Housing and the Building industry

– in the House of Commons at 4:41 pm on 11th February 1981.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Environment) 4:48 pm, 11th February 1981

I beg to move, That this House condemns Her Majesty's Government's housing and construction policies, which have made new homes for sale and to rent scarcer than for generations, have driven up the costs of buying and renting a home to higher levels than ever before, and have resulted in post-war record unemployment figures in the construction industry. Britain today faces its gravest peace-time housing crisis for more than half a century. The construction industry is at its lowest ebb for many years. The Government seek to blame everyone but themselves for the ills that we are suffering. They seek to blame world conditions, oil prices, the wicked trade unions and anyone or anything that they can think of. However, for this crisis in housing and construction none of those excuses is available. The willing and active instigator of Britain's housing disaster now sits on the Government Front Bench. The cause of Britain's housing crisis is the Secretary of Stale for the Environment.

No doubt, when the Secretary of State speaks we shall be regaled with the formula to which the House is accustomed—fiddled figures that will not stand up to a moment's examination, phoney comparisons with the record of the Labour Government—all the paraphernalia of a shifty politician in a fix, which we have come to know so well, if not exactly to love. None of his usual strategems can dispose of the stark facts. No one has spelt out those facts in language so lurid as that employed by the building employers" organisations, the very bodies that campaigned so assiduously and expensively for the return of this Government. Those organisations are now horrified at what their lavishly financed propaganda has brought about.

The president of the House Builders Federation, Mr. Lynn Wilson, said the other day that the shortfall in new housing output in 1980 was disastrous and that a housing shortage of crisis proportions was developing. He went on: We are no longer talking about theoretical housing shortages or surpluses, but the danger of a real housing shortage beginning to affect society's conscience and comfort. In its survey published the day before yesterday the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors says that the smallest firms are faring the worst. It gives this warning: firms have been forced to break up skilled teams and to shed the operatives and staff they have tried to retain in anticipation of future orders… This is a situation which bodes ill for any future recovery of the economy as a whole. We would urge the Chancellor… and the rest of the Government…to consider how the money currently being paid to the industry's unemployed could be used positively. The federation estimates that last year new public sector orders other than for housing were at their lowest for 21 years. It says that the proportion of firms reducing employment has doubled in the last three months to 82 per cent., and that more than half of the industry's plant is lying unused.

The National Federation of Building Trades Employers reported much the same thing in its survey published three weeks ago. Both federations, joining together in their Budget memorandum for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, state: All the indicators of construction workload and employment point to the worst post-war recession in the industry. This will severely and permanently damage the industry's long term capacity, both in skilled labour resources and specialist expertise …the present inadequacy of investment by both public and private sectors in new construction, renewal and maintenance will place our economy even further behind its competitors. The roots of this problem lie in (a) the apparent need for even this Government to resort to capital rather than current cutbacks to meet public expenditure targets, (b) the sudden imposition of disruptive capital moritoria on public capital spending, (c) the failure to provide adequate and balanced incentive for private sector investment in construction and (d) the disincentive to business investment of high interest rates …This Government have particularly under-estimated the damage to the economy of their swingeing housing cuts, the crisis growing under the ground in our neglected sewerage system… The federations estimate that by next year total new work completed by all construction bodies will be at only 60 per cent. of the 1970 level, that public investment in roads, bridges, sewers, schools and hospitals will be only half of the 1970 level and that public new house building will be no more than a quarter of the 1970 level. They go on: Insofar as the decline in new work represents the deferral of essential investment in better factories, infrastructure and housing, then it only serves to increase their eventual cost and reduce efficiency. That is what the right hon. Gentleman's friends are saying about him and his policies. It is different from the sort of material that those two federations, when they combined in the CABIN campaign, distributed before the last election. I have them here—the leaflets, the stickers and the carrier bags which mutely call "Keep Britain's Builders Free". Those carrier bags are now useful only as receptacles for Tory broken promises to the builders, who are now free—free to go bankrupt. I also have the balloons which proclaim the same message: "Keep Britain's Builders Free". I shall leave it to the Secretary of State to blow them up. He has more reserves of wind than the rest of us.

There were also posters in that campaign. One of them said that the results of the Labour Government's policies on the building industry would be more public intervention, less efficiency, higher costs, inevitable losses, more taxation and fewer jobs. Every one of those dire prophecies has been fulfilled, but by a Tory Government and a Tory Secretary of State. I shudder to think what CABIN will say on its posters, carrier bags and balloons at the next general election, when presumably it will be campaigning enthusiastically for the return of the Labour Government who will provide it with the work of which it is now so starved.

Not only the builders are facing a slump, but companies which produce the materials used by the building industry. Cement production is at its lowest since 1963. Brick production is at its lowest peace-time level since records were kept, almost certainly the lowest level this century.

A survey by the British Woodworking Federation reports that over half its firms showed a reduction in their labour force in 1980. One-third were on short-time working and over 40 per cent. were affected by the moratorium on public housing investment. One and all, the old CABIN mates agree that this damage to their industry has come about as a direct result of the policies deliberately pursued by the right hon. Gentleman.

Those policies have harmed others as well. Families buying or wanting to buy a house have been hit harder than ever before by the Government's interest rate policy. For more than a year, mortgage rates have been at levels far above those which used to spur the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to paroxysms of synthetic fury when they were in Opposition.

Last week, the secretary-general designate of the Building Societies Association accused the Government of unfair competition amounting to almost an abuse of power in the battle to attract personal savings. He said that if the Government's rivalry with the societies continued, higher mortgage rates were the "only possible outcome", and that the Government's decision to raise large sums from personal savers would reverberate through every building society decision on interest rates and mortgage rates for some time to come. The result has been a disastrous fall in the number of new mortgages. In 1978, the last full year of the Labour Government, the number of home loans granted was at an all-time record of 804,000. In 1980, the right hon. Gentleman's first full year in Government, home loans were down from 804,000 to 677,000, which is a reduction of 16 per cent.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

While the right hon. Gentleman is examining under the microscope the last full year of the Labour Administration, will he tell the House how much house prices rose that year? Does he not agree that they rose by 26½ per cent.?

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

That is a fraction of the increase in house prices that took place when the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was Prime Minister.

The number of first-time buyers last year was down from 379,000 to 318,000.

In the light of that record on home ownership, the House must be baffled by the reference in the Government's amendment on the Order Paper to Government measures to extend home ownership more widely than ever before". Possibly those who drafted the amendment were influenced by the leaflet that I have here, which has been distributed by a plush estate agency drumming up custom. It says: A marked increase in values was especially evident in the sales of property offered for sale in good to luxurious order. That will no doubt come as a heartening comfort to the young couples who, two years ago, were bamboozled into voting Tory and who now find it impossible to break into the home ownership market.

But if home ownership has been severely damaged by the right hon. Gentleman's policies, even more devastating has been his attack on housing for rent. Of all the Government's expenditure cuts since 1979, no less than 75 per cent. have been in housing alone. When the right hon. Gentleman makes his announcements on housing investment for the public sector we always get two figures; first he gives the phoney figure and then he is forced under questioning to come clean. His behaviour pattern will be recognised by any criminologist as the hardened practice of the habitual offender—first deceive on the Floor of the House, then confess by written answer.

A year ago, the Secretary of State announced his first housing investment programme. In it he pretended that the cut compared with the Labour year was 27 per cent. A little later he was forced to own up to the true figure—not 27 per cent. but 33 per cent. In December 1980, a few weeks ago, he made his second HIP announcement and clothed the figures in fancy dress to try to show that this further cut was 15 per cent. But another question squeezed the true figure out of him—not 15 per cent. but 21 per cent.

The housing investment programme in the last year of the Labour Government was far from satisfactory, as my right hon. Friends who were then at the Department of the Environment will readily acknowledge, but in his first two years the right hon. Gentleman has slashed that final Labour figure by a devastating 51 per cent. The programme now is less than half what it was when Labour left office.

The result so far of the right hon. Gentleman's relentless attack on housing, for rent and for sale, was made known last week with the housing figures for 1980—the Secretary of State's first full year in office. They show that the number of new houses started for sale, at 98,400, was the lowest for 28 years. The number of public sector housing starts, at 53,600, was the lowest in peace-time since 1924-25. The number of new council house starts in England fell to the miserable dribble of 27,000. The total of private and public sector starts, at 152,000, was the lowest in peacetime since 1924–25.

The Secretary of State can reflect, with whatever satisfaction he may derive from the information, that the last Minister responsible for housing who had a record worse than his own was a right hon. Gentleman by the name of Neville Chamberlain.

One of the nasty little habits that the Secretary of State has developed is to pretend that the decline in the housing programme over which he is presiding is simply a continuation of a trend begun under the Labour Government. To carry out that act of statistical smash and grab, he has to start from the year 1975, which was Labour's peak year, when in particular we had increased the housing programme to a level well above that in any year during the previous Tory Government of 1970–74.

It is true that the Labour Government did not maintain its peak achievements of 1975 and 1976, but in 1978, Labour's last full year, the reduction in local authority starts in England was 17 per cent. on the previous year. The reduction between 1980, the right hon. Gentleman's first full year, and 1978, Labour's last full year, was an enormous 60 per cent. Such of the right hon. Gentleman's tenuous reputation for veracity as still survives will benefit from his abandonment of that form of deceit.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , Preston North

What happened to 1979?

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

The hon. Member, whose majority, without the thousands, is about as big as the Secretary of State's housing record for last year—we shall dispose of them both—wants to know what the change was from 1979 to 1980. The year 1979 was a mixed year, beginning with Labour and continuing with this Conservative Government. The fall that year to 1980 was 42 per cent.—more than double the fall in the Labour year which I have given. I hope that the hon. Member will find that satisfactory when he hires some small schoolroom in Preston in which to address his majority.

However, as I said, the right hon. Gentleman is not only presiding over the worst housing programme for half a century; he has also made housing more expensive than at any time in this country's history. When Labour left office, the mortgage rate stood at 11¾per cent. Throughout last year, it was 15 per cent. Now, at 14 per cent., it is still far above any level reached under Labour.

The mortgage rate increases under the Tories amount to a massive additional tax of £1 ½ billion on the country's 5¼ million mortgage payers. The right hon. Gentleman's rent increases are imposing a similarly enormous tax on the 5½ million council tenants—people whose average household income is 24 per cent. below the national average. The right hon. Gentleman's rent tax on council tenants is £1¼ billion.

Last year, the Secretary of State used his rate support grant guideline to induce local councils to increase rents by 28 per cent. Figures published last week show that, by last April, average council house rents had already risen by 20 per cent. over the previous year. But now the right hon. Gentleman is using his powers under the Housing Act 1980 and the new block grant system under the Local Government Act 1980 to force councils to put up their rents by an average of at least £3·25 a week. The right hon. Gentleman is cutting housing subsidy for each local authority equivalent to an average £2·95 a week rent increase. That could reduce subsidy by £1 billion this year and could wipe out housing subsidies almost completely within two years. What is more, the right hon. Gentleman is cutting rate support grant for housing revenue accounts by another £200 million.

Those turns of the screw will force even Labour councils to make huge rent increases. All over the country, Tory councils are mercilessly demonstrating that they need little encouragement to penalise their tenants. Last month, in company with my hon. Friends the Members for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and Stockport, South (Mr. McNally) I toured the housing black spots of Stockport, of which that Tory council has generously made available an ample supply. Stockport has just announced its fourth rent increase in 19 months. Since this Government came to office, Stockport's rents have more than doubled.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

My right hon. Friend was helpful in coming to look at Stockport. Will he now challenge the Minister to come back with him to see the black spots of Stockport, especially the large number of pre-war houses on which no money has been spent for modernisation, which have had little or no opportunity to be modernised, and the rents for which have been doubled in 18 months?

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

My hon. Friend has issued the invitation. If the right hon. Gentleman cares to come to our area I shall be glad to join with both my hon. Friends in escorting him round some of the areas which I saw a few weeks ago.

In Basingstoke, rents charged by the Tory-controlled council are already well above the national average. Last week, Basingstoke council voted to raise rents by another £5·76 a week—an increase of 66·5 per cent.

In Tory-controlled Elmbridge, in Surrey, the council has got up to an even more squalid dodge. Rents in Elmbridge are even higher than those in Basingstoke. They are now to be increased by a furher 39 per cent., or £3·60 a week. But a memorandum circulated to the Elmbridge housing committee points to a further refinement which is being practiced by Tory councils in Surrey.

Under section 117 of the right hon. Gentleman's new Housing Act, councils are now allowed not only to make a profit on their council house rents—a reversal of the Labour Government's no-profit rule. They are allowed, in addition, to transfer that profit to the general rate fund. The Elmbridge memorandum shows that this is being done. This is what it says, in suitably elegant phraseology: Some authorities in Surrey…are taking remedial steps by raising rents and transferring some of the moneys raised to the General Rate Fund to redress the loss of block grant in 1981–82. So Surrey council tenants, with incomes well below average, are having their rents raised in order to subsidise the rate bills of their better-off neighbours.

But Elmbridge has taken this a further step, for 70p of the rent increase in Elmbridge is being specifically imposed to make council tenants alone, and not the general ratepayer, pay for the cost of bed and breakfast accommodation for the homeless, for the council's share of the cost of rent rebates, and for the cost of administering the rent rebate scheme. This is the kind of monstrous practice that is being fostered by the right hon. Gentleman.

When faced with the indictment which arises from a simple recital of the facts of his policy, the Secretary of State generally offers four replies. His first reply is to say that anyhow there is a tremendous amount of house improvement going on, and to imply that this somehow makes up for the lack of new dwellings being built. But improvements, however welcome they may be, do not provide a homeless family or a newly married couple with a house they did not have before. In any case, even if we add new local authority starts and improvements together—however invalid such a calculation may be—1980 still provided the worst figures for 22 years.

What is more, the cuts in housing investment programmes will mean that many local authorities will not have money to spare for improvements. The National Federation of Building Trades Employers' survey makes this very clear. It says: Even the repair and maintenance sector is continuing to decline, with over half the firms reporting a fall back in orders. So that little get-out will not work.

Another defence employed by the Secretary of State is to mouth platitudes about his intention to foster the private rented sector. The Government amendment refers to that as well. Reviving the private rented sector is, of course, a euphemism for raising rents and reducing security of tenure, and the most notorious manifestation is the new shorthold tenancy.

No information has so far been made available about the progress of this venture—perhaps we shall get some today—but any success achieved by shorthold will be at the expense of the tenants, who after a year will be at the landlord's mercy, liable to eviction at three months' notice with no reason given, and in no position to disagree with any rent which it suits the landlord to dictate.

These unpleasant characteristics, together with the opportunities given to unscrupulous landlords to winkle unsuspecting or gullible tenants out of protected tenancies and into vulnerable shorthold tenancies, mean that the Government are not only signalling the end of rent control and security of tenure but sponsoring by statute the return of Rachmanism. That is why I firmly repeat today that the next Labour Government will repeal shorthold tenancies.

The Secretary of State's next line of defence is to resort to another of his less pleasant practices—publishing a list of scapegoats. A little while ago, in response to a planted question from the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham), the Minister provided a list of local authorities—all Labour, of course—which had held dwellings vacant for more than a year.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by a planted question? If he means that I was asked to put that question down or that somebody else drafted it for me, the answer is that that is not true.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

If the hon. Gentleman put it down on his own initiative, he is an even bigger creep than I thought he was.

I join with any hon. Member in condemning any local authority which needlessly keeps vacant properties which could house those in want of a home. But before the Minister published that particular hit-list of his—which in any case was nearly a year out of date when he published it—he would have done well to inquire into the reasons why some of those dwellings were vacant.

For example, Islington's total of 1,401 vacancies included 1,000 dwellings in process of construction, major works of rehabilitation. Islington now has 100 such dwellings awaiting rehabilitation vacant today because of the Secretary of State's moratorium.

Camden's total of 1,080 included 378 dwellings awaiting improvement, 544 with contractors and 119 completed and available for letting. Camden also today has more than 100 dwellings awaiting rehabilitation vacant because of the moratorium.

In Manchester, no fewer than 600 dwellings were left empty for seven months. They were vacant because they were awaiting approval by the Secretary of State for sale to local housing associations. After that period of vacancy, the Secretary of State refused permission. Yet he has the nerve to make accusations against these councils.

The Secretary of State's list of excuses is completed by that feather in his cap, the compulsory sale of council houses. A year ago we were told that this policy would provide an unparalleled social revolution, equivalent to the liberation of the serfs from the feudal barons. These days we do not hear quite so much about it. I have been trying to get progress reports from the battlefront since the first barricades were erected on 3 October last. But the Minister tells us that the first figures will not be available until April. Meanwhile, we have to rely on what information we can obtain.

One recent report was far from encouraging. This is what The Daily Telegraph reported a few weeks ago: A psychologist was called in to examine staff of a department of the GLC who were suspected to be lacking enthusiasm for selling council houses, it was confirmed yesterday. The psychologist … was called in to the recently formed Directorate of Home Ownership after a prominent figure at County Hall became worried about the slow rate of council house sales…. The exercise to psychoanalyse the whole Directorate of Home Ownership was launched in December… But there were protests when it was learned that copies of the…files had been left on the coffee table of a personnel officer. The GLC Senior Officers Association objected to the exercise and staff were ordered to shred the files. But the exercise … led to several unexpected results. Mr. John Mitchell, a former chairman and managing director of Cunard, who had been recruited to be the 'super-salesman' at the head of the department, at a salary of up to £35,000 a year, resigned …the £12,000 a year psychologist was dismissed … after being convicted of fare dodging on the Underground. The article was written by John Grigsby, the local government correspondent.

That is a sorry state of affairs. However, there is an even more depressing aspect than that of compulsory council house sales. Even if sales fall far below the Government's declared expectation of 120,000 in the next financial year, they are still likely to exceed the number of new houses being built now that the building programme has been almost wiped out. For the first time in the history of public sector housing there will be fewer houses available for letting at the end of each year than at the beginning.

The prospects are even worse for the future. Soon after the Secretary of State came to office he made a speech praising housing associations for their programme of 40,000 new homes a year, but his cuts have reduced the associations' programme in the coming financial year from 40,000 to 12,000.

Last week the right hon. Gentleman told the House that when local authorities in England made their housing investment submissions in August 1980 they were planning to start 29,600 dwellings in this financial year, a lamentable programme by any standards. However, a couple of months after that came the moratorium on new contracts, which has lasted nearly four months and shows no sign of ending. The Secretary of State admitted to me this week that the moratorium has not only damaged the building programme but involves a loss in subsidy to the local authorities, through no fault of their own, both this year and next year.

The Minister did not tell the House that the same local authorities with such low performance expectations this year received from him permission to spend only 47 per cent. of the money that they require to meet their needs in the coming financial year.

This attack on the housing problem is a tragedy not only for those in need of homes but for the workers who want to build those homes and who instead are being thrown on the dole. In the year ending November 1980, unemployment in the construction industry nearly doubled to almost 300,000. That is the highest level recorded since the Second World War.

The increase in construction unemployment, at a moderate estimate, involves additional cost to the public sector borrowing requirement of £600 million. Statisticians in the industry have calculated that to invest that £600 million in public construction projects could create 90,000 new jobs. Surely it makes sense to use that money productively, to give men the dignity of working instead of queueing for the dole and to provide new homes for those who desperately need them.

In January 1932 the then Tory-dominated Government issued circular 1238 on housing, priced 1d. It stated: The outstanding need at the present time is for the building of houses which can be let at rents within the means of the poorer members of the working classes. The language of that circular is dated and so, unfortunately, are the sentiments. It seems that 49 years ago one of the hardest-hearted Governments of this century showed by that circular and the number of council houses that they were building—more than double the present—that they cared more about housing those in need in 1932 than this Secretary of State does in 1981. That is the indictment against him and that is why we shall vote against him and his policies.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment 5:22 pm, 11th February 1981

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'this House welcomes the measures the Government are taking to restore a sound economy, to make better use of the existing housing stock, to revive the private rented sector, to provide a new charter of rights for public sector tenants, and to extend home ownership more widely than ever before.' I confess that as I tried to anticipate what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) might say that was new—we have heard what he had to say so many times before—I assumed that he might try to indicate where the policies in which he shared and supported when in Government had changed to bring about an improvement in the circumstances for which he would criticise the present Government. I was disappointed to find that every alternative proposal that I thought he might advance was absent from his analysis. He managed to go through his entire speech without making one constructive proposal. I dare say that: that is a practice that he learnt from his experience in office, because that is precisely the way in which the Labour Government treated the housing programme.

It is not my intention to spend a great deal of time on what the right hon. Gentleman had to say. I doubt very much whether it serves the purpose of housing policy to have an endless repetition of misleading and inaccurate statements from the right hon. Gentleman. I shall take two examples. The first example is indicative of the trivial personal abuse in which he specialises. The right hon. Gentleman sought to suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) has indulged in planting a question. There is no justificaton lor that allegation.

The right hon. Gentleman then tried to suggest that improving houses did not provide homes for the homeless. If there are houses that local authorities cannot use because they are in an inadequate state of repair, to divert money to improve and make them usable is to make available homes that can be used by the homeless. The right hon. Gentleman said that during the past year the number of home improvements had increased significantly. It is extraordinary that he does not realise that improving an empty house so that it can be occupied is of as much benefit to the homeless as building a new home that similarly can be occupied.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I shall provide the figures to indicate how many extra improvements have been made during the past year. There has been a significant switch, but one hears not a word about that from the right hon. Gentleman. That is because it does not suit the catalogue of rubbish that he sees fit to produce on occasions such as this.

