With this we will discuss the other manuscript amendment, in page 10, line 4, leave out from 'land)' to end of line 45 and insert:—
'the references to £25,000 shall have effect for the year 1983–84.
(2) Nothing in this section requires any change to be made in the amounts deductible or repayable under section 204 of the Taxes Act (pay as you earn) before 31st August 1983.
(3) Notwithstanding anything in the preceding provisions of this section, the amounts deductible or repayable under section 204 of the Taxes Act on and after 11th May 1983 and before 31st August 1983 may be such as would be requisite to give effect to the provisions as to relief for interest contained in a Resolution passed by the House of Commons on 21st March 1983.'
If the Committee thinks that I am responsible for every word of the manuscript amendments, I must admit that I had the assistance of a parliamentary draftsman.
The amendments deal with mortgage relief. Under the whole of the life of this Government, and that of the previous Government, the ceiling for mortgage relief stood at £25,000, and the Opposition believe that it should be retained at that figure rather than increased to £30,000. In Committee on 20 May 1982, the Chief Secretary said:
The average advance to first-time buyers is now £14,500 and to other borrowers about £15,500".
Therefore, first-time buyers have an average advance lower than that for other borrowers, which does not surprise us. The Chief Secretary continued:
so the limit of £25,000 on the size of loan qualifying for relief is still high enough not to affect the vast majority of house builders."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 20 May 1982; c. 289.]
Those remarks were closely in line with what had been said on many previous occasions by the Chief Secretary or his predecessor. He pointed out that every Government had refused to change the limit year after year under similar arguments, and that the problems of the building industry would not be ameliorated by any increase in the limit. We must ask ourselves why, having refused a change year after year, suddenly the Government are converted to an increase in the limit.
We know that there have been divisions between the Treasury and No. 10, because the leaking capacities of the Government are great indeed. Information is relayed to every reader of any reputable newspaper. That fits in with the position as we know and understand it. After all the years of acquiescence, the biggest new argument was not the conversion to the principle of an increase, but the fact that this year would be general election year. That was the biggest argument of all, and much more important than the number or prices of houses. The Government thought that certain advantages could be obtained by introducing the measure.
The Opposition believe that mortgage relief should be given to those with modest mortgages. We want to do our best to help people to buy their homes. We are in favour of mortgage relief and of giving assistance to those wishing to buy their homes. We are especially in favour of younger people getting a start on the home-owning ladder. But besides that, we also want the opportunity for proper examination and debate.
The Chief Secretary has said that he is prepared to reintroduce the Government's proposals—if they were to be so incredibly fortunate, by some misguided decision of the electorate —to be in a position to reintroduce them. That commitment surprises me, but I shall let that pass for now. I fail to understand the urgency of the matter if all that is required is another Finance Bill if the Government are re-elected.
I stand by the commitment that I gave earlier—that the Opposition urgently wish to consider these and other matters in the context of an autumn Finance Bill that would examine all the changes introduced by the Government and put them on a proper basis for examination and debate by the House.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can give me a message to take to my suburban constituency, where there are a substantial number of properties costing far more than £30,000, and where it is estimated that 15 to 20 per cent. of the first-time buyers have to borrow more than £25,000?
I would advise the hon. Gentleman's constituents to vote for the return of a Labour Government, who would reduce taxation on those whom the hon. Gentleman at present—though perhaps not for long—has the privilege to represent. Let us not forget that only 5 per cent. of the population have benefited from the changes in taxation introduced by the Conservative Government, while 95 per cent. have suffered as a result of them. The hon. Gentleman will discover that most of the constituents to whom he refers are among that 95 per cent.
Like the other amendments that we have been instrumental in introducing, this will be of some advantage to the Revenue. It will be possible to redirect the moneys being given under these measures in more sensible and useful directions, to help those who could derive most benefit from them.
The Committee will be familiar with the circumstances in which the amendment has been brought in, and the reasons why I reluctantly have to advise my right hon. and hon. Friends not to oppose it. I do so simply and solely in order to get the Finance Bill through. I cannot help suspecting, however, that the right hon. Gentleman is already regretting the fact that he has insisted upon this petty, mean-minded and ineffective amendment as part of the package of arrangements for bringing debate on the Finance Bill to a conclusion.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the Opposition's commitment to mortgage interest relief, and about the necessity to consider all these matters. However, if he had his way—I shall explain why he will not really have his way — he would make it impossible to achieve this limited extension of mortgage interest relief.
The right hon. Gentleman sought to associate me in some way with his observations by quoting what I have said in previous debates. However, he failed to quote my words last year when I made it absolutely clear that it was not the Government's policy
for ever and a day to keep the level of £25,000 in all circumstances."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A; 20 May 1982, c. 289.]
This year we were able to put forward the proposal that the Opposition are now attempting to torpedo.
No, I shall not give way at the moment.
The amendment is designed to maintain the limit on mortgage interest relief for 1983–84 at £25,000 — the level at which it has beeen set since 1974. That is the price that the country is now being asked to pay. However, the change can have no practical effect before August, because the Budget proposal is embedded in current Revenue practice. No one, therefore, will lose before August as a result of this mean-minded amendment.
If the hon. Member will contain himself, I shall give way in due course.
It is the Government's intention, upon re-election, to introduce a further Finance Bill which will set the limit for 1983–84 at £30,000 as proposed in my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget. Therefore, when a Conservative Government are returned no one will suffer from the mean-mindedness of the Opposition. The amendment will merely serve to make plain the nature of the Opposition's intentions and prejudices. It will do no one any harm. As a result of the Finance Bill that we shall propose immediately on our return, people will benefit from the increase.
If this matter is of such importance to the Government, can the Chief Secretary explain why —according to reports that were never denied by the Government — the Treasury opposed every suggestion that the limit should be increased, and was forced to increase it only by the intervention of No. 10? Secondly, why did the Government make no move whatsoever to increase the limit in any of their previous Budgets?
If the hon. Gentleman seriously expects me to comment on press reports about disagreements between Government Departments, he is less experienced than I had thought. On his second point, the Government's position has always been clear and has been expressed on numerous occasions. In previous years there may not have been the opportunity to make such a change, but it was always our policy that at an appropriate moment the matter should be reconsidered.
Nothing that any Opposition Member has said justifies the Opposition's refusal to agree to this beneficial change. About 150,000 people would be the losers if the Opposition were able to give permanent effect to the limit that they seek to impose. A basic rate taxpayer paying interest of 10 per cent. on a £30,000 mortgage would be worse off by £3 a week if the amendment had any practical effect. However, the adverse effects would be much worse. Of first-time buyers in London with new building society mortgages, about a quarter have mortgages of over £25,000. They need a mortgage of over £25,000 if they are to take the crucial first step on the housing ladder. Any suggestion from the Opposition that they wish to help first-time buyers is arrant hypocrisy, when a quarter of first-time buyers in the London area need a mortgage above the previous limit. If the Opposition had their way, many of those people would not be able to buy houses.
It would vary enormously, according to circumstances. There is no answer to such a question.
Many of the builders who warmly welcomed the increase proposed by the Government would not be able to sell houses to those first-time buyers. The Opposition are seeking — vainly, hopelessly and pointlessly — to deliver a blow to the construction industry. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite are right to laugh, as their proposal is totally ineffective. However, if the Opposition's amendment were to have a lasting effect, many people in the sale and purchase chain would not be able to move. In housing, a sale at the upper end affects transactions further down the chain.
All this arises because the Government proposed quite a small increase of £5,000 to the limit of £25,000 which was first imposed in 1974. If that figure was right then, it is hard to see why the Opposition oppose this increase in 1983.
In so far as that sedentary intervention represents any kind of argument, it is inconsistent with Labour Members' opposition to the measure and it is arrant hypocrisy. If the Opposition had any sincerity, they would put down an amendment not to reduce but to increase the £30,000. If the previous limit had increased in line with prices, the figure for 1983–84 would be more than £80,000. The Government are trying to help the first-time buyer, the housing market and the building industry.
Once again, in the few actions that they can take in the dying days of this Parliament, the Opposition have shown that, whatever lip service they pay to the concept, in practice they oppose home ownership and they oppose any moderate measure to assist in that direction. Mercifully, their action will be to no avail. It will have no immediate effect because the changes announced in the Budget are already embedded in the system and by the time the Opposition's mean-minded amendment would have taken effect it will have been removed by a new Finance Bill.
Opposition to home ownership is part of the Labour party creed and it would have been more honest for Labour Members to admit that. If the petty little group representing the Labour party in the Committee today had the rest of their colleagues behind them, they might have had the courage to admit that they are against home ownership. In opposing an increase in the mortgage interest relief limit, they have shown once again that no effort will be spared to get everyone under their control, in their housing and working under their system, because for the Labour party there can be no other.
