The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his understanding of the demography of the big cities. In London alone, the vast majority of single people are in accommodation. But there has been a tremendous increase in the numbers of single-person households and an inadequate total supply of housing stock in London to meet the needs of those households. There has been an increase, not a reduction, in supply, but it has been overtaken by an increase in the numbers of small households, not only in London but throughout the country.
The millions of homes now provided by local authorities and housing associations are far and away of better quality than those they replaced over the last 30 years. They are provided at reasonable rents and the majority of them are first-class homes. The fact that we are concerned to improve the standards of the worst should not blind us to the fact that this country has a proud record in the provision of decent housing and at reasonable rents. There are countries throughout Europe and many people in the Americas who would be delighted if they had anything like the provision we have made over the last 30 to 40 years. That is something not to denigrate but of which we should be proud and upon which we should build.
I turn now to the Conservative Party's policy on council house sales. Let me put to the Opposition one area of concern. It has not been this Government's policy to stop the sale of council houses. In our first policy circular in April 1974 we indicated that we had no intention of withdrawing the general consent. But we expressed the view, which we still hold, that it is wrong to undertake indiscriminate sales irrespective of the broad-based housing needs of the area and of the need to maintain a good stock of quality rented homes for those in greatest need.
That is the policy that we oppose, and that is what I ask the Opposition to consider when they talk of a so-called statutory right to buy. There already is such a statutory right. The real issue is whether there should be unqualified statutory compulsion upon local authorities indiscriminately to sell even where it can be shown that to do so would reduce the choice and reduce the number of good-quality homes for families to occupy, and even where it could be shown that there is an inadequate supply of rented housing.
We are entitled to put that concern to the Opposition when they advocate this kind of policy. We do not ask them to withdraw from a policy of council house sales as such, any more than we have withdrawn from it. We are, however, entitled to demand of public representatives who presume to take on executive responsibility in this place or in the town halls that they do not blind themselves to other needs or be so obsessed with one doctrinaire element of housing policy that they ignore all other needs It is that to which we are opposed, and if need he we shall act upon that when the time comes. We wish to see a variety of provision. That is our policy, and we urge it upon the Opposition.