I do not intend to weary the House with a repetition of all the figures that indicate clearly the catastrophic housing results that we saw when the Labour Government were in office. I have produced them on numerous occasions and they are well documented. As the Minister responsible for housing, it is unsatisfactory for me to have to point out that the previous Government had an appalling record. However, the facts do not change as time goes on. Between 1974–75 and 1978–79 the Labour Government halved investment in capital spending. Over five years Labour Ministers brought about the most rapid reduction in capital expenditure on housing that we had ever seen up to that time. At the same time—

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

No. The right hon. Gentleman can make his own speech. It is his record, and he can defend it.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I am prepared to give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

This is the first time that I have taken the opportunity to put the record straight, although I have heard the right hon. Gentleman talk on many occasions about the reduction in capital expenditure that he claims was created by the Labour Government. I do not intend to bandy figures with him. Will he bear in mind—I put it as politely as possible—that the figures that he has been quoting, which suggest that there was a halving of the investment programme, are inaccurate? Over the years to which he referred he participated in housing debates, and he knows that much larger capital sums were made available and that during the latter years of the Labour Government councils under the control of his party, and with his support, cut their housing programmes and underspent by hundreds of millions of pounds. That is the truth that needs to be repeated. There was no halving of the programme. There was underspending by his party, which he endorsed.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I think that the House is enabled to make progress. It is apparent that the man who had prime responsibility when the Labour Government were in office now agrees that there was a significant underspend on the housing programme. The right hon. Gentleman's defence of the fact that there was underspending is that it was done by Conservative authorities.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

That is slightly different from what the right hon. Gentleman said when I gave way to him, but the figures do not support his case—[HON. MEMBERS: "The right hon. Gentleman is misleading the House."]—Every time I produce the facts and they do not conform with the conventional wisdom that the Opposition seek to advance, they say that I am misleading the House. The only people who believe that I am misleading the House are Opposition Members, who are determined to try to pretend that what happened under the Labour Government never actually happened. I must say this to the former Minister for Housing and Construction. I shall be nice to the right hon. Gentleman, and I steel myself to the effort that that requires. I do not believe that he wanted the housing programme to collapse. I believe that he was simply so completely incompetent that he did not know how to stop it. Any analysis of public expenditure records under the Labour Government shows that the levels of investment in public expenditure on housing and, indeed, all other local authority investment, slumped dramatically. That is the fact of the matter.

Several Hon. Members rose

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I like giving way to Labour Members, but it takes an inordinate amount of time. To allow as many of them as possible to produce figures and advance their views, it is only fair that I should ask for their tolerance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give us the figures."] I have the figures. I am about to produce them.

Let us take the housing capital programme for England. All these figurs are at 1980 survey prices. In 1975–76 the figure was £4.259 billion. In 1979 it was £2.664 billion. Every year it went down. I shall put the figures on record again if it helps the Opposition, but the one incontrovertible fact is that year by year under the Labour Government there was a decline in the investment programme in public sector housing.

It is against that background that the Government had to start, and our record will have to be judged from the point at which we started. I do not wish in any way to minimise the difficulties or the hardships that are brought about by trying to reverse the trends that we saw under the Labour Government, but nobody can ignore the hypocrisy of the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), who has become one of the leading exponents of this in the House, in trying to pretend that it never happened.

We must first get the priorities right. The single most important priority is to bring down the level of inflation. The Opposition cannot escape the fact that month by month the levels of inflation are falling, faster than perhaps even the most optimistic supporters of the Government dared to believe.

That is the first priority that the Government are determined to pursue. Underlying that are all the hopes of redressing the balance and improving the national situation.

We have to reach an economic situation in which we create wealth before we spend it. Then we must redress the balance in favour of capital rather than current expenditure. In the process of arriving at that position we have to make a difficult and harsh judgment about what the nation can afford. To judge what we can afford we must recognise that there is a significant difference in the availability of housing and in housing conditions today compared with the situation even 10 and certainly 20 years ago.

We must also recognise, as I have heard previous Secretaries of State tell the House, that the problems of housing are different in different parts of the country. In some areas there is a significant surplus in crude terms. In others there is a shortage. In yet others there is suitable stock which is under-repaired. In others again there is a higher demand for renting and a lower demand for ownership. There are various patterns.

The first priority that we pursued was, therefore, to give to local authorities and to the Housing Corporation and associations the discretion to use such resources as we felt that we could afford in a way that they felt was most likely to meet the individual housing needs of their own areas. We did not believe that it was possible for the Government to plan with the precision that was assumed by the Labour Government, only to find that they had it wrong. Indeed, they got it wrong in as many Labour as in Conservative authorities. We therefore decided that within what the nation could afford we would give to local government a degree of responsibility in this matter that it had never dreamt of being able to achieve. As part of that exercise, Parker Mofris is to go, the yardstick is to go and there will be discretion for local authorities to allocate their priorities—whether for improvement, new building or aiding the private sector—because they know much better than we do how to deal with the problems that they face.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

No, I shall not give way.

We are trying to work in partnership with the local authorities and the private building industry in order to make the widest range and flexibility of schemes available to those wishing to buy to allow them to get their feet on the first rungs of home ownership. There is no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has brought to this area the most imaginative range of new initiatives to be seen since the war. He has perhaps been aided in that by the total bankruptcy of the Labour Party, which let this area fester.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Camden Hampstead

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to accuse my right hon. Friend of telling lies?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

It would be out of order if an hon. Member were to do that, but I confess that I did not hear the comment, or whence it came.

Photo of Mr Clinton Davis Mr Clinton Davis , Hackney Central

Having regard to what the Minister was saying about local authorities, I admit that I referred to his statement as being one of lies. If that is unparliamentary, I withdraw it.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I am most grateful for the hon. Member's assistance in that matter.

The right hon. Member for Brent, East makes great play of the decline in the level of new building. As I said earlier, he failed completely to make the point that we are making much more efficient use of resources because of the switch to improvement that is taking place in Labour as well as Conservative authorities. That, of course, is being met in part by reductions in the capital programme and in new construction. In the year ended September 1980 about 83,500 dwellings were renovated by local authorities. That compares with 36,000 in 1975–76. That is a marked shift of priorities. Nearly one-third of local authority capital spending, at the authorities' own choice, now goes on improvements.

We have made many changes to help authorities to improve the quality of their existing stock, at little or no charge to the HIP allocation. Councils are being encouraged to improve and to sell property. They can retain the proceeds from such sales, in addition to their HIP allocations. Homesteading is now being taken up on a wide scale across the country. That is an excellent example of public and private sector co-operation. We have made the right to improvement grants available to tenants as well as to owners of properties. Grants of up to 75 per cent. are available for houses in poor condition, and applicants in real hardship can apply for a further 15 per cent. grant. A new repairs grant is available for structural repairs on houses built before 1919.

I should like to announce today that I shall be commissioning a new English house condition survey to be undertaken on the same pattern as that which took place in 1976.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill

I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that a survey is to be conducted and I am pleased to see the switch to more improvements. However, can he confirm that although I sent him a photograph before Christmas of an unimproved house in my constituency, that house will not now be improved until his moratorium is lifted? It is one of many homes for which people cannot get improvement grants because of another policy that he has implemented, whereby people cannot get improvement grants until later this year. The house to which I have referred would have been improved by now.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Gentleman will know that I have lifted the moratorium on improvements in respect of all those authorities that are below their capital allocations.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

No, because it is an overspending authority. I am sure that Opposition Members are not arguing that I should allow overspending authorities to continue to spend at the expense of the underspending authorities, which many of them represent.

In addition to the actual housing statistics, the Government have taken a range of initiatives to remove, wherever they reasonably can, the constraints that inhibit industrial development, and particularly housing development. As the House knows, we have repealed the Community Land Act. We are encouraging local authorities to co-operate with builders in studies to ensure that land is available for development—[Interruption.] One cannot build houses without land. I think that even the right hon. Member for Brent, East might have got round to that simple conclusion. Many other things escaped him, but I should have thought that that would have got through to him.

I have already designated 21 authorities—largely the inner city authorities—where I have established land registers so that we can get under-used or misused publicly-owned land, which is the vast bulk of under-used land in the inner cities, on to the market so that it can be put to profitable use. I shall shortly announce a further 12 districts that will be added to the registers.

I think that that initiative carries the overwhelming support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I shall not hesitate to use the powers with which the House has entrusted me to give directions to public undertakings and local authorities to dispose of their land, unless I am satisfied that there is a very good case for their holding on to it. I cannot believe that there is anything to be gained by unused land in the public sector.

I am also increasing the provision of housing land in structure plans. We have dramatically speeded up the rate at which these structure plans are being processed.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

I am listening to my right hon. Friend with interest and I support what he is saying. He knows that county structure plans are now coming before him. Has there been any analysis by his Department of the provisions that are needed, and has he any rough idea of the kind of housing that will be required as a result?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The most detailed analysis is going on in my Department, in conjunction with the house builders—we are also involving local government—to discover exactly what the constraints on land supply could turn out to be under the structure plans. The most detailed analysis is being carried out. When we have the result, which will be very soon now, we shall draw whatever conclusions are appropriate in order to ensure that there is no hold up through lack of appropriate development land.

We have overhauled the appeals mechanism and planning application procedures. There is no doubt that a considerable improvement in productivity has been achieved by the improvements that we have brought about. Not only have we coped with a 40 per cent, increase in the number of appeals coming into the Department, but we are processing the overall number of appeals in a shorter period of time.

I do not pretend for a minute that this has been anything but a difficult year for the private house building sector. But—and this is the important point that the House will want to note—funds are now flowing into the building societies on an encouraging scale. The advice that I am receiving from the private sector builders is that the signs are that the market is beginning to improve. The estimate that I have is that we might expect to see about 20,000 additional homes completed in the year that is just starting. In fact, in the last quarter of 1980 private sector starts were up 8 per cent. on the third quarter seasonally adjusted. While I do not pretend that that solves our problems, it is at least an indication that events are beginning to move in a more encouraging direction.

I now turn to the rented sector, both public and private. There are two points that I want to make. First, the Labour Party well knows that during its period in Government it was responsible for presiding over a significant reduction in the proportion of income paid in council house rents. As earnings rose, council house rents rose more slowly.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Gentleman thinks that that is quite right. In an inflationary society, the consequences were, first, that local authorities needed more subsidy; secondly, that they felt an increasing squeeze on the standards of maintenance of their homes; and thirdly, because of the subsidy factors that emerged, they stopped building houses on anything like the scale of earlier years. I must now either cut the capital programmes further to meet what we can afford, or try to catch up the areas of declining relative contribution that rent caused as a result of the previous Government's policy.

I have looked carefully at the figures involved. I make no apology for the fact that I have had to ask council tenants to assume an increase in weekly rental payments of £3·25 in the course of the coming year. From what I have read, that is what council tenants across the country are paying.

I have had to realise that a significant number of council tenants are protected as a result of the measures introduced under the rent rebate scheme by an earlier Conservative Government. All those in most need on supplementary benefit pay no rent increase at all, because they are fully protected. About 40 per cent, of those on the lowest incomes are protected to some extent or other, depending entirely upon their income and family circumstances. There is a real degree of protection for people in council houses at the lower income levels.

At the other end of the scale, a significant proportion—approximately one-quarter of council tenants—have an income of £7,000 to £8,000 a year, as against a rental of about £11 a week. I see no justification whatever for reducing the level of capital allocations for the construction or improvement of homes in order to meet subsidies that are created by people on average industrial earnings who are devoting something like a quarter of their income to pay for the homes that they are trying to buy. I do not see why at the same time, through their rate contributions, they should help to keep down council rents for people who work alongside them—in the same factories, on the same shop floors and on the same building sites—and who enjoy the subsidies paid through rates by people in identical economic circumstances. That is the issue which Labour Members ran away from year after year. That is why their housing programmes collapsed under them. I will have no part of it.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

The right hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that this year the subsidy to owner-occupiers—I am in favour of that subsidy, just as I am in favour of a subsidy to tenants—went up by £500 million to a total of £1,600 million because the interest went up, and therefore the subsidy went up. Is it not unfair to increase rents by £5·30 over two years by reducing the subsidy, while at the same time increasing the subsidy to owner-occupiers?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

All these issues must be carefully weighed in the balance. Labour Members must understand—it is their constituencies as much as ours that are involved—that people getting the benefit of mortgage interest relief are buying their homes and contributing perhaps a quarter of their incomes in order to do so, whereas the subsidies going into council houses are to keep council rents down to levels of £7 or £8 a week, when many people in council houses have the same income as people buying their homes. I do not believe that we have made an unfair allocation.

I shall say more about rents in the private sector. I was fascinated to read an article by Mr. David Lipsey in The Sunday Times. The House will be familiar with Mr. Lipsey, who worked for my predecessors in office in the Labour Government as a research assistant in the Department of the Environment. He has a great deal of experience. He knew what the former Minister for Housing and Construction was up to or not up to, and he knew why the Rent Acts review never took place or was always being promised for tomorrow. I read with interest that he praised our changes in the Rent Acts as sensible initiatives… which removed some of the worst rigidities of the Rent Acts. In that statement he made a more encouraging noise and a more positive contribution in one week on one page of The Sunday Times than he managed to persuade the Secretary of State in a Labour Government to say in the whole time that he worked in the Department.

We have heard the right hon. Member for Ardwick, full of compassion, care and concern, trying to get homes for people, but making certain that anyone who has a home to let will not let if he has anything to do with it. We have introduced the concept of shorthold, which is intended to try to edge forward from the rigidities of the rent control system that has done so much to diminish the availability of rented accommodation. We have provided a system with plenty of safeguards and which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, I was only too happy to discuss with the Labour Party to see whether there was any meeting ground.

What is the right hon. Gentleman now doing? He is hawking himself around the country giving every conceivable deterrent to anyone who has a home to let by threatening that the security will be restored to that home. The consequences will be that the home will be sold and not let. The people who will suffer will not be the owners of those homes—because they will gain the capital proceeds—but all those we have heard about who have nowhere else to live and whom Labour Members treat as political pawns. I make no apology for trying to move forward and break away from some of the rigidities of the Rent Acts which have done so much harm to those in greatest need.

I reject absolutely the total misrepresentation of what I have done on the moratorium. I have not cut a penny piece from the initial allocations. All that I have done is to say that the cash limit discipline that the Labour Party invented has to be maintained, even though that party is in Opposition. We cannot allow overspending authorities to think that they can pre-empt the resources of those authorities, both Labour and Conservative, which run their affairs properly. That cannot be done. We shall not allow it. I have said that we shall stick to the cash limit this year. All authorities which overspend this year will have their overspend deducted next year, but all authorities which underspend this year will be able to add the underspend to next year's allocations. That is the only fair method by which I can meet the obligations of the cash limit system which the Labour Party introduced and which I believe is necessary.

I have no doubt that because of the economic difficulties that have haunted this country since the early 1960s there are no easy or soft options in housing or in any other sphere. The Labour Party tried them all and ended in humiliating retreat because it could not sustain the easy policies which it implies that it would return to. It is not a question of not caring, but of knowing that the only way to achieve improvement in housing and the capital expenditure that is necessary in this and other spheres is to create the wealth and to be able to pay the bills without lurching into the difficulties that existed under the Labour Government.

I spent much of this morning—as I have done earlier occasions at other meetings—discussing either with the Group of Eight or the building EDC the problems of the construction industry. They want to make three points: first, that the industry is declining and undergoing so deep and prolonged a decline that it is probable that it will never be restored to its former strength; secondly, that it is almost as cheap to employ people in gainful employment as it is to keep them on the unemployment register; thirdly, that the industry is about investment and not consumption, and so we should give a greater degree of priority to the industry because it is investing in the future. I am not unsympathetic to any of those attitudes, although I have had to explain my view about them.

I have tried, as Secretary of State for the Environment, to pursue any specific policy that I think will help the construction industry or the investment in it that I should like to see. The stabilisation of development land tax which was announced earlier, the land release programmes, the speeding up of the planning procedures, the establishment of enterprise zones, the substantially increased capital expenditure that I announced on Monday for the urban development corporations to deal with some of the worst problems of inner city dereliction in Liverpool and inner London are all part of a range of initiatives that we are pursuing to bring private sector money in to finance new house building schemes, advance factory building and the reorientation of urban programmes.

However, I have had to say to members of the EDC, both employers and unionists who argue the case with me, that simply spending more Government money—which is what they are suggesting—does not have the wholly benign effects that they so easily assume. The extra borrowing for which they call, the extra interest rates to which that will inexorably lead, will destroy as many jobs, if not more, in the private sector as would be created by the use of that money in the public sector. Governments cannot create wealth. If the Labour Party did not discover that in its six years in office, it discovered nothing. All that the Government can do is to allocate the existing wealth differently within the economic climate, which we can greatly influence.

It is here that I am much closer to the arguments advanced by the EDC and the construction industry. The critical priority is to create a climate where spontaneous profitable investment is self-generating. That demands that the Government borrow less and not more. It demands lower and not higher interest charges. But even at the lower levels of public spending, to which I am committed, it is possible for the Government to reorder the priorities between current and capital expenditure. But every time one proposes cuts in consumption in order to make way for improvements in capital, the Labour Party fights it all the way. No clearer example of that is to be found than, for example, in its policy in local government. I read that the national executive committee of the Labour Party had advised local government to keep up its spending, to put up the rates if necessary and to do anything reasonable to stop the cuts. That was before Shirley Williams left. Lord knows what it is up to now.

When at last some sanity seems to be entering into pay settlements which are sensible in the national economic context, Labour-influenced unions are fighting to raise the wage claims, the consequence of which will be an even more prolonged depression than we have. They are determined to resist the cuts that could help to finance capital expenditure. The message from the National Union of Public Employees is clear. It says about providing the economies in consumption that could lead to improvements in capital: refuse to do extra work or accept changes in working arrangements when employers are trying to make cuts.Work to rule and refuse to co-operate with employers who are making cuts.Refuse to work with private contractors.Hold meetings, demonstrations or token strikes at times when it will hurt the employers most. What NUPE cannot understand is that its employers in the public sector are all of us. It is arguing to damage the country. As long as it pursues those attitudes, the problems of reducing public consumption in order to benefit the capital side of the economy will be made more difficult. Nothing gives a better indication of the irresponsibility of the Labour Party than attitudes such as that.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

I am fascinated by the right hon. Gentleman's references to NUPE. I understood that the debate was about the housing and construction industry. Will he explain how many NUPE members work in that industry?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Gentleman, who now speaks for a major part of the Labour Party, understands that public expenditure on consumption—

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I shall answer it. There is a direct decision to be made by the Government about the level of current public expenditure and how that relates to the competing priority of capital expenditure. The hon. Gentleman had to make those judgments when he was in Government. The higher the level of current expenditure in local government, the lower the level of capital expenditure. If the Labour Party does not understand that, why did the Labour Government halve the level of capital expenditure in local government when they were in power? They did so because of the enormous pressure on current expenditure. That was the beginning of the construction industry's problems in the 1970s.

Photo of Mr William Shelton Mr William Shelton , Lambeth Streatham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there was a strike in Lambeth last week, in which NUPE was involved? Does he know that it was supported by the Lambeth council, and that the cost of cleaning up the resulting rubbish, for instance, is falling on the Lambeth ratepayers?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I am well aware of that. The leader of Lambeth council advised workers to go on strike in order to prevent cuts in current consumption. That was a deliberate decision to ensure that less money was available for capital expenditure.

Wherever one looks in the Labour Party one sees this rigid and doctrinal resistance to reductions in the level of consumption, whatever the cost of that consumption for the ratepayers.

I have seen a report from the director of finance in Camden on the effects of spending policies on housing and local government generally. The implications for the rates are clearly spelt out for the members of the controlling Labour group. He explained the risks that the group was taking and the number of jobs that might go because companies might leave the borough if the rate increases that were being discussed materialised. He went on, rather charmingly, to point out that the CBI, which is a ratepayer in the borough of Camden, would face a rise in its rates bill of over £250,000 if the Camden council were persuaded to implement the proposed rate increases.

It might be acceptable to increase the levy on Britain's industrialists if that is the prejudice of the Labour Party, but the Opposition should understand that a few hundred yards down the road is NALGO. It will have to find another £200,000. Further down the road still is the TUC, which will have to pay another £125,000. In other words, the Camden councillors are saying that they want the levy on union members all over Britain to be increased so that the unions can pay higher rates to Camden in order that Camden can preserve more jobs in its area, jobs which the officers of that authority regard as inefficient.

The report about the direct labour organisation of that authority says that in order to win contracts and trade profitably, the Department's productivity must be almost doubled. What conceivable justification is there for trade unionists having to pay an enhanced levy to keep in operation a direct labour organisation, the productivity of which is half that to be found in efficient diirect labour organisations or the private sector? On the basis of that, are we to believe that the Opposition are genuinely seeking responsibly to reduce expenditure in line with the nation's needs? We all know that the Labour Party is in the most desperate difficulty in trying to find its way forward either to moderate, sensible and practical policies based on what its members have learnt, or out into the dreamy world in which so many of them now seen determined to live their lives.

The right hon. Member for Ardwick does not have a view about which way he should go. He wants only to cause the maximum possible disruption and to make the most misleading statements. Now he has the final triumph of his period as Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment. He is to have a housing action week. It starts on Friday, when he will be off for a quick trip to Blackpool to see how to run a good Tory local authority. After that, it is feet up until Wednesday. After a leisurely breakfast he plans at 10 o'clock to lead a placard-waving mob of Members of Parliament to picket my Department. The first over the barricades will be the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) followed by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), with the rather shamefaced Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment—the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann)—probably some way behind.

After all the breathless activity this warrior figure, this samurai of the Shadow Cabinet, will have time to wander down memory lane. Some of us are a little surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have chosen to picket my Department. It is hardly a return to the scene of his former triumphs. He will be going back to the Department in which he halved the housing programme in three years, back to memories of council house starts that dropped from 110,000 to 47,000 in four years. He will be going back to the heady days of his time in Government when he helped to increase consumption by 20 per cent. at the expense of a 50 per cent. drop in housing capital investment. Then he can return to the House and start the whole weary record of hypocrisy all over aain.

I ask the House to reject the motion and vote for the amendment in the names of my right hon. Friends and myself.

Photo of Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann , Merton Mitcham and Morden 6:06 pm, 11th February 1981

I shall in no way be shamefaced as I try to reveal, outside the Department in Marsham Street next Wednesday, some of the facts of life about housing and some of the fallacies with which the Secretary of State is regaling the public and the House. We have just listened to a characteristic speech from the right hon. Gentleman. It was filled with half-truths, misleading statements, and a vast amount of irrelevance. Practically all the second half of the right hon. Gentleman's lengthy speech was devoted to issues that were irrelevant to the motion. We experienced his usual enthusiasm for the economic policies of the Prime Minister in respect of which The Sunday Times this week stated Wrong, Mrs Thatcher, wrong, wrong, wrong. It was a headline over a detailed destruction of the Government's policies by a newspaper that is not customarily regarded as a Labour Party supporter.

