I say again that we are not debating the Labour party's policies tonight. It is not Labour's policies that are harming the housing market. It is not Labour's policies that have thrown people into mortgage arrears. It is not Labour's policies that have left 1,200,000 people in negative equity. They are the results of the Government's policies, and we believe that the proposition that they are pushing through will make matters worse.
We believe that a sensible Government would have thrashed out new policies designed to meet the new challenges brought about by technological and social change—policies to give people a real choice of decent, affordable and secure homes. But the Government have done nothing of the sort. They persist in pretending that nothing has changed. As long as they keep up that pretence, they cannot come up with policies that meet the needs of our people as we approach the 21st century.
Instead of seeking to work together in partnership, with Government playing their proper part, the Government have sought to abandon their duties and leave everything to the vagaries of the market. It was the market in the 1980s that got us into this mess in the first place. At this time of insecurity, the Government have added to that insecurity. At a time when families are in difficulty, the Government are adding to those difficulties. They have behaved like Mark Twain's definition of a banker: as
a fellow who lends you an umbrella when the sun is shining and wants it back the minute it begins to rain.
In response to the changes in the pattern of employment, the Government should promote more choice and flexibility in housing. During the difficult and painful processes of change and adjustment, they should do all they can to protect families from insecurity, debt, repossessions and homelessness. The Government have proved themselves quite incapable of such action. That must await a Labour Government.
But in the meantime, the Government could start to make matters a little better, by abandoning their threat to take away the income support safety net. They could also start to release the takings from the sale of council houses. They should allow councils to invest that money in building and renovating homes for the homeless and for people living in poor conditions. Both those moves would make a start in dealing with the present housing crisis. They would help owner-occupiers, tenants and the homeless. They would provide jobs for building workers and for people in the building supplies industry.
In the long run, what we need are new housing policies, which serve all the people. That is what the Labour party will put to the people at the next general election, and those are the policies that we shall carry through.