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Column 373want to carry on owning their own homes. Others say that their desire is to buy their own homes. The hon. Gentleman will find that he hears the same if he asks similar questions in his part of the country.
The issue of home ownership has not had as much airing in the debate as it should have had, because it is one of the great successes of the past 14 years and one of the many successes which my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) listed in his excellent speech. For many years, I was a member of a local authority and I was on its housing committee. When the right-to-buy legislation came in, every impediment possible was put in the way of people who wanted to buy their council properties. I was therefore astounded by the comments of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) when he spoke on that issue. In practice, Labour councils were thinking of every possible excuse to prevent people from legitimately purchasing their own home.
Mr. Winnick : The reason why the policy was adopted at the time and why we expressed concerns and reservations was that we knew that the Conservative Government would not allow new council building to replace those houses sold off. If the Government of the day had decided to allow new building, there would have been no reason to object. The Labour- controlled local authority in my area was selling off council accommodation, rightly so in the circumstances, long before the Conservative party took office.
Mrs. Knight : The houses that were sold off did not, somehow, go away from the housing stock ; they did not disappear. They were sold to the people who were the tenants and would have stayed tenants anyway.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at some of the housing estates, he will see the massive transformation that has taken place. In the part of the country where I was born and brought up, there were large monolithic council housing estates which were drab and uniform. The people who lived there could not even paint their own door the colour that they wanted, let alone get repairs done. As soon as those properties were sold, and those tenants were able to purchase their own homes, they did the renovation that they wanted and they painted their doors and windows.
All of a sudden, one went back to those same estates and saw a transformation in streets and in squares. Great proportions of what was the old, municipal, dull, drab and gray housing stock in the north of England has become mixed housing. The improvements are fantastic, which I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomes.
Council house sales were opposed all the time. I was sorry to see that opposition. The opposition to that policy was not just in delays or in slow sales, but in such rotten practices as trying to pass over to those who purchased their properties a whole series of other costs which those home owners were then told that they would have to continue to pay year after year. That is the truth of what has happened and the Labour party's policies on right to buy and home ownership.
I recognise the importance of the public sector rented accommodation. During the years that I served on that council, and when I was a member of the housing committee in Sheffield, at any one time there were between 1,600 and 2,000 empty council properties. That was a disgraceful state of affairs. Whether it shows it in any list
Column 374that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has or not, I do not know, but those were the circumstances that arose in that city for many years.
Mr Campbell-Savours : I wonder whether the hon. Lady would be courageous enough to do what the Minister failed to do and condemn the conduct of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) for buying through an intermediary the council house next door at a £50,000 discount? Does the hon. Lady have the courage to stand up and condemn her colleague?
Mrs. Knight : I will not condemn my colleague. He has made his own statement. However, does the hon. Gentleman have the courage to condemn a city council which retained between 1,600 and 2,000 empty properties? Those empty properties affected far more people than the circumstance that he described.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) referred to estate action and housing action trusts in a somewhat derogatory manner. It is a sad fact that one reason why those initiatives exist is that local authorities failed to fulfil their duty to the housing stock that they control. Instead of condemning those initiatives, one should visit estates which have benefited from estate action. Where housing action trusts have started--and are increasingly being voted for by the people who live in those properties--it is clear that a great change is taking place which will benefit the residents. Housing association property has not received the airing in this debate that it deserves. Housing associations are contributing to the new build accommodation. However, it seems that Opposition Members consider housing association property to be second class. They seem to believe that councils should be the only providers of public sector accommodation. I do not accept that.
I represent an area which is away from the major cities. It comprises small towns and, as a result of that, housing associations are a relatively recent arrival in the area. They are doing an excellent job. They provide special accommodation which meets the needs of specific sections of the population. Those needs were not met particularly well by so many local authorities.
