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Mr. Baldry : In the motion, the Opposition maintain that their plans for spending could be met by a gradual relaxation of the restrictions on spending capital receipts. That stance was blown apart by a row between the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) before the last general election.
Speaking in a public debate in which my hon. Friend the housing Minister took part, the hon. Member for Hammersmith claimed that senior colleagues had agreed to alter the definition of the public sector borrowing requirement to accommodate the relaxation in the rules on spending capital receipts without that spending counting as public sector borrowing.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith had quickly to retract his comments, claiming that there had been a misunderstanding. The House can understand and contrast that confusion with the clarity and consistency of policies put forward by my hon. Friends in this debate.
We have heard some excellent speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford), for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), for Finchley (Mr. Booth), for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) and for Erewash (Mrs. Knight). All my hon. Friends together comprehensively mauled the Labour party and the past and present record of Labour-controlled local councils.
Column 385We set out clear Conservative principles : greater choice, diversity of tenure, better management of social housing and harnessing the energy and resources of the private sector. We are determined to bring a decent home within the reach of every family, through promoting home ownership, securing better value for money in the public sector, encouraging the private sector and targeting public spending towards those people and those areas that need it most.
The power to choose and the right to own are two of the most fundamental rights that an individual has in a free society. That is why Conservatives have been, are and will continue to be, committed to the growth of a property-owning democracy. Some 1.9 million households have bought their council houses since 1979.
Mr. Baldry : Because I have been left with 20 minutes. The hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who spoke from the Front Bench at the beginning of debate, spoke for nearly 40 minutes--more than 40 minutes--and gave way twice. Some 1.9 million households have bought their council houses since 1979. That is good news for them and good news for local authorities, because right to buy raises receipts for local authorities. The capital receipts holiday last year is expected to yield to local authorities £1.3 million for spending on local authority housing-- [Interruption.] It is no good the Opposition trying to shout me down. It reminds me of why I came into politics, which was because of the Trots at Sussex university. I am sure that the Labour party does not wish to give that impression.
If it had been left to the Opposition parties, there would have been no right to buy and no capital receipts. We have other initiatives such as do- it-yourself shared ownership and cash and tenant incentive schemes, which also help to release existing accommodation for reletting to those in housing need. Home ownership is not just a good thing for the home buyer. It can also free up existing social housing for the benefit of others who might be in greater need. For every house built for rent, three can be made available to families through cash incentives. Home ownership generally is being encouraged by continuing recovery in the housing market.
Mr. Baldry : Total housing starts in the three months to November were up by 34 per cent. on the same period a year ago. The House-Builders Federation reports a nearly 20 per cent. year-on-year increase in site visits, and 23 per cent. year-on-year increases in reservations for buying new homes. The majority of house builders expect continued sales growth this year, which is not surprising, because mortgage rates are at their lowest since 1960.
Mr. Baldry : Low inflation and low interest rates mean that the affordability of homes for purchase is at its lowest for 15 years. That is good news for those who want to buy their own homes-- Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Baldry : The Conservatives recognise that a considerable number of people either do not wish, or are not able, to own their own home. We want them to have the same standard and quality of housing as home owners. We want tenants to have more control over how their homes are managed. That is why we have introduced a tenants charter, an updated right to repair, a new right to improve, and launched initiatives such as estate action and housing action trusts, which give tenants a real say in the regeneration of their estates. We have spent more than £1 billion on housing estates since 1985 in more than 1,000 estate action schemes. It is public money and has levered in millions and millions of pounds of further investment from the private sector to the benefit of local tenants.
We have invested to improve the physical conditions of homes, improve security, reduce crime and involve tenants in the management of their housing. We have set up housing action trusts in Hull, Liverpool, Birmingham and London. Within all those initiatives, our objectives have been to ensure that a decent home can be within the reach of every family.
Who, a few years ago, would have believed that in Liverpool tenants in 67 tower blocks would have voted to transfer from local authority control to a housing action trust?
All the evidence suggests that our policies are working. The number of households accepted as homeless in 1992 was 2 per cent. less than in the previous year, the first fall recorded since the homelessness legislation was introduced in 1977, and the latest figures show that that downward trend is continuing.
There has been a reduction in the number of households accepted as homeless in the previous 12 months for the past six years and the number of households in bed-and-breakfast accommodation has increased dramatically by more than 40 per cent. in the last year.
Lettings, the currency that really matters to those in housing need, were more than 500,000 in social housing in 1992-93, a clear increase on our estimate of 473,000 in 1980. That is a substantial increase, notwithstanding right-to-buy sales. Sometimes Opposition Members like to argue that right-to-buy sales have decreased the housing stock. What is important is the number of lettings and that has increased substantially.
Our objective is to ensure that a decent home is within the reach of every family. Clearly, a considerable part of this debate has been devoted to access to social housing and to the recent consultation paper published by my right hon. Friend. That consultation paper seeks to ensure fair access to subsidised rented housing and measures to prevent homelesness and to increase the supply of affordable housing.
Mr. Battle : Once again the Minister has let slip a reference to subsidised council housing. Will he confirm that it is not subsidised ? Tenants in Britain are paying £66 million to the Treasury. Why does he not tell the truth ?
Mr. Baldry : That question simply demonstrates why the Opposition are totally unfit to govern. Not only do they not listen to the shadow Chancellor, they are totally incapable of working out that there is a £4 billion housing
Column 387revenue account subsidy from the Treasury. If the hon. Gentleman cannot grasp that fact--£4 billion--the Opposition are unfit to govern, ever.
Local authorities will continue to have a duty to ensure that accommodation is available for those households in priority need who are homeless through no fault of their own. The present legislation ensures that those who are accepted as statutorily homeless receive priority treatment, creating a perverse incentive to come within the terms of the legislation and penalising those who show initiative and make housing arrangements for themselves while on the waiting list. The law at present of course provides an essential safety net, but there should be a difference between a safety net and a short cut. The simple fact is that, whether a pregnant teenager, married or not, should have a priority for social housing over a couple who have been patiently waiting on the waiting list who also have children, the safety net will remain. But we are proposing a fairer and more effective system for meeting the housing needs of those who rely on rented housing to allow local authorities to make better use of their housing stock.
We want to see the best use of all our housing stock. We want to see and encourage a continued revival in the private rented sector to encourage responsible landlords to rent out their property. People still do want to rent. Landlords still do want to let property. Tenants want confidence that landlords will respect their side of the contract and landlords want to be confident that they will receive a fair return on their investment and their property returned at the end of the letting. That is why we have introduced shorthold tenancies and assured tenancies and those reforms, in encouraging a private sector revival, are working.
Residential letting agents recorded a 60 per cent. rise in new tenancies in 1991 alone ; expansion directly attributable to our reforms. The rough sleepers initiative has led to a marked decline in the number of people sleeping rough in London--285 at the last count. It has provided nearly 3,500 beds in temporary and permanent accommodation for people sleeping rough in London. It is being extended for another three years and a further £86 million is being made available.
We are determined to continue to increase home ownership, to make better use of our existing housing stock and to concentrate help on areas and people in the greatest need. In our manifesto we set out a commitment to provide 153,000 new homes through housing associations in the first three years of this Parliament, and we shall beat that target. We are also determined to give families a greater say in the running of their estates and the management of their homes. Conservatives will--
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Quesiton be now put.
Question , That the Question be now put, put and agreed to. Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question :--
The House divided : Ayes 279, Noes 319.
Column 388Division No. 92] [10 pm Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F.
Berry, Dr. Roger
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Ms Angela
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Harman, Ms Harriet
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Home Robertson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mo n)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Khabra, Piara S.
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)