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My Lords, I declare an interest as the leader of South Holland District Council and the chair of the Local Government Association. I am also a small-scale private landlord, for what it is worth. I thank the Opposition for using their time to control the agenda of the House and use it for this most important of subjects.
It is an undisputable truth that every child in this country deserves to be born in a decent, safe, secure and affordable home. For the vast majority, council-owned or social landlord-owned properties are probably the only way to meet that affordability criteria. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, successive Governments over the past 40 years have fallen out of love with council houses for various reasons. That has not gone well for those of us who believe that safe, secure and affordable homes are best provided through the social sector. We saw at the start of the coalition Government and the recession that the post-war consensus that we would always invest in bricks and mortar was changed to an investment in tenants. That is why we are now spending, or wasting, more than £20 billion a year on housing benefit.
Probably the most reassuring statement from the current Prime Minister was made two years ago at the party conference. She is the first serving Prime Minister that I can recall to have a positive conversation about council houses. She talked about the benefits to children if they are able to grow up in a council house. That is the first time I can remember such a statement. She followed it up at last year’s party conference by doing the one thing that will mark her out as probably one of the best Prime Ministers of the 21st century: she reversed the actions taken by successive Governments to prevent councils borrowing against the assets they already own. Our councils own a few million houses and we should be able to sweat that asset. She is the first Prime Minister to turn this around and she must be remembered for that. However you dress it up, she will be largely responsible for hundreds of thousands of children in this country being able to grow up in decent, safe, secure and affordable homes.
I agree with most of the other comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Like him, if I stand up for too long I will rant, so I will add one of my minutes to the four that he has already offered back to the House.