Housing (Government Policies)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:44 pm on 10th March 1980.

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Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth 5:44 pm, 10th March 1980

Deception is a fashionable vice, and all fashionable vices pass for virtues. The Opposition motion is deceptive and has absolutely no virtue. It is deceptive because it implies that the problems presently visited upon home owners, upon tenants and upon those seeking to buy their own homes or seeking to rent flats and houses are the fault of the present Government. There is no virtue in such a deception.

We heard the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hatters-ley) talk about high mortgage interest rates, and depressing they are, too, but this Government inherited an economic situation created by his Administration's pre-election spending bonanza which is now working through the economic system and remains still to be worked out. I ask the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues why it was that during the five years of his Government the supply of private rented accommodation dwindled drastically and diminished by 125.000 homes per year. He knows that the only way to mobilise our static and wooden work force, locked in their homes because of the dead hand of rent control, and give the mobility that our stagnant economy so desperately needs is to give people a choice—the choice whether to rent or to buy.

Instead of encouraging builders to build homes for sale, the Labour Government pursued the dogmatic path of land nationalisation by implementing the extravagant and self-destructive Community Land Act, which, happily, is now being dismantled by the present Government. That Act caused the supply of building land to dry up, causing builders to go out of business because there was no land on which they could build new homes, which meant that the demand for new homes, particularly among first-time buyers, exceeded supply, which in turn meant that during those five disastrous years between 1974 and 1979 house prices rocketed by an average of 30 per cent. per annum, a point conveniently missed by the right hon. Gentleman in his opening speech.

Instead of encouraging landlords to make private rented accommodation freely available on the open market, to give an opportunity to those who could not afford to buy or who did not wish to buy their own homes, the Labour Government enacted the Rent Acts of 1974 and 1977.

It is no wonder that the supply of private rented accommodation dried up. It is no wonder that the housing waiting lists, about which hon. Members on both sides have spoken, grew out of all proportion during those five years. It is no wonder that homelessness has risen to astronomical proportions, and it is no wonder that the right hon. Gentleman's Government were forced to enact the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977.

I join the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) in throwing out a challenge to the Opposition. Because of their stubborn refusal to acknowledge that rent control strangles the supply of homes to rent and increases human misery, we shall never solve our housing crisis unless and until some brave and moderate voices on the Opposition Benches—and there are some—publicly acknowledge that the Labour Party agrees that the ultimate answer lies in a gradual programme of decontrol.

I ask the Opposition to agree that this Government's shorthold tenancy provisions in the Housing Bill are a brave attempt to breathe a breath of fresh air into the heretofore stagnant private rented sector. Furthermore, will they agree that the provisions in the Housing Bill relating to assured tenancies will encourage builders to build new homes to rent, as they did between the wars—the Wates, the Wimpeys, the Taylor Woodrows, which mixed our housing estates, with home owner beside tenant? They will be able to do so again through the provision of assured tenancies, freed from the stagnation of rent control.

I draw the Opposition's attention to their own consultative document entitled "Housing Policy", of June 1977, Cmnd. 6851 to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred earlier. I direct particular attention to this passage in paragraphs 8·10 and 8·11: The needs of many people… will only be satisfactorily met by renting, and under present arrangements most of them would not have a very high priority in public sector waiting lists. If the decline continued unabated and no action were taken to compensate for the loss of accommodation from the sector, many people—particularly new or mobile households—might not be able to find the housing they need. So the answer to the Opposition's motion is simple—"It is in your hands, gentlemen". If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will have the courage to admit that the control of the private rented sector has caused the drying up of the supply of homes to rent, the way will be found. The most effective way of easing the burden on those wishing to rent or to own a house is for the Opposition to come clean, to face the truth and to put their policies where their thoughts are—to admit that rent control makes for misery and for homelessness, that land nationalisation causes bankruptcy and unemployment in the building industry and does not help the building of new homes.

Let the Opposition admit that now is the time to cast off the cloak of dogma and agree that the nation's housing crisis will be solved only in a free and fair market place where demand equals supply. It is that challenge which is embodied in the Government's Housing Bill, which couples the aims and ambitions of so many people to buy their own council houses with the opportunity for private landlords once again to provide flats and houses to rent and so give people a choice in where they wish to live.