The sale of council houses will never involve a recognition of housing need. Those with money and the ability to buy will benefit and those who do not have the ability to buy will suffer. However, the rest of the council tenants will also suffer from this policy as they have to meet the financial burdens outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann).
I should like to see a ban on the sale of all council houses in areas where there is an unsatisfied demand for rented accommodation. The Government should act on those lines. They have stated in a circular that they believe it wrong that council houses should be sold in those circumstances. It is totally wrong for the Government, having stated that, to sit back and see their policy completely ignored by Conservative authorities that have no regard for housing needs.
If the Government feel that they cannot go that far, at least they should say that sales must be restricted to genuine sitting tenants. We should not have the auction of council houses that is taking place in many authorities. At least the Government should withdraw the 20 per cent. discount. It is irresponsible for a Government to say that the policy of certain authorities is undesirable and irresponsible, and yet to allow local authorities to subsidise that irresponsible policy. It is about time the Government came off the fence to make it clear where they stand. They have said where they stand, but they should put some action behind their words.
I welcomed the announcement of future policy made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I especially welcomed his statement about the ceiling on rents. It will be based upon the increase in average earnings, and rents will be kept below that level. That will be good news for council tenants, especially for those who have read the statements of the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and know what is in store for them if a Conservative Government come to power. They now know what sort of rent increases are on the way for them.
The Government's record of looking after council house tenants and keeping rents down to realistic levels is one of which they can be rightly proud. The Secretary of State's statement will be widely welcomed throughout the country. However, I ask my right hon. Friend further to consider rents. Even with the ceiling in force, there are still many ways in which council tenants can be treated unfairly.
Council tenants can be faced with unnecessary rent increases because of the unfair burdens that in many areas are placed on the housing revenue accounts. I refer especially to the placing on the accounts of the whole cost of sheltered accommodation, which should be a charge against the community as a whole. The whole cost of the provision of community halls, open spaces, playgrounds and other such facilities are generally provided by the general rate fund but in some instances are loaded on to the housing revenue account when they cover council areas. Council tenants are paying for these services when paying their rates, as are other ratepayers. They should not be faced with having to pay for them twice as a result of the attitude of Conservative authorities that are placing unnecessary and unjustified burdens upon them.
I give a warm welcome to my right hon. Friend's announcement that councils will be enabled to tie their mortgage rates to those of the building societies. Many borrowers from local authorities have faced heavy burdens over recent years because of the level of interest charges that they have had to pay. Many of us have made representations to the Secretary of State and other Ministers. We are glad that the Secretary of State has listened.
We are talking mainly about those who are on lower incomes—those buying the lower range of property in terms of value. Those are the borrowers who have local authority mortgages. Those are the borrowers who have been bearing an unnecessary burden. I am glad that my right hon. Friend will give the local authorities the chance to put matters right. I hope that the local authorities that have been shouting so much over the past few years will take the opportunity and act to reduce the burden.
We have much to be proud of in our housing record over the past few years and months. However, we have nothing to be complacent about. If the Minister answers no other points that I have made, I hope that he will say a few words about the decline in public sector house building, which many of us find extremely disturbing.