My Lords, in May 1968 I was elected to the London Borough of Islington and immediately given the promotion to chairman of the housing committee and de facto leader. Roughly speaking, 300,000 homes were built and a significant proportion of them—well over 100,000—were council houses. They were not council houses that anyone in your Lordships’ House would want to live in, but they were houses. At that time there were several thousand Victorian blocks, with a water tap on the first or second floor, external loos and so on. They were not happy homes.
In 1974, I was elected to Northampton South with a majority of 179. The great joy was that it was a third generation new town. Every one of the third generation new towns, of which there were six, has been successful. They provided volume housing, mixed tenancies and good social community provision and provided an opportunity for the development corporation, where necessary, to undertake compulsory purchase, although it was clear when the negotiations took place that the land was forthcoming.
We face today a similar problem, with 300,000, or thereabouts, houses needed. It is no good chastising the major housebuilders for not doing ideally what the commentators believe they should be doing. We need a successful private sector building industry. Frankly, it provides the only people building houses in this country. It is no good the Labour Party criticising Her Majesty’s Government because of what happened to council housing when they came to power. I well remember 1997—I lost my seat—but what happened after 10 years of Labour Government? Let us assume it took them four or five years to get going and look at what happened in 2003. How many council houses were completed in 2003? Precisely 180. That reflects the priority that the Labour Government put on council housing, so I do not want to hear any complaints about the current Government and what they are trying to do.
I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that it is a good start to have three eco towns, but it is not adequate. There was an article in the Daily Telegraph last week listing five further places where we can have new houses—Huntingdon, Winchester, Rugby, Nuneaton and Folkestone—all within an hour of getting here. I congratulate my noble friend on removing stamp duty for over 80% of first-time buyers. It is very good—well done. It was voted against by the Labour Party. Investing £44 million to deliver the 300,000 homes we need is a very good start, as is helping local authorities to do so as well.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for introducing this debate but the last thing I want to see is an ombudsman controlling it one way or the other.