The future of local authorities and councils will involve them in being enablers and in determining their housing plans. There is an opportunity which I hope councils and all authorities will grasp at least in respect of the preparation of their district plans--that is taking place in every area of the country. Within those district plans, it is possible for a local authority to ensure that its housing plan involves a mixture of home ownership and public sector accommodation through housing associations. If that happens, we will get away from the estates in the part of the country where I have spent most of my life. We will return to a far better and more preferable mixture of housing which will also bring great social benefits.
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) referred to capital receipts. As I listened to him, I wondered seriously whether he had discussed the subject with his colleague the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman). The hon. Member for Blackburn seemed to disagree totally with the points made yesterday by his hon. Friend.
The hon. Member for Blackburn referred to £5 billion of frozen capital receipts as though those receipts were locked up in a box hidden beneath a Treasury desk only to be brought out and, if he had his way, spent. He forgets that
Column 375only a handful of local authorities are not in debt. The vast majority owe millions of pounds. As council house sales have occurred, a great proportion of that money has rightly been used to pay off such debts.
If one has a mortgage, as most of us have, and one sells the property, does one pay back the building society or double the debt when one buys another property? Of course one does not do the latter. If individuals and local authorities do not repay their debts, they will have to be paid by subsequent generations. It is misleading to talk about capital receipts as the hon. Member for Blackburn did. It would have been far more honest of him to say that he really wants to increase public expenditure by another £5 billion.
I should like more emphasis to be placed on private rented accommodation. My hon. Friends the Members for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) and for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) made valuable points about the growth of housing stock, the fact that it has grown faster than the population has grown over the past 15 years, and the need to ensure that some empty private housing is let. Far too many properties are empty--about 700,000 homes in the private sector. If only a relatively small proportion were rented to people on housing waiting lists, we would quickly resolve many problems.
There is a greater awareness of the need for housing in cities. In areas such as mine there is still housing need, and housing need and available properties do not coincide. Housing associations can now be involved in letting properties for private owners. I welcome that practice and I would like it to be extended. I would also like housing associations aggressively to sell their services. There is greater awareness of private sector rented accommodation in cities in which there are colleges and universities than there is in smaller areas such as mine, Erewash. In such areas, I would like housing associations more aggressively to approach private landlords to assist in renting accommodation.
I now refer to my right hon. Friend's proposals and consultations on homelessness. People come to my surgeries to talk about their housing problems. There is great concern--indeed, in some instances there is anger- -at the way in which council accommodation is rented. There is grave concern in my constituency at the way in which the allocation system sometimes works. It is seen to work unfairly and against the prudent. In many instances, it is seen to work against families who have been helping themselves to the best of their ability. Often, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making his proposals.
When I was a councillor, a case was brought to me by the parents of a young man aged 16. That young man had left home. Without making any inquiries, the council housed him, while his parents were contacting the police and everybody they could think of to find out what had happened to their son. I felt then that that was disgraceful and that the authority should have checked first. That is the only specific incident that I wish to bring to my right hon. Friend's attention. From this case, however, spring a whole range of issues. It was the tip of the iceberg. The individual in question was given priority over many others on the list whose needs were in many ways much greater than his.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his initiative, which will be welcomed by everyone who thinks clearly
Column 376about these matters. People who come to my constituency surgeries to express concern about the pressure on housing and who see themselves as never, be housed will regard this intiative as the best way forward.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) : I do not intend, in the couple of minutes available to me, to go over ground that was covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) in his splendid contribution. Many of the problems that afflict Hyndburn afflict my constituency too, as well as Burnley and Blackburn. I want to say a few words about Westminster.
Eleven years ago, in 1983, the Conservatives, in their election manifesto, promised to make Britain the best-housed nation in Europe. I shall not mention the Conservative party's 1992 manifesto because it contains no promises--just aspirations. During yesterday's debate on the Finance Bill we learned about Conservative instincts. I should like to say a few words about what people in north-east Lancashire think about Conservative instincts. They were outraged when they learned that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) had arranged to purchase a council house next to his home in Westminster. The house was reported to be worth £300,000 and was occupied by a man of 78. The hon. Gentleman regarded the purchase as a long-term investment.
The staggering thing is that, this evening, the Minister responsible for housing could not