Even more characteristic of the Secretary of State was the way in which the right hon. Gentleman quoted from the article by Mr. David Lipsey in that issue of The Sunday Times.He did not quote the passage immediately preceding the part that he read out. In his article Mr. Lipsey referred to: the bare bones of the housing crisis that is inevitable in the mid-Eighties.It means council waiting lists of 2 million compared with 1 ·2 million now—a wait for the average family on the list of 21·4 years.It means a continued deterioration of existing homes. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities estimates there is a £14 billion backlog of housing maintenance and improvement—at a time when we are clearing houses at a rate that means each one must last on average 500 years. In inner London, no less than one property in seven is reckoned unfit for habitation.It means—as Shelter's director, Neil McIntosh, puts it—this, in human terms: "In the Seventies we could house people normally at the point of their lives when they could reasonably expect to be housed—when they got married, for example. Now, if you cannot afford to buy, you will be provided for only when you have been projected into a crisis—like battering your child.Because in housing there is a lag between cause and effect—this year's starts are 1982/3's completions—the full crisis has not yet hit us. But already Housing Minister John Stanley"—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I am most reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. Long quotations are not really in order.

Photo of Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann , Merton Mitcham and Morden

I am on the last sentence, which is especially relevant to the point that I am making, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It states: But already Housing Minister John Stanley has the air of a Nero drawing attention to the dexterity of his trills as the fire draws nearer. The article continues with the sentence quoted by the Secretary of State.

That is characteristic of the Secretary of State. It is characteristic of the arguments with which he defends his housing record. It is characteristic of the arguments that he used when refusing to supply certain information to the Select Committee. It is characteristic of the manner in which he presented his policy on council house sales, when he used misleading and selective arguments.

I wish to refer to paragraphs 50 and 51 of the Government's "Appraisal of the Financial Effects of Council House Sales". I shall not quote the whole of the passage. It is good for a laugh, but to quote it would attract your censure, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It refers to a "representative" council house purchaser, who would, for the most part, be between 30 and 60, and have an expectation of living for over 30 years. It goes on: Given that most married men are survived by their widows, who normally succeed to the tenancy, some 30–40 years would typically elapse before there is an effect on the number of houses vacant and available for letting to new tenants. It concludes: So no provision is made in this Appraisal for replacement building The Secretary of State argues that because in a typical case the sale of a council house will not cause the loss of a relet for 30 years, the sale of council houses will cause no loss of relets for that time. That is similar to arguing that because a typical car journey does not involve an accident there is no need to make provision to cope with any accidents, because none will occur. That is the sort of fallacious argument with which the Secretary of State is always regaling the House. I do not look forward with enthusiasm to reading the Hansard report of the Secretary of State's speech this afternoon but I shall do so because one needs to read and check his speeches to cut through the windy oratory to the fallacies and misleading ingredients, of which there are always many.

In the peroration to the Secretary of State's speech he said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) had cut by half the number of houses built during the period of the Labour Government. I ask your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to quote from the first report of the Select Committee, which states: Your Committee accepts that housing investment has been declining since 1975/76, but notes that the rate of reduction in expenditure proposed at £645 million a year for a four-year period is substantially greater than that of the average of £475 million a year seen between 1974/75 and 1978/79 and would draw attention to the fact that the proposed reduction represents an overall decline over the four-year period under review of 48 per cent. compared with an overall figure of 25 per cent. between 1974/75 and 1978/79. I accept—although I am not proud of the fact—that the figure was 25 per cent. under the Labour Government, but it will be 48 per cent. over a shorter period under the Conservative Government.

I am conscious of the pressure of time in the debate. A number of my colleagues wish to speak. I wish to refer briefly to other conclusions of the Select Committee. This is the first housing debate since the Select Committee produced its report. It did a vast amount of work on the analysis of the implications of the Government's expenditure plans. This is the first opportunity for the House to debate that report. The Committee heard the usual non-reply from the Secretary of State. He suggested that its members had misunderstood the functions of the 1977 Green Paper but informed press comment was that it was insulting to a Committee of the calibre of the Environment Committee, and also to its advisers, to suggest that its members were incapable of understanding the housing policy review. As a consequence of the proposed measures—which were considered before the moratorium was announced—the Committee concluded: The Committee considers that it is unlikely that new housing starts in the public sector in England will exceed a figure of 31,000 in 1983–84 and could be well below it in the period to 1983–84. The Green Paper, which the right hon. Gentleman suggested the Committee misunderstood, considered housing needs. Indeed, table III.28 is headed "Demand/ Need". It assessed the public sector housing need in the light of demographic changes, moves to different sectors, and so on, at 290,000 dwellings per annum. It assessed that about 170,000 houses would become available through relets of local authority houses. For the reasons that I have given, that figure of 170,000 will probably not be achieved.

There is no evidence available to the right hon. Gentleman's Department—certainly none that he has been willing to disclose—nor was any evidence discovered by the Select Committee or those who gave evidence before it, to suggest that the 1977 estimate for public sector housing needs was not accurate. There is no evidence to suggest that any alternative estimate is available. It is true that the estimate took account of a projected assessment of what was likely to be built in the private sector, and assumed that by 1981 it would build between 170,000 and 190,000 houses. In the Secretary of State's reply to the Committee, he said: The Committtee appear to have misunderstood the Green Paper. It did not provide any target for building houses with which any other figure can be compared. It simply attempted to give some indication about what might happen if trends in the recent past were continued over the next 10 years. I urge the Secretary of State to read some of the criticisms that appeared in the specialist press of his reply to the Committee's report.

The figures in the quotation from The Sunday Times article summarised a good deal of what I wished to refer to, had time permitted, by quoting certain passages from the Select Committee's report. Any detailed analysis of the Government's housing programme will show that it is creating a massive housing disaster for the next generation. Our children will face appalling difficulties when they enter the housing market. They will find great difficulty in obtaining any house at all. Not only will the public sector fall to disaster levels; the private sector is unlikely to achieve anything like the levels that have been set.

The figures of estimated housing need that I quoted from the 1977 Green Paper were based on the assumption of 170,000 starts in the private sector. The house building figures for the private sector published by the Secretary of State last week show that in 1980 only 98,000 houses were started—in the private sector—half the figure on which the Green Paper was based—and the seasonally-adjusted figures for the public sector in the last quarter of 1980, when only 9,700 houses were started, suggest an annual rate of starts of little over 38,000, when the Green Paper estimated a need for 120,000. That is a disastrous record. In both housing sectors that record carries disastrous implications of what is likely to happen to anybody seeking housing in the foreseeable future.

The Select Committee predicted a shortfall of 500,000 dwellings by 1983–84. Every figure that has been published since then, and every informed opinion that has appeared, support our analysis. It is probable that the Committee was over-optimistic, because it did not know about the moratorium.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) referred to what that policy was doing not only to those in housing need but to the construction industry. I shall not repeat it. Instead, I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider his views and to read with great care the devastating criticisms of his Government's economic policies, which were neatly summarised in The Sunday Times issue from which he quoted so selectively. I hope that he will reform and change his policies while there is still time.

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Buckingham 6:20 pm, 11th February 1981

Viewing the serried ranks on the Opposition Benches, one would not think that this was a major debate of criticism and censure of the Government for their housing policy. I had to leave the Chamber during the speech of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), but I heard enough to know that it set the tone of the debate—a yah-boo debate, which gets us nowhere.

I do not deny the Opposition's right to criticise the Government's housing policy. I have done it myself from time to time. But should there not be just a touch of humility, a passing reference to past responsibilities, when so much has gone before? After all, the right hon. Gentleman, as the Opposition's spokesman, could release overnight, at a stroke, literally millions of dwellings. I listened to the broadcast at lunchtime. "Are you sitting comfortably?" he asked. I wonder how he goes to bed comfortably at night when he is responsible for that.

The right hon. Gentleman need not say that he supports shorthold. All that he needs to say is "This is an experiment. We think that it is wrong. We do not agree with it. But if we came to power we shall not alter tenancies with less than five years to run." That would give the experiment a chance; everyone could judge whether it was working. People could judge whether it was as the right hon. Gentleman says, the start of Rachmanism, which none of us believe it is, because the restrictions to it are great enough. If the right hon. Gentleman did that, the matter would be proved one way or another. It would give shorthold a chance, but he is not prepared to do that.

Of course, the figures quoted by the Select Committee and in the article in The Sunday Times do not make good reading. I do not deny that. But they should be taken as a whole. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, they should be taken in conjunction with the figures for renovation. It is the whole that we are talking about.

However, I must tell my right hon. and hon. Friends frankly that I think that housing has had an unfair share of the reduction in Government expenditure. I fully support the main thrust of their economic policy, but the housing sector has had rather too much to bear compared with other parts of Government expenditure.

Last April I warned the Government that demand was running far in excess of supply, and that unless the position was altered we should get further and further behind. Events have proved that that is happening. All the factors in housing today are combining to create this.

The recession has meant that fewer people can buy. We estimate that in my own relatively prosperous area a minimum of 30 per cent. of those coming to the new city of Milton Keynes cannot afford a starter home, and are therefore entirely dependent on the rented sector.

The demographic bulge is leaving the schools and going to work. Therefore, the demand there is much greater. There will be more people looking for housing in the next few years then there were previously. There is also the general break-up of the structure of the family.

As I have said, I strongly support the main thrust of the Government's economic policy. So what can be done within the restraints of Government spending? The Government can forget the private rented sector as a means of producing any more dwellings, as long as the Opposition's policy on that matter continues.

Owner-occupation is limited by the general level of prosperity. Although we are not likely to see any great advance there, I strongly support the measures that my right hon. Friend has taken in this respect. However, I believe that the time has come to consider the general level of income tax and capital tax advantages for those who buy their own houses in step with the reductions that should also be made in the level of housing subsidies to the public sector.

That brings me to the public sector, in which I include the whole local authority rented sector and the housing associations. In these difficult times the approach should be one of great selectivity, selective as to the type of housing—housing for the elderly, single people, and so on—and area. The effort should be concentrated on those areas where the need is acute. We need not worry about areas with housing surplus. The problems of, say, Hackney, are totally different from those of Harrogate. As my right hon. Friend acknowledged this afternoon, decisions on them can be made best by the local authorities.

I have two suggestions. First, when money is limited it is surely right to encourage those who can afford to do so to seek accommodation outside the public sector, in the private sector. I am sure that it comes as no surprise to my right hon. Friends when I say that this is where the right to buy hangs like an albatross around the Government's neck, in exactly the same way as municipalisation hung round the neck of the Labour Party when it was in power.

If the cost of a new council house is £20,000, which is, give or take a little, what it is now, it must be right to offer substantial inducements to those who can afford to do so to move into the private sector. The use of £20,000 in that way must be far more cost-effective than simply building a new house. But a council tenant of long standing has a far bigger inducement, under the right-to-buy provisions, to buy his own house. This is where the difficulty arises.

We shall hear a great deal tonight about higher rents, but I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend said about the matter. They are inevitable if we are to get more money into housing generally.

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

I am interested in my hon. Friend's view about mortgage relief, but he says at the same time that we need inducements to people to move into the private sector. Can he reconcile those two views?

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Buckingham

I was speaking of phased reduction of facilities available to owner-occupiers. What I am really saying is that if we divided the £20,000 that makes one house into inducements—bribery, if one likes to call it that—to the private tenant, that would enable him to start off his bid for his own house with a substantial capital sum and thereby assist the process. Therefore, I believe that the two suggestions are complementary.

If we could complement the stick of higher rents with the carrot of a grant to move into the private sector, everyone would benefit. But under the present housing investment programme allocation the money can be used only for three purposes: new building, mortgages and renovation. I urge the Government to consider this additional option, which would give local authorities more freedom to consider every possibility in a period of very tight money. There would have to be restrictions. The grant could not go to every tenant, or it would be a channel into a relatively cheap form of owner-occupation. Therefore, it must go to tenants of long standing, and it must be circumscribed in other ways as well.

I turn now to the areas of worst housing stress, which, by and large, are controlled by Labour authorities. Here we are in a "punch-on-the-nose" situation. The Government ask "Why are all these houses standing empty?" They are right to ask, for we have had the figures in reply to a question, and they are a disgrace. The council replies "You give us no money. We cannot make them habitable." So the stalemate continues.

Why not try a new approach—perhaps an experiment on a selective basis in the areas of one or two of the worst authorities?

For every untenanted house sold the council should be offered a substantial addition to their HIP allocation. I know that councils can keep a proportion of the amount for which the houses are sold. It would be cost-effective to offer councils a substantial addition to their HIP allocation. The addition could be made dependent on gaining a response within a certain period. It is worth trying to break the present stalemate.

We need a constructive and imaginative approach to housing. We do not need invective, because that will not get us anywhere. As my right hon. Friend said, there are no soft options in housing, particularly at the moment. We want not party politics but practical solutions.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 6:30 pm, 11th February 1981

As he has done before, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) criticised certain aspects of the Housing Act. We share that criticism. On average, the Government have imposed rent increases of £3.25 on many of our constituents. Those increases are most unfair. There is no justification for them. There might be some justification if it could be shown that the Government were building and improving dwellings at a great rate. Nevertheless, the imposition would still be unjust for our constituents.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) pointed out, the Government have an appalling record. There is nothing to show for the rent increases. Indeed, I consider them highly provocative, particularly as the Government have placed a 6 per cent. limitation on wage increases, which is, in effect, an incomes policy. Many of my constituents will have to pay rent increases of between 20 and 25 per cent.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that the justification for those rent increases depends not on the Government's building programme—whether or not that is good—but on whether the rent paid by tenants represents a legitimate proportion of their net wage in comparison with former proportions?

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Council tenants are now paying a fair share without further substantial rent increases. There is a link between the substantial rent increases and the right to buy. In effect, tenants are being told that it is better to buy. There are provisions in the Housing Act for discounts and so on. Many council tenants do not particularly want to buy their houses, but as a result of these rent increases, they may decide to do so. The Government hope that they will do that. That is another and important reason why we oppose those rent increases.

Before and during the general election campaign the Conservative Party said that matters should be left to local authorities to decide. Conservatives said that Whitehall should not impose a diktat, and so on. What has happened? The Government have imposed rent increases. They have told local authorities that regardless of their wishes and of local circumstances they must sell council dwellings.

The Secretary of State put up the best argument that he could to back up his very shoddy record. He pointed out that many tenants receive rent rebates. In earlier exchanges at Question Time I pointed out that councils would have to give rebates on the new, higher rents. Some tenants may not have to pay £3.25, but they will have to pay a substantial increase all the same.

I am a member of the Select Committee on the Environment. It is understandable that it should believe that a reduced number of dwellings will be built in the public sector. It believes that 30,000 council dwellings, or fewer, will be built in the next two or three years. In England there were about 44,000 public sector housing starts last year. That is a disgraceful record, and will only increase the tremendous amount of hardship that already exists.

As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann), who is Chairman of the Select Committee, the Committee estimates that there will be a shortage of about 500,000 dwellings within a few years. We are heading towards the severest housing crisis that we have seen for a long time. The Secretary of State can be accused of not having put up a fight in the Cabinet. The hon. Member for Buckingham said that as a result of cuts in public expenditure, housing had suffered disproportionately. We agree. The Secretary of State put up no defence in the Cabinet. The Cabinet is very leaky, and if the right hon. Gentleman had put up a fight we would have known about it.

The Secretary of State was a willing and enthusiastic partner to the housing cuts. He is the Secretary of State against housing. No comparison can be drawn between when the Labour Party was in office and now. Under the Labour Government there were cuts that I did not agree with. I made my position clear at the time. I considered that those cuts in public expenditure were unfortunate. Those of us who disagreed made our position clear. Those cuts were not, however, carried out as part of a deliberate housing policy.

The Government are trying to reduce the rented public sector to a minimum. They are encouraging council tenants to buy their own houses. As a result, they are reducing the number of council dwellings. They are not carrying out anything like an adequate building programme. The Government believe that the rented public sector should consist of "welfare housing". Many Tories believe that. They believe that the poorest and some of the elderly should receive council accommodation but that the rest should not.

I take a completely different view. Many people require council accommodation. I am certainly not against owneroccupation. The Labour Government introduced the option mortgage scheme. When the Labour Party was in office it took other measures to encourage owneroccupation. We believe that it is desirable. Nevertheless, we recognise that many—not just the poorest in our society—including semi-professional people such as teachers, are not in a position to get a mortgage. They rely on the local authority to house them. I do not see anything wrong in that, but the Government do.

The Government seem to be running a vendetta against council houses. They imply that it is shameful to be a council tenant unless one is elderly or poor. It is said that rented dwellings could be found in the private sector. Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I believe that the pledge that we made about shortholds was right and proper.

I look upon the shorthold provision in the Housing Act as a charter for property spivs. I want people to be rehoused. I want them to have adequate and secure accommodation. How can such accommodation exist if, after 12 months, the tenant does not know whether the tenancy will be renewed? We have almost returned to the provisions of the Tory Rent Act 1957. That is why we are against the provisions. We do not oppose them because of dogma or because of an obsession about private landlords. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may not agree. However, owner-occupiers have security. If, as a result of certain leasehold provisions, they did not have security of tenure, the Labour Government put that right. We gave added security to owner-occupiers.

Similarly, when tenants are rehoused they should be given security and protection. When tenants bring up families they should not have to worry, month after month, about what will happen to them, or about where they can find other accommodation. They should not have to worry about whether they will be put out on to the streets. Government supporters may disagree passionately with us, but that is our view, and that is why we are against shorthold tenancies. We do not believe that they provide an answer to the housing crisis.

In the West Midlands, the waiting list totals about 100,000. In my borough, the list is more than 7,000, whereas in 1979 it was less than 4,000. In Walsall, 115 houses are under construction as a result of contracts made prior to April 1979. No new housing contracts have been placed since then. That is the position in a part of the country that has been designated a housing stress area, and where there is tremendous hardship. I have a constant number of people coming to my surgeries and writing to me imploring me to help them get houses. They are quite genuine cases. I repeat that, despite this, there are only 115 houses under construction, and no new housing contracts have been made since April 1979.

The Secretary of State spoke about improvements. He emphasised the need to carry out improvements and modernisations. The Minister of Housing and Construction is listening to this debate. I can tell him that there are many pre-war council dwellings in my borough that need modernising. We have a programme of 1,400. As a result of the reduction in the housing investment programme it is estimated that in the next financial year it is likely that the total number of dwellings modernised will be 100. What about those tenants who have been waiting year after year for their homes to be modernised and who now face substantial rent increases? They will still be required to pay those higher rents. As a result of the housing programme reduction, and the rest, they have to suffer. That is our accusation against the Government.

We understand that there are profound differences between the two sides of the House. It would be foolish to pretend otherwise. However, I remind Government supporters that, apart from the most private details of a person's life, two factors matter to him most. They are employment and housing. Millions of ordinary people without substantial wealth, and who are not likely to inherit money, want two things, apart from personal happness. They want employment and to be able to remain in employment during their working lives, and they want decent, adequate accommodation, where they can live and bring up their families. Those are the two most essential things for millions of ordinary people, because achieving them will mean that they can live with dignity.

This Government have undermined both. Unemployment is at a level that has not been seen since the 1930s, and fewer council dwellings are being built today than at any time since the 1920s.

If the Government were to modify their policy—if they took building and construction workers out of the dole queues and allowed them to do their job of building and modernising homes—they would provide employment for those people so that they did not have to rot away their lives in dole queues, and in so doing they would provide the accommodation that our constituents need so desperately.

We ask the Government, perhaps without any chance of success, to change their housing policy and, by doing so, provide the essential homes that our people need.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth 6:45 pm, 11th February 1981

I begin by declaring an interest as a consultant to a firm of chartered surveyors which probably, although I take no active part in the business, has members of the construction industry amongst its clients.

I congratulate the Opposition on the timing of this debate. Public housing has reached the crossroads. Taxpayers can no longer afford to provide vast subsidies indiscriminately. It is now time for everyone directly or indirectly involved—in this House and in the local authorities—to take a step back, to endeavour to cast aside dogma and prejudice, and to see precisely how we can house our people with pride and with dignity to which the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred on a more sensible, prudent and realistic basis.

I hope he will forgive me if I do not take up any of the remarks of the hon. Member for Walsall, North. His constituency adjoins my own, and that is why I was on the point of intervening when he referred to the waiting list in the West Midlands. The House always listens to the hon. Gentleman with interest, but I think that I speak for all my hon. Friends when I say that I cannot agree with anything that he said other than his remark that everyone seeks to have a job and a home. Of course the argument is whether the majority of people look to the Government to provide the jobs and the homes or the private sector.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) speaks most eloquently about housing matters, and I found myself agreeing with him when he called for a bipartisan approach with the public and private sectors working hand in hand to provide the accommodation which is needed so desperately.

I also congratulate the Opposition on proposing this motion today because it coincides with the recent announcement by the Building Societies Association that the rate of increase in house prices declined sharply in 1980. That must be very important to those who have to make their pay packets cover their mortgage interest. The same Building Societies Association report reminded us that during the last year of the Labour Government the average prices of houses, new and second hand, rose by 26½ per cent. In the following 12 months, the first year of this Administration, they rose by only 7 per cent. The report goes on to say that prices are now more or less static, and the majority of home owners must be grateful to the Government for that.

The Opposition motion also comes at a time when the majority of the major banks have entered the market for providing mortgage finance. I hope that the greater competition which the banks will provide to the building societies, especially at the lower end of the market—I am sure that they will lower their sights from £20,000 mortgages down to £5,000 mortgages—will mean a constant flow of funds to first-time young married buyers and help them to obtain homes more quickly. I hope also that that constant flow of funds which the banks will provide will eliminate for all time the risk of the house prices spiral which has always occurred with the peaks and troughs of building society finance.

I also believe that the greater competition which the banks will provide to the building societies will encourage building societies to be much more flexible about the types of property on which they are willing to lend, especially to first-time buyers. I have in mind the sort of house in which many hon. Members on both sides of the House started—an unimproved urban terrace property with two reception rooms, three bedrooms and no bathroom—and which some building societies do not consider to be eligible for a mortgage. If the increase in the available funds provided by the intervention of banks in the mortgage market makes properties of that kind mortgageable and saleable, that must help the construction industry.