If in the past four years relief has been less than it would have been under a Labour Government, that is because the Conservatives have brought inflation under control. It is a dire warning to any council house tenant hoping to buy the home in which he lives that in the remote event of a Labour Government of any shade or group the chance of obtaining mortgage relief and buying that home will also be extremely remote. We should perhaps be grateful that on the eve of a general election the Labour party has given this message to all home owners and would-be home owners—council tenants, young couples saving for their first home or people wishing to move into a retirement home — that in no circumstances should they do anything to bring back a Labour Government either through a direct vote for the Labour party or by voting for the strange collection of SDP Members who appear below the Gangway from time to time and who effectively would let in a Labour Government.
The almost panic-stricken proposals from the Opposition have perhaps been made because the Opposition are frightened to admit that there are signs of positive recovery in the construction industry, and especially in the house building industry, as a result of four years of resolute Conservative Government. The Opposition seem desperate to stifle that recovery by any means at their disposal. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary described them as petty and mean-minded. I add the further charge of vindictiveness towards those who dare to wish to own their homes and to expect some relief or assistance for first-time buyers.
Whatever illusions Labour Members may have, the Government's measure is designed to help the first-time buyer and to help the construction industry to provide more first homes. The Opposition's action will be seen by those people as a direct attack. We may take consolation from the fact, however, that there is not the remotest possibility of the Opposition's behaviour in the past 48 hours having any effect because some of them will not even return to the Opposition Benches and representatives of a party which attacks home ownership will be confined for ever to those Benches.
I hope that the message will go out clearly that we have stayed here today to support those who wish to stand on their own feet and, in the right circumstances, to own their own homes. I encourage anyone saving to buy a first home to rest assured that he will continue to receive support from this Government and from the next Government, who will comprise the same group of people.
There is no sillier accusation than to say that we on these Benches are against home ownership. We favour people having the opportunity to buy their own houses. They should have equal opportunity—[Interruption.] If the Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith), wishes to intervene, I am sure that he knows the correct procedure. We favour people having the opportunity of home ownership and also the opportunity to rent accommodation.
Tory Members should remember that it was a Labour Government who introduced the option mortgage scheme, giving many people who could not otherwise have obtained a mortgage the opportunity to become owner-occupiers. It is absurd to accuse a party that made changes in the law to help people on more limited incomes to become owner-occupiers of being against owner-occupation. It is a dirty slur to suggest that we are against people having the opportunity to buy their homes. We are not and have never been against that.
The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) suggested that the construction industry was recovering. In fact, it has been devastated. It has suffered more in the past four years of Conservative Government than in any other peacetime period. One has only to compare the state of the industry in the 1930s with its state in the past four years to realise that it has been devastated, largely by the policies pursued by the Government and supported by the hon. Gentleman.
The Parliamentary Labour Party has received numerous representations from what is known as the group of eight in the construction industry describing the adverse effects of the Government's actions and urging changes in policy. We have described the policy that we intend to pursue in Government, and we have suggested that if any of the group's members helped to put the Conservatives into office they should try to persuade the Government to change their policies.
The figures show that in the past few years fewer council dwellings have been started even than in the 1930s. When so many people are in desperate housing need throughout the country, how can the Conservatives justify a council house building figure on more or less the same scale as in the 1920s? Conservative Members have talked about the difficulties faced by people on incomes sufficient to take up a mortgage of £30,000 or more. How do they justify the rent increases for council tenants? In the four years since the Government came to office rents have risen nationally by about 117 per cent. That is more than twice the increase in the retail price index in the same period. Therefore, if we are to have sympathy for those who have been hard hit we should be concerned about council tenants who have been penalised by the Government for no reason other than that they are council tenants. In those circumstances, I find it hypocritical for arguments to be advanced that people are being hard hit because the limit for tax relief on the mortgage interest rate will not be raised to £30,000.
The aim of Government policy on owner-occupation and council tenants should be to give assistance to those in genuine housing need. Many people are unable in any circumstances to get a mortgage. Their income will not allow them to do so, particularly at a time of mass unemployment. First priority should be given to families who cannot be rehoused by a local authority and who have to live in inadequate accommodation. Some of our constituents have to bring their children up in one or two furnished rooms. First priority should not be given to those referred to by the Chief Secretary.
We must have a different housing policy. Assistance should be given to the people I have described. It will be the purpose of the Labour Government who take office after 9 June to give genuine assistance to those with limited incomes who want to buy their homes. That Government will also give assistance to the thousands and thousands who are desperate for rented accommodation; such people go day after day to the local council office but are told that there is no hope of their being housed or rehoused. Those are the people about whom we should be concerned and who should be given the utmost priority. Therefore, I offer no apology for the action that my Front Bench has taken and which has been the subject of attack by the Chief Secretary.
It was interesting to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). This is probably the last opportunity I shall have of speaking in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman has always shown envy when he has spoken. He excelled himself in the speech he has just made. I have never listened to a speech which has shown more clearly how stupid the Opposition are.
The hon. Gentleman talked about council houses. I do not see how they relate to mortgages unless they are bought, and he has been one of those who have opposed the sale of council houses. During my time as a Member of Parliament I have often thought how nice it would be if we could get a Finance Bill through without having to sit through the long hours of the night. If the Government have to drop some of their proposals, it is a very high price to pay for getting a Finance Bill through quickly.
The hon. Gentleman has taken my hon. Friend to task for introducing in the debate the subject of council house rents. Surely the hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that the Treasury Front Bench is attempting to deal with a housing problem, part of which involves the owner-occupation nexus and part the rented sector. My hon. Friends see that one element is getting an advantage while another sector, the rented sector in council housing, is being disadvantaged. Surely the hon. Gentleman believes in equity. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to introduce the rented sector element into the argument.
One thing that I bear in mind is that those who own their own homes pay rates and it is out of those rates that council houses are subsidised. I hope the hon. Gentleman will give me the credit of knowing a little about council house building and about the building industry. Before council houses were put up for sale, some people bought their own homes to get out of council houses.
The first council house scheme was in Bootle in 1919. At that time there was a fear that people would not move into council houses. They were built originally as homes for heroes under the Lloyd George regime. It was feared that people would think it infra dig to live in them because they were regarded as alms houses. The hon. Member for Walsall, North may look surprised, but he was not born then. Now it is a privilege to be a council house tenant because of the subsidised rents.
You may rule me out of order, Mr. Weatherill, for getting away from the subject under debate. I am disappointed that my Government did not propose to raise the mortgage limit to £35,000. Had the Finance Bill taken its normal course and been considered night after night and day after day, I might have put down an amendment to increase the limit to £35,000.
The hon. Gentleman has been critical of some of my remarks. Obviously he puts the Tory point of view. Unlike some of his hon. Friends, he has great experience in the building industry. Does he not agree that the building and construction industry has suffered badly in the last four years? That is why the group of eight, with which he is familiar, has been so critical of various aspects of the Government's housing and construction policy. The hon. Gentleman has said that he would like to see the limit for tax relief on mortgage interest raised to £35,000. How does he justify the increase in council rents, by which quite a few of his constituents have been adversely affected, which is more than double the increase in the same period in the retail price index?
I do not know which of the hon. Gentleman's questions you will allow me to reply to, Mr. Weatherill; I should like to take most of the afternoon on them because they give food for thought.
One reason why council rents have gone up has been the high cost of maintenance. Another is that wages in the building industry have gone up in even greater proportion to council rents. The hon. Gentleman also ought to bear in mind that most people who buy their homes do their own maintenance. This is why it has been advantageous to occupy council houses. The hon. Gentleman referred to the group of eight. The hon. Gentleman and I were present at meetings kindly organised by the paper Building. The group of eight has done much for the building industry. The hon. Gentleman has not put correctly the reasons for the criticism. He has the wonderful advantage of remembering only the points that suit him. There is a Socialist filter. Socialist Members remember only the little points that suit their argument, and forget the rest.
The hon. Gentleman said that the building industry had had a rough time. I do not deny that. Whenever there is a slump and a recession the building industry is the first to be hit. It is always the building industry that starts a recovery. The amendment will spoil any such prospect. Once confidence is built up people want to build factories, invest and expand. That is why the building industry heads a recovery.
The amendment is not quite the tragedy that it might appear because my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary has already explained that the proposed increase could not have applied until August. Therefore, little damage will be done before a new Finance Bill is introduced. I hope that message will go out clearly to those who are buying houses. I shall watch the proceedings of that new Bill from the Gallery, either upstairs or downstairs—in Heaven or the other place.
