No, I shall not give way.
The new legislation will also provide a package—it is a matter of particular interest to many others—of legal rights for public sector tenants. The first of these is security of tenure, which the Government are already pledged to extend to public sector tenants. The second is a statutory right of tenants to carry out improvements and to apply for the same grants as are available to home owners. In addition tenants will have a right to a written tenancy agreement. We are also considering an obligation on the local authority to provide a framework for participation with their tenants on matters which affect their interests.
I also propose to safeguard the interests of people seeking council housing by requiring local authorities to publish their allocation schemes, as many do, and, in the interests of mobility, to ease but not abolish residential qualifications.
Statutory rights for public sector tenants must be supported with better management and better upkeep. The quality of the immediate environment of all our council estates needs continuing attention and we want a particular effort to be made to improve the management of our older housing estates and of the less successful of our newer estates, especially in our hard-pressed inner urban areas. I intend to make sure that the new subsidy system will give local authorities more scope to devote resources to management and maintenance and to concentrate them where the need is greatest. We shall be encouraging local authorities in these areas to consider new initiatives, including the linking of housing management with wider community and neighbourhood schemes.
For owner-occupiers I have already mentioned the Home Purchase Assistance Bill. We now envisage two further measures. First, we shall enable local authorities to keep their mortgage interest rates in line with those charged by building societies. At the same time we propose to strengthen the power of local authorities to provide guarantees to building societies where they lend to people on lower incomes or those who are buying cheaper, older houses.
I have already touched on some aspects of the private rented sector but the House will wish to know what progress we have made in our review of the Rent Acts.
As we said in the Green Paper, there is a long-established and deep-seated trend in the contraction of the private rented sector. However, there are some 2 million households still living in privately rented accommodation and so the sector will be of importance for a considerable period ahead. In particular, the sector is still an important source of accommodation for the young mobile as well as for certain other groups. There are wide-ranging and interlocking issues to be considered. The Rent Acts, as consolidated in 1977—a consolidation measure—run to nearly 200 pages of text. Well over 2,000 decided legal cases bear on the Acts' interpretation, and they continue to come in thick and fast. In spite of their origins as a temporary measure, the Acts have been part of the code of social legislation in this country for over 60 years under Administrations of all parties. I make no apology therefore—I say this to some critics on the Opposition Benches—for rejecting facile answers, or for considering with care what effect on people and homes any changes might have.
When I have reached my conclusions I shall, of course, report to the House. Meanwhile, I can give an assurance on two major points of immediate concern to all who live in private rented housing.
The first assurance is that on the weight of evidence I have seen I am certain that the principle of rent regulation should remain intact. It is basically sound and it contributes to a stability that we all want in family budgets.
Secondly, I remain committed to the principle of security of tenure for the tenant of what I might call the professional or non-resident landlord, though I believe there is scope for marginal adjustments designed to bring accommodation let with a business, such as flats over shops, back into use. I am also con- vinced that there is a considerable potential reserve of accommodation for letting available in owner-occupied homes. We must encourage its use. This is why I want to speed up the procedures under which resident landlords and owner-occupiers, who have moved temporarily away, sometimes abroad, may regain possession. I would add that I am giving closer consideration to means of stopping the loopholes which some professional landlords appear to be using to thwart the basic principles of the Acts.
I am also considering what further steps may be taken to improve the physical state of the private rented stock and ensure that necessary repairs are carried out.
Finally, on the general question of rehabilitation we now propose to take further statutory measures to make grants more readily available, to extend to both private and public sector tenants the right to grant aid for improvement works and to extend the availability of repair grants.
As the House will recognise, a substantial measure is in preparation and I want to introduce it at the earliest opportunity. We have done much, but there is still clearly much to do.
Good housing and choice of housing are essential to the contentment and wellbeing of our people. We shall not abandon those in greatest housing need to a market in which they cannot compete. We shall steer resources where they can do most good—to ensure that the needs of the weakest and most often overlooked are systematically catered for and to spread the benefits of good and reasonably priced housing as widely throughout this country as we can. We promised, in the very first chapter of the Housing Green Paper, to continue to give the high priority to housing that its importance merits. We have done so throughout this Parliament, and we shall continue to do so in the Parliament that is to follow.