This debate also coincides with the tragic case of Mrs. Jean Lawrence of Basingstoke. Hon. Members will recall that she let her house on a short tenancy and now finds, having returned from visiting relatives abroad, that she cannot regain possession. Her home is no longer her castle, despite the fact that the tenancy has expired.

In the Housing Act 1980, my right hon. Friend has moved a long way to encourage owners to increase the number of homes available for those who deserve the right to rent. The hon. Member for Walsall, North, referred especially to teachers. What he failed to say was that teachers and others who need to move around the country in their job do not necessarily want to rent from the local council. They do not mind from whom they rent. In fact, they would probably rather rent from a private owner whose property was likely to be more individual and more attractive than many council houses. My right hon. Friend has encouraged private owners to make property available to let by reducing the rent registration period from three years to two years. But there is still a long way to go before an owner will feel absolutely certain of a fair and realistic return on his investment, a return that keeps pace with inflation.

The law should be drawn tighter still to protect honest and respectable citizens, like Mrs. Lawrence, from the indignity, humiliation and utter absurdity of having to become a squatter in her own home. These laws are an utter disgrace and require immediate overhaul.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) says "Hear, hear". I remind him that the Act to which I am referring, the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, was enacted by his Party.

This debate coincides with the reports of local authorities, mostly Labour-controlled authorities, which are "foot-dragging" in processing applications from tenants who wish to exercise the right to buy their own homes. This debate coincides with the decision just three weeks ago of the Lambeth county court which rightly determined that a tenant who wished to exercise his right to buy was made to wait three months while his application was shuffled from one in-tray to another bureaucratic out-tray into one red-taped pending tray—a denial of the right of the individual to exercise his rights enacted in this place.

The debate coincides with the decision of one Labour-controlled local authority in the West Midlands, Sandwell, which at the moment is contemplating spending £20,000 of its ratepayers' money on printing a leaflet specifically designed to dissuade council tenants from exercising their democratic right to buy. I ask my right hon. Friend to investigate the activities of Lambeth and Sandwell and local authorities such as Gateshead metropolitan borough council, which has threatened tenants who wish to buy by putting problem tenants in homes next door to them.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

The hon. Gentleman says that a local authority has spent money trying to convince tenants not to buy. Perhaps he will tell the House how much money the Government have spent trying to get tenants to buy.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

The hon. Gentleman need only refer to the Official Report of the Committee proceedings on the Housing Bill to find an answer to his question. Is it not reasonable that a Government should spend a certain amount of taxpayers' money on telling the public what their rights are under the law?

Photo of Mr Bernard Conlan Mr Bernard Conlan , Gateshead East

I think that the hon. Gentleman, on reflection, will regret the slur that he has made on the Gateshead council. The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. When he checks the facts—and I shall assist him in doing that—he will find that the threat he alleges has not been made.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

I thank the hon. Member for his kind offer. I declare an interest here. I first met the hon. Gentleman when I was a candidate in February 1974 for Gateshead, West, and I have held him in the highest possible esteem ever since. I must apologise because I did not drop him a note, as is the custom of the House, to tell him that I intended to refer to Gateshead. I apologise on that score. I mentioned the subject merely because I participated in a BBC "News-night" programme some three weeks ago when Gateshead council was given as an example of coercion. So I have merely quoted an authoritative source, the BBC. If the hon. Gentleman is correct and I am incorrect, I apologise both on my own behalf and on behalf of the BBC.

I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure, if possible, that no member of NALGO is found negligent in the discharge of his duty in processing applications for the right to buy as swiftly, speedily and efficently as possible. The Government should try to create a balanced community in every town in the land by mixing owner-occupation with council tenancies, private tenancies and housing association tenancies. The right to buy one's own home—and here I depart from the philosophy of the Labour Party—is as fundamental as the right to buy one's own food and clothes. Anyone who seeks to deny that light is no friend of liberty and should be brought to book.

This debate comes at a time, too, when more and more councillors and housing officers are calling for a review of the housing waiting lists procedure with a view to removing the many distortions and duplications which are responsible for figures which distort the real picture of housing need. Bogus housing demand leads to real hardship for cases of genuine need. That is why I sought to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall, North. He said that in his borough, which is almost adjacent to mine, there are 7,000 people on the council waiting list. After he has checked the facts with his chief executive, perhaps he will be kind enough to write to me and confirm categorically that those 7,000 people are presently without a home.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman now that that will not be so. Only a small proportion of those 7,000 need to be housed by the local authority. A considerable number of those people are on the housing waiting list because if a suitable property became available they would like to exchange a two-bedroomed house for a for a threebedroomed house a three-bedroom house for a twobedroom house, perhaps a bungalow for a flat, perhaps a high-rise flat for a cottage. Those people are still on the housing waiting lists and are included in the figure of 7,000 quoted by the hon. Member for Walsall, North.

The debate comes at a time when one major building society at least has declared its involvement in providing finance for new house building and its dedication to extending its influence in the rented sector and the application of more concentrated muscle in urban renewal schemes. That must be right and good for the construction industry. I welcome the decision of the Abbey Housing Association to build homes to let at cost rents on a noprofit basis in my own constituency under the assured tenancy provisions of the Housing Act 1980.

The building societies are used to being treated like a political football. They are used to being attacked from both sides of the political fence. They are used to being accused of being improvident in their mortgage lending and, at the same time, being too conservative in their lending policy. But if more building societies took the initiative now provided for them in the Housing Act to build homes to rent and homes at cost for sale, and if more building societies took the initiative that has been taken by the Abbey to participate in housing action areas, the greater still would be their contribution to solving the housing problem and providing work for the construction industry.

This debate is timely, too, because it comes just four weeks before the Budget. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to agree that house buyers abound aplenty, that mortgage finance is readily and steadily available, and that the steady supply of land for building is cruicial to the construction industry if it is to continue to play its vital part in being the principal and prime provider of homes to rent and for sale—and, of course, the largest employer of skilled labour. A healthy construction industry breathes life, health, vitality and activity into a number of other coincident industries—for example, the domestic appliance industry, the furniture industry, and so on. I invite my right hon. Friend to agree that the last Administration's punitive Development Land Tax Act 1976, despite two significant improvements made by this Administration in the last two Budgets, still cries out for a radical overhaul. The Act fails to distinguish between windfall or speculative gains made in the perfect pursuit of construction and earned profits. It is a tax that becomes payable even before it is due and irrespective of whether any profit is made on a development as a consequence of a deemed disposal.

The Act is a tax on inflation. It conflicts with the general acceptance—at least since the introduction of stock appreciation relief—of the need to avoid tax inflationary gains in the value of land held as stock in trade.

The Development Land Tax Act will eventually destroy the asset structure of the house building industry and will continue to put pressure on the demand for bank credit, unless it is radically altered and altered soon. The tax does not allow for development profits to be offset against development losses. It is, I believe, the only form of tax in this country where one cannot offset a loss against a profit. There are inadequate allowances for the cost of developments to be offset against the tax on gains—for example, the interest on the cost of holding land.

It is a tax that is so bureaucratic that it involves many senior managers in the construction industry spending a great deal of time unprofitably and unproductively wading through a plethora of some 28 forms sent to them from the development land tax office in Darlington.

I ask my right hon. Friend to have discussions with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see whether the worst excesses and anomalies of the hideous inheritance of this Act, which is bugging the prosperity of the construction industry, cannot be eliminated in the forthcoming Budget or the next one.

The only way that the nation can put its own house in order is by adopting a bipartisan, undogmatic approach, without prejudice, where the public sector can walk hand in hand with the private sector. The distortion and homelessness created by generations of rent control and security of tenure will only cause council house waiting lists to grow longer and longer. The Labour Party should adopt the policy put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham. For goodness sake, let us give shorthold a try. If the Labour Party ever returns to government, it can then have the satisfaction of saying "We told you so." For the benefit of the homeless, who really would like the right to rent—those for whom Labour Members today shed crocodile tears—I ask them to give shorthold an opportunity to succeed. Millions upon millions crave the right and the responsibility to own their own homes. I ask the Labour Party to give them a chance.

Councils can build homes for those in genuine need only if the money locked up in bricks and mortar is released. The Opposition should encourage Labourcontrolled authorities to sell as many of their council houses as possible in order to recycle the taxpayers' money to provide homes for those in genuine need.

Building societies and the private sector have a constructive part to play in providing homes to rent. I prophesy that the construction industry will rise to the challenge, as it has done before, and meet the demand that undoubtedly exists in the private sector if it is freed from petty bureaucracy and excessive taxation.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East 7:02 pm, 11th February 1981

I hope that the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) will forgive me if I do not follow him.

I shall try to show that the Secretary of State is mainly responsible for the disastrous housing situation. He would be more truly known as the "Anti-Housing Minister" or the "No-Housing Minister." I do not know how he has the effrontery to come to the House. He should resign. He has already halved the public and private housing programme. Last year's total was the worst since the 1920s.

I go further. Although I have not checked, I believe that last year's programme was the worst this century, with the exception of one year in the 1920s. This year's will be lower still.

The right hon. Gentleman is using a five-barelled gun to kill housing. He has used five brutal shots to halve the programme: a six-month halt to all building improvement and loans to private buyers from local authorities; a compulsory rent increase of £3·25 a week plus huge rate rises; extremely high interest rates for mortgagors; a 51 per cent. cut in all housing expenditure by 1983; and finally, he has compelled local authorities to sell their best houses.

The £3·25 average rent rise was caused by slashing the housing subsidy. It follows a £2·10 increase last year. However, as was clear from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, at the same time he is increasing the subsidy to owner-occupiers by £500 million a year. There are about 6 million council tenants and about 6 million mortgagors. The total subsidies that they receive are also about equal.

May I make it clear that the Labour Party is not in favour of reducing tax relief for owner-occupiers, except for the very rich, who get a 60 per cent. reduction on their mortgage interest payments? That rate should be reduced to the standard rate of 30 per cent. We say "Hands off the subsidy for both sections". It is the Tory Party leaders who are attempting to set owner-occupiers against council tenants. Both sections are suffering the same burden—inordinate interest charges—and they should unite against them.

However, I repeat that it is grossly unfair to cut a tenant's subsidy by £5·35 a week over two years, while increasing the subsidy to owner-occupiers by £500 million.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the mortgage interest rate goes down again, as I am sure that it will shortly, the subsidy to owner-occupiers will fall?

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Yes, but the mortgage interest rate has been very high since this Government came to office. If it goes up, the subsidy also goes up. I do not blame the building societies for the very high interest rates. They are even greater victims of the high mimimum lending rate than the remainder of us.

Housing expenditure has been cut by 51 per cent. There are 22 months to go before we reach 1983, when the colossal arms programme will have been increased by no less than 14 per cent. in real terms. There is no shortage of money. It is being put to the wrong use.

The Government's housing cuts have been condemned by almost everyone with the exception of the Cabinet and hon. Members on the Government Benches. The Opposition comes from non-political organisations and other organisations which are normally pro-Conservative such as the National Federation of Building Trade Employers, which through CABIN has contributed millions to the Tory election fund.

There is a long list of those who oppose this Government's housing policy: the Royal Institute of British Architects, the National Federation of Building Trades Employers, the Group of Eight, the NEDC, Shelter, the Association of Municipal authorities, most other local authorities, the TUC, the building trade unions, the housing societies and the National Federation of Tenants Associations. I need not add that the Labour Party even more strongly condemns that policy.

Local authorities have been put in an impossible position. The men and women in the Cabinet cause the misery, but some people mistakenly blame the town hall, since it is nearest at hand. It has to put the rents up and the local authority cannot react. It is bound by Government decisions and cuts in its money supply. It is in a straightjacket. All the councillors can do is make it unmistakeably clear that the blame lies on the Ministers in Westminster.

What is the solution to Britain's problem? I believe that it is to dash for growth and to spend our way out of the slump. It is to set the 300,000 unemployed building operatives building houses for the 1.2 million families on the waiting list. By 1984 that number will have grown to 2 million.

The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth referred to bogus waiting lists. Most local authorities check the waiting list every year. Moreover, he should know that thousands of tenants do not bother to put their names on the waiting list because they know that it is a waste of time and that their situation is hopeless.

The cost to the Chancellor of keeping a man on average pay on the dole, if he has a wife and two children, is £120 a week including loss of income tax. For that sum the man could be fully employed and could be simultaneously adding more than that sum in production for the country's good.

Far from killing the housing industry, the Government should be massively increasing it. It is clear that they will not. That is one reason why the Government should be put out.

The Secretary of State talked about inflation. However, Government expenditure is as much when those men are unemployed as when they are working. If they were working, there would be products to balance their wages and therefore there would be less inflation.

Apart from the financial loss, one must consider the human cost. Last Sunday a father and mother who have two children, one aged 3 years and the other aged 10 months, came to my advice bureau. They live in a twobedroomed flat, but they cannot use either of the bedrooms because of excessive damp and mould. That is the curse of the working classes. Oscar Wilde once said it was not drink that was the curse of the working classes but that work was the curse of the drinking classes. I believe that today, damp is the curse of the working classes.

All four of that family sleep in the living-room. The 10-months-old baby is in Pendlebury children's hospital. The other little girl has skin and lung complaints, which is not unnatural in those circumstances. The mother is taking tablets for her nerves and has recently lost 2 stones in weight. They have been in that accommodation for three years, since the first baby was bora. Thousands of families are in such circumstances. The Government are doing little to help but are worsening their chances. What hope is there for that family unless the Secretary of State takes the locks off housing and gives the councils the go-ahead and the subsidy?

If the Secretary of State wants to see how the shortage can break up families and cause domestic unhappiness, I suggest that he watches the Labour Party political broadcast on television at 9 o'clock tonight. I conclude as I began—let the Secretary of State resign and let us get the Government out as soon as possible.

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North 7:04 pm, 11th February 1981

As usual, the same hon. Members are here for the housing debate. The only difference is that they have changed sides. The same arguments are repeated each time. Opposition Members defend their Government, saying that they were doing their best—with the exception of the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), both of whom attacked the housing record of their Government. The rest simply changed positions and put forward different arguments.

We must agree that in recent times the story of housing has not been a good one, whichever party has been in power. The nation has overspent beyond its wildest imagination. During the period of office of the Labour Government the national debt rose from £40 billion to £80 billion. They borrowed more money than all the Governments before them, since the Crimean war. That is not a bad record of borrowing. It has to be paid for by someone—probably my children.

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

Probably to the National Union of Mineworkers' investment in Government stock. It is involved in the national debt. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that it is paid to everyone.

The construction industry is a key industry. We have talked less about it so far than about housing. One of the problems of the construction industry is that it became too orientated to the public sector. Much of British industry has gone through that phase of constant dependence on the public sector for its business and activity. It is going through a traumatic time in shifting from the public to the private sector. It is uncomfortable, but it has to be done.

One of the industry's key problems is lack of land. With respect to my Government, I do not believe that they are getting on with this matter fast enough. They are not kicking the nationalised industries hard enough, or looking at their Departments hard enough. The Ministry of Defence is a good example. Much could be done to release land. More must be done at ministerial level to release land that could be used for development. Developers and the construction industry need land.

We have heard that planning is being speeded up, but it is too slow. I heard about a company that put up a plant in Scotland. It took two and a half years to obtain permission to build the darned thing. That is barmy, by anyone's standards. We must speed up planning. We must be more active and virile about it. I should like to run a competition between local authorities to see how many plans they could pass and not how many they could stop, so that councillors could say that they had passed X number of plans and not that they had stopped them. That is one of the main handicaps in getting things going.

We have also agreed that there are different needs for housing in different parts of the country. It has become more of a regional argument than a national one. We must understand that in all our debates on housing. The House Builders Federation has made a list of things that it would like to see done. I support some of them. It says that the minimum lending rate should be reduced. That is also my belief. It is too high, and it ought to come down now. I am not convinced by the Government's arguments about it. It is time for a movement on this front.

There should also be capital tax allowances for factory development. There are allowances for the equipment inside factories, but not for the structure. The construction industry would receive tremendous help if capital allowances were more liberal for the buildings, and not only for the equipment inside. There should be an uplift of the exemption on stamp duty, to £30,000. The level is too low for the first-time buyer and the small purchaser. An examination of VAT on repairs and maintenance might be considered.

Local government often causes difficulties for the construction industry because it does not take the moratorium seriously. It goes ahead on the assumption that it can spend more, and puts things out to contract. The contractors make estimates and spend a great deal of money, then the moratorium applies, and they are left holding the baby. That is entirely due to local government assuming that the Government will not be tough with the moratorium. I hope that that lesson has now been learnt and that there will be a more cautious approach.

The budget of the housing associations was reduced by 11 per cent. in 1979–80, but the Government have this year maintained it, in real terms, at the new figure. I welcome the ending of the double scrutiny of plans, by the DOE and the Housing Corporation, which caused confusion for housing associations. I urge the Minister for Housing and Construction to consider co-operatives. I am not convinced that the Housing Corporation takes the cooperative movement seriously enough. Most co-operatives are the result of pressure, either from the threat of being taken over by developers or many other pressures. Much depends on the good will of the people in those properties. I urge the Minister to ask the chairman of the corporation not to exclude the movement from the corporation's work.

It is a pity that the Labour Party did not give shorthold a chance. It took a dogmatic view, instead of simply reserving its position and letting the thing run. Shorthold was, after all, an attempt to do something.

Mrs. Jean Lawrence has been mentioned. Since she lives near my constituency, I should like to read from an editorial that appeared in my local paper. I assure the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), whose tendency to quote had to be curbed, that it is only a short quotation. Under the heading "Homeless", it said: The plight of widow Mrs. Jean Lawrence highlights once again the urgent need for action in the law relating to tenants.When her husband died Mrs. Lawrence went away to America for three months, letting her home to a family of three. In the leasing agreement a period of three months was specifically stated. But when Mrs. Lawrence returned home the family refused to move. She was left homeless herself until she was able to enter her own home when the family was out and she exerted squatters' rights.Mrs. Lawrence has shown the law to be an absolute nonsense in this respect. The agreement was specific. It is her home. She always intended returning. The true rights of the homeless must be preserved, of course, but in the name of justice the stupidities of the law must be changed. The local authority, rightly, has to take action against that woman. It is not the council's fault—it is the current law of the land—but it is nonsense that this should happen.

Photo of Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann , Merton Mitcham and Morden

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that when there are disputed rights it is essential for the law to provide that disputes must be resolved by the courts? There is now an expedited procedure, which the lady could have used to obtain a court order in a matter of days. Does the hon. Gentleman not also accept the point made in a letter to The Times, I think yesterday, by Professor Martin Partington, that the Rent Acts should be reviewed, but on the basis of what the law is and not what the media pretend it to be?

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

The problem is that that lady has no confidence in the courts, because the general experience is that such families are given time. I am not criticising the courts, but she took that action because she felt—wrongly, I accept—that there was no assurance that she would get her rights. I quote that only to show what stupidities we create when we pass laws.

It was this Government who gave security of tenure to council tenants. The Labour Government produced a Green Paper on the Rent Acts that was useful and helpful but —I wonder whether it is symbolic that the document had a yellow cover—they ran away from implementing it. The proposals if the document could have done something about the Rent Acts.

I urge the Government to work hard on the Treasury for an increase in the money available for improvement grants. This is a better part of the housing record, but it is still the right place for the money. It will provide work for many small builders and opportunities for ancillary trades, such as those who make window frames, pipes and toilets. Such action would help the construction industry during a difficult time and provide work, particularly for skilled men. It would keep the industry alive.

There are some signs of an uplift in industrial building, which is always a sign of confidence in the future, and there are signs of an increase in house building. The improvement is marginal and we must not get carried away, but there are some glimmers of light. If the Government take seriously some of the points made in this debate the housing picture may improve.

Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent) 7:26 pm, 11th February 1981

My overriding thought in this debate is about the level of unemployment. The figure is nearly 2½ million, with reliable forecasts that it will rise to 3 million soon and to 3½ million by the middle of next year. There have even been astronomical forecasts by some influential bodies that the figure will eventually rise to 5 million. To accept this situation and do little about it means adhering to the law of the jungle. That is what the Secretary of State seemed to be doing today. He talked as if it was "back to the 1930s" with a vengeance.

Many school leavers are condemned to the scrap heap before they have been employed at all. The economy is certainly suffering from a lack of effective demand. The classic Keynesian analysis now applies. The capacity is available, the plant is lying idle and builders' yards are becoming almost ancient monuments. Modern Government must intervene to regulate things and create demand. This is where the building and construction industry has such a vital part to play in stimulating the economy and providing jobs for building workers on the dole. The economy generally would benefit from the spinoff.

Housing, both public and private, has been run down to desperate levels. A housing drive at the present time, apart from the beneficial employment factors, could also supply a basic human need. We are facing a rapidly deteriorating housing situation. Many hon. Members could speak from their experience in their surgeries and from their postbags of young couples, perhaps living with in-laws, seeking a home for the first time; of others living in a rented flat, in some cases in only one room, with inadequate facilities. Often the premises are damp. There may be a young child with a chest complaint. Often, too, those young couples are paying a prohibitive rent.

The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) mentioned housing waiting lists. In my constituency there are over 5,000 applicants on the waiting list, but the housing manager assures me that 3,500 of that number are what are known as active applicants—in other words, people who are urgently seeking a home. Likewise, he assures me that many young couples, clue to this deteriorating situation, will now have to wait several years for a home of their own.

All over the country, too, housing maintenance is being neglected. This is merely building up a legacy of unfit houses for future generations to deal with.

Photo of Mr William Rees-Davies Mr William Rees-Davies , Thanet West

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the scheme for improvement and renovation grants introduced on 15 December was the largest and most imaginative ever produced? It will enable the sub-standard houses to which he is referring to be put into good repair. Whatever is done about new starts or new housing, this is a really magnificent Government policy which can ensure that many of the sub-standard houses can be brought to a condition in which his constituents will be able to have a home.

Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

My impression is a little different from that of the hon. and learned Gentleman. When we have looked at the question of the unfitness of older properties, we have found that there has been little incentive for owners to improve those properties. The grants are still insufficient to keep up with the level of inflation, and the ball is certainly in the Government's court. If no action is taken over those properties, eventually they will be sacrificed to the bulldozer. The cost then will be not only the financial one of providing new homes; there will also be the tremendous social cost involved in breaking up communities.

