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Mr. Chope : I shall give way to the hon. Lady in a moment. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) is not normally as muddled and incoherent as he has been today, but today he has had to clutch at straws and to rely on some dubious statistics. I shall take just one example of his dubious statistics. I refer to the number of people accepted as homeless by local authorities as a result of mortgage arrears. That number has remained stable over recent years and months--
Mr. Chope : I shall give way a number of times, but first I wish to stress the positive side. The Government believe that this has been a successful decade of sustained success in housing. We have won the argument today, as we have throughout the decade. We have increased the quantity and quality of the nation's housing stock. There are now 2 million-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Chope : This takes me back to just over 10 years ago, when I was the housing chairman in Wandsworth. The Labour party adopted the same tactics then and tried to shout me down and pour cold water on the Conservative housing policies. I am pleased to say that, in a decade of Conservative control in Wandsworth, the proportion of owner-occupation has increased from 27 per cent. to 54 per cent. This year we have seen capital investment by the local authority in Wandsworth of about £100 million. That Conservative council now has control over the best housing stock in inner London as a result of Conservative policies.
I know from experience that the Labour party does not like Conservative policies, because it has not come to terms with the demand for home ownership.
Mr. George Howarth : A few moments ago, the Minister said that this had been a decade of great success for the Government's housing policy. If that is so, why are none of these successes mentioned in the Government's amendment?
Mr. Chope : I know that, in the hon. Gentleman's terms, achieving a massive increase in home ownership and responding to people's demands to exercise home ownership does not constitute a success. The Government have increased the percentage of home ownership to 68 per cent. We still have not gone as far as we would wish, because we know that, of those people under 55, about 90 per cent. still aspire to becoming home owners. However, we are entitled to take stock in this debate and say that our home ownership policies have been extremely successful during this decade.
It is not only in the owner-occupied sector that we have responded to the people's needs and aspirations ; 160,000 more units of sheltered accommodation have been made available in the past decade through local authorities and housing associations. There is also a healthy private sector market in sheltered accommodation. Shared ownership--almost unheard of a decade ago--is flourishing under this Government. More than 124,000 houses have been sold under the low-cost home ownership scheme since 1979. We have begun to deregulate the private rented
Column 1043market. We have shorthold and assured tenancies and a business expansion scheme that has attracted much more private investment into the private rented market.
We have been pursuing a host of other imaginative policies during the past 10 years--none more so than the tenants charter, tenants choice, the priority estates project and Estates Action, on which £190 million was spent this year.
We are still coming forward with new ideas--Conservative-controlled councils are coming forward with most of them. One such idea, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), was cash incentives, pioneered by Conservative councils and taken up by the less imaginative Socialist councils. Those cash incentives have a part to play in solving the homelessness problem. We have revised the proposals so that we shall now be able to allow generous payments--sometimes more than £20,000--to people who wish to move from their existing council accommodation into the private sector. As has been said, that immediately creates a vacancy that can be used for somebody with a real housing need. That positive policy was put forward by the Government and is being emulated by some of the Socialist housing authorities. Next year, we hope to extend that scheme into the housing association sector, and we hope that about 2, 500 lettings will arise from the similar tenants incentive scheme for housing associations.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : Is the Minister urging other authorities to follow the example of the loony Right Westminster council and its barbarous decision to sell graveyards and try to turn them into building blocks?
Mr. Chope : It is apparent from the hon. Gentleman's remarks that he has not been in on this debate. If he looks at Westminster city council's housing record, he will find that the council spends more on the repair and maintenance of its council stock per unit than any other council in the country, bar one. That shows that it has a sincere concern for improving the housing conditions in Westminster. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) gave some wise advice to those facing difficulties with their mortgages. He advised them to seek their building society's advice before going into the secondary mortgage market. I hope that his advice will be carefully heeded.
The proposal to extend lodgings and encourage more people to take in lodgers has also been mentioned. I find it amazing that Opposition Members do not think it a good idea to make the best use of the nation's housing stock by encouraging and facilitating the taking in of lodgers by those who wish to do so. There are many people who would like-- [Interruption.]
Column 1044good lodger. I have also taken in lodgers in the past and would do so again. Whether I would take the hon. Gentleman as a lodger is a more difficult question.
It is most important to encourage maximum investment in housing. The Government believe that we should bring public capital investment and private capital investment together to solve the nation's housing problems. During the past decade, there has been a massive increase in private capital investment in housing. Last year it was £14.8 billion--up from £4.7 billion in 1979, a threefold increase. That means that since 1979 public and private capital investment in housing has gone from £8 billion to over £18 billion. The way to provide better quality housing is to get the public and private sectors working together. Good housing flourishes under a Government who recognise that the public and private sectors work together. It also needs a Government who work with the market rather than against it.
We must ensure that our housing stock is used to the full. I am amazed that the scandal of empty properties presided over by Labour councils up and down the country still exists. Hon. Members who represent Lambeth had a cheek to respond in the way that they did, given that Lambeth council presides over so many empty properties. We must ensure that taxpayers' resources are directed to those in the greatest need. Above all, we want realistic solutions to housing problems. The Opposition have failed to tell us their policies. Their attitude is totally negative. We had the right policies for the 1980s, and we have them for the 1990s as well. I ask the House to reject the motion and accept the amendment.
Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question :--
The House divided : Ayes 214, Noes 279.
Division No. 17] [7.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)
Beith, A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Cunningham, Dr John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Duffy, A. E. P.
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)