I listened to the Minister moving this amendment. He displayed all the qualities of the Tory party in relation to housing. He did not speak with the words of the builder, the developer, or the provider of housing but only with the philosophy of the Tory estate agent out to sell public assets and take his own political commission. That sums up Tory policy towards homes. They want to reduce the numbers being built and they are making no effort to meet the massive housing need in this country. The emphasis is on the sale rather than the provision of housing.
Our principal objection to this amendment is that it deprives the House of the ability to talk about council housing or local authority housing association housing in the round. It denies the House the ability to look at the problems and opportunities of the right to buy in a much more rounded context. The amendment enable, the Government not to vary the level of discount, but to increase it and assist in the sale of public assets — in some circumstances that is desirable—without considering all the other aspects of the matter. We oppose the Lords amendment because we believe that this is a matter that should be dealt with by primary legislation, so that there is an opportunity to discuss other issues.
This is not a debate about the right to buy. The Labour party has made it clear that we do not intend to repeal the principle of the right to buy, although we shall make some changes. One of the principal changes will be to ensure that much of the £6,000 million that has been derived from the sale of council houses and flats will be used to build replacement houses and flats.
One of the attractive features of the right to buy when the Tory party first announced it was that it was said that it would release homes that, people wanted to own for themselves—there is nothing capitalist or socialist about owning one's own home—and that it would also release money to provide other homes. To that degree, the proposition is one which can be fully supported. However, as soon as the sale of council houses had taken off, the Treasury intervened—the Treasury is mentioned in the amendment—to ensure that that money was not to be used for the replacement of stock. A Labour Government would ensure that, although the right to buy would continue, all money derived from the sale of homes would be used to provide more homes, which are so badly needed. We want an opportunity to put that proposition in primary legislation before the House. The Labour party will ensure that when homes are sold in areas where there is housing need a local authority—without any damage or injury to people who have bought their own home — will have a pre-purchase option to take the home back into its stock of homes to let. That does no harm to the purchaser. Indeed, it may help purchasers because they will not have to pay an estate agent's commission and will save some money.
There are some parts of the country where the shortage of homes to rent is so enormously acute — I have mentioned central London—that it would be irresponsible to continue with the sale of homes. In those circumstances we should compensate the tenants by giving them a transferable discount to move elsewhere. There is no doubt that there are some parts of the metropolis where the shortage of land and homes to rent is so acute and severe that it is irresponsible for the Government to be concentrating a large part of their housing association expenditure through the Housing Corporation on stress area investment and homes to rent in central London. I agree with the proposition that they should do that, but it is irresponsible to be pushing money into that sort of exercise and at the same time stripping out the same kind of homes which are provided by local authorities. Therefore, although we shall keep the right to buy, we shall certainly want to make some changes to which no sensible person would object.
Our objection to this amendment is that it enables the Government to increase the discount without any other debate. The House would be restricted to about 90 minutes of debate, usually after 10 o'clock, on what could be a transfer of public assets involving many millions of pounds, without any guarantee that the money derived from that sale will be put back into housing. We believe that the housing crisis in this country demands more than a single-issue debate which takes place in 90 minutes. We are suspicious of the Government taking a power that may be used to give an extremely expensive bribe to the electorate shortly before an election. We demand to be able to debate not just the sale of council housing but the distribution and social effects. We want to debate the use of the proceeds and we challenge the ease with which the Government might make a crude and irresponsible bribe by giving away what amounts to another person's assets in order to achieve some electoral advantage. For those reasons we shall vote against the amendment introduced in the other place.