In Newport there has been much redevelopment work, with the clearance of older areas. Many of the properties were built in the last century. This work has been going on for the past 16 or 17 years. The situation in Newport has recently come to the attention of the Daily Mail, which on 5 February made some sarcastic references to it. Such references do not help, because the work that is going ahead is essential. It is up to the Government to provide the money so that the work can be carried out as expeditiously as possible. As on many other issues, the Daily Mail was again tending to mislead its readers.

It is worth pointing out that even in these difficult economic times Newport is still attracting important sections of industry. For instance, there has been the recent Inmos project for the microchip industry, which will eventually provide about 3,000 jobs. Work has started on that establishment. Likewise, Newport is a strong candidate for the new Nissan car plant, which would provide considerable work for the building and construction industry.

Newport is geographically well situated, with motorway links to the Midlands and to the South-East of England, high speed trains, and also an efficient port. Given a favourable boost to the economy—and particualarly the stimulation of the building and construction industry—Newport can again emerge as a key industrial town, helping to provide the wealth of the nation, and with a pleasant environment for people to live in.

What we need now are modern homes as well. The building and construction industry has a major role to play in stimulating demand and boosting the economy. Housing is vital in this respect, in addition to providing a basic and crying social need. Employers and trade unions agree that this need is not being met by the Government. The Government could make a start by introducing a dramatic reduction in the level of interest rates. That would help mortgage payers—particularly young couples who have undertaken the venture of going in for their own homes. But the tragedy is that the Government are bound to their liblind dogma, which is leading to the wholesale destruction of industry and to a rapidly deteriorating housing position. The result of their policy is mass unemployment.

Photo of Mr William Rees-Davies Mr William Rees-Davies , Thanet West 7:37 pm, 11th February 1981

I do not intend to be long, I propose, subject to one thing, to deal with the private rented sector. I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having been absent from the Chamber between 6 pm and 7 pm. I was serving on the Select Committee on Social Services. That was the reason for my absence.

It is a very sad fact that for the private rented sector the Labour Party shows a hysteria almost like that shown during the Spanish Civil War. It was the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) who, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench in January 1980, said that the private landlord was an anachronism in the modern age. It was the present Opposition Front Bench spokesman—the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman)—who said quite recently that he subscribed entirely to that view, and that the Labour Party proposed the abolition of shorthold tenancies.

I should like to deal briefly with one or two matters of great importance in relation to the policy of the Government. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg)—was largely responsible for the drafting of circular 21/80, beyond doubt one of the finest circulars ever sent out by his Department. It deals with the Government's policy for carrying out an immense extension of the capacity that exists for grants to be given to people in the private sector, whether landlord, tenant, or owner-occupier, on a scale far greater than anything put forward by any Government hitherto. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) referred to this aspect in an intervention. If we proceed to restore many thousands of sub-standard houses to enable them to be purchased by owner-occupiers, including tenants who are already in them, we can extend improvement grants and raise standards. In that way we can maintain the old stock of houses, both pre-1900 and post-1900.

The Government have realised that. They have further realised that although only 13 per cent. of our housing supply is in the private rented sector, it is plain that not only housing associations but private landlords can play a real part in restoring to decent standards houses that can provide many homes in constituencies such as the one represented by the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes).

Labour Members seem to have the crazy idea that a rented house must be a council house. I accept that in this context it must be a rented house, but the controls that the Government have retained mean that if a person is to obtain an improvement grant or a renovation grant to bring the property to standards that are first-class, he has to guarantee that the property will be rented for five years. It is necessary to give an undertaking so to do, and if that is not done there is an obligation to return the grant that is outstanding.

The Government have increased the grants to 75 per cent., and in cases of hardship it is possible to obtain a 90 per cent. grant. They have increased the standards so that properties can be brought to the standards expected of a modern home. This will enable estates throughout the country, but especially in the Midlands, the North and the North-East—where properties in some areas have been declining for many years—to be brought to decent standards with effective control over the period of the letting.

It is most unfortunate that Labour Members do not give a fair wind to shorthold tenancies. I have an interest to declare. I was one of two hon. Members responsible for inventing the idea of shorthold tenancies. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State may remember that I wrote to him a year ago asking for certain alterations in the present structure of shorthold tenancies. I ventured to observe that the scheme would fail because the rent officers would fix rents on the old criteria—for example, fair rents and rent-regulated tenancies. If that is done for vacant property, which is the prerequisite of the shorthold tenancy, the rent cannot be fixed at such a low level. That is because no one will accept such a tenancy.

I decided to find two concrete examples in the London area and to go to the rent officer to ask him to inspect the properties. I found one such property, which was inspected by a rent officer. Two other properties were found by two of my friends and they, too, were inspected. The rent officers were extremely efficient, courteous and quick in carrying out their inspections. They found in each instance that the premises would qualify for a shorthold tenancy. However, on each occasion they suggested a rent that was 25 per cent. below what the landlord and tenant were prepared to agree.

The result is that in the London area and in many other areas no one is making use of shorthold tenancies. If it gives any contentment to Labour Members, I do not think that they will need to bother to abolish the scheme. If it continues as at present it will be totally ineffective. I always said that it would be ineffective unless we provided for freely negotiable rents.

My right hon. and hon. Friends argue that it is better to have a considerable volume of property in our major cities that is available for letting to the youth of the country—it is wanted largely by young people, including young executives, who work in our major cities—at rents that may be considered too high than to have no such property available for letting.

There are, for example, nearly 2,000 empty council properties in Manchester. As in London, there are thousands of houses that could come on to the market and provide satisfactory tenancies, both furnished and unfurnished, for young people in London and throughout the rest of the country, but it seems that rent officers are arriving at rents that are far below those that would result from the application of reasonable criteria.

What can be done about it? Valuations should be made by district valuers. They have the necessary experience and know-how. It is their task, and they can do it very well. The rent officers have never been given any new criteria to use in their assessment of the appropriate rents for shorthold tenancies. It is necessary for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to send out criteria to rent officers under the 1980 Act. The guidelines should provide that rent officers consult district valuers in fixing rents that are fair and that they must do so on the basis that it is an empty property when arriving at a fair and reasonable rent between the parties. If they pursue that line, we shall be proceeding along the right road and we shall be able to make shorthold tenancies useful in at leat some estates.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

The hon. and learned Gentleman has undertaken a survey at great effort and expense, and he is repudiating the suggestion made by the Secretary of State and Conservative Members that the party position that has been taken on shorthold tenancies is preventing the success of the scheme. He is arguing that the real reason for the lack of success of these tenancies is that rents are being set at levels that are lower than those that would apply if the free market were operating. If he is saying that, will he make it clear to the House that that is his argument, so that we may quote him in future?

Photo of Mr William Rees-Davies Mr William Rees-Davies , Thanet West

I am saying that the opposition of Labour Members to shorthold tenancies led the Department to advise Ministers to make certain alterations to the scheme which are not in accord with the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), who is now the Minister for Social Security, and myself. I refer to the recommendations that we published on shorthold tenancies. That change of policy, which was made largely under pressure from Labour Members, has meant that the rent officers, having no different criteria for shorthold tenancies than for rent-resricted tenancies, are fixing rents that would be in line with rents for rent-controlled or rent-resricted tenancies.

The consequence is that shorthold tenancy rents are ludicrously low. On average, they should be 25 per cent. higher. If they were 5 per cent. higher, there would be an availability of immediate accommodation for all those who want it at rents that they would be happy to pay.

I am agreeing with the attitude of Labour Members in one respect. I agree that we cannot have it both ways. We cannot have low rents and availability. People must be able to modernise their premises, and that is extremely expensive. They must do that if they are to get a fair return on their investment. If that is to be achieved, they must be able to charge a rent that is along the lines of a rent that could be perfectly properly fixed by a district valuer. If that were done we could make shortholds effective, and if a Labour Government ever came to office again they would find that by then we should have all the private rented accommodation required to meet the needs of those in the major cities of this country.

We must continue the Government's policy to encourage everybody to repair sub-standard houses by means of maintenance grants and other grants that are now readily available. Let us not forget that these include home insulation grants for the elderly and other special grants for those who suffer hardship, all of which are now available as a result of the Govenment's policy.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton 7:51 pm, 11th February 1981

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) on his speech in opening the debate. He scored a whole series of bullseyes, and the Opposition should be grateful to him. He set the tone of the debate—a tone that is very much required in the present situation.

I must declare an interest. Apart for the fact that I think I have spoken in just about every construction debate since I came to the House, I happen to be a member of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians. Prior to becoming a member of UCATT, I was a member of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, one of the bodies that came together with other unions to make UCATT.

I also declare another interest, if I may be forgiven a personal reminiscence. When I got married in 1945, on coming out of the Forces at the end of the war, I lived for 12 years in rooms. I was a building worker, building houses on construction sites of all kinds. My wife was a highly skilled secretary working in the hospital service. We could not get a house. Finally, after scraping money together for 12 years, we managed to get a mortgage and we bought a house, or at least put some money down on a house. I mention that personal reminiscence because, if the Government's policy is continued, working people such as my wife and I will be—indeed, they are being—faced with that kind of problem once again.

When constituents come to me they say "Of course, Mr. Heffer, you do not understand our housing problems", because they think of me living in a house of my own, but I do understand. I know the tensions and problems that are caused by living in restricted rooms and the difficulties that occur for people living with in-laws. Even if they are not living with in-laws, when the first child comes along the people from whom they rent the room or rooms no longer want them there.

Although we never solved those problems entirely, we were gradually beginning to ease people out of that situation. For thousands, the problems were not yet solved. Nevertheless, one could see some light at the end of the tunnel. With the Government's policies we are returning to those problems, and that, in itself, is an indictment of what the Government are doing.

The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) was generous enough to admit that I was very critical of my own Government's housing programme. I was indeed, and I am in no way ashamed of that. In my view, we did not build enough houses and we did not tackle the problem as we should have done. But when I consider what the Conservative Government are doing, I realise that the Labour Government's cuts that we criticised were chicken-feed compared with the situation that is now developing.

I wish to say a few words about the construction industry and the effect of Government policy upon the workers and the employers in that industry. I am becoming somewhat embarrassed of late, because I remember what happened during the run-up to the last general election. I was one of the prime targets for the employers. I was the architect of "Building for Britain" and the individual who, with our committee, worked out the idea of extending public ownership in the construction industry and devising a scheme for building workers to get rid of casualisation. Clearly, in those days I was a prime target and I never received a brief from the building employers, or if I did it was not one that I could support in the House or read with any interest. Now, however, it is becoming embarrassing, because all of my hon. Friends who are interested in the construction industry receive briefs from employers in the industry. They are sent particularly to Labour Members.

I cite the example of a brief dated 6 February—just a few days ago. It starts with a speech by Mr. Morrison Dunbar, president of the National Federation of Building Trades Employers. He says: NFBTE has increasingly come to feel that the way certain aspects of the Government's policies are being managed is having a quite disproportionately damaging effect on the construction industry. He continues: In particular its management of public sector housing programmes and its bias towards cuts in capital, rather than current, expenditure show a degree of inconsistency and expediency which must give us grounds for serious concern. Mr. Dunbar then gives the figures and says: Construction jobless figures have increased from 157,000 to 280,000 in the 12 months between November 1979 and November 1980. These extra 120,000-odd unemployed construction workers will cost at least £600 million. It is no wonder that public expenditure is cut in one direction and increased in another. The idea that the Government have actually brought down the public sector borrowing requirement is ludicrous. Their public borrowing is greater than any previous Government as a result of the increase in unemployment.

Mr. Dunbar makes the point: I do not claim that £600 million of public money invested in construction projects this year would absorb all of those extra unemployed construction workers …But at least we would be talking about productive investment rather than the waste of dole money and if some such expenditure went into heavily labour-intensive repair and maintenance work then more jobless per pounds of investment would be soaked up. That is good common sense. I do not know the gentleman, but if he wishes to join the Labour Party, we shall be happy to have him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which one?"]. I am talking about the only Labour Party. I did not know that there was any other Labour Party.

Let us consider the effect of unemployment upon the future of the industry. Our industry helps young people to acquire skills. They are no longer getting that opportunity. When the recession finally ends—when the Government are out of office and we have sensible policies once again—we shall find that we do not have the trained youngsters to do the jobs. All those young people are not getting the chance to acquire skills. The biggest crime of all is that young people should leave school with no opportunity to learn a trade or obtain a job. That is another indictment of the Government.

I do not intend to make a long speech, because I realise that other hon. Members wish to intervene. I wanted to emphasise those two points—the effect that unemployment is having on the future of the industry and on youth because of no opportunities, and the effect of the cuts in the housing programme. They are the worse housing levels that we have ever had, certainly since well before the end of the Second World War. They take us back even before the 1930s.

There must be a more positive attitude towards the construction industry. There must be a reversal of Government policy. Public expenditure for the construction industry is a necessity. I worked once for the firm of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain). Had he known that I worked in it, he would probably have sacked me. As a construction employer, he must admit that over the years well over half of the work that his company has undertaken has been carried out for public authorities. Most construction work is in the public sector, be it the local government sector or the central Government sector. That is why the Government must reverse their policy and return to developing public expenditure to help the construction industry.

In addition, we must pursue policies of the sort that have been laid down by the Labour Party in its programme "Building for the Future". I hope that this time the employers' federation will adopt a more reasonable attitude towards us and read the documents, instead of attacking us for some things that we have never said.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton 8:02 pm, 11th February 1981

I count it a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) because I know that he speaks with great experience of the construction industry. In the seven years that I have been a Member of the House, we have both taken part in many debates on housing and construction. The hon. Gentleman is always listened to with great attention, particularly by those hon. Members who are concerned about the industry. By definition, that is virtually everyone who is presently in the Chamber, otherwise they would not be here.

The hon. Gentleman declared an interest. As the House knows, I also have an interest as a director of house building company. I am also a member of the board of management of Shelter, although that is not a paid position.

I had not intended to intervene, but as I listened to the debate I felt that I would do so in order to make two points. My first relates to the work of the Select Committee. My second relates to land and planning,, which has hardly been referred to at all except by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant). I hope that I do not have to justify talking about land and planning, because obviously it is central to our housing policy that there should be an adequate supply of land.

I first want to deal with the report of the Select Committee on the Environment. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) is, of course, the Chairman of that Select Committee. I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction that I was not satisfied with the Government's reply to the report of that Select Committee. Although I was not a member of the Select Committee, I read its proceedings. It did a great deal of work in producing projections of housing output, given a number of possible assumptions about the level of council house rents and sales geared to the forecasts put forward in last year's White Paper on public expenditure.

It was perfectly open to the Government when they went before the Select Committee to say, as they did, "We do not know what the outturn will be, because this depends on a great many different decisions—first, on whether private individuals want to buy their houses or improve them and, secondly, on how much land and houses local authorities sell". However, I do not think that is was right, reasonable or fair for the Government to say "We do not know", but when the Select Committee itself produced alternative figures after a considerable amount of work to suggest that it had not understood the Green Paper published by the previous Government.

Photo of Mrs Renée Short Mrs Renée Short , Wolverhampton North East

I remind the hon. Gentleman that all Ministers seem to be saying that in response to Select Committe reports.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

This is not a wholly partisan criticism, because for the whole of the previous Parliament I served on the Environment Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee. We were not always wholly satisfied with the replies that we received from Ministers.

There is always some degree of tension, which is perhaps desirable, between a Select Committee and the Department at which it is looking. On the whole that is quite a good thing. However, in his reply to the Select Committee, my hon. Friend failed to deal with the proper issue. He said that the Select Committee had produced figures which in his view misunderstood the 1977 Green Paper. That is not good enough.

If my hon. Friend feels that the Select Committee's estimates were wrong, he ought to say so and state why. In addition, he ought to produce his alternative projections. One thing which the Select Committee is perfectly entitled to do—just as the Environment Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee did with the Labour Government in 1976–77—is to probe the assumptions behind the public expenditure White Paper as to how many houses will be produced and what the outturn will be. That is the job of a Select Committee. When my hon. Friend next replies to a Select Committee report, I hope that he will not do it in so dismissive a way as he did on this occasion.

It gives me no pleasure to say that, because I have great personal respect for my hon. Friend. However, it is the duty of Back Benchers on whichever side of the House to stand up for the rights of the Select Committees which are important to our processes of government.

I now turn to the question of land. As I said earlier, I hope that I do not need to apologise for discussing this extremely important issue. Certainly, with regard to the private housing sector, which is central to the Government's housing strategy, there is a need for an adequate supply of building land. However, my hon. Friend and Ministers at the Department of the Environment are to some extent faced with conflicting pressures. On the one hand there is the pressure of builders to have more land for development and to have it now. On the other hand there is the perfectly proper pressure of farmers, agriculturists and conservationists to defend good agricultural land and to ensure that it is not released unnecessarily. It is not easy to achieve a proper balance.

We should also look carefully at the structure plans which are now coming forward and consider their contents. I was pleased at the speed with which the Department of the Environment cleared the number of structure plans which came forward. When we inherited this from the previous Administration, the whole procedure had got totally stuck. Many structure plans were just sitting in the Department and had been there for far too long. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave decisions quickly and he has continued to do so. That is entirely to the good.

He has also taken a number of extremely constructive steps to improve the situation, which ought to be welcomed. The circular on land produced last year is one of the most constructive documents to appear for some time. It emphasised the need for a five-year supply of building land. However, it also emphasised the need for consultations between local authorities and builders to ensure that that five-year supply is achieved.

I hope that my hon. Friend, either in his reply tonight or subsequently in correspondence, will be able to assure me that the decisions on structure plans which have been taken by Ministers are directed towards two things. The first to ensure that there really is a five-year supply of land in structure plans and at realistic rates for building, not those of the past six to 12 months. The second is to ensure that the structure plan which he is approving, and which is now monitored in discussions and consultations between house builders and local authorities are realistic. He will know that the House Builders Federation has, on several occasions recently, produced reports of its joint studies with local authorities which have found that the five-year structure plan targets did not provide a realistic assessment of the amount of land which is available or which is needed to meet housing demand. If we are not to have a serious shortage of land ready for building, with planning permission, with services and all the necessary equipment needed for getting on with the job by the middle of this decade, it is essential that the right decisions are taken now. Let us get that right.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important factors is that the land should be available where people want to live? Too many planning authorities say that they have enough land but that people want to live in the wrong place. They are not God. They must allow people to live where they want to live.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

My right hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) has put his finger on an important point which is dealt with in the Government circular—the question of the marketing considerations. That was also alluded to in the circular produced by the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) for the Labour Government. However, when he is approving structure plans I hope that my right hon. Friend will look carefully at the use made of spoilt and derelict and marginal land. That land is important. The Civic Trust produced some disturbing figures in a report last year which suggested that up to 500,000 acres of land might be available for development. It is spoilt or marginal but not good agricultural land. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take the opportunity when he brings the Countryside and Wildlife Bill before the House to introduce another clause to ensure that the protection of agricultural land and the use of spoilt land will become an important consideration for local planning authorities in carrying out their duties. A declaratory clause of that sort in the Bill would be useful.

In dealing with land it is important that we try to overcome problems of land ownership, and the relationship of the State towards land ownership. That should be settled once and for all. We have made considerable changes over the years.

Since 1945 the House has done a great deal to the law on land and betterment. In 1947 development land was nationalised and so were development values, subject to the £300 million compensation fund. In 1953 and 1954 that was unscrambled by a Conservative Government, and the public-sector owned land changed hands at current use value and the private sector land changed hands at market value. In 1959 the concept of total market value was adopted.

In 1962, a short-term capital gains tax was introduced, and in 1965 a long-term capital gains tax. In 1967 we had a land commission with a 40 per cent. betterment levy, intended to increase to 50 per cent. In 1971 that was abolished and capital gains tax was reintroduced. In 1973 a development gains tax at income tax rates was introduced and a first lettings charge. In 1976 we had a Community Land Act, with development land tax at rate of 80 per cent. which it was intended to increase to 100 per cent.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

We will get it right some time.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) says that the Labour Party will get it right some time, but it is plain that that is no way to have a housing programme.

I suggest three pillars on which land policy should be based to my right hon. Friend and to the Labour Party. I believe the Labour Party is reconsidering its policy on this subject.

First, there should be a high but not a penal rate of tax on betterment. I think the correct rate should be 60 per cent. I do not agree with the House Builders Federation that that figure should be reduced. I believe that 60 per cent. is the correct rate because it is high but not penal. Secondly, the basic assumption on land is that it should come forward in accordance with market forces—that is, that the builder should identify the land, buy the land, seek planning permission and develop. Thirdly, there should be a role for the local authority, joining the developer in helping to assemble the land. That should be done preferably by voluntary means, but if necessary by compulsory acquisition. That power is now included in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. Those three pillars represent a reasonable balance between the rights and needs of the community to ensure that some of the betterment goes to it, that the development is properly carried out, and the need for the land to come forward in accordance with market forces. My suggestions will enable us to get rid of this land hassle which has been befogging politics for the last 150 years.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill 8:14 pm, 11th February 1981

The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) made an interesting point when he talked about the rotation of policies and the need for a national land policy. He is right when he says, as other Members have said, that there is a need to end the way in which housing has been used as a football, tossing it from side to side depending on who has to take the decision.

The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) spoke about a shift in Government policy away from new house building towards improvement grants. I support the pensioning off of the bulldozer, the reduction of demolition and the increase in improvement grants. I am a great believer in and supporter of renovation and renewal. But in an article in The Guardian by John Carvel on Saturday is was pointed out: The question is whether the amounts of money are so low that too little will be done". All those to whom I have spoken who are concerned with housing matters, and the Secretary of State, admit that because of the moratorium that he has imposed, where an authority has overspent, no one can get an improvement grant. In my own city of Liverpool we have enormous housing problems, and there is a great need to improve property. In the places were improvement grants are needed they are not being made available. The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West also spoke about the shorthold experiment. During the debates on the Housing Bill many Opposition Members shared the view that there was a desperate need to tackle the problem of housing.

I am not one of those who support the immediate repeal of the shorthold provisions. But the Government were unwise not to listen to Opposition Members and to Members of their own party when the suggestion was made that shorthold should have been tried on an experimental basis in some areas of the country. In that way we could have ensured that the worries that many of us have about the possible misuse of the procedures and the possibility of Rachmanism could have been overcome the threat which bedevils the whole of question of shorthold and threatens the possibility of using shorthold to put empty properties back into use.

