Housing

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st June 1978.

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Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment 12:00 am, 21st June 1978

What a curious thing. The hon. Gentleman wants to deprive the council tenants in his area of the right to become owners because otherwise housing could not be provided for tourist accommodation. What one should do is encourage those tenants to own and if necessary to sell their houses so that they move to areas where there are jobs, perhaps leaving houses which can be used to encourage tourists, thus bringing more jobs and prosperity to the people the hon. Gentleman represents. So the answer to his question is yes—our statutory right will apply to the very people included in his question.

Of course, our policy will not only give an identifiable stake to council tenants; it will also release resources which the local authority or the Government or wherever we decide the money should be allocated to concentrate on the areas of stress, which are or should be our prime concern. Thus, not only do we enhance the position of the council tenant himself but we encourage the community to provide solutions for areas where there are real problems.

Council estates are looking for new initiatives to change the type of life which so many people there have had to lead. It is obvious and accepted that large numbers of council tenants will not want to buy and cannot buy, and we must not neglect them. We want them to be much more involved in administering and playing a part in the management of their estates. There is a powerful argument for experimenting with co-ownership schemes on council estates to give the tenants a much greater identity of interest.

Above all else, as an act of priority—I cannot understand why the Secretary of State has delayed this so long—there should be a tenants' charter to set out their rights. That is a long overdue provision which this Parliament should put on the statute book. We shall do that, because we believe that it is necessary to involve those tenants more and more in the decisions which affect their lives. In reality, those decisions are so often taken by the bureaucrats who do not live on the estates on which the tenants have to live.

Therefore, my charge against the Government is twofold. First of all, with their policies on taxation and high Government expenditure, they have significantly damaged the provision of new homes. In every year that they have been in office, an average of 40,000 fewer houses have been built than were built by the Conservatives when in power. Secondly by their policy initiatives, their objectives and their administrative decisions, they have demoralised the construction industry, witnessed a dramatic increase in unemployment in the industry, and managed an inadequate programme of housing. On any of those grounds they would deserve criticism but on the combination of all of them, they cannot resist censure.