The Audit Commission's report "Developing Local Authority Housing Strategies" commented helpfully on national housing policy issues and recommended ways in which local authorities could improve their performance. My announcement to the House on 21 May of proposals to place further emphasis on local authorities' efficiency and effectiveness in allocating housing investment resources, having regard to their developing enabling role as well as their role as direct housing providers, will help us to get best value for money from the full range of resources for special housing going into each area, as recommended by the commission.
Is it not true that the Audit Commission report also said that Government policies were totally inadequate to provide a proper supply of rented housing? Is it not also true that the National Federation of Housing Associations has produced a report which admits that some Government initiatives have produced some extra houses, but which also says that, as the Government insist on a very high level of private capital being included in the provisions, people on low incomes cannot afford those houses because rents have been forced up to such a high level by the Government's policy?
The Audit Commission report focuses mainly on local authorities. Its title is "Developing Local Authority Housing Strategies". It lists a range of measures that local authorities should take to make progress, such as letting their properties faster, evicting squatters and other illegal tenants, giving land to housing associations and bringing in other agencies, particularly housing associations, to help to solve local problems. It made estimates of the national need, ranging from 58,000 to 90,000. I am prepared to meet the Audit Commission and talk through some of the implications of its report which are addressed to central Government.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one way to help the public housing sector is to stimulate the private rented sector? Although I welcome everything that the Government have done to that end, I agree with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) that very often rents in the private sector are far too high. One way to bring them down and to make them more affordable would be to introduce a housing tax allowance of about the same value as mortgage interest tax relief. When I suggested that to a Treasury Minister earlier this week, it was not ruled out of court. Will my hon. Friend join this lobby to try to persuade the Treasury to consider such a tax allowance which, I am sure, would do a great deal to make private rented accommodation more affordable?
I am interested to hear of the exchange between my hon. Friend and my ministerial colleagues in the Treasury. As he rightly says, the question of tax allowances falls to the Treasury rather than to my Department, but we are anxious to get the private rented sector back on its feet. Last year, for the first time in many decades, there were more lettings in the private rented sector than leases falling in, so there are signs that the private rented sector has bottomed out. I am prepared to consider what further measures should be introduced to encourage more people to invest in good-quality accommodation for rent.