People must have some encouragement to buy their homes. The Labour party talks about encouraging employment and criticises the Conservative party for causing unemployment. But the one industry that can create employment is the building industry because it is employment intensive, and this is the Labour party's first move to stop its expansion.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that, if he has the evening to spare, we shall be happy to debate the matter throughout the night. The hon. Gentleman says that the Government's proposal is an employment-creating measure. Surely, if he is anxious to maximise employment in the construction industry, he will accept that if the Government have £60 million to spare vastly more employment would be created in the building industry if they put that into public sector investment rather than giving it out in tax relief to a small number of owner-occupiers of whom a few will buy newly constructed dwellings.
That is the most remarkable comment that I have heard from the hon. Gentleman. I make no secret of the fact that I have always considered the hon. Gentleman to have a high intelligence, particularly in tax matters. Does he not realise that we are talking about a difference of £5,000?
We are talking not about £5,000, but about £120 of annual tax relief. Let not the public be misled by Conservative Members making cheap points. The change is worth £120 a year and it raises important points of principle. If £60 million is available to help the construction industry, is it not a simple matter of arithmetic that far more houses would be built, firms helped and construction workers put back to work if that were made available by way of direct orders rather than through this indirect tax concession?
The answer is perfectly simple. When the £60 million is related to reality we are talking about £120 a house. If we can release £120 in taxation somebody will buy a house that is worth £35,000 and in that way we are creating more employment.
First, does the hon. Gentleman accept that this mortgage relief does not apply uniquely to new developments? Secondly, does he accept that if £60 million or £70 million is available it might create more jobs if it were spent directly, through local authorities? About 95 per cent. of such house building is carried out by private enterprise.
The private industry will build council houses, but in the process the public sector is spending the total price of a council house. In the private sector private finance is introduced. There is no mystery about that.
The hon. Gentleman made the point that this measure does not necessarily apply to new construction. I am glad that he did so because it is a point that I had not thought of. He is worried that somebody will obtain a mortgage on a secondhand house. That would be splendid. The chap who sells that secondhand house will generally buy a new one. It is like selling motor cars. If people will not buy secondhand motor cars, new ones cannot be sold. One reason for the present log jam in the house building industry is the fact that secondhand houses are not being sold, so new ones are not being built.
If the amendment were not to be rescinded in August it would be a grave hindrance to the expansion of the building industry. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will point out to the public during the election campaign that they have no need to worry about the mortgage interest that they will receive when they buy a new house because when the Government return to office they will rescind this amendment immediately.
Conservative Members have sought to criticise Labour Members over the philosophy behind the amendment. They have attacked our concept of support for home ownership. If they wish to conduct the debate in such extravagant language they deserve to be treated with contempt. In their disappointment and chagrin they are seeking to express their displeasure at the opportunity that Labour Members have to fight one of the battles that has been trailed since the Budget announcement. This is one of the prices of allowing the Finance Bill to make progress. If they wish to turn this into an election issue, which it will be, we shall be happy to fight it on its merits. However, if they wish to persist in smearing Labour Members, they do the quality of debate no service at all. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, we have a record of positive measures in assisting home ownership.
Not only did we take steps to assist people to become owner-occupiers, but the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 gave far more security and protection to many existing owner-occupiers who otherwise would have found themselves in a difficult position. It was the Conservative party that was so critical of that Act.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he illustrates a basic truth. Both the Conservative and the Labour parties when in government have always had due regard to advancing the interests of as many people as possible, whether that concerned a desire to rent or a desire to buy. It is the emphasis in the four years of the Government's disastrous record, particularly in the rented sector, that Labour Members wish to see corrected in 1983.
Will my hon. Friend be careful about saying that the Tories are trying to help all sectors in house ownership? They have deliberately not allowed private tenants of private landlords the same rights to buy and compulsory mortgage facilities that they have imposed upon democratically elected local authorities. They are prepared to sell off the public sector while they protect the private landlord, even though that may be completely opposed to the interests of those tenants who desperately want to buy.
I am always grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), who rightly reminds me that I should not give the Government too much credit for trying to be even-handed in their housing policies. It is a charade and sham when Conservative Members pretend that they are seeking to protect the interests of owner-occupiers.
As the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) said in his closing remarks, we must consider what the amendment seeks to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) pointed out that, with a budget strategy that allows £60 million or £70 million to be spent—although we know that thousands of millions of pounds are involved —the Government have decided to distribute that sum of taxpayers' money by increasing the benefit that is already enjoyed by owner-occupiers. The mortgage interest relief of up to £25,000 is fairly generous and is enjoyed by many hon. Members and millions of people throughout the country. People who are fortunate enough to be buying their own houses and getting mortgage interest relief up to £25,000 should not get the additional benefit of the £60 million or £70 million at this difficult time.
I do not say that people who are buying their own homes are not entitled to as much assistance as they can get. However, I remember the arguments that were put forward by Conservatie Members in the Housing and Building Control Bill and the Local Government, Planning and Land Bill, and in the debates on the Floor of the House on the housing investment programmes. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe has the cheek to say that the Government want to help the construction industry. He speaks with a detailed knowledge of the building industry, but he conveniently forgets, for instance, that this Government are primarily responsible for putting 400,000 construction workers on the dole during the past four years. The Government and the Prime Miniser say that that has nothing to do with them, but we have been down that road before. If the Government take credit for managing the economy and say to the country over the next month that what has happened during the past four years is substantially their creation, they cannot escape the fact that the construction industry needs a boost because it has been decimated and devastated by their actions. One of the major actions taken by this Government as part of their economic policy has been deliberately to seek to damp down expansion, both in the economy and in house building.
Before my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley leaves the Chamber, may I say that he made an effective point when he talked about the proportion of every £100 spent by a local council on house building that goes to the private sector. The figure that I have is that £85 out of every £100 spent on housing in the public sector is actually spent in fuelling the economy of the private sector. Indeed, 85 per cent. of what the Enfield council spends on housing is used to buy drainpipes, bricks and cement from the private sector. So let us keep the debate at the high level that we expect in this Committee.
If I were invited to spend £50 million, £60 million or £70 million on the country's housing needs, I would say as one who is paying a mortgage—although certainly not £30,000, or even £25,000 — that there are many people in my part of the world, and particularly in this part of the country, who need more than £25,000, but they get the benefit of mortgage interest relief up to that sum. I accept, of course, that they would like more.
My hon. Friend said that he would offer the House his advice about how he would spend £60 million, that being the sum involved in the amendment to assist people in housing need. Does he recall that that was the figure necessary to make sure that there were no losers as a result of the introduction of unified housing benefit? This Government, who now beat their chest over this amendment, are the same Government who, only four months ago, told us that they could not find £60 million to ensure that 2 million tenants were not worse off as a result of unified housing benefit, those 2 million being the poorest of all tenants, dependent on supplementary benefit.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend who with his knowledge of these matters reveals the sham and hypocrisy of this argument. Were money available, the recipients of higher mortgage interest relief could well be deserving cases, but we must consider the Government's argument against giving a similar amount to 2 million people, including people in desperate need—not those who would like a little more relief, but people who are desperately poor.
When I am asked to say where I think the money should go, I am reminded of the enormous dereliction that has occurred over the past four years as a result of disrepair and lack of attention to houses in both the public and private sectors. If the Government really wanted to improve the quality of life, of which housing forms a basic part, they could easily have done so through the council housing HIP allocations.
Does my hon. Friend agree that people who would like the greater mortgage interest relief would recognise the priorities that the Government are ignoring in other areas of expenditure, as exemplified by the story in The Guardian today about the Secretary of State for Health and Social Security breaking yet another promise to make our blood supplies for haemophiliacs self-sufficient? Those people are in great need and in a very vulnerable position. Self-sufficiency would have guaranteed them some security for the future, but the Secretary of State refuses to help.
I acknowledge that some people will be angry because they are deprived of benefits as a result of this measure. It is equally relevant to tell the millions of people who will continue to be deprived that, as a result of the Government's proposals, which they say they will reintroduce when they get the opportunity, they will continue to be deprived.
The Housing and Building Control Bill is part of the Government's housing strategy. Mercifully, by virtue of the Government's ineptness in managing their business and running helter-skelter for a general election, it has been lost. It has been lost through the Government's greed in trying to increase the discounts from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. and the need for an amendment, which was carried in the other place, and the certainty that Opposition Members would not have tolerated it for a moment.
There the Government's priorities are encapsulated. The Government are hellbent on ridding the state and the community of any assets that the state and the community have, even if it means saying to people, "We want to get out of the business of managing housing, or managing the economy, and we are prepared to offer bribes of 60 per cent. of the value of a house." The Government are prepared to say to the country over the next month, "We want to take from the general taxpayer and give more to those who are enjoying the benefit of mortgage interest relief up to £25,000." We want to say to council tenants who have enjoyed the tenancy of a council home—
I remember that the Socialist party always used to say that people in private rented accommodation had paid for their house five or 10 times over. What is the difference for council tenants? Do not they have the same rights? Why should one want council tenants to be second-class citizens? The only reason why the hon. Gentleman wants that and wants to make them what they are not is that he thinks that they will vote for his party more readily.
