I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In the previous Parliament, the Housing and Building Control Bill, after a somewhat tempestuous journey, was approved by this House and had completed its Committee stage in another place. The present Bill is in substantially the same form as when Parliament was dissolved seven weeks ago. The fact that we have brought the Bill forward so speedily in the new Parliament underlines the importance that the Government attach and will continue to attach to housing.
As this is the first speech that I have made in the House for some years, I should like to say a word about the philosophy that will guide me in my approach to the new task, a philosophy of which the Bill forms a crucial part.
Until the arrival of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley), whom I believe to have been one of the finest housing Ministers ever, successive Governments had adopted, as one of the criteria for the success of their housing policies, the number of new council houses that had been built exclusively to rent, and with little or no intention that those houses should remain other than for letting in the public sector. The conventional, almost unchallenged, belief was that such a policy was in accord with the needs and wishes of the people. It was the classic case of Ministers—no doubt from the best motives — being ignorant of, or unresponsive to, the real hopes and aspirations of those whom they were trying to serve.
Now we know differently and better. The 1978 general household survey, carried out when the Labour party was in power, gave the startling news—startling, that is to say, to the then professional pundits — that home ownership was the preferred form of tenure for 90 per cent. of those under the age of 45 and for 61 per cent. of those over the age of 45. Nothing has occurred in the five years that have elapsed since that survey was published to show that the British people have altered their preferred choice. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that the clear signals from the 1978 survey are even more compelling today.
The Housing Act 1980, piloted through the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing, gave to every secure council tenant of three years' standing the right to buy his home. During the previous Parliament more than 550,000 tenants bought their homes, either under the right-to-buy legislation or under voluntary schemes, and there are more than 150,000 right-to-buy sales in the pipeline. Those figures tell their own story. The Bill carries a stage further the principles that inspired the 1980 Act.