock of housing and adds greatly to the overall stock of human happiness. Second, it encourages a commitment to the maintenance and improvement of housing, as well as giving people an added stake in the community. Third, it benefits public expenditure. The revenue from sales in 1972–73 was £351 million. This was down, by 1975–76, to £47·2 million at 1975 survey prices. What nonsense that Labour, nationally and locally, should be going all out to prevent it.
I hope that every council house tenant in the country understands what is at stake in this respect. Support for the sale of council houses is spreading on all sides, even among unexpected people such as Mr. Frank Field of the Child Poverty Action Group. In a pamphlet which was quoted in our debate on new towns he spoke of
the growing sourness in the council estates themselves as tenants become more and more aware of the extent of the serfdom imposed on them by their council tenancies.
Those may be colourful words, but on social grounds the case for the sale of council houses is overwhelming. Labour's housing policy is now cracking under the twin pressures of financial crisis and human desires.
Our motion calls for a strict limitation on municipal trading and direct labour. On municipal trading the point has been made effectively in this House on several occasions this year, and the House has already given a bloody nose to the schemes of the West Midlands County Council and the GLC. It was right to do so. But it is still official Labour Party policy to encourage both. The Minister for Planning and Local Government reiterated the point in relation to municipal trading on 16th April last year in reply to a question on conveyancing, running taxis and other services. The Minister for Housing and Construction has repeatedly talked of his desire to see direct labour extended. He set up a committee on its operation but significantly did not include anyone on it from private industry.
The Minister has failed to take up suggestions in the, CIPFA report on direct works undertaking accounting, published last June, the recommendations of which provided for fair and decent standards for the use of direct labour. We believe that they provide a basis for ensuring competitive efficiency and that they could be implemented straight away, thus avoiding abuses, unfairnesses, and incompetence which so often occur.
We quoted examples of this in the debate earlier this year, but I will quote one more recent example. The magazine Building on 19th March had an article headed:
Southwark loses £500,000 on direct labour housing schemes".
The article reads:
A scathing 100-page report published by the London borough of Southwark last week reveals that the council's own direct labour department overspent by £1·3 million on two recent housing contracts originally priced at £889,906. Included in the overspending is a loss of £570,000 for which the department is held directly responsible.