Opposition Members take careful note that when a council tenant wishes to become an owner-occupier Conservative Members do not point to the newspapers or the billboards and say, "If you want to buy a house, there are millions." The council tenant says, "There is only one house I want, and that is the one that the council owns. That is the one that I want to buy." Thus we denude the housing stock that is needed for most people. Some 7,500 families in my constituency are in council houses. More than 1 million families throughout the country are waiting for the opportunity, not to extend their mortgage from £25,000 to £30,000 but to become a tenant of a flat or a house, for which they would be grateful.
Conservative Members have provided Opposition Members with the opportunity of looking carefully in this short debate at their priorities. They are, "To those that have shall be given more, and to those who have very little nothing more shall be given." Their policy is a sham and a charade. I fully support the attitude of the Opposition Front Bench.
The Government's proposal to increase mortgage relief was based on fairness between one part of the country and the other. We should try to keep the mortgage relief above the threshold of average prices for the kingdom as a whole. House prices are much higher in the south-east than in the north. The Government's proposed measure is now being destroyed by the Labour party—only temporarily, I am glad to say. The Labour party's measure is designed to make a difference so that one part of the country would find it harder than another to get the necessary relief for a first home. There may be a case for helping the north of England. I believe that there is, but there should not be a differentiation in the capacity of first-time buyers to acquire a house, and relief should be above the threshold.
It is interesting that if the relief, which replaced the earlier relief in the early 1970s, had been fully indexed, it would, as I understood from the Chief Secretary, have now reached £80,000. Surely it is right for young people trying to buy homes to have a feeling of stability about what they can obtain from relief in real terms. There should be a permanence and it should be possible for them to know what relief they will get years ahead as they try to save up towards acquiring their first home. If the indexed figure is now so much above even that proposed by the Government, some dissatisfaction is put into the minds of those who have been so saving.
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) said that basic to the quality of life is good housing. He was right. Basic to the quality of life is the happiness of those who live in houses—the wives and children. I am reminded of a quotation that the House will know:
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety".
All of us who are happily married feel that about our wives. What a pity it is that the measure proposed by the Opposition should make the wives worried sick because of the change in the indexation, which leaves them with a different expectation from that which they must have had when they began to save. I am glad that the Prime Minister has pledged to restore those cuts when we are re-elected, as I hope we shall be.
I refer to the building industry. Why should we not encourage the building industry with this extra mortgage relief? Jobs would, of course, be created. It as extraordinary that the Labour party never seems keen—here I speak as chairman of the Conservative smaller businesses committee—to help the smaller sector of the building industry. I well remember when 714 certificates were made difficult to obtain for small businesses. That is part and parcel of the Labour party's approach to home ownership. It does not want to encourage either the small business or the house owner.
Home ownership has increased from about 11 per cent. at the turn of the century to about 55 per cent. today. That great increase in home ownership could not have cone about without relief against taxation. The Labour party says, "What about council dwellings? Why are we taking the £60 million out of tax money?" People have earned that money. It is relief against their earnings. In that sense, it is encouraging people to make a bigger effort to earn and to save so that they can put money into a house of their own. Furthermore, if the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes), who has just laughed, were to come to my constituency of Upminster he would see the immense improvements when people have bought their own homes in a housing estate. When one talks to these people in the housing estates one sees how happy they are. They have been enabled by the Government's measures to buy their own homes. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) referred to maintenance. Those people are happy to do their own maintenance and thus to relieve the rate funds of that duty and obligation.
Opposition Members spoke about the history of housing. What party was it that first built 300,000 houses in a year and thus started full reconstruction in the kingdom after the war? In the six years after the war there were delays as a result of the Socialist policy.
Building societies should be encouraged to help home ownership. The higher relief helps to enable building societies to do so. The £60 million does not represent a choice of "gifts". It does not work like that. When people have saved from their money, it is not the same as paying for a subsidy elsewhere out of general taxation.
Opposition Members will know and will have read how in different parts of the kingdom there are substantial numbers of empty houses in many council housing areas. That is where we should look for the immediate relief for those seeking a council house. They need to get off the council housing list and into the houses that are now empty.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate on home ownership. The Conservative party believes in home ownership and wants to take every possible step to make it practical for those who want to own their own homes to acquire one. I hope that when we win the general election we shall restore this measure. The Labour party, in proposing to reduce the expected mortgage relief in this Finance Bill, is meanly trying to prevent people from owning their own homes.
I did not think that the opportunity to speak in this debate would arise, bearing in mind the way in which the Prime Minister has cut and run so rapidly to the electorate and the Government's anxiety to get through the business that has been agreed. I am surprised that this debate is taking place.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Loveridge) for reminding me which constituency he represents. I was about to congratulate him on his maiden speech, not having heard him speak in the four years that I have been here. I gather that in the past week he has suddenly been afflicted with a desire to make as many speeches as possible before he departs the House.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's kindness in referring to me. I regret that he has always been missing on the many occasions during Finance Bill debates and many other debates in which I have spoken. It is a pity that he could not be here to hear me until now. I hope that he has enjoyed the pleasure of hearing me today.
I should like to say how welcome it is to hear my hon. Friend's first speech of the evening. In view of his surprise at taking part in the proceedings, I remind him that 80 clauses of the Bill remain to be discussed, as do half a dozen new clauses. The Opposition look forward to scrutinising them with the same vigour as the Government are scrutinising this amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) is right. Conservative Members, especially the Parliamentary Private Secretary who has some responsibility in this matter, should not laugh. We do indeed have 80 clauses and many new clauses to consider. If Conservative Members make long, intricate and misleading speeches on this amendment, I can make equally long, intricate and, given the chance, misleading speeches on other clauses.
Like other hon. Members, the hon. Member for Upminster made a misleading speech as this debate is not about home ownership but about mansion ownership. The hon. Member for Upminster mentioned the high price of houses in the south-east of England, but it is different in Scotland. He mentioned the north and south of England but he forgot that there are other countries in this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are dealing with substantial houses and people with substantial means, not ordinary home ownership.
While I was listening to Conservative Members, who are enthusiastic about getting this Parliament over and done with quickly and returning a new Parliament and a new Government, I wondered why they were making such a fuss about the Bill and why the pips are squeaking. The answer is that Conservative Members are having a fit of pique. They should have realised as the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have realised and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, with his great education, will have realised that what has happened was the inevitable implication of the Prime Minister agreeing to cut and run for an election on 9 June.
What has happened is that potential Conservative voters in the south-east of England, who have been counting their chickens and the pound notes that they will save on their big mansions, have read the Financial Times and are suddenly distraught. In clubs or other places where those people mingle with Conservative Members, they have got ratty with Conservative Members and Conservative Members are now thinking, "Oh my goodness, perhaps these people will vote for one of those nice moderate alliance chappies, thus endangering my seat." Therefore, they have decided that they will try to resolve the problem, in spite of the implications of cutting and running being known by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury with his excellent education. If hon. Members want to work out why I keep referring to the Chief Secretary's excellent education they have only to refer to "Dod's Parliamentary Companion". Indeed, they should examine the education of two hon. Members in "Dod".
Conservative Members must have known what would happen when the Prime Minister decided to cut and run. They are now trying to expiate their sins by making great speeches on home ownership as if to say, "Look, you people in Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Hertfordshire, it is not our fault. We really are on your side, forgive us our sins. We may have known all about it but we could not help it.".
Of course, interests other than alleged home ownership or, as I prefer to call it, mansion ownership are represented by the Conservative party. It represents building interests. We have only to examine names of Conservative Members to realise that. Conservative Members also represent building societies. They do not represent just constituencies; they represent vested interests and do so assiduously.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury share the same education or went to the same school, and as my hon. Friend is three years younger than the Chief Secretary, will my hon. Friend confirm or deny that the Chief Secretary was his prefect?
I am grateful for the opportunity to confirm that two thirds of my hon. Friend's education took place in Scotland. Does he agree that it would not be a breach of privilege to suggest that the Chief Secretary had a vested interest in the Bill passing through the House and that, at this stage, it is not obvious that we shall succeed in getting it through by the end of this sitting as the debate is open-ended?