Photo of Mr Martin Stevens Mr Martin Stevens , Hammersmith Fulham

In commenting on the Government's attitude to shorthold and the attitude of the Opposition to the proposals, does the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) reject, as Conservative Members do with some indignation, the statement from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) that if a Labour Government came to power they would enfranchise the shortholders? To many of us that is an unscrupulous method of keeping empty houses empty.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill

I agree with the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens). I do not like what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) said and I do not support that view. It is interesting that in the House and in politics generally we hear threats from one side or the other—the "Annie-get-your-gun" style of politics—"Anything you can do, we can do better" and "Once you have done it, we will do our best to undo it". One side is nationalising and the other denationalising or renationalising. One lot sells off the council houses and the others say that they will buy them back again. That is what bedevils politics in this country. It has been interesting to hear whose record has been worse.

I took the opportunity to look up some of the Secretary of State's speeches, which I cannot say made scintillating reading. I went through them and I shall use quotations from his speeches in my contribution in order to point out the folly of this rotation of policy without looking at the fundamental problems. During the two years for which the Secretary of State has held that office he has done his best to alienate local government representatives and employees and his traditional supporters in the building industry. His policies of stop-start building have far more to do with panic than with planning. His moratorium had been condemned as a haphazard and naive attempt to achieve what his speeches and statements have failed to do. Its effects have been disastrous, not only for those employed in the industry but for those whose families have to go on living in wretched conditions.

The right hon. Gentleman will be remembered as the man who mutilated local government, who allowed the building programme to collapse, and who accelerated the decline of run-down, unimproved homes that were desperately in need of improvement. There can rarely have been a Secretary of State for the Environment who has been more disliked than the present incumbent. He has chopped and changed policies to suit his political fortunes. It is said of him that he tells his civil servants "These are my principles; if you do not like them I will change them".

In the 1979 manifesto in the section dealing with housing, to which the right hon. Gentleman presumably made a contribution, it stated: The prospect of a very high mortgage rate deters some people from buying their homes. Mortgage rates have risen steeply because of the Government's financial mismanagement. Quite so. The Government should tell that to home buyers now who are paying almost twice as much as they were during the period of the Liberal agreement with the Labour Government. My party was trying to co-operate with that Government and stopped the nationalisation of the building industry by exerting a moderating influence. It was trying to bring an end to the stop-go policies that have dominated events in this House.

Far more significant are the comments of the Secretary of State on 5 March 1979. He said: The conclusion of five years of this Labour Government has produced the worst new building record, the lowest number of private rented homes, a collapsed level of improvement grants, record-breaking interest rates, soaring land prices and rocketing house prices … 1978 has been a disastrous year for housing. Wherever there has been a slight glimmer of improvement in any field it has not been as a consequence of Government policy but despite it. If the Labour Government manage to achieve that in five years, the right hon. Gentleman will be remembered for having taken only two years to achieve the same results. He complained that Mortgage interest rates are now at 11¾ per cent., a higher level than under any previous Government." He scolded the then Government, saying that their overall management of the economy has involved both decisions and measures that have worsened the housing situation. He chided the then Government, saying they have done many things to aggravate the situation in addition to their general preoccupation with the levels of public expenditure and the consequential effects of inflation."— [Official Report, 5 March 1979; Vol. 963, c. 912–4.] That came from a Secretary of State who has allowed his Department to be sacrificed on the altar of monetarism. It is no wonder that people are cynical about politicians whose words have become so devalued and meaningless, and who say one thing in Opposition and another in Government.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

Are these remarks an example of the way in which the Liberal Party gets away from "Annie-get-your-gun" politics?

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill

I was replying to the hon. Member for Fulham, saying that I supported his view on shortholds. I have tried to look at the subjects on their merits. I agree with the hon. Member for Melton about the need for a land policy. Sometimes, however, Conservative Members should be more critical of the record of their Government. I represent an area in which about half the homes—more than in any other constituency in England—were shown in the last census to have no inside toilets or bathrooms. Many of those homes do not have hot running water. Many of them are about to collapse on the occupants. Surely those people are entitled to better than they are being given by the Government.

I return to the house building figures and to the achievements of the Government. They lead me to ask Conservative Members to show more humility than they have shown so far. The latest figures show that Britain started fewer houses in 1980 than in any year since 1924. Housing has borne three quarters of the Government's savage expenditure cuts. In my area on Merseyside, 25 per cent. of the people who are out of work are building workers. The percentage decline in housing starts on Merseyside this year is 45 per cent.—higher than in any area outside Greater London. Even so, Merseyside has more people on the dole than anywhere else in the country—more than the whole of Ulster or Wales.

I try to explain to the people who come to my weekly advice centre and tell me about their unimproved houses what the Government are trying to do and what their policies are all about. I sometimes wish, however, that the Secretary of State would spend some time in a two-up, two-down house with an outside toilet, without hot water, and with a leaking roof. That is a far cry from a mansion in Oxfordshire, or from the offices of Marsham Street.

The right hon. Gentleman has acquired a knack of offending local authorities by his arrogant and highhanded treatment of their affairs. Only yesterday the AMA had cause to write to me again, protesting at the way in which the Secretary of State had dealt with local government housing. Earlier this week the ACC and the AMA had to complain at the Government's crazy decision to water down the control of pollution regulations. Last year they complained at the way in which the Housing Bill and the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill were being introduced. A few weeks ago they were further embittered by the deplorable way in which the rate support grant settlement was announced.

What a sorry saga of blundering and bungling. The Secretary of State described himself as feeling like Wellington before the Battle of Waterloo. Watching his deteriorating relations with local government we might be forgiven for comparing him and the Minister for Housing and Construction with Lucan and Cardigan before the charge of the Light Brigade into the Valley of Death. It seems that they are totally oblivious to reality, and care not about the consequences of their actions.

The Secretary of State should listen to the wise words of the AMA, which warn that with the potential shortfall on new building of over 400,000 dwellings by 1986, an accelerated rate of deterioration of our older housing stock, a housing situation is being built up that will require many years of effort and expenditure to put right. The Secretary of State should listen to the building industry. In November 1980, 279,000 people in that industry were out of work—a 30 per cent. increase on the May 1980 figure. Vacancies have fallen by 81 percent. in 15 months, from 27,000 in August 1979 to 5,000 in November 1980.

The Secretary of State should also remember his words when he said, in June 1977: does not the present level of unemployment in the construction industry, which is the worst since 1931, make a mockery of the Government's claim in their last General Election manifesto that they would create a permanent and stable work force?"— [Official Report, 29 June 1979; Vol. 934, c. 408.] Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the measure to which he has referred will achieve a lower level of unemployment in the construction industry? Does not every Member of Parliament have the right to ask the right hon. Gentleman the same question today? How can the right hon. Gentleman merely dismiss the warnings of the AMA that the rate of deterioration of our older housing stock is continuing at an alarming rate? Does he not see that the private sector is being just as badly damaged as the public sector? Is he aware that 84,000 new homes were started in the private sector and 44,000 in the public sector? Apart from the war years, that is the lowest figure for the public sector since 1920 and for the private sector since 1953. The National Council of Building Material Producers said this week: The consequences of a low house building and renovation work will be an increasing number of homes in poor condition and an increase in multi-occupation, overcrowding and sharing. There may still be a rise in the number of vacant properties—simply because they are unfit or in places where people do not wish to live. The Minister for Housing and Construction is right to hang his head in shame.

I turn to the effects on my constituents of such a penny-wise, pound-foolish policy. As queues lengthen in our housing offices, so tempers shorten. Officials who are unable to help people in great need are being placed under mounting pressure. I know of examples of such utter exasperation that applicants and tenants have erupted in anger. Every day I see examples of people's needs being ignored. The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) said that 7,000 people were on his local waiting list but that most of them were already living in council houses and simply wanted to transfer to another house or area. That is all that he thought of them—people who wanted a transfer.

I must tell the hon. Member about a deaf and dumb lady who came to see me a couple of weeks ago. She lives in a three-bedroomed house, but needs to move to a one-bedroomed flat near to her relatives, so that she will no longer be isolated. But, as a result of the Government's cuts in housing expenditure, no sheltered accommodation is available. No one-bedroomed houses are available. People such as that lady are not being rehoused. She is one of the hon. Gentleman's statistics on the housing waiting list. She is not irrelevant. The couple who wrote to me recently are similarly not irrelevant. They have a special medical priority and have been awaiting rehousing for about nine months. The wife wrote to me a couple of weeks ago to say that her husband had died and that the medical priority was no longer required. How many more people are there in similar positions?

I cannot believe that the Secretary of State fully understands the misery that his ill-judged and misconceived policies are causing. If he does understand that, I cannot forgive him for the damage that his policies are causing. I shall support the motion in the Lobbies tonight.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe 8:30 pm, 11th February 1981

The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) said that there would be a party political broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party at 9 o'clock this evening and that we should all watch it. We have just heard a party political broadcast on behalf of the Liberal Party. It was a typical party political broadcast, because it slammed everybody, made false accusations against individuals and did not offer a single idea of how to obtain more housing.

I informed the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that I intended to refer to him in my speech. He may yet return to the Chamber. I listened to his speech with special interest. He and I have taken part in most of the many housing debates. I congratulate him, because he has learnt that he needs to read the literature of the House Builders Federation and the National Federation of Building Trades Employers, and consequently he now talks a great deal of sense. He declared two interests, but forgot to declare a third. I told him that I intended to criticise him. He forgot his most important interest, namely, that he is living in a block of flats built before the introduction of Rent Acts, and he is enjoying his occupation. I told the House 20 years ago that if the Labour Party would only abandon stupid rent controls, more houses would be built.

Let us get down to the principles. I see that some Opposition Members are sneering. I say with some modesty that I have been in the building industry for longer than has anyone in the House. I was responsible for building up a large organisation. Be that as it may, I now want to get down to fundamentals.

We all agree that there is a housing shortage. We all agree that it is a great tragedy that people are not being properly housed. We all want to see that tragedy overcome. The problem that faces us is how to do that. Which policies are right? Nobody can deny that the only commodity that is in short supply is housing, or that the only commodity that has been controlled for 40 years is housing. Cannot the House draw the proper conclusion from that? Cannot the House appreciate that the only way to overcome the problem is to remove control and rationing, and to abolish the black market, which will result in increased supply?

Rachmanism was a type of black market, because it involved rationing. Rachmanism came about because of a housing shortage, and some people without consciences took advantage of it—in exactly the same way as black marketeers peddled sugar and butter.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

The hon. Gentleman has overlooked an important point of history. The era of Rachmanism grew up in the wake of the 1957 Rent Act, which removed controls and security of tenure. It badly damaged the inner areas of cities such as London and Liverpool. I refer to the period between 1957 and 1963. Rachmanism was the product of the decontrols provided by the 1957 Act.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

The right hon. Gentleman opened both jaws and put both hands down. He has proved my case conclusively. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) laughs, but I am talking with the benefit of some experience.

The right hon. Gentleman said that Rachmanism started because controls were lifted. He overlooks the fact that the Opposition threatened to bring the controls back immediately. The controls were not lifted, but were temporarily abandoned. The right hon. Gentleman makes ugly faces. Unless we can get away from controls, we shall not obtain the houses that we want and cure unemployment.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Walton is not present. Dolphin Square, where he lives, was built during the biggest depression that the industry has known. It was started in 1933, because my little group had a bunch of very efficient workmen whom we did not want to make unemployed. We decided to put everything that we had into building a block of flats where we could employ them and thus produce accommodation. That is just what we did.

That little team was the foundation on which that little company was built up into about the third biggest of its kind in the world. That is not possible today, because controls are such that no one can speculate, except on office blocks—and they are overdone anyway. If we had free enterprise, if we has no controls on building, a number of firms would be happy to build housing to let.

I own houses in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency. I should gladly build more to rent if he would only persuade the Opposition that controls should be abolished. That is what it is all about. Hon. Members can bandy figures about, saying that they built so many dwellings and somebody else built a different number. The fact remains that in the early part of the century 92 per cent. of our houses had private landlords. They were not such a bad lot. They included the Cadbury Trust, the Rowntree Trust and the Peabody Trust, all of which were generations ahead. At that time even the trade unions were prepared to invest money in rented property, something that they should do again. Because of rent control, they are now buying antiques and paintings, when they should be putting their cash resources into providing accommodation for the workers.

My group works in Germany. Immediately after the war the Germans—

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

In Germany there have been strong property and rent controls for many years, to such a degree that whilst I was Minister deputations came from Germany to discuss their problems with us. The problems still exist.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

The right hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that in Germany employers are encouraged to build houses, and if one builds a new house in Germany it is not subject to control. The first thing that we need in order to resolve the housing problem is for the Opposition simply to say that any new houses built shall not be subject to rent control. What can be wrong about that?

One house in 30 is now empty. The House should be ashamed of that. Houses are empty because people are afraid to let, afraid of not being able to get their property back. The Basingstoke case has done more harm to the provision of rented property than could be done by four or five hours' debate here. People are afraid that they will not be able to get back their own accommodation if they let it.

Many people buy houses for their retirement. They are often very nice places. Some of those people ask me "How can I be sure that if I let my house now I shall be able to get it back in three years' time, when I retire?" I point out that if they make the right arrangements with their solicitors, and if they get the lease right, they will be able to take up occupation. They say "Tell us that again". They say that although, according to the law, that is possible it will take a long time.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) referred to some shameful cases. There are plenty of cases like that. We could reduce the number of such cases. One house in 30 could become available if only the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Taylor) would get up—as I have asked so often—and say that the Labour Party does not want empty houses. At present, houses stand empty because of the controls.

The Labour Party is frightened to take any action because there are more tenants than landlords and they want the votes. The only time that I agreed with the hon. Member for Edge Hill was when he said that politics should be taken out of housing. Of course both sides of the House should agree to do that. The Opposition believe that the only way to solve the housing problem is to build more and more council houses.

We have seen how local authorities have failed. They built high-rise flats. No private investor would have done that. I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) about land. The Government could take some positive action. They have begun on the right lines, and they should continue. I have seen three similar depressions. After a depression it is immediately suggested that people in the construction industry should be employed. People say "Let us give them some work. Let us get the men working." Whenever that has been said, others have said "Good Heavens, we have no plans". When the Treasury turns on the tap the plans are not available. There is a ghastly nine-month gestation period and everything starts prematurely.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take my next suggestion seriously. Cannot my hon. Friend twist the Treasury's arm a little? Cannot he get the Treasury to agree that architects should get together to prepare plans and drawings? Builders and house developers should be told that they can get on even when the tap is off. If they do that, they will make a real contribution.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I know that most of those sitting in the Chamber have been here all afternoon and are anxious to take part in the debate. I understand that the winding-up speeches will begin at 9.10 pm. There are nine hon. Members who wish to speak. Therefore, brief contributions would be welcome.

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon 8:43 pm, 11th February 1981

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) on his brilliant and devastating attack on Government policy. When the Secretary of State replied, I felt a certain admiration for his cheek. He had the cheek of Old Nick. The right hon. Gentleman tried to turn the attack made on him to his advantage by attacking the Labour Government.

That simply is not on. The Secretary of State criticised the Labour Government for making a cut in housing expenditure which was in fact made by Tory local authorities at his behest. Having said that that programme was too low, he proceeded to cut it in such a swingeing manner as has never been done before. The right hon. Gentleman has a great deal of cheek.

Bearing in mind the Tories' housing policy, there is no way that they can turn away the criticism made of them that they are deliberately causing slump and unemployment. Undoubtedly their housing policy has caused just that, and since that policy has been deliberate, it is they who have caused the slump in the building industry which, of course, has had effects, very much wider than the building industry itself, on the building supplies industry and on the professions as well, as we heard this morning from the Royal Institute of British Architects.

By the mid-1980s the policies of this Government will cause the greatest housing crisis that we have ever known. That has been said already, but it is worth repeating, and it is important to warn people what is to come. Not only will there be housing shortages. Prices will escalate in the way that they did in the days of the Tory Government led by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in 1972 and 1973. We see prices shooting up, and soon that old word "gazump" will be with us again. Just when increasing house prices and shortages in the private sector are with us, we shall find that the public sector—the only way in which the shortage can be relieved—is building virtually no houses, and, because of this Government's policy of forcing councils to sell houses, local authorities will be left with a greatly reduced housing stock. That is the position that we shall have reached by the middle of this decade.

Local councils such as my own find already that they are getting greater and greater numbers of people applying for houses to rent. In my constituency, the waiting list has more than doubled since the Government came into office, and the waiting time has more than trebled. That is the position which local authorities face, even before the Government's policies have their full effect.

My own constituency is one of the most progressive housing authorities in the country. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick will vouch for this, as will Ministers, including the Secretary of State, because they have been there and seen the forward-looking policies that Swindon borough council and Thamesdown borough council have implemented. In partnership with private enterprise, they have had a balanced housing programme in being over a long period of time. They have built houses to let. They have planned in advance. They have built for sale. They have carried out improvements. They have done all that a local authority should do. It is a growth area, and one would expect the Government to wish to support to the hilt an area of that kind which has done its job and which is a Government-planned growth area.

Far from doing that, the Government have reduced Swindon's housing investment programme by just about half. In real terms, the programme has been reduced by 26 per cent., and that is mostly in respect of programmes which are already committed, leaving very little for new building.

The strategy in Swindon was to start 634 houses. Only 122 starts will be made in 1981, and they are being made only because they were delayed from 1980 by the moratorium placed on building projects by the Government last November. It is also expected that next year there will be a further reduction of 15 per cent. in the housing investment programme.

It means that they will make no housing starts for general needs until 1983, at the earliest.

The area has great housing problems, and the housing authority has done its job well over a long period. Next year in Swindon there will be no housing advances for owner-occupation, which surely the Government want to encourage. The Government have allocated only £150,000, although the council applied for £2·5 million. That sum will allow for only a modest number of second mortgages to provide improvements to houses already mortgaged to the council. So much for the Government's claim that improvements will take priority. The Thamesdown borough council hardly has enough money to lend to those who want to improve their property.

My constituents are badly hit, as are all council tenants, by the Government's decision, in reducing the housing subsidy, to impose swingeing rent increases upon them. My council tenants will have to bear average increases of about £4.40 per week. It is little use the Secretary of State saying that my council tenants pay only £8 to £ 11 a week in rent. People in Swindon will be paying between £20 and £22 a week in rent, once the increases are imposed. Furthermore, many of my constituents will have only a 6 per cent. rise in incomes, whereas they will have a 25 per cent. rise in rents. In fact, many will have no increase in wages or salaries. The Government's housing policy is baleful in every respect. It will give me the greatest pleasure to support my right hon. Friend in the Lobby tonight.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Merioneth 8:52 pm, 11th February 1981

I shall direct my remarks entirely to the housing policy of the Welsh Office. I start with the cuts being made in housing expenditure in Wales from £303 million in 1974–75 to £110 million in 1983–84. The housing investment programmes details of which have just been made available indicate that during the period up to 1984, 64,000 new houses are necessary to meet the needs submitted in the bids by the housing authorities. That means a new bill of £21,500 per year.

The bids presented for the current year are for over £95 million, but the allocations are down to £79 million. Whatever we may think of waiting lists as an indicator, a substantial increase of 19 per cent. in waiting lists during 1979–80 must indicate the way in which cuts are causing substantial housing stress.

The results of that cut are clear from the local authority housing starts in Wales. The starts in the local authority sector in 1980 were 2,340, and completions were 3,493. Similarly, private sector starts were down to 5,027 and completions down to 5,727. Those are the lowest figures for the local authority sector since the winter of 1936, and the lowest figures since 1958 in the private sector.

I wonder whether the Welsh Office Minister has spoken to the housing officers of his own authority of Aberconwy, who made the statement in a survey by Shelter: all newbuild postponed, including one elderly persons' sheltered development of 38 flats, five adapted for handicapped tenants. The same applies to the bids of other authorities in Wales. I have here a copy of the bid of the Carmarthen district council, which for 1980–81 states simply "No new build starts". I highlight particularly the position in the Cynon Valley, an area of major housing stress, where the number of required local authority completions is 1,989 and the number of local authority planned completions is as low as 70. The Merioneth district, which is not a valley or urban authority but a rural authority, is facing similar substantial problems of increased waiting lists.

The other arm of the Government's housing policy—the Housing Corporation in Wales—has had its real budget reduced. The allocaton to the Housing Corporation has declined by 25 per cent., which will result in the allocation to individual housing authorities being reduced.

I have only one question for the Minister. The Department of the Environment is about to launch a housing condition survey for England. Will the Welsh Office launch a similar survey? The existing figures are appalling. Taking into account housing stock and population, the situation is worse in Wales than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Has that fact deterred the Welsh Office from launching a survey?

Photo of Mr Tristan Garel-Jones Mr Tristan Garel-Jones , Watford 8:56 pm, 11th February 1981

I shall try to be brief, as other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate.

I make no attempt to minimise the problems that we face. However, just after the war we had a surplus of 700,000 households over dwellings; by 1977, the surplus was of 400,000 dwellings over households. In 1951, 7 million homes were regarded as unfit to live in and as lacking basic amenities; by 1977, the figure had reduced to 250,000. In 1951, 600,000 homes were overcrowded; by 1977, the figure was 73,000. We have one of the highest proportions of dwellings equipped with basic amenities in the whole of Western Europe. In England and Wales about 55 per cent. of our people live in their own homes. For young couples in their early thirties, it is 70 per cent.

The House does not have a great deal to be proud of when it comes to housing, but it is worth giving the background. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) is well known for his use of hyperbole, but the tone of his attack on the Government was inappropriate. It was symbolic of the conflictive politics that we see from Labour Members. I was particularly upset to see the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) smirking and to hear him shouting to my right hon. Friend "You don't care." That is a shocking accusation for any hon. Member to make. It is small wonder that, when we conduct debates on housing, social policy, and so on, in such a manner, the public ask themselves what is going on.

The Government are operating against the background of world-wide recession and restraint.

Photo of Mrs Renée Short Mrs Renée Short , Wolverhampton North East

It is a home-produced recession.

