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I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) on a brilliantly delivered and extremely fluent speech—delivered, I might add, to my amazement, completely without notes, and without the additional advantage of a perspex autocue in front of him.
The hon. Member spoke with some feeling about the town of Hemel Hempstead and its industries, and said that it was a highly successful new town. It is, of course, a splendid example of a lead being taken by the public sector in generating housing, employment and industry, and of that example being followed by the private sector. However, I must put in a rider: I cannot agree with what he said about the right to buy. I shall return to that matter later.
This Bill is introduced against the background of a major housing crisis. During the past five to six years there has been a serious lack of investment in our public and private housing stock. The housing stock is deteriorating at a faster rate than it is being replaced. The problem is particularly acute in London. We have the lowest house building record since the 1920s. Even in the much vaunted private sector, proclaimed by the Government, house building is still at a very low level and there is still enormous reliance on untried methods of housing construction. We have to view this Bill against that background, and viewed in that way it is a pathetic response to housing needs. It is not only a pathetic Bill; it is a bad Bill.
First, the Bill extends the right to buy. I am delighted to see that the right to buy for tenants of charitable housing associations has been removed from the Housing Act 1980 by the Bill. I hope and trust that the political reality that was forced upon the Government by the House of Lords —bless it—will stay with the Government when they come to think further about the Bill's opaqueness.
Less than 10 per cent. of the public housing stock in my constituency is made up of houses; the rest are flats. Of those properties on which the right to buy has been exercised, 80 per cent. are houses and 75 per cent. have been built or renovated since the mid-1970s. That is a clear demonstration of the fact that it is the better quality accommodation that is being purchased under the right-to-buy legislation. At the same time, it is clearly those tenants who remain in the poorer quality, older accommodation who are further restricted in their choice of transfer and purchase. Eventually, as the right to buy proceeds, as the Minister wishes it to, only the older accommodation will remain—flats rather than houses—as a residual sector for those who could not or did not wish to leap out of it. That is what is happening and it is a tightening of the screw on the rented sector, dividing home owners and tenants still further. It makes nonsense of the Minister's claim in response to an intervention that he did not wish to see the rented sector becoming a residual one. The Bill will make it an increasingly residual sector.
The Minister's statement, when he was challenged on extending the right to buy to tenants of private landlords, was amazing. He said that of course it was right for the public sector to divest itself of assets but that it was not right for the public sector to take that same approach to the assets of private landlords, from which those landlords have profited for many years.