My hon. Friend has made a good point. I am only at the top left-hand corner of my sheet of notes. My hon. Friend and Conservative Members have much more to say. We could go on for a long time on this amendment, other amendments and the new clauses. I have made a few serious points in a less than serious way but this is a serious point. The Treasury Bench should think seriously about encouraging its right hon. and hon. Friends to make spurious points about the Conservative party's so-called interest in home ownership. They could go on all night and create havoc for the House. Many other hon. Members could come in and discuss this and other matters if that is the way in which Conservative Members want to play it. However, that is not the way in which the Government Front Bench wishes to play it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central said that the Government could have provided £60 million to ensure that those who may lose out because of unified housing benefit changes will not do so. The hon. Member for Upminster may say that that is a different matter, because one sum is their money that we shall not take back in tax, and the other is money from tax that we shall spend. However, in the balance of revenue and expenditure it is the same. If we do not take more money in revenue, we have less to spend to help those who will lose out because of the unified housing benefit.
I do not know whether my hon. Friends the Members for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) have had an experience similar to mine, but I have heard that tremendous confusion and uncertainty arises from the unified housing benefit. I regret to say that much of that confusion would have happened anyway, but there is much more confusion because people have become annoyed at losing out and have spoken to their councillors and Members of Parliament about it. The Government chose not to spend £60 million to help them but instead to give additional mortgage relief. House owners already receive substantial mortgage relief in the form of a tax handout for mortgages up to £25,000, but the Government propose to give additional relief to those who are already well off. The choice was between helping those who, by definition, are relatively poor and who need the money or helping the very rich.
The Government have also had to give way on tax cuts, and no doubt Conservative Members—
Yes, and no doubt Conservative Members will wish to squeal about it later because the rich have not received the handouts that the Government wished to give to them. If we discuss the matter later, the Chief Secretary will hear Opposition Members attack the proposal.
At the moment I represent South Ayrshire and I hope—
The Chief Secretary is correct to underline what I said. Until, the House rises on Friday I represent South Ayrshire. After that, with the approval of the electorate, I shall return to the House to represent the new constituency of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. Do not blame me for the name, Mr. Dean, because I fought through the Boundary Commission hearings, the Secretary of State and the House not to have the name changed. However, I lost that fight.
I do not deny that, Mr. Dean, but South Ayrshire and Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, which are similar, have a high percentage of council houses. I wish to discuss the way in which the outgoing Government — I emphasise the word "outgoing" — have treated council house tenants compared with owner-occupiers. The Labour party has no vendetta against owner-occupiers. I, with many Labour Members, am an owner-occupier and many more owner-occupiers are voting for the Labour party. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, a Labour Government introduced the greatest scheme to help owner-occupiers —the option mortgage scheme — and several other measures were introduced by successive Labour Governments to assist owner-occupiers.
The Labour party has nothing against owner-occupiers, but it is anxious to help council house tenants, who for historic reasons tend to be from the lower income brackets. There are exceptions, in that the Labour Members of Parliament who live in council houses are not in the lower income bracket. Instead of restoring the balance and helping council house tenants more than owner-occupiers, the Government have greatly helped house owners, especially mansion owners, during the past four years, while council house tenants have been penalised continuously. Rents, especially in Scotland, have been forced up. It is especially galling that that has happened in Scotland, which at the election returned 44 Labour Members of Parliament out of a total of 71. Specific Scottish legislation has been introduced for which the Government have no mandate. The powers of the Secretary of State for Scotland to force local authorities to increase rents are draconian. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North said that they have increased by 117 per cent. I may be corrected about the exact figure, but they have increased by more than 100 per cent., which is double the increase in the retail price index. Council house tenants have suffered greatly.
Many tenants in my constituency have told me that not only have they been asked to pay more in rents but that the maintenance of local authority houses is diminishing rapidly. That has happened not because of direct action by councils, but because the Government, especially the Secretary of State for Scotland, tell local authorities that their housing support grant will be reduced and that they cannot take money from the rates to subsidise rents. As a result the maintenance of local authority housing has diminished substantially. That is an unwise development.
Conservative Members should be concerned about the maintenance of public property that is paid for out of the public purse, yet the money available for maintenance is being cut dramatically by the Government. For council house tenants the increase in rents and the reduction in maintenance is a direct result of the diktat of the Government and the Secretaries of State for Scotland and the Environment. It is ironic that Conservative Members are parading themselves here today at the fag end of a Parliament to speak on behalf of the mansion owners of the south-east of England—
Yes, the hon. Gentleman described it as rubbish. My speech has been long and it might be longer. We are in Committee, and if I catch the eye of the Chair I shall be entitled to make another speech. I shall be able to add to my earlier remarks and take up some of the comments of other hon. Members.
My hon. Friend's speech comes as a breath of fresh air in the debate and reminds the Committee of the realities of the world outside. Before my hon. Friend moves towards his peroration I hope that he will find time to consider, as one of the arguments that he deploys in favour of the amendment, the clear consequence of the Government's policy. If the Government were successful in increasing mortgage interest relief, the prime effect would be to stimulate higher house prices and not house construction. The higher prices would have to be paid by precisely those whom they claim to be protecting.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He, too, had a good education. He went to an excellent university, which I know only too well. With his usual erudition he has put his finger on the nerve point. In so doing he has made nonsensical the argument of the hon. Member for Upminster.
The hon. Member for Upminster said — I wrote down his words so that I would not misrepresent him—that the Government's policy would encourage people to go out and earn more. That would have serious implications for the Government's incomes policy. Presumably the hon. Gentleman is saying that there should be no restraint on income, especially wages. He has given the game away because we know now that he is talking about mansion owners in the south-east of England.
The hon. Gentleman is saying that stockbrokers, for example, should be encouraged to earn more. It is notable that no Conservative Members suggested that the nurses should be encouraged to earn more when they submitted a legitmate pay claim. Indeed, they were told that they could not have any more, and their claim was rejected by the Government. I shall not develop that argument further, Mr. Dean, as I note that you are looking at me over your Sir Alec Douglas-Home-type spectacles. I admit that I was wrong to go down that track. I am content to have highlighted the nonsense that was talked by the hon. Member for Upminster.
We have heard about the need for a boost for the construction industry. It is an argument that the hon. Member for Upminster saw fit to repeat. If such a boost is needed, it should not be used for the building of private mansions in stockbroker belts in the south-east of England. We should give priority to the building of new hospitals for the NHS and to the improvement of existing ones. We need new local authority schools—
If the hon. Gentleman were allowed to participate in the debate, he would probably argue that the number of children on school rolls is declining and that therefore we do not need more schools. However, it is clear that he was not listening to me very carefully. I said that we need more modern schools. We do not want the old Victorian schools that the Prime Minister and the hon. Gentleman would wish to continue in use for the education of our children. No doubt they want our children to sit behind old-fashioned desks before their teachers, learn by rote and be taught from the blackboard.
I apologise, Mr. Dean. As usual, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) caused me to depart from the straight and narrow.
Mr. Winterton: No. I was urging the hon. Gentleman to return to the straight and narrow.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) queried the wish of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) to see more local authority houses constructed. There are many whose only opportunity of getting a decent home lies in the local authority sector. They have to look long and hard before finding a house to rent at a reasonable level in the private sector, which means that, realistically, their only chance of finding a house to rent is in the public sector.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) has answered the hon. Member for Macclesfield more than adequately. My concern lies primarily with those who do not have the income necessary to obtain mortgages of £25,000 or £30,000. These people know that they will never get anywhere near obtaining such mortgages but they, too, need decent housing. They do not want the damp-ridden houses that some of them are forced to occupy. Young families with young children do not want to be forced to live 15, 20 or 30 storeys up in multi-storey blocks.
I think that I have probably said enough, Mr. Dean—
I have probably said enough at this stage. However, we are in Committee and if Conservative Members stimulate me to make further comments I shall be able to do so if I am fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair.
I decided to participate in the debate to try to ascertain what went on behind the scenes in making arrangements for the Finance Bill. The Labour party has emerged from behind the scenes with a black mark from me. The Opposition Front Bench is occupied by distinguished right hon. and hon. Members when we debate Treasury and financial matters, including the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Shelton), who opened the debate with temperate moderation. Those right hon. Members are supported by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and by the spokesman who always makes valuable contributions on all matters of national economics, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). The four members of the Opposition team normally add wisdom to our economic debates though they tinge that wisdom with their own particular philosopy, which divides the House of Commons. I am amazed that on this occasion they have allowed that tincture of Socialism to become a flood of colour. It is that which has destroyed their good judgment.
We are on the verge of an election; we shall soon be facing the 40 million electors on the hustings. Against that background the Opposition have presented themselves as the meanest party in the land. They are trying to deprive our electors of a small concession. The Government's intention was to update a figure for mortgage interest relief that was established on the statute book in 1974. Nine years have passed and Labour Members are still mean and hard-faced about the concession. I cannot understand it.