Photo of Mr Tristan Garel-Jones Mr Tristan Garel-Jones , Watford

As the hon. Lady knows, perhaps the most important factor in bringing about a revival in world trade is the recirculation of the Arab petrodollars, which this year will take $150 billion out of circulation. That is vastly more important than any small thing that we may do here. The hon. Lady knows that that is true. I do not wish to pursue the point because I know that some of her hon. Friends wish to make a contribution to the debate.

The Government have taken a view about the economy. We accept that Opposition Members disagree with that view. However, they know that, broadly speaking, that view was sanctioned by the electorate in the general election of 1979. I suggest that they would do themselves more credit as a party and that they would do the House more credit if they were a little more constructive in their approach to the legitimate criticisms which they may have about the Government.

Given the restraint in expenditure and given the recession that they are facing, the Government have tried to do two important things. First, they have introduced the right to buy for council tenants. In my constituency, hundreds of potential buyers have been subject to delay, anxiety and even anguish on this account, because of what I regard as a dogmatic objection to that right by the Labour-controlled council. The council is entitled to fight it up to the last minute, but to go on spinning it out when the battle is over simply inflicts a party political argument on innocent members of the public who are not following party politics day by day. They are kept waiting until they can buy their council houses.

The second proposal introduced by my hon. Friend was the shorthold tenure scheme. I am sorry to say that we have had a dogmatic objection to that. The Opposition have done everything possible to torpedo the scheme. The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) was smirking at my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain), who probably has more experience of the building industry than any other hon. Member. He said that one in 30 houses is empty. The Opposition do not seem willing to allow a scheme to get off the ground which might put some of those properties back into circulation.

I could make many other points, but I shall not pursue them because I know that many Opposition Members wish to speak.

Photo of Mr Ernest Roberts Mr Ernest Roberts , Hackney North and Stoke Newington 9:02 pm, 11th February 1981

The Opposition have called for this debate because of the criminal negligence and indifference of the Government to the housing problems that face ordinary people, certainly those who live in the East End of London and in the sort of constituency that I represent.

The right to a home of one's own, like the right to work or the right to health, is a fundamental human right. There are two philosophies on this matter. One is described by the Hackney borough council, which says: Good housing is a basic right of all people and it is our aim as a Socialist party to fulfil this right. The Labour Party will identify priority needs and meet them—be they the basic need for roofs over heads or a need for drastic improvement in present housing conditions. All citizens—in council and private property—can look to a Labour Council to take a direct interest in their housing conditions and to involve the people in decision making by increased participation. That is precisely what we do in Hackney.

On the other hand, there is this philosophy: I hope you will not think me too blunt if I say that it may well be that your council accommodation is unsatisfactory, but concerning the fact that you have been unable to buy your own accommodation, you are lucky enough to be given something which the rest of us are paying for out of our taxes. That is the philosophy of the Government.

Tory Members involved in housing seem to think that it should be an area for speculation and private profit. It should be no such thing. The need for housing is far too great. The Government have made, and intent to make, cuts from 1979 to 1982 of £600 million, £1,500 million, £2,500 million, £3,200 million, and so on. They are all cuts in the previous Government's plans.

Production levels are now equal to those of the 1930s. I remember the conditions of the 1930s—seven in a bed. Hon. Members can smile because they probably have never had that experience. People come to see me to complain that they have to live seven in one room. I have had to sleep seven in a bed and I know what it is like to live under such conditions. Yet the Government can give £1 million to a young single man buying his second home, while others have no home at all.

The Prime Minister has asked the Minister for Housing and Construction to produce a black list. Hackney is included on the list because, it is said, it has nearly 300,000 empty houses. I took that matter up with Hackney council. The Minister knows its reply, because I have forwarded it to his Department. The council said: Since the Government took office, they have adopted a variety of measures to stop properties being improved or rehabilitated to save public sector money. They have scrutinised individual projects closely, and delayed the preparation of agreed schemes, while at the same time promising more freedom to local authorities to spend money as they wish. This delayed many projects in Hackney. Then they imposed a moratorium probably to last six months, which prevented even agreed schemes from proceeding, and then they made a radically reduced allocation of HIP money—in Hackney reduced from 1980–81 by 42 per cent. leaving authorities to decide which schemes to proceed with, and which schemes to stop for 1981–82. Thus everything the Government has done has encouraged the growth in the number of empty properties. That was the council's reply to the Minister about the voids.

The reply went on to specify some of the properties: Powell House, which the Council wants to demolish amounts to 200 units. The DoE delayed evaluation of the proposals, by asking for a cost-benefit analysis, the first of its kind only to ignore its results. We are now trying to get an agreed scheme, but it is doubtful with the reduced HIP whether the Council could go ahead for several years.Morley House is awaiting approval of tender and is held up by the moratorium.Banister II has been delayed by the moratorium and being considered by the DoE.Lordship II has been delayed by the moratorium and being considered by the DoE.At the DoE also are 105 ordinary houses requiring improvement also delayed by the moratorium. That is a total of 690 units delayed by Government action. That is why there are voids in places such as Hackney.

The national dwelling and housing survey shows Hackney to have among the highest proportions of lone parents, non-whites overcrowding, unemployed persons and unsatisfactory accommodation. People are dissatisfied with the area. London is divided into two cities, just as this country is divided into two nations—the Hackneys, Brents and Ealings on the one hand, and the Bexleys, Harrows and Kingstons on the other. The Government give them completely different treatment when it comes to housing.

Over 5,000 single persons have applied for dwellings in Hackney. The Minister says that there is to be major research into the accommodation problems of disadvan-taged single persons. When is that to take place? There are 2 million families in homes in serious disrepair or without amenities. There are over 1 million on housing waiting lists, and those lists are growing. There are 200,000 children living in cramped conditions in tower blocks. There are 50,000 homeless every year and 100,000 without any shelter whatever, sleeping rough.

In London alone, another 100,000 have joined the 200,000 households already on the waiting lists. There are nearly 200,000 living in overcrowded conditions in the London area. There are about 15,000 single-parent families forced to live with relatives, with no home of their own. There are over 2,000 people sleeping rough in London, while over 100,000 homes remain empty in the area, awaiting sale or repair.

What stands in the way of 1 million families having a home of their own? There are 300,000 construction workers unemployed. There are millions of bricks lying idle in the brickyards. There are thousands of tons of cement awaiting use. Land is available on which to build. Only the Government stand in the way, and until they are removed the housing problem will never be solved in Britain.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Greenwich Woolwich West 9:11 pm, 11th February 1981

The housing issue that concerns my constituents most—half way between the Bromleys and the Hackneys—is the decision, apparently, by NALGO not to process applications for the sale of council homes. It would appear that this decision has been taken without much consultation with the broad mass of membership. I ask any of my constituents in NALGO to let me know what decision was taken by them, whether they were consulted, and whether there was political interference in a non-political union.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West 9:12 pm, 11th February 1981

Nothing that has been said in this House today by the Secretary of State will have done anything to convince anyone inside the House, let alone anyone outside it, that either he or his colleagues in the Department have any real understanding either of the effects of the policies that they are pursuing or of the real housing needs of the people of this country.

We have heard yet again of the blanket approach of the Secretary of State, who simply believes in measuring need in terms of public expenditure. If it costs money it cannot be needed; if it does not cost money, it must be essential and therefore it can go ahead. Having looked back over the speeches of the Secreatry of State, over some of his recent statements and over some of his frequently corrected answers, I can find very little evidence in any of them that identifies the Sectetary of State as the Minister who is responsible for looking after the housing needs of this country. Nothing that we have heard today does anything to change that impression.

Indeed, I wonder why the Govenment have not gone the whole way and decided to save a few ministerial salaries into the bargain by absorbing the housing division of the Department of the Environment into the Treasury, because that is where the Government believe it belongs.

When the Government first came to office they found time for an early debate on housing when the House debated the Queen's Speech. That was perhaps a hopeful sign, some people might have naively thought, indicating tha the Government would treat housing seriously. At that time the Secretary of State was still quite keen on his pastime of saying that Labour's housing record was not good enough. He said that he would reverse it and then improve on it. We have certainly seen the reversal, but when are we to see the improvement?

I hope that the Minister for Housing and Construction will tell us when he expects to see an improvement in either the quantity or the quality of the genetal housing stock of this country. One of the reasons for the debate is that last year there were 152,000 housing starts, the lowest figure since 1925. In about 18 months' time when current starts become completions, completions will be running at half the rate that was established during the worst year of the Labour Government, unless by that time the Secretary of State, with his individual approach to arithmetic, devises a system whereby there can be more completions that starts.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

We shall see. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) referred to the Labour Government's record. The Secretary of State took him up on some details. I hope that the Minister of State will continue some of the comparisons. I hope that he will acknowledge what I am sure is true, namely, that he would like to be able to say that any one year of his Administration will provide either public or total housing starts at a level that matches the average level achieved by the Labour Government. Even our worst year for public sector starts was twice as good as the figure that the Secretary of State has produced for his full year.

One of the reasons for the difference in performance is that our starting point in housing policy was completely different from that adopted by the right hon. Gentleman. Our starting point was the assessment of need. We published figures so that everybody could understand to what extent our aims were being fulfilled. The Government's starting point is totally different. They make cuts in public expenditure as a matter of principle and refuse point blank to make any assessment of housing priorities and housing needs.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have shown repeatedly the ridiculous nature of the position in which the right hon. Gentleman has placed himself. However, the best evidence of what he is doing comes from the time when he gave evidence to the Select Committee, when one of his colleagues asked him whether he was seriously telling the Committee that he would reduce expenditure on housing by 50 per cent. and that he had given no serious thought to the consequences that were likely to follow that reduction. That question sums up exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is doing. He is pursuing policies without making any basic assessment of the impact on housing.

I can understand why the Secretary of State may not want to establish targets or to make forecasts. However, his refusal to respond to the great weight of information on housing and the needs that will be coming up in future disqualify him from carrying out the job that the Government have given him. It is his disregard of housing need—the needs of young people, of the elderly and of families—that has put us into the present position.

We have had 20 months of Conservative Government who are committed, so we are told, to freedom of choice. We can choose to pay more for our mortgages if we are house buyers. We can choose to pay more in rent if we are council tenants. Let us consider some categories of household and the way in which the Government have affected them. The Conservative Party often assumes that owner-occupiers form the basis of its support. What has happened to them under this Government? They have been given the choice of paying record interest rates. When the Government came to power the mortgage rate was 11¾ per cent. It is now 14 per cent., but for much of the Government's term in office it was 15 per cent. Thanks to the Government, mortgage holders have had to pay an extra £1½ billion. If that is how the Government look after people they call their supporters, it is perhaps not surprising that other groups have come out even worse.

Let us consider council house tenants. During the last election campaign, we heard a lot about the new deal that the new Tory Government would give to council house tenants. What has that meant? As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) pointed out, council rents rose by 28 per cent. last year. This year, the Secretary of State himself has determined that average increases in rents will be £3·25, which is a further 33 per cent.—an increase so great that some people are wondering whether the Government are trying to push people into buying their council houses because rent levels are now so bad.

That is not the end of the story. The rent increases so far are not the final word. To give an idea of what will happen to rents in the future, I shall mention what is now happening in Basingstoke. The housing revenue account there is in balance, but because rents in the town are below the regional average which the Department of the Environment has devised, Basingstoke is to lose rate support grant. It will therefore have to raise its rents 66 per cent. this year. The housing revenue account will therefore be forced into surplus because of the way in which regional rents will work and will subsidise the town's general rate fund because the Secretary of State is withdrawing rate support grant. That is happening simply because the Minister's priority is not assessing what rents should be or even allowing local authorities to do so. His policy is to put rents up as high and as quickly as possible, so there is not much prospect for improvement for those people.

Is there perhaps more hope for people on the waiting lists? Apart from disputing the existence of such people, the Secretary of State has succeeded in finding one of the few growth areas of Tory policy. The Minister, and indeed most Conservative Members, do not seem to like to talk about waiting lists. But Shelter's recent survey and the figures of the local authorities themselves show that the number of people on waiting lists has increased to 1·2 million, and Shelter predicts that the figure will be 2 million by 1984. The figures for London show that waiting lists have passed their previous peak of 1974. That is happening all over the country.

So long as the Government continue with their present policies, waiting lists will remain at peak levels and the people on them will have little prospect of an early allocation, whatever their medical priority or other problems.

Even for a disabled person awaiting rehousing, with every possible degree of priority, the chances are not good. Pressure on local authorities from the Government means that even such high priority cases cannot be dealt with because the money simply is not there for necessary adaptations. At the last parliamentary Question Time to the Department of the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) asked the Undersecretary of State what he intended to do for handicapped people during the International Year of Disabled People. Did he intend to make more resources available for conversions? The Under-Secretary of State expressed great sympathy and tremendous concern. He then revealed that he would not actually be able to help to build or to convert property for disabled persons, but that his Department would be able to show a film so that they could see exactly what they were missing. I am sure that that kind of help will be greatly appreciated by all those who are being hit by the Government's cuts.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Camden Hampstead

That is a travesty of what I said.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

The Minister says that it is a travesty, but I shall gladly give way if he will say that he will provide resources.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Camden Hampstead

What I said was that the film would enable people to see what could be done—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—which is precisely what the Labour Party totally failed to do during the years that it was in office.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

I am sure that the disabled of this country will be pleased to know that they will be allowed to see what they are missing. They and the whole House would have supported the hon. Gentleman if only he had said that he would do something concrete about this.

Even if one is in the private rented sector, the prospects are just as grim. Those people are facing higher rents, less security and very little chance of getting into better accommodation.

The Government are very fond of talking about the shorthold provisions. Indeed, today the Secretary of State again blamed, or perhaps praised, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick for provoking a lack of interest in the shorthold scheme. When Conservative Members talk about the private rented sector and the empty units that are available, they always seem to fail to mention the 1977 vacant property survey which showed that the vast majority of private empty property was not empty because of the Rent Acts. Indeed, an assessment was made of the number of units that were empty because of the Rent Acts, and it revealed that the figure might be as low as 8,000. The vast majority of those properties were empty simply because they were in extremely poor condition.

Even if the Secretary of State is right and all that evidence is wrong, even if he is right and my right hon. Friend has such tremendous power as to wreck the Government's proposals on shorthold provision, Labour Members are proud to work alongside him, especially if the Secretary of State criticises him for hawking himself around the country and promising security of tenure. If that is what my right hon. Friend is doing, he has the support of every Labour Member and the support of the vast majority of people in the private rented sector.

Given that the Government have not done much for all those groups; given that perhaps owner-occupiers are not the best of friends of the Tory Party after all; given that council tenants can be forgotten now that their votes are in; given that those on the waiting lists should stand on their own two feet; and given that the handicapped should, as the Prime Minister said, help themselves first, what has the Tory Party done for its undoubted friends in the building and construction industry—those who devoted so much of their scarce investment resources to invest in a Tory election victory? How have they been rewarded? We saw a little of their investment earlier in the shape of the carrier bags and balloons which they bought. If those firms ran their businesses expecting the same rate of return on investment that they got from investing in a Tory victory, they would all have been bankrupt a long time ago. To put it politely, those firms are not exactly delighted with the Secretary of State's performance.

Total investment in housing is planned to be cut in half by 1984, which means that the prospects are bleak even for those firms which have managed to survive 20 months of Tory Government. It is not just the public sector that has been hit, but the whole of the house building industry. All the warnings and dire statements which came from CABIN and its friends just before the election, look very strange now. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said, it seems strange to us to have building companies coming to us to cry on our shoulders after they have put so much money into Tory Party funds.

Photo of Mr Den Dover Mr Den Dover , Chorley

Will the hon. Lady accept from me—I have declared my interest as parliamentary consultant for George Wimpey—that the builders of this country are a prime example of private enterprise at work? They realise that the market place is of paramount importance. Private house builders will build the houses that the country requires. They realise that the Secretary of State and this Government have inherited a bad economic situation and that the country cannot afford the large housing subsidies which we have seen in the past.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

The simple truth is that building companies, like everyone else, are not at work under this Government, and that is what they as well as we, are complaining about. Indeed, the National Federation of Building Trades Employers is now extremely concerned about what will happen over the next year. The Secretary of State said earlier that he could detect some optimism in possible private sector starts. That optimism is not shared by the National Federation of Building Trades Employers, which said about 10 days ago that the vast majority of firms are now reporting further reductions in inquiries and anticipating severe downturns this year. As I have said, building companies are worried about what has happened already, and they are even more concerned about what will happen in the future.

The Government have not helped their friends in the construction industry, and those friends are right to complain that they have been badly treated by the Government. But there is just one sector of the construction industry which is doing well under this Government. Having done a good deal of research to find out what is happening to building firms throughout the country, I find that the only sector of the industry which is doing well at the moment is that which deals with the construction of fall-out shelters. So much for confidence in this Government.

The Government are not particularly concerned about building workers, and the Secretary of State said very little about them. But even building employers are concerned that it is costing so much to keep people out of work when, with some sensible public investment, real housing starts could be higher and the housing situation could be considerably eased.

The Secretary of State had a chance today to make some defence of his policies, but we heard little of that. In fact, it was somewhat difficult to follow what he said, as he switched from talking about NUPE to talking about Shirley Williams—he seemed to be willing to talk about anything but housing—but what I think he was trying to tell us was that everything will be all right in the end. The trouble is that we do not know what "all right" means for him.

The right hon. Gentleman has not said whether he thinks that the figure of 152,000 starts is adequate, He has not said that the figure should be higher. He has not said that he regrets the current low level of building starts. All that he said was that improvements last year were much higher than many people might have thought. But the reason why improvements were so much higher last year than some of us might have thought was that those improvements were completions and, by and large, they were completions which were started under HIP allocations from the Labour Government. By the time we see the completions which have been started under this Government, the improvement figures will be revealed as just as disastrous, I fear, as the house building figures which we have already seen.

The Secretary of State gave us nothing to justify his amendment. In fact, the Conservative Party is finding it difficult to defend its housing policies. I have here a document isued by the Conservative research department. It is called a "Summary of Housing Measures since May 1979". As one would imagine, it is not a very comprehensive document. The interesting point about the document is that nowhere does it mention any assessment of housing need or any assessment of the investment necessary to bring housing standards in this country to the proper level.

The booklet simply concludes by saying that many detailed booklets and films have been produced by the Department. Judging from the list of them, the Department is more successful at producing them than it is at producing houses. It is, therefore, strange that the Secretary of State should recently attack the information services of his Department. According to The Guardian, the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about this matter and has written a note to the Cabinet complaining that the existing officials do not meet his publicity needs. It seems that he believes that the Government should bring in some new blood from Fleet Street. One can imagine the advertisements used to recruit such people—"Wanted. Someone to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

No matter how much the Secretary of State may yearn for the days of Saatchi and Saatchi, however many newsmen he may try to get, however brash he may be, however much he may shout, and no matter how much window dressing he may use, he cannot hide the fact that the Government have the worst housing record since 1925, and that is why we shall press the matter to a Division tonight.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction) 9:37 pm, 11th February 1981

I cannot say that I agreed with every word that the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) uttered, but I certainly wish to congratulate her on her first appearance at the Opposition Dispatch Box in a housing debate.

The Opposition chose to entitle this debate The Government's attack on housing". I shall not dwell at any great length on the record of the previous Administration, but the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) was trying to rewrite history when he began his speech this afternoon. Much as the Labour Party may want it otherwise, the so-called attack on housing was begun not by this Government, but by the Labour Government—in 1976 under the right hon. Members for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) and Brent, East (Mr. Freeson). They sustained the so-called attack with unswerving consistency for four successive years. If the Opposition want the debate to be about the attack on housing, it is time that they acknowledged their consistent contribution to that attack.

That is not merely the view of the Conservative Benches. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann), who is also Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment. Mr. Alan Murie, one of the specialist advisers to that Committee, is in no doubt about the origins of the present housing position. Recently he wrote: Whatever view is taken of the extent of progress and the nature of remaining problems, the previous Government went a long way to lower the rate of success. Mr. Murie is correct in that view.

The right hon. Member for Ardwick and the hon. Lady sought not merely to draw a veil over what had happened before 1979 but to ignore one of the most important changes in the public sector—the change from new building to improvement—

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

The right hon. Gentleman cannot ignore this. I shall tell him what he was doing when he had my job in the Labour Government. Local authorities—Conservative and Labour—have been deliberately and consciously switching their expenditure from new building to improvement over the past few years. While new building has been decreasing, improvement has been increasing. Local authorities' expenditure on improvement has been increasing in real terms year by year. The figures, at 1980 survey prices, show that in 1976 expenditure on improvements was £482 million, in 1977 it rose to £509 million, in 1978 it rose again to £563 million, in 1979 it rose to £718 million and for 1980 our estimate is that it will once again be about £700 million.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

Do those figures include work carried out by housing associations? If so, and bearing in mind the pipeline effect of expenditure and activity in that area in recent years, will the Minister say whether he expects the high level now reached to continue in real terms during 1981, 1982 and 1983? Will he put the facts on the record?

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

I shall have to check the exact position, but I understand that the figures refer solely to local authorities' improvement expenditure on their dwellings and do not include housing association expenditure funded by the Housing Corporation. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that in the first full year of this Government there has been more expenditure on improvement than during any year when he was Minister. In relation to future levels, we shall have to consider what local authorities do with their single block capital allocation and their use of receipts. I shall come to that later.

I wish to emphasise the considerable progress in improvements to dwellings. Figures are available up to 30 September 1980. I am glad to say that in the 12-month period to that date the number of improvements to private houses was the highest since 1975. The number of improvements to council houses was the highest since 1973, and the number of improvements to housing association dwellings was the second highest ever. The hon. Member for Bolton, West referred to the disabled. I am glad to tell her that the number of improvements to dwellings for the disabled carried out in both the public and private sectors was higher in the first nine months of 1980 than in any complete 12-month period previously reported.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Bolton West

Will the Minister confirm that the improvements completed to September last year were, by and large, within the HIP allocations approved by the Labour Government?

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

They cover a wide range of improvements. If the hon. Lady thinks that such levels of improvement in the private sector and elsewhere were a result of Labour allocations, I have to tell her that it would have to be a very inefficient Labour-controlled authority to take 18 months to bring those improvements to a conclusion.

Throughout the debate we have considered the question of expenditure. A great deal of attention has been paid to the levels of public expenditure, but no attention has been focused on the significant ways in which the Government have managed to offset some of the reductions in public expenditure by the additional availability of private finance.

