Does the Minister admit that, since the Conservative party came to power, the number of rented homes in Britain has dropped by more than a million? In his view, does "opportunity for all" include the right of less well-off people to rent decent homes that they can afford, or is it simply the right for people to be homeless during the last cold winter of Tory rule?
If the hon. and learned Gentleman follows these matters, he will know that I place great emphasis on the provision of rented accommodation and, in particular, the revival of the private rented sector. That has happened. There are now 2 million homes in that sector. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would care to read The Observer, which I suspect is a newspaper read more by Opposition Members than by Conservative Members, he would see that Halifax Mortgage Services, Woolwich Direct, Mortgage Express and Homeloans Direct are now providing mortgages for people to build homes to rent in the private sector. The reason given is that
the investment climate is now more favourable than in decades. Rent controls have been abolished. Investors are free to charge market prices and can guarantee possession of their properties through assured shorthold tenancies. There is also scope for long-term capital growth.
This Government are doing more to help the private rented sector to get a better balance in housing than any previous Government. The hon. and learned Gentleman, who voted against the right to buy and does not like private rented accommodation, is stuck in the old mindset that the only house worth having is a council-built property. That is not true.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that many thousands of local authority houses are now standing empty, and have stood empty for years in Labour-controlled local authorities, and that we should not forget that, if there are housing black spots in Britain, the Labour party is responsible for creating them?
My hon. Friend is correct. Basic good management is an essential element in housing: collecting the rents; when tenants leave, getting new tenants in rapidly; and ensuring that repairs are carried out on time. That is an important element. There are also many empty properties in the private sector. It is important that those 600,000 or so properties are brought into use. There is no excuse for such an asset lying idle, whoever owns it.
Does the Minister not recognise that the thousands of people throughout Britain who are on waiting lists to rent houses do not believe a single word he says? They cannot understand why council house waiting lists are longer than in 1979 and why many councils have had to go back to a points system which they abolished many years ago.
What is understood is that, where houses have been transferred to a housing association, the satisfaction level expressed by the tenant is always high. We need a better balance in housing, which the Housing Act 1996 will achieve. We also need to mobilise private sector resources to go alongside the public sector to deliver social housing. With £10 billion in that respect in the past few years, we are achieving it.