This debate is not so much about home ownership as about small people approaching a matter to which they must give much thought. Both sides of the Committee have to sort out this problem of the Finance Bill behind the scenes.
No, I shall not give way. I have listened to the hon. Gentleman and T think that I know his views. I shall be talking not about home ownership but about the way that a party has conducted itself behind the scenes.
We on the Back Benches are concerned. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) is concerned because he is a member of the Labour party and I am concerned because I am a member of the Conservative party and a member who has a view of his own. My view is that I am sorry that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary has had to accept this amendment. Many of my hon. Friends have spoken in the way that I am speaking, and I am amazed that we are forced to accept this meanness.
I do not know how the Labour party can go into the election and face the electors and the public and say, "We do not believe in you standing on your own feet. We want complete control of you for as long as possible. We want to control people. We do not want people to buy their own houses. We will stop you, even if there are 150,000 of you. We are determined to keep you on a tight rein. That is the philosophy of our party." I do not believe that that is the philosophy of the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to whom I have referred on the Opposition Front Bench. There is something moving them from behind their party that causes them to establish these mean and hard-faced policies. It will do them no good. It epitomises the state of their party today. Where there is wisdom it is drowned by the power that runs their party from behind. That power destroys opportunities for people.
Here we have a small measure designed to help people do something for themselves and buy their own houses. It is not designed to help people buy mansions. Threebedroomed cottages in the south-east of England cost more than £25,000 and one can get a 100 per cent. mortgage on that. Go a little bit above a cottage or a terraced house and one might get a semi-detached for £35,000, if one is lucky. This is the reality of house purchase today.
The Conservative party stands for people standing on their own feet. We stand for people owning their own houses and for giving them on opportunity to do so. This was a small measure that helped them still further along the way to owning their own house. The amendment will deny that at the last moment. I am amazed. I am more than amazed: I am disappointed. I am not disappointed in the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, because he is a merry enough character on the Back Benches when he is not talking about the Falklands, but he did not talk much good sense today.
Why did the Opposition not have the guts to join us in this proposal in clause 18? Why did they not have the guts to show that they too believe in helping people sometimes rather than trying to rein them in and for ever controlling them? I am disappointed in the Labour party, but I am not surprised.
This debate ill becomes the House of Commons at this stage of this Parliament as it ill becomes the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) to make statements about the Labour party, talking of "a black mark" and of the party being "mean" and "hard-faced", when he supports a Government who have failed to increase child benefit as they should have done over the past three years, failed to act on the 5 per cent. abatement on unemployment benefit, forced up rates for council tenants nationally, and are known throughout the country by working people as a stingy, mean Government who fail to understand the problems or realise the difficulties under which our people are living.
We must concede to some extent that there are difficulties in the south-east, where house prices are higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom, but this arrangement relates not only to the south, but to the whole country. In my part of the country one can buy a substantial dwelling for £30,000, a house that is not too easily purchased by the many thousands in my constituency who are without work, or by many of my constituents who, although working, do not earn sufficient money to be able to pay such a mortgage, whether they receive tax relief or not.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) said that we are mean in not agreeing to the increase in the tax relief on mortgage, but is it not a fact that the sum of money involved, £60 million, is precisely the same sum of money, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) said, that tenants have lost in the unified housing benefit scheme? Why did not the hon. Member for Canterbury protest about the poorest in our community losing as a result of that Government action?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point because it was the hon. Member for Canterbury, together with some of his hon. Friends, who signed an early-day motion last year, if I recall correctly, before the debate on the restoration of the 5 per cent. abatement. At that time, he was professing an interest in our electorates, and saying that he stood up, in a relatively compassionate way, for those who are less well off in our society. Confronted now with a general election and the need to pick up votes in the southern part of the country, and from all parts of the United Kingdom where those in larger properties are likely to vote Conservative, some Conservatives have switched from the relatively compassionate approach that they used to have to support a measure that the Government themselves know cannot be sustained in this period of misery for millions. It ill becomes the hon. Gentleman to support the Government on this measure when his record speaks otherwise on other occasions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) passed me a note in a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party last night in which he told me that my right hon. and hon. Friends were having difficulty in getting the Government to give way on the important issues upon which we felt that they should give way in the Finance Bill before a general election. I went to bed last night wondering whether I was going to be here all night tonight, not knowing whether the Government would persist in their selfish approach in the protection of the better off or concede to our more humane approach—as against their resolute approach—in the protection of the worse off and poor.
It was a surprise this morning when I got out of my bed and went down to my front door to find my early morning copy of The Times in which the lead article said:
Earlier, at a morning meeting of the Cabinet, Mr. Leon Brittan, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had been instructed to `play it tough' in negotiations with Mr. Peter Shore, the shadow Chancellor, over the passage of the Budget legislation
But Mr. Shore and his shadow Treasury team"—
and I congratulate them—
would not permit rushed legislation which included the increase in higher-rate thresholds, adjustments to investment surcharge and capital transfer tax, and the £5,000 increase, to £30,000 in the mortgage interest relief limit.
Millions of people can be grateful to my righ hon. and hon. Friends because they stood up firmly and resisted the Government's desire to press on with the Finance Bill as it was in its original form, which would have provided even greater sums of money than will now be the case for the better off.
If those outside who may be considering voting Conservative ask why it was that we fought the Government on this issue, let them know the answer loud and clear. We knew that what the Government were doing was wrong, immoral and unacceptable to the majority of British people. We knew that the saving that would result from the £5,000 reduction that we are seeking, contrary to the Finance Bill's recommendations, could be spent in other areas, if it is the Government's intention to allocate that £60 million to an area of housing budget.
Some council houses in my constituency are desperately in need of public money. They have windows that are dropping out and doors that are unrepaired. There are houses that need painting, roofs that need repairing and guttering that needs fixing. Those are all forms of housing repairs that demand money from the Government. That money has not been forthcoming. The Government, during the past four years, have successfully squeezed the housing budgets of local authorities and have made it increasingly difficult for councillors fairly to represent their constituents living in council houses and to provide for their repairs.
Some tenants in my constituency live in properties belonging to the Northern Housing Association. That organisation owns nearly 6,000 dwellings in my constituency. Some of those tenants are constituents of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who will know, as he must receive the same type of complaints as I receive, that those houses are desperately in need of repairs money. The Government have been steadfast and resolute in their refusal to fund the necessary repairs and maintenance programmes to keep those properties in a reasonable condition. That is another reason why the Opposition consider that the £60 million should not be used to help better off people in society to purchase their homes.
Many constituents find it increasingly difficult to live on what, in real terms, are falling levels of benefit. They require larger rent and rate rebates, because they cannot manage at present. If the money were available for housing budgets, it could have been put into such budgets to help the poorest members of society. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) referred to the £65 million that could have been used to tidy up the inadequacies that exist in the unified housing benefit scheme, introduced by the Government. The Opposition consider that that measure demands extra resources, as against funnelling money into the purses of the better off members of society. Furthermore, local authority housing lists are lengthening. The problem affects every constituency in the country, including those of Conservative Members.
The Allerdale district council, which is in my constituency, and has one of the finest housing records in the United Kingdom, had to wind down its house building programme after the Government had been elected because it realised that public moneys would not be made available for the further development of council housing. As a result, more people are living in fewer houses, and more are waiting for local authority accommodation.
Problems also arise in national parks, not only in my constituency but in the constituencies of Conservative Members—especially those of Cabinet members—in the Lake District. Those constituencies are finding it increasingly difficult to get accommodation. However, the Government can find housing money to subsidise further the mortgages of the better off people in society, even in Cumbria.
When the Labour Government left office in 1979 broad equity existed between the subsidies that were paid to council tenants nationally and those that paid to fund relief for mortgagors. That equity was broken by the present Government. Far greater proportions of public money are now channelled into the pockets of those who pay mortgages while a smaller proportion is channelled into the pockets of those who pay rent to local authorities. The latter group has had to bear the brunt, under this Government, of the international and domestic recessions. In such conditions, that group needs special protection from Government. Yet again, immediately prior to a general election, such people will find Conservative Members refusing to protect their interests as distinct from those of the better off. If there is any doubt about that being the Government's intent, the Committee need look no further than a question tabled by the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) who asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer
what would be the estimated cost in tax revenue lost of raising the ceiling on the amount of a mortgage for which interest payments are allowable against income for personal taxation from £25,000".—[Official Report, 29 November 1982; Vol. 32, c. 77.]
The hon. Member sought to raise the limit, not to £30,000, as the Government monstrously proposed in the previous Budget, but, more terribly, to £35,000.
