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 Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Haringey Hornsey 12:00 am, 21st June 1978

This has been a wide-ranging debate and the House will, I hope, forgive me if, rather than seeking to comment on the many and varied points made, I concentrate on the Secretary of State's speech, particularly as I understand that the Minister for Housing and Construction wants a full half-hour in which to reply.

The Secretary of State drew our attention to the Government's Green Paper on housing as representing the Government's objectives in housing. I derived much hope from this, since, with its technical volumes, the paper represents a deeply researched analysis by the Department into our housing problems. It showed that whilst the vast majority of our people are adequately housed—indeed, housed to a very high standard compared with the rest of Europe—there remain severe pockets of housing stress and of poor standards of housing, particularly in our older towns and cities. It showed, therefore, the need to shift the emphasis of public resources away from indiscriminate new building, tower blocks and large council estates, towards a sensitive revitalisation of our ageing and substandard stock.

It showed also that, given the choice, the majority of people in this country prefer to own their own homes rather than to be someone else's tenant, even of the most benevolently-disposed local authority. The Secretary of State knows that in the technical volume No. II a sample survey shows that 87 per cent. of our young married couples aspire to home ownership. But within the same sample, 49 per cent. believe that they will never be able to attain it. My belief is that the duty of politicians is to try to see that those aspirations are fulfilled.

The document also showed that public sector provision was a particularly expensive way of meeting housing need, and to that extent it reinforced the arguments shown in the "Neddy" report which the right hon. Gentleman will remember I had cause to leak a little while previously. That showed that for the same amount of public money, one could house three families in the private sector for every one family that could be housed in the public sector.

The Green Paper also showed that the public sector by itself, given the constraints of the economy, could not solve the problem in areas of housing stress, particularly for the homeless and the young mobile, and therefore reliance had to be placed on the private landlord, to whom encouragement rather than condemnation had to be given. Indeed, this was followed by the Government's own consultative document on the private rented sector, which emphasised that we had to help the private landlord if we were to solve our housing problems.

These are all conclusions to which the Conservative Party has long since adhered, and I saw the Green Paper as containing the seeds of a bipartisan approach to housing—something which I greatly welcome, since I have always deplored the use of housing as a political football in a game where the only losers are those in need of a decent home.

Therefore, I was much encouraged by the Secretary of State when he extended the Green Paper approach by the announcement which he made today. In the main, the legislative proposals are those which we can support and, indeed, which we ourselves would bring in. My right hon. Friends and myself have in recent years advocated a tenants' charter. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) has twice introduced a Bill which the Government have ensured will not see the light of day.

Part of our charter will, of course, include the right to buy one's own home, if a council tenant. But for those tenants who do wish to buy, or who are unable to buy, we shall provide a standard form of tenancy agreement spelling out their rights—something to which the right hon. Gentleman drew attention. We shall give them a greater say in the management of their estates. We shall give them the right to carry out improvements.

The only adverse comment that I would make of the Secretary of State's announcement is that in February 1974 the Labour Party offered a new deal for council tenants but nothing has happened in its four years in office. Here the offer is again taken out, dusted over and produced. Why? Possibly because we are now approaching another General Election. The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if we approach that promise with a little cynicism.

I also welcome the proposal that local authority mortgage interest rates are to be kept in line with building society rates. But there must be a word of caution, because just as local authority rates come down more slowly than building society rates—because of the way in which local authority loans are financed—equally, they go up more slowly. If we bring into being a proposal of this kind, at some point in time borrowers from local authorities may feel themselves a little unfairly treated compared with the historical situation.

The proposal with regard to guarantees for mortgages by building societies through local authorities is also extremely sensible and long overdue. I should like an assurance that a guarantee will not continue to be treated by the Treasury as a loan of money and, therefore, part of the capital allocation. This is the way in which it has been dealt with up till now. Local authorities may well feel that they would rather loan money direct and help people themselves than use up that same capital allocation by underwriting building societies. Therefore, it is most important to ensure that guarantees are not treated as part of that allocation. I hope that the Minister will give us the assurance that this has been negotiated with the Treasury and that the Treasury now accepts this concept.

With regard to the Rent Acts, I can accept all that the Secretary of State said about this matter. Of course, security of tenure is of little consequence to the non-resident landlord. Provided he gets a reasonable return on his investment he does not mind who his tenant is. There is no need for anyone to seek or threaten to remove security of tenure. Inasmuch as the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) asked me, I give him the assurance on the Floor of the House—as I have done publicly in other places—that it is not the intention of the Conservative Party to remove security of tenure from those people.