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 Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove 12:00 am, 21st June 1978

The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) saw something in the Secretary of State's speech that I was unable to see—that is, a policy. I saw 45 minutes of platitudes. The Secretary of State excelled on his own Green Paper in terms of length without content. I was unable to detect any policy proposals, however.

I felt at moments that he exceeded even the answer that I received when I asked about the replacement of a much out-of-date circular on housing standards and costs for accommodation specifically designed for old people. I received the electrifying answer: We intend soon to consult local authority associations".—[Official Report. 11th May 1978; Vol. 949 c. 616.] I thought that today's speech was well up to the standard of his intention soon to consult, to bring forward, to review and to have under consideration. That approach is an excuse for a policy and a programme, and by it the Government have failed to deliver the sort of housing that people want.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) pointed out, the objectives of housing policy should be to provide for people the opportunity to have, to live in, to buy or to rent the sort of homes they want while obtaining value for money for the massive expenditure in which the Government are involved. There are many ways of obtaining better value for money. One about which the Secretary of State was invited to comment but failed to do so was nationalisation of the building industry and getting direct labour organisations under some proper form of cost control and scrutiny. I did not hear much in the Secretary of State's speech on those important subjects.

I wish to confine my remarks to the first objective that my hon. Friend outlined, which is giving people the chance to live in the sort of homes they want. People who make the sort of speech that we heard from the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden have no interest in providing the sort of home that fami- lies want to live in. They can see only that the selling of council houses takes something away from the public sector. They totally ignore the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) that the surveys show that people want to own their own homes, that people who live in council houses want to own their own homes and that newly married young couples setting out on family life want to own their own homes. They do not want to live in a council house, tied up with all the bureaucratic red tape and dependent on the council for repairs and approvals. When Labour Members speak of the sale of council houses, they show no appreciation of these facts.

On the basis of the statistics, it is at least arguable that there are far too many council houses, whichever way one looks at the matter. I refer particularly to the two- and three- bedroom accommodation in the council sector. We know that there is a crude housing surplus. There are nearly 500,000 more dwellings than householders. It is because there are other factors such as vacancies and second homes.

But we must bear in mind that there is an imbalance between the size of dwellings in the housing stock and the size of households. The imbalance is even more pronounced in the public sector. It is not easy to measure, but paragraph II.13 of technical volume part 1 of the housing policy Green Paper shows that in 1971, for which we had accurate figures, 61·2 per cent. of households were above the bedroom standard. Only 6 per cent. were below it. It shows that 22·1 per cent. of households were two or more bedrooms above the bedroom standard, and later evidence, such as it is, indicates that the disparity between the size of household and the size of dwellings in the housing stock has become even greater.

Paragraph 38 points out: Although the totals for 1975 are rather uncertain since a firm…total of households is lacking, there is no doubt that there has been a considerable reduction since 1971 in the number of households that are short of space…there has been a further increase in the number of households with two or more spare rooms in terms of the bedroom standard". This disparity is more pronounced in the public sector than in the private sector. and yet councils, especially Labour-controlled councils, are still seeking to place all the emphasis on providing more and more two- and three-bedroom parlour and non-parlour houses, instead of directing their efforts, as the public sector should, at the areas where they are most needed, which is surely in providing accommodation for the elderly, especially accommodation with a warden and other special facilities, accommodation for the disabled and accommodation for single-person households. Those should be the priorities for the public sector.

I admit, and I think my hon. Friends will agree, that the private sector will not provide adequately in this area. It is abundantly clear, however, that the private sector can provide the family housing that the country needs, and it can do so far more efficiently than the public sector in terms of construction and maintenance.

We then come to the Rent Acts. They are carefully designed, reinforced and buttressed by the Government to deter anyone with spare accommodation from letting it off. In 1971 there were 1·5 million pensioners in one- or two-person households living in dwellings with five rooms or more. The general household survey of 1975 showed that 31 per cent. of one-person households lived in dwellings with two or more bedrooms.

The evidence, such as it is, shows that there is enormous potential for making use of under-occupied space, and yet we know—I certainly know from experience in my constituency—that, if someone has spare accommodation to let and seeks advice as to whether to let it, he will be told "Do not risk it." He will be told that if there is trouble with a tenant he will never be certain that he will get the tenant out, certainly not quickly and certainly not without a lot of cost. He will be told that if the tenant does not pay the rent he, the landlord, will stand no chance of getting the money back, and that if everything goes well the rent he will get will be kept down and he will be allowed to increase it only every third year—and even then there is no certainty. He will be faced only with discouragement.

Yet what did we have from the Secretary of State today? We had more platitudes about what might be done in the future. Did we hear about the review of the Rent Act 1974? If the right hon. Gentleman really cared, surely we would by now have seen that.

The Government's housing policy has totally failed to provide the numbers and the right sort of accommodation. They have wasted the public's money, and, above all, they have failed to provide encouragement for the country's householders to make the best use of the housing stock that is available to the advantage of those who are seeking accommodation.