In an article in Financial Weekly earlier this year, Mr. David Smith referred to Conservative Members of Parliament and others in the building industry who wished the Government to raise the threshold from £25,000 to £35,000. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, however, specifically set out to protect the interests of owner-occupiers as against the interests of the poorer members of society.
Indexation may well be a priority for Conservatives if it means the protection of the people whom they represent in the House of Commons. Indexation is part of the package of the debate about priorities. In today's conditions, when the Financial Secretary and his colleagues have dealt with successive Finance Bills during the past few years and have repeatedly stated that the Government need the money to fund programmes of tax concessions that they have introduced to fund the better off elements, the hon. Member for Gosport should not use that argument. Does he feel no obligation to those who are worse off? Does he not feel that people who draw little benefit at the end of the week have a prior demand on the public purse as against owner-occupiers? Does the hon. Gentleman wish to address himself to the position of the poorest people in society? It seems that when he is pressed on a sensitive point affecting millions of people he wishes not to intervene but to protect the better off.
The forthcoming election will be important for the country. The electorate will have a choice to make. Either they vote for a political party that shows compassion and understanding and has a humane approach to their problems, especially when they are confronted with deprivation, or they vote for a party that has no compassion, no desire to protect the poorest in society and is devoted and resolute in its approach to supporting and protecting those who have as against those who have not.
I am glad to have the unexpected pleasure of taking part in this debate. My position this morning was not dissimilar from that of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I was prepared to be in the House all night and to defend the increase to £30,000 on mortgage relief. However, when I picked up my copy of The Sun from my front door I read that the mortgage tax cuts had been scrapped.
This debate lifts the veil from one corner of Labour party thinking. It shows an inherent dislike of home ownership and illustrates the politics of envy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) said in his valuable contribution. It shows the Labour party's complete and utter lack of understanding about how the home ownership market works. I can quite understand the Labour party being against home ownership, because it strikes at the core of its desire to have central state domination. Home ownership gives art independence of mind and thought that the people of this country have always cherished and needed. The Conservative party will give the people that independence.
I shall illustrate the advantages of increasing the figure from £25,000 to £30,000. The chains of house purchase are long and elastic, and move up and down. Despite what Opposition Members have said, the taxes on our salaries make it extremely difficult for people to fund and purchase more expensive houses. If the more expensive houses at the top are not sold, the cheaper houses at the bottom cannot be moved. It is our declared aim to see more and more people owning their own homes. I am delighted that about 500,000 people should have had the advantage of buying their homes as a result of the Conservative party's policy.
Unfortunately, I cannot reply to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes), because it seems that he may have gone to Scotland to defend his seat. He spoke about £25,000 buying a mansion. However, I can tell him from experience that to buy a place in London about the size of the Table in the Chamber would cost £25,000. The buyer would need a little more money if he wanted to add a bedroom to it.
Opposition Members have suggested how the £65 million of relief could be better used to help the British people but not one of them has even thought of the multiplying effect of that sum. If tax relief is given on the interest, it will enable people to buy and build more expensive houses and to move up the range. The tax relief will be a multiplier and will depend, of course, on interest rates and on the rate of tax that the individual pays.
For example, let us suppose that someone buys a house with a 10 per cent. interest rate mortgage and that he is paying 50 per cent. income tax. Hon. Members can work out that tax relief would give him a purchasing ability of an extra £2,500. That is a multiplier of 10. Therefore, the small amount of relief given will generate considerably greater activity in the building industry. We have been told that if the £25,000 was indexed to inflation, it would be £80,000. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) said that if the figure was indexed to house prices it would be £57,000. Therefore, what is wrong with raising the ceiling to £30,000? Quite a few Conservative Members would have liked the figure to be raised to £35,000. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary will consider increasing the figure to £35,000 when he The Opposition have moved an amendment of envy to block the movement of house purchase, and hon. Members should consider how it will impede this country's recovery. A glance back to the 1930s shows that the house construction industry led the way out of the depression. The increase in the private sector, which is now at record levels, would have been given even more impetus if the figure had been increased from £25,000 to £30,000. The Labour party is blocking that. I wish that Labour Members would adopt the American attitude. When an American who is pushing his bike down the road or working in the garden sees a Cadillac go by, he does not say, "Gosh, I would like to see him out of that Cadillac and walking on the sidewalk," but rather, "If I work, scheme and make an effort I, too, can have a Cadillac." Labour Members want everyone to live in one-bedroomed houses. They do not want them to have a car, or anything. We want to give people the opportunity to improve and to climb up the ladder.
I abhor the petty nature of the amendment. I know that Opposition Members are frightened at the thought of a general election. But I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) hit the nail on the head when he said that there was something behind the scenes that made them behave this way. I suggest it may be their selection committees, back at base. Even now, at this late stage, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn and that we can return to the £30,000 limit. If not, I hope that, on our return, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary will ensure that we give home owners the chance to buy their homes with a limit of at least £30,000 and perhaps more.
We are all very glad to have had an opportunity to debate this issue. It has given us a foretaste not least of how the Conservative party intends to conduct its election campaign. Bereft of policies to put this country back to work, to solve the housing crisis or to produce peace in this country, it intends—as we have seen this afternoon—to spend the next four weeks smearing the Labour party with the most extravagant untruths that it can think of. Of course, we should have expected that. There has not been one general election this century when the Conservative party has failed to resort to lies and untruths about the Labour party and its intentions.
We remember the Zinoviev letter in 1924. Indeed, the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) came very close to suggesting that we were being manipulated by the Kremlin because we had moved this amendment. We also remember that, in 1945, the much-respected leader of the Conservative party, Mr. Winston Churchill, conjured up the spectre of a Gestapo if the Labour party came to power. However, when it came to power, it provided greater social benefits and made more changes for the better in our society than had so far been seen this century.
The smear that the Conservative party is putting about, which it knows to be without any foundation, is that the Labour party does not believe in home ownership. That is simply a lie. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) reminded me that Aneurin Bevan said that every man should own his own house and that no one should own someone else's house. That has always been our position. We see nothing inconsistent in the ownership and extension of individual property while at the same time seeking to ensure that the means of production are utilised to the benefit of society as a whole.
That is a silly and trite point. However, we could do very much worse. An inspection of the Labour party's record—not just of its intentions—shows that it is the Labour party, not the Conservative party, that has made real strides in the past 25 years to help home owners. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) reminded us, it was the Labour party which introduced the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 and the option mortgage scheme. It was my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), the shadow Chancellor, who, as Secretary of State for the Environment, introduced schemes to help first-time buyers. Those measures have been far more significant in helping the private sector of home ownership than anything the Government have done. We need no lectures from the Conservative party about home ownership or about our commitment to extend it. The simple truth is that the Government, by their policies of throwing 2 million on to the dole and of reducing the living standards of hundreds of thousands more who are receiving less than average earnings, have denied home ownership to hundreds of thousands of people—far more than could conceivably be assisted by the measure before us.
The second truth is that, if £60 million is available to help the housing industry, and that is the only justification for this measure, there are far more effective and better ways of spending £60 million to help the construction industry and to create more homes for people. I could take Conservative Members to houses not more than two miles from the House where married couples, who must live in slum conditions with no bath and no hot water and must face a climb of four flights of stairs, cannot even contemplate having children because there is no guarantee that they will be provided with decent accommodation when those children arrive. The reason that they are stuck in the most appalling slum conditions is that over the past four years the Government have collapsed the housing programme. Conservative Members must not lecture us about the housing needs of the nation because over the past four years this Government have increased the misery of millions of people in housing need and have done virtually nothing to help them. Moreover, Conservative Members should not lecture us about the construction industry, because 400,000 construction workers have lost their jobs and hundreds of thousands of construction firms have become bankrupt on a scale far greater than has happened in previous recessions this century.
This measure will barely affect activity in the construction industry. A decision to spend £60 million on real help for the construction industry, on direct assistance through orders for firms in the construction industry, would have helped. That is our challenge to the Government. We suggest not that they should keep this money, but that they should use it in a different way immediately to provide thousands of jobs in the construction industry and to provide real new homes for people in need.
The hon. Gentleman takes pride in the work of previous Labour Governments to help home ownership. Had the £30,000 limit been agreed, it would have allowed someone on the average industrial wage of about £150 a week to receive full tax relief on his mortgage. Is it not a sign of how far the Labour party has drifted from its traditional roots that someone now earning £7,500 a year will not be able to get full relief on four times his income, which is the normal amount allowed by building societies?
It is a sign of the strange world the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) inhabits that he even contemplates the idea that a man on the average wage of £7,500 could in any circumstances receive a mortgage of more than £25,000. It is not possible, becase the usual multiplier on which building societies work is two and a half times income and even if they worked on three times the income it would produce a mortgage of only £22,500. Even people in the south-east would have to earn in normal circumstances well over £10,000 a year even to contemplate the servicing of a £25,000-plus mortgage.
