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Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:26 pm on 6th July 1983.

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Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden 5:26 pm, 6th July 1983

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in this historic Chamber. I am proud and privileged to represent Strathkelvin and Bearsden, a new seat formed from parts of the constituencies of Lanarkshire, North, Dunbartonshire, East and West Stirlingshire. By a welcome piece of political alchemy, parts of those former Labour seats returned a Conservative Member. I am probably in a unique position in that my three predecessors are still Members of this place. They are sitting on the Labour Benches. Therefore, my tribute to them need not he especially reverential.

The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) served my electors in Bishopbriggs for 13 years with great distinction. Both before and during the general election campaign I was made aware by the people of Bishopbriggs of the high regard in which they held him. I have known the right hon. and learned Gentleman for many years. He was my mercantile law tutor more years ago than I can remember. I was very much aware of his loyalties and attributes when I was a student and I am glad to know that in the meantime the House has further recognised him.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) formerly represented the electors of Lennoxtown, Torrance and Baldernock. I know that he was well regarded as a hard-working and hard-hitting constituency Member.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) formidably represented the electors of Bearsden, Kirkintilloch and North Lenzie, which now forms a major part of Strathkelvin and Bearsden. The hon. Gentleman prevented me from getting into the House in 1979 but I bear him no malice for he has always been unfailingly courteous and helpful. He is one of the Members who welcomed me to the House three weeks ago.

I am frequently asked "Where is the constituency of Strathkelvin and Bearsden?" I can confirm to the House that it is north of Watford. For the sake of simplicity, I could describe it as a cluster of suburbs to the north and north-east of Glasgow. However, I fear that that description would do it a monumental injustice. In the north of the constituency there are areas of great natural beauty extending to the campsie fells. It is an area steeped in historical interest. The Antonine wall was built in 142 AD to contain the unruly northern tribes. The wall passes through the southern part of my constituency. Many forts were built along it. The three principal areas of population —Bearsden, Bishopbriggs and Kirkintilloch—were forts on the Antonine wall. The constituency is blessed with remarkable archaeological evidence for posterity.

The name Kirkintilloch, which many have difficulty in pronouncing, is a derivation of the old Celtic words "caer pen tullich", meaning "the fort on the ridge". Kirkintilloch has produced an amazing number of industrial firsts. In 1773, the Forth and Clyde canal made it Scotland' s first inland port. In 1826, the Monkland and Kirkintilloch railway made it the first town in Scotland to be at the end of a railway line. The coalmining and iron foundry industries followed and the railway enabled Kirkintilloch's famous foundries to export their products throughout the world. Sadly, too few of Kirkintilloch's traditional industries remain. As with many other towns dependent on traditional industries, the shadow of unemployment has fallen over Kirkintilloch.

Bearsden and Bishopbriggs are pleasant suburbs without the long history of Kirkintilloch. In all the towns in my constituency there has been substantial expansion since the war, brought about by the building of new private housing estates. According to the 1981 census, Strathkelvin and Bearsden have the second highest level of owner-occupation in Scotland. I confidently look forward to that high level continuing as many more families take advantage of the right to buy their council homes.

A further fact of housing life in my constituency, however, is the high price of owner-occupation. Quite apart from the high rates, for the reform of which I shall work unremittingly, house prices in Glasgow are the highest in Britain outside the London area and oil-dominated Aberdeen. I am painfully aware of the high cost of housing. A parliamentary answer by the Chancellor in April showed that the average cost of tax relief per mortgagor was and consistently had been higher in Scotland than in the United Kingdom, in England or in Wales. Such are the general amenities and desirability of my constituency, however, that when people move home they tend to move within the same area and find themselves obliged to take on a sizeable mortgage for a house that suits their needs. A well-known building society has produced statistics showing that the average new loan in parts of my constituency this year is £28,300.

Members will not be surprised that I unreservedly welcome clause 3 of the Finance Bill. The threshold for mortgage interest relief was set at £25,000 in 1974 by a Labour Government. If the threshold had been adjusted in the meantime according to the index of new building costs, it would now be about £65,000. That shows the extent to which the £30,000 threshold proposed in the Bill has failed to keep pace with the effects of inflation on new building costs.

Ten years ago, £25,000 would have bought a desirable residence in most parts of my constituency. Now, sadly, £25,000 or even £30,000 hardly covers the cost of a new home for a first-time buyer. Many families in my constituency—standard rate taxpayers, not the rich to whom the Opposition constantly refer—have had to take on mortgages the interest on part of which is not subject to tax relief. I trust that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will bear that in mind in establishing his priorities for the 1984 Budget.

An upward revision of the threshold for mortgage interest relief is not just desirable but essential for first-time buyers in my part of the world. I accept that such a proposal entails a cost and that the Opposition may say that it would favour higher rate taxpayers. I venture to suggest a possible solution. If the threshold is increased by a reasonable amount, a concomitant would be to restrict the tax relief to the standard rate. In that way, mortgage interest would be treated on the same basis as life assurance premiums. That would seem reasonable to the country at large and probably to both sides of the House.

I make a further plea to the Chancellor about the cost of houses for first-time buyers in my constituency. Stamp duty is the sting in the tail of house purchase and is greatly resented by those who have to bear it. I hope that we shall work progressively to abolish it. I trust that in the meantime we shall review the threshold so that stamp duty does not become a disincentive to home ownership. Conservative Members are fond of stressing the commitment to a property-owning democracy — a commitment of which I am proud and an ideal which I share. Historically, our legislation has encouraged home ownership. We have given rights to council tenants. The Housing and Building Control Bill is further proof of our determination to help as many families as possible to put their foot on the first rung of the home ownership ladder. There should be equal encouragement to people to climb that ladder if they wish or need to do so.

I look forward to raising many matters affecting my constituents in the next five years and beyond. I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their politeness in hearing me today. I wish to place on record, too, my gratitude to the officials of the House. In the past three weeks, they have been unfailingly courteous and helpful to new Members such as myself, thus enabling us to settle in and feel at home in this, the mother of Parliaments.