Housing

Part of STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS, &c. – in the House of Commons at 7:44 pm on 26th January 1994.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 7:44 pm, 26th January 1994

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) has just suggested that I repeat what I said earlier, so I shall do so. It was a Labour Government who introduced the option mortgage scheme in the late 1960s, to encourage owner-occupation among those whose income would otherwise have posed difficulties. It is not my fault if Conservative Members do not wish to be reminded of that.

A substantial minority—not 5 per cent., 10 per cent. or 15 per cent., but 25 per cent. or 30 per cent. of people—will never be in a position to buy their homes, because of their relatively low incomes. That is where the party difference occurs. My hon. Friends and I believe that most of those people should be able to obtain affordable rented accommodation, which should be supplied by local authorities or genuine housing associations.

It should not be forgotten that local authority accommodation was provided in the first place precisely because of the state of private dwellings, which had become slums or near-slums. We would not think it from what Conservative Members say, but local authorities began to play a dominant role in housing provision because of what was happening in the private rented sector. I make no apology for my view that local authorities should continue to play a major part in the provision of rented accommodation.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) admitted, local authorities have made some mistakes, as a result of the pressure imposed by Governments of both parties to keep costs low. High-rise blocks are an example. None the less, there is much to be proud of in local authority housing—certainly in my borough, and in many other parts of the country. There is also a role for genuine housing associations, as there always has been.

Unlike Conservative Members, I do not believe that the private rented sector can supply adequate accommodation for those who are unable to buy; I do not believe that it can be brought back to any large degree, and I do not think that it can provide the secure accommodation that is needed now. The people who write to me and visit my surgeries do not want to be housed just for six or nine months, with no form of security; what good is that to them? Nor do they want to pay exorbitant rents. Conservative Members should realise that those people want decent homes. They cannot afford to buy; they want to live in secure accommodation, knowing that they can live there for a long time. What is wrong with that? Because of Government policies, however, it is not possible.

Labour Members have always said that the two essentials are jobs and decent housing. The Government have done much to undermine the provision of both. They have brought back large-scale unemployment, which has affected many people who could be working in the building industry. They have implemented the same policies continuously since their return to office in 1979. Because they have not allowed local authorities to build as they used to, many people now live in misery and hardship.

If we, as Members of Parliament, want decent housing for ourselves, why should that not be possible for our constituents who are unable to buy? Why should we punish them for their low incomes? We are right to engage in today's debate, and to continue it subsequently. At the next election, we shall explain to people why there is a housing shortage—a housing crisis—and why so many people have been punished in the way that I have described.

We require a Government who are determined to ensure that those who cannot afford to buy are not punished, but can live in decent accommodation. That is the purpose of a Labour Government in housing matters, and that is the right policy.