I should like to deal now with the important matter of principle which has led the Opposition to oppose the Government's proposal to increase the limit from £25,000 to £30,000. That important issue of principle should be prompted in Conservative Members' minds not least because the Government have had four opportunities over the past four years to increase this limit, but, on each occasion, until the last Budget, have refused to do so. Moreover, the previous Labour Government had an opportunity after 1975 to increase the limit four times but on each occasion declined to do so. Why then have Governments of both parties over the past eight years declined to increase the limit from £25,000?
The reason is that, while it has been accepted on both sides of the House that if a tax limit is increased some individuals who are buying houses at that stage benefit directly, it has also become clear that, overall, house purchasers do not benefit from such increases in allowances. The benefit of an increase over time does feed its way through not in dramatically increased activity in the construction industry, but in house prices. In other words, quite quickly, the benefit which we are discussing will be reflected not only in the improved ability of individuals to buy houses but in higher prices which will negate the benefit which they as individuals have gained from any marginal increase in allowances.
The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point but I think that he is wrong. Does he accept that if one increases the limit to £30,000 as the Government propose, many first-time buyers can move up the housing market, which makes available cheaper houses to those waiting in the queue who wish to buy? I understand from listening to Opposition Members that they wish to help first-time buyers. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor has helped the first-time buyer because he has helped the mobility of the market. The Opposition seek to destroy the mobility of the market.
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says and I shall explain why. In the short term, there is some force in what he says—that has been the judgment of the Treasury, of the Government as well as of the Opposition — but the apparent benefit of increasing allowances in this way is lost because prices increase. What Conservative Members must face—whether they face it before the election or not—is that, if money is available to stimulate activity in the housing market, what is proposed is the least beneficial way of spending it. Far better either to spend it directly on orders for the housing industry or directly on subsidies to identifiable first-time buyers, along the lines of the schemes introduced by the previous Labour Government.
My arguments have been accepted by the Treasury over the past four years. That is why the Chief Secretary has resisted calls from his colleagues at every Budget debate over the past four years to increase the allowance. It hardly lies in the mouth of the Chief Secretary now to suggest that our opposition to an increase in the allowance is mean or vindictive when he has been deploying exactly the same argument against his colleagues in Government that we have deployed this afternoon.
It is significant that, when I put to the Chief Secretary the charge that the Treasury had opposed in the pre-Budget discussions any increase in this sum and had agreed to an increase only under great pressure from No. 10, he never sought to deny it. That, as we all know, is the truth. It is arrant cant for the Chief Secretary now to categorise our action as mean-minded and vindictive when he has used —he knows it very well—exactly the same argument to oppose an increase in this allowance not only this year but in every one of the previous four years.
The hon. Gentleman should know better. He knows, from when his party was in power, that any attempt by me to disclose who said what in the discussions on the proceedings of the Finance Bill would have been wholly in vain. It is unworthy of him to try to draw conclusions from that.
The hon. Gentleman and I both sat on Finance Bill Committees over the past three years. On three occasions I moved amendments to increase the limit. On each occasion the Chief Secretary assured me that the Government intended to increase the limit when they could do so, but that it was a matter of priorities.
That was not quite the half-hearted language that the Chief Secretary used. He put the hon. Gentleman off with a few carefully chosen words. I agree that the hon. Gentleman has been persistent on this matter, although quite wrong. His Front Bench colleagues resisted his amendments for the same reasons that the Opposition are pressing these amendments tonight. If money is available it should not be spent in this way. The only reasons that the Government have conceded a change is pressure from No. 10 and to bribe the electorate in advance of the general election.
The second issue raised by the debate is that of fairness in taxation. The Opposition need no lectures from the Government on that, given the Government's record. They should hang their heads in shame whenever personal taxation is mentioned. They went to the country in 1979 with categorical promises to lower the rate of taxation at all levels of income, yet they have increased taxation at all levels, other than for the very rich. Those on average earnings, about whom Conservative Members' hearts have bled this evening, are paying an additional £7 a week in taxation, while those earning £40,000 a year are paying £24 a week less. That is the reality of the Government's practise of the politics of greed.
The Government should not lecture the Opposition on the need for fairness in taxation. During the past four years the Government have destroyed 2 million jobs and have collapsed — [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] I am not reading. I have a blank piece of paper in front of me. This Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]
My hon. Friend is right to ask what is wrong with reading. However, I am facing a blank sheet of paper.
The Government have increased unemployment by 2 million. They have collapsed the housing hopes of hundreds of thousands of people. They are tonight trying to defend a measure that is symptomatic of their practise of the politics of greed. They are trying to give to those who already have a good deal while taking away from those whose living standards they have destroyed. It is unfair, and does not stimulate the housing market or housing opportunities. We put forward our amendments on that basis.
I wish to comment on the behaviour of the Opposition. The price of homes in London and the south-east, even for first-time buyers, is, unfortunately, well above £30,000. The Opposition's attitude is damaging to those in my constituency, in London, in the south-east and, indeed, throughout the whole country, who wish to buy a home. I do not accept the Opposition's claim to be committed to home ownership. If that were true, why did they—as well as the Liberal and SDP parties—vote against the right-to-buy provisions in the Housing Act 1980? Why have they sought to take away the right to buy from council tenants? The availability of council homes will not be affected if the limit is raised to £30,000, so that argument falls to the ground.
It appears that not one Opposition Member does not own his home. Why, then, do Opposition Members, collectively and individually, wish to deny home ownership to others? It is a sign of the long-standing principle of the Labour party, which is, "What is yours is mine, and what is mine is my own".
When I was a Conservative candidate in east London, the local authority owned more than 90 per cent. of housing in the area. I saw the misery and corruption of that. People wanting to own a home had great difficulty in getting through the bureaucracy. Those in homes found it impossible to move, especially as they grew older. Some elderly people were in homes with three or four bedrooms, and found it impossible to be rehoused in a one-bedroomed home. A great deal of potential space for families was lost because of that. Some people had been on the housing waiting list for 40 years. People who wish to buy their homes will be denied that opportunity because of Opposition actions.
We need to encourage house building. I am glad to note that private housing sector starts have increased by 30 per cent. since 1978–79. More homes will be bought if the £30,000 limit is introduced—which I am sure it will be after the general election when, it is reasonable to presume, there will be another Conservative Government. There will be more work for the construction industry and jobs will be created.
The Opposition talk about subsidies. Perhaps they should spend a little more time discouraging Labour local authorities from forcing up rates to astronomical levels, and they would then put their hearts where their mouths are. Rates have been increased by the Labour-controlled GLC by almost 150 per cent. in two years, and jobs have been lost because of that. People would not face so many economic difficulties if the rates had been held down and the GLC did not throw about public money in such a disgraceful way.
Council house tenants are harmed by the inexorable rise in rates imposed by Labour authorities. Ealing could have cut the rates this year had not the GLC forced such a high precept on the local authority. My plea is that those who wish to buy their homes should be given a better opportunity to do so. It has been said throughout the ages that an Englishman's home is his castle. The Labour party does not give a damn about that.
If I had a free choice, I should prefer extra housing help to be given in the form of the relief of stamp duty, which would help mobility more. The whole housing support system needs to be considered together with the tax and benefit systems, bringing in the family perspective and life cycle. However, those are arguments for another Parliament.
It is important to contrast the demands of the Opposition on this issue, which affects a small number of people, with their insistence that the Housing and Building Control Bill, which affects many people who are much worse off than those who would get the extra benefit of mortgage interest relief, should be dropped. I believe that the electorate will take as much note of the contents of that Bill as of those of the Finance Bill, and will conclude that the Opposition have gone wrong in giving time and attention to this small issue of mortgage interest relief— on which my views are well known—and have made an even greater mistake in insisting that poorer tenants should not be given the opportunity to get on the owner-occupation ladder at all. I hope that, after the election, my right hon. Friends will make sure that the Housing and Building Control Bill is brought back even more quickly than clause 18 of the Finance Bill.
Manuscript amendment made: In page 10, line 4, leave out from land)' to end of line 45 and insert:—
'the references to £25,000 shall have effect for the year 1983–84.
(2) Nothing in this section requires any change to be made in the amounts deductible or repayable under section 204 of the Taxes Act (pay as you earn) before 31st August 1983.
(3) Notwithstanding anything in the preceding provisions of this section, the amounts deductible or repayable under section 204 of the Taxes Act on and after 11th May 1983 and before 31st August 1983 may be such as would be requisite to give effect to the provisions as to relief for interest contained in a Resolution passed by the House of Commons on 21st March 1983: — [Mr. Robert Sheldon.]