I want to draw the attention of the House to two important developments that have taken place during the past week. Last Wednesday I announced that the Building Societies Association had endorsed clauses for shared ownership leases under which building society mortgages can now be made available for the first time to those buying houses and flats under the various types of shared ownership schemes being carried out by local authorities, new towns and housing associations.

That is an important development, because it will open the way for many millions of pounds of building society finance to be made available to shared ownership schemes, which previously could be financed only by local authority mortgages, which counted as public expenditure. That change will probably enable between three and four times as many shared ownership houses or flats to be constructed for a given amount of public expenditure than would previously have been the case.

I am glad to be able to announce a second and equally significant development. I think that it will meet some of the proposals made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon). As I indicated in an answer today to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant), agreement has now been reached with representatives of the Building Societies Association on a new scheme under the 1980 Housing Act, under which building societies will for the first time be able to advance mortgages on the strength of a guarantee from a local authority or from the Housing Corporation. This will enable building societies to provide mortgages on homes in need of improvement which previously could be mortgaged only to a local authority, and therefore would have fallen on the authority's HIP expenditure. These guarantees will be able to be used on all schemes within our low-cost home ownership programme—in other words, for building for sale, improvement for sale, shared ownership and homesteading.

A key financial point is that the local authority's guarantee will not—I stress this—score as public expenditure unless the guarantee is invoked, which will happen in only a small minority of cases. Both schemes hold out the prospect of extending home ownership to many new, first-time buyers, by using private mortgage finance rather than public mortgage finance. Both mean additional low-cost homes for people who want to buy, without requiring additional public expenditure, and both show that the Government are successful and positively bringing in private finance to offset the reductions in public expenditure.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

How many of the 2½ million unemployed will be in that category?

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

This provides a means of bringing back into use some of the low-cost homes, far too many of which are empty, not least in the hon. Gentleman's city.

Before I leave the question of public expenditure I should like to say a few words about capital receipts. We have heard a number of complaints from hon. Members about insufficient HIP allocations for their own authorities. I remind the House that from 1 April new rules apply, under which local authorities will be able to supplement their HIP allocations with the use of capital receipts.

Opposition Members have a simple remedy in their own hands if they think that their allocation is not sufficient. They should urge their councils to maximise their capital receipts, to get on with the sale of the many acres of local authority land that have been lying idle for far too long, and to get on with the sale of council houses to tenants, who are bursting to buy them and who are becoming increasingly frustrated by the delay.

Yet, surprisingly, the advice from the Opposition Front Bench has been very different. Far from encouraging local authorities to maximise capital receipts, the Opposition Front Bench has suggested that they should try to go slow. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said at the Labour Party local government conference last year: I hope that no Labour councils will anticipate its"—the Housing Billspassage by preparing to sell council houses before the Bill receives Royal Assent. That was the worst possible advice. In effect, the right hon. Gentleman was telling local authorities "Delay selling council houses, even if it means that you will have less to spend on housing next year as a result of that delay".

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

We have heard a great deal about Government spending cuts. We heard far too little in the debate about self-imposed cuts by Labour councils that have not got on with maximising capital receipts.

I give way to the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden.

Photo of Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann , Merton Mitcham and Morden

To what extent do the HIP allocations assume capital receipts? To what extent do they assume a level of council house sales of 120,000, which the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well will not be achieved? Does the hon. Gentleman accept the assessment of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities that instead of £413 million, which he had assumed, the most that is likely to be achieved is £300 million, so that his own figures are completely false?

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

I do not accept that at all. The HIP allocations were made only on an assumption about the receipts that would arise in the course of the financial year 1981–82. In addition, local authorities can use their accumulated unspent capital receipts as at 1 April. If hon. Members want to know what the possibilities are they should look at those authorities that have understood the new situation and that have taken advantage of it. I shall use the example of Eastbourne district council. [Interruption.] I do not know why hon. Members should greet "Eastbourne" with such derision. It is one of the focal points of our national life. Eastbourne has the great good fortune to be represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). As is well known, my hon. Friend has a most healthy distaste for the retention of unwanted assets in the public sector. It will come as no great surprise to those on the Government Benches to know that Eastbourne district council will be able to make some addition to housing expenditure next year. That addition will be represented by a sum based on its accumulated gross capital receipts, which total £7,696.000. Many Labour-controlled councils must wish that they had followed the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne rather than that of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook.

I turn to what the Government are doing to assist those who want to purchase at a low cost. There is no doubt that a great many of those in rented accommodation, or who are waiting for such accommodation, are willing and able to buy if low-cost home ownership opportunities can be made available to them.

I am glad to be able to tell the House that the response to our low-cost home ownership programme is very encouraging. About 60 councils are making land sales to private builders for starter home schemes. There are 96 councils with starter homes schemes on their own land and 23 councils with shared ownership schemes. There are 47 councils with improvement for sale schemes, and 51 councils are making sales of unimproved homes for first-time buyers. I am glad to say that the message of our low-cost home ownership programme is beginning to spread into some pretty strange quarters.

For example, I never thought that I would live to see the day when Manchester city council would come to embrace homesteading, but it has happened. Recently, we invited bills from local authorities that wished to take part in our homesteading programme. That programme was pioneered by the Conservative-controlled GLC. We received a bid from Manchester. That bid was very necessary if Manchester was to deal with the 1,869 dwellings that had been vacant for more than a year. We have been able to make an allocation to Manchester for homesteading. I can think of no better way for Manchester city council to celebrate the promotion of the right hon. Member for Ardwick to the Shadow Cabinet than by adopting some thorough-going Conservative housing policies. They are much needed.

Several of my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) and for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) raised the subject of the right to buy. I corrobate what my hon. Friends have said. Delays in certain local authorities give rise to concern. I remind the House that if a tenant submits an application to buy his house, he is entitled by law to receive a response from the council within either four or eight weeks. In some Labour-controlled authorities tenants have not received a response within the statutory period.

I hope that the right hon. Member for Ardwick will make his position unambiguously clear. Almost exactly a year ago, the right hon. Gentleman gave a clear public undertaking. In the Standing Committee he said: We have made clear—our party conference passed a resolution to this effect—that any opposition to the Act must be conducted within the law. I now ask the right hon. Member for Ardwick to confirm that it is still the view of the Opposition that any opposition to the right to buy should be within the law, and to repudiate those Labour authorities which clearly are in breach of their statutory obligations to their tenants.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

If the Minister has any evidence that Labour authorities or other authorities are not carrying out their statutory duty, he has the opportunity to use section 23 of the Act to deal with them. Therefore, let him say whether he has any examples of the use of section 23 that he wants to employ.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing & Construction)

It is very significant that the right hon. Gentleman ducks the question. He has given a clear undertaking that the Labour Party will countenance opposition to the right to buy only if it is within the law. We shall hold him to that statement.

I now say a word about the private rented sector. We have heard a great deal about the shortage of rented accommodation. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) that it is entirely possible to make significantly greater use of the private rented sector than we have been able to do up to now. The private sector can make a significantly greater contribution and would have been making it had it not been for the fact that for years and years the Labour Party has been insufficiently concerned about the availability of rented accommodation and far too concerned about carrying on its vendetta against the private landlord.

The Government have now taken some significant steps in the Housing Act. We have made it much easier for home owners to sublet, and it is significant that we have had a very substantial response. Certainly I do not dismiss the booklets which my Department has published to explain people's very important new rights in the legislation. The demand we have had for those booklets on the right to buy, the tenant's charter and the other aspects of the Housing Act are indicative of the very real interest that individuals have in exercising their new rights under the legislation.

We have made it much easier for people to let their homes when they have to leave them temporarily, for example, to go abroad. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe that we have made it easier for those with retirement homes to let their homes temporarily. We have made it much easier for Servicemen to let their homes temporarily if they are serving overseas. We have given all public sector tenants a statutory right to sublet and to take in lodgers. We have created the new system of assured tenancies.

I am looking forward next month to opening the first assured tenancy in Tower Hamlets, carried out by the Abbey National building society. I take this opportunity to announce that my right hon. Friend has just approved an application from a leading national house builder, Wates Limited, to carry out assured tenancies as well. In a variety of ways we have sought materially to improve the availability of rented accommodation in the private sector.

I also want to refer to shorthold. The right hon. Member for Ardwick should be aware that we are begining to get clear evidence that shorthold tenancies are being withheld simply on the strength of the repeal commitment which has been made by the Opposition.

The right hon. Member for Ardwick has been totally consistent. He made it clear during the Standing Committee proceedings on the Housing Bill that he would rather dwellings were left empty than let on shorthold. I can assure him that dwellings are now being left empty rather than being let on shorthold, and they are being left empty because of him.

I want to read to the House a letter which we have received from a solicitor in the West Country. I think that this is all too characteristic: Under the Housing Act 1980 'shorthold' tenancies may now be created, giving the landlord the right to obtain possession on the expiration of the term of the tenancy. The trouble is that Her Majesty's Opposition has already said that if it returns to power at the next General Election it will repeal this part of the Act. What do landlords do in such cases and how is one supposed to advise them? It seems that the best advice is still 'Don't'.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. We cannot have two people at the Dispatch Box at once.

Photo of Mr Walter Harrison Mr Walter Harrison , Wakefield

Mr. Walter Harrison rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 257, Noes 311.

Division No. 68][10. pm
AYES
Abse, LeoConlan, Bernard
Adams, AllenCook, Robin F.
Allaun, FrankCowans, Harry
Alton, DavidCox,T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)
Anderson, DonaldCraigen,J. M.
Archer, Rt Hon PeterCrowther, J.S.
Armstrong, Rt Hon ErnestCryer, Bob
Ashley, Rt Hon JackCunliffe, Lawrence
Ashton, JoeCunningham, G.(lslingtonS)
Atkinson,N.(H'gey,)Cunningham, DrJ.(W'h'n)
Bagier, Gordon A.T.Dalyell, Tam
Barnett,Guy(Greenwich)Davidson, Arthur
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd)Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Beith, A. J.Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp'tN)Davis, Clinton (HackneyC)
Bidwell, SydneyDavis, T. (B 'ham, Stechf'd)
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertDeakins, Eric
Boothroyd, MissBettyDean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Bradley, TomDewar, Donald
Bray, Dr JeremyDixon, Donald
Brown, Hugh D.(Provan)Dobson, Frank
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W)Dormand, Jack
Brown, Ron (E'burgh,Leith)Douglas, Dick
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'yS)Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Buchan, NormanDubs, Alfred
Callaghan,Jim (Midd't'n&P)Duffy, A. E. P.
Campbell, IanDunn, James A.
Campbell-Savours, DaleDunnett, Jack
Canavan, DennisDunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Cant, R. B.Eastham, Ken
Carmichael, NeilEdwards, R.(W'hampt'nSE)
Carter-Jones, LewisEllis, R. (NED'bysh're)
Cartwright, JohnEllis,Tom (Wrexham)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)English, Michael
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stolS)Ennals, Rt Hon David
Cohen, StanleyEvans, loan (Aberdare)
Coleman,DonaldEvans, John (Newton)
Concannon, Rt Hon J.D.Ewing, Harry
Field, FrankMarshall, DrEdmund (Goole)
Fitch, AlanMarshall, Jim (LeicesterS)
Fitt, GerardMartin, M (G'gowS'burn)
Flannery, MartinMason, Rt Hon Roy
Fletcher,Raymond (llkesfon)Maxton, John
Fletcher,Ted (Darlington)Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMeyer, Sir Anthony
Ford, BenMikardo, lan
Forrester, JohnMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Foster, DerekMiller, Dr M.S. (EKilbride)
Foulkes, GeorgeMitchell, Austin(Grimsby)
Fraser, J.(Lamb'th,N'w'd)Mitchell, R.C.(Sotonltchen)
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Freud, ClementMorris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Garrett, John(NorwichS)Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
George, BruceMulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnNewens, Stanley
Ginsburg, DavidOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Golding, JohnOgden, Eric
Gourlay, HarryO'Halloran, Michael
Graham, TedO'Neill, Martin
Grant, George (Morpeth)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Grant, John (IslingtonC)Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Hamilton,James (Bothwell)Palmer, Arthur
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)Park, George
Hardy, PeterParker, John
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterParry, Robert
Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithPavitt, Laurie
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyPendry, Tom
Haynes, FrankPenhaligon, David
Healey, Rt Hon DenisPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Heffer, Eric S.Prescott, John
Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Holland, S.(L'b'th,Vauxh'll)Race, Reg
HomeRobertson, JohnRadice, Giles
Homewood, WilliamRees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Hooley, FrankRichardson, Jo
Howell, Rt Hon D.Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Huckfield, LesRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Robertson, George
Janner, HonGrevilleRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Jay, Rt Hon DouglasRodgers, Rt Hon William
John, BrynmorRooker, J.W.
Johnson, James (Hull West)Roper, John
Johnson, Walter (Derby S)Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Jones, Barry (East Flint)Rowlands, Ted
Jones, Dan (Burnley)Ryman, John
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldSandelson, Neville
Kerr, RussellSever, John
Kilfedder, James A.Sheerman, Barry
Kilroy-Silk, RobertSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Kinnock, NeilShore, Rt Hon Peter
Lambie, DavidShort, Mrs Renée
Lamborn, HarrySilkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Lamond, JamesSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Leadbitter, TedSilverman, Julius
Leighton, RonaldSkinner, Dennis
Lestor, MissJoanSnape, Peter
Lewis,Arthur(N'ham NW)Soley, Clive
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Spriggs, Leslie
Litherland, RobertStallard, A. W.
Lofthouse, GeoffreySteel, Rt Hon David
Lyon, Alexander (York)Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Mabon, Rt Hon DrJ. DicksonStoddart, David
McCartney, HughStott, Roger
McDonald, DrOonaghStrang, Gavin
McElhone, FrankStraw, Jack
McGuire, Michael (lnce)Summerskill, HonDrShirley
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
McKelvey, WilliamThomas, Dafydd(Merioneth)
MacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorThomas, Jeffrey(Abertillery)
Maclennan, RobertThomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
McNally, ThomasThomas, DrR. (Carmarthen)
Magee, BryanThorne, Stan (PrestonSouth)
Marks, KennethTilley, John
Marshall, D (G'gowS'ton)Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Wainwright, E.(DearneV)Williams, SirT.(W'ton)
Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)Wilson, Gordon (DundeeE)
Watkins.DavidWilson, Rt Hon SirH.(H'ton)
Weetch.KenWilson, William (C'trySE)
Wellbeloved,JamesWinnick, David
Welsh, MichaelWoolmer.Kenneth
White, Frank R.Wrigglesworth, lan
White, J.(G'gow Pollok)Young, David (BoltonE)
Whitehead.Phillip
Whitlock, WilliamTellers for the Ayes:
Willey, Rt Hon FrederickMr. James Tinn and
Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W) Mr. George Morton.
NOES
Adley, RobertduCann, Rt Hon Edward
Aitken, JonathanDunn, Robert (Dartford)
Alexander, RichardDurant, Tony
Alison, MichaelDykes, Hugh
Amery, Rt Hon JulianEden, Rt Hon Sir John
Ancram, MichaelEdwards, Rt Hon N.(P'broke)
Arnold, TomEggar, Tim
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne)Emery, Peter
Atkins, Robert (PrestonN)Eyre, Reginald
Atkinson, David (B'm'th, E)Fairbairn, Nicholas
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone)Fairgrieve, Russell
Baker, Nicholas (NDorset)Faith, MrsSheila
Banks, RobertFarr, John
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyFenner, Mrs Peggy
Bell, Sir RonaldFinsberg, Geoffrey
Bendall, VivianFisher, SirNigel
Benyon, Thomas(A'don)Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'ghN)
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Fletcher-Cooke, SirCharles
Best.KeithFookes, Miss Janet
Bevan, DavidGilroyForman, Nigel
Biffen, RtHon JohnFowler, Rt Hon Norman
Biggs-Davison.JohnFox, Marcus
Blackburn, JohnFraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh
Bonsor, SirNicholasFraser, Peter (South Angus)
Boscawen, HonRobertFry, Peter
Bottomley, Peter (W'wichW)Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Bowden, AndrewGardiner, George (Reigate)
Boyson, Dr RhodesGardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Braine, SirBernardGarel-Jones, Tristan
Bright, GrahamGilmour, Rt Hon Sir lan
Brinton, TimGlyn, Dr Alan
Brittan, LeonGoodhart, Philip
Brooke, Hon PeterGoodlad, Alastair
Brotherton, MichaelGorst, John
Brown, M.(Briggand Scun)Gow, Ian
Browne, John (Winchester)Gower, Sir Raymond
Bruce-Gardyne, JohnGrant, Anthony (HarrowC)
Bryan, Sir PaulGray, Hamish
Buck, AntonyGreenway, Harry
Budgen, NickGrieve, Percy
Bulmer, EsmondGriffiths, E.(B'ySt.Edm'ds)
Burden, Sir FrederickGriffiths, Peter (Portsm'thN)
Butcher, JohnGrist, Ian
Carlisle, John (LutonWest)Grylls, Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Gummer, JohnSelwyn
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)Hamilton, HonA.
Chalker, Mrs. LyndaHamilton, Michael(sailbury)
Channon, Rt. Hon. PaulHampson, DrKeith
Chapman, SydneyHannam, John
Churchil, W.S.Haselhurst, Alan
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)Hastings, Stephen
Clark, SirW. (CroydonS)Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Clarke, Kenneth(Rushcliffe)Hawkins, Paul
Clegg, SirWalterHawksley, Warren
Colvin, MichaelHayhoe, Barney
Cope, JohnHeath, Rt Hon Edward
Cormack, PatrickHeddle, John
Corrie, JohnHenderson, Barry
Costain, SirAlbertHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Cranborne, ViscountHicks, Robert
Critchley, JulianHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Crouch, DavidHill, James
Dean, Paul (North Somerset)Holland, Philip(Carlton)
Dorrell, StephenHooson, Tom
Douglas-Hamilton, LordJ.Hordern, Peter
Dover, DenshoreHowe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)Page, John (Harrow, West)
Howell, Ralph(NNorfolk)Page, Rt Hon Sir G.(Crosby)
Hunt, David (Wirral)Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Hunt, John(Ravensbourne) Parkinson, Cecil
Hurd, Hon DouglasParris, Matthew
Irving, Charles(Cheltenham) Patten, Christopher(Bath)
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPatten, John(Oxford)
Jessel, TobyPattie, Geoffrey
JohnsonSmith, GeoffreyPawsey, James
Jopling, Rt HonMichaelPercival, Sirlan
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithPeyton, Rt Hon John
Kaberry, SirDonaldPink, R.Bonner
Kellett-Bowman, MrsElaine Pollock, Alexander
Kershaw, AnthonyPorter, Barry
Kimball, MarcusPowell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)
King, Rt Hon TomPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
Kitson, SirTimothyPrice, SirDavid(Eastleigh)
Knight, Mrs JillProctor, K. Harvey
Knox, DavidPym, Rt Hon Francs
Lamont, NormanRaison, Timothy
Lang, IanRathbone, Tim
Langford-Holt, SirJohnRees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Latham, MichaelRees-Davies, W. R.
Lawrence, IvanRenton, Tim
Lawson, Rt Hon NigelRhodes James, Robert
Lee, JohnRidley, Hon Nicholas
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkRidsdale, Julian
Lester Jim (Beeston)Rifkind, Malcolm
Lewis, Kenneth(Rutland)Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Loveridge, JohnRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
Lyell, NicholasRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)
McCrindle, RobertRossi, Hugh
McCusker, H.Rost, Peter
Macfarlane, NeilSainsbury, Hon Timothy
MacKay, John (Argyll)St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Macmillan, Rt Hon M.Scott, Nicholas
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
McNair-Wilson, P. (NewF'st)Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
McQuarrie, AlbertShelton, William(Streatham)
Madel, DavidShepherd, Colin(Hereford)
Major, JohnShepherd, Richard
Marland, PaulShersby, Michael
Marlow, TonySilvester, Fred
MarshallMichael(Arundel)Sims, Roger
Marten, Neil (Banbury)Skeet, T. H. H.
Mates, MichaelSmith, Dudley
Mather, CarolSpeller, Tony
Maude, Rt Hon Sir AngusSpence, John
Mawby, RaySpicer, Jim (WestDorset)
Mawhinney, DrBrianSpicer, Michael (SWorcs)
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinSproat, lam
Mayhew, PatrickSquire, Robin
Mellor, DavidStainton, Keith
Meyer, SirAnthonyStanbrook, lvor
Miller, Hal (B'grove)Stanley, John
Mills, lain (Meriden)Steen, Anthony
Mills, Peter (WestDevon)Stevens, Martin
Miscampbell, NormanStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Stewart, A. (ERenfrewshire)
Moate, RogerStokes, John
Molyneaux, JamesStradling Thomas, J.
Monro, HectorTapsell, Peter
Montgomery, FergusTaylor, Robert(CroydonNW)
Moore, JohnTaylor, Teddy(S'end E)
Morgan, GeraintTebbit, Norman
Morris, M.(N'hamptonS)Temple-Morris, Peter
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Mudd, DavidThompson, Donald
Murphy, ChristopherThorne, Neil(llfordSouth)
Myles, DavidThornton, Malcolm
Needham, RichardTownend, John (Bridlington)
Nelson, AnthonyTownsend, CyrilD, (B'heath)
Neubert, MichaelTrotter, Neville
Newton, Tonyvan Straubenzee, W. R.
Nott, RtHon JohnVaughan, DrGerard
Onslow, CranleyViggers, Peter
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.Waddington, David
Osborn, JohnWakeham, John
Walker, B. (Perth)Wickenden, Keith
Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.Wiggin, Jerry
Wall, PatrickWilkinson, John
Waller, GaryWilliams,D. (Montgomery)
Walters, DennisWinterton, Nicholas
Ward, JohnWolfson, Mark
Warren, KennethYoung, SirGeorge (Acton)
Watson, John
Wells, John(Maidstone)Tellers for the Noes:
Wells, BowenMr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Wheeler, JohnMr. Anthony Berry.
Whitelaw, RtHon William

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 32 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House welcomes the measures the Government are taking to restore a sound economy, to make better use of the existing housing stock, to revive the private rented sector, to provide a new charter of rights for public sector tenants, and to extend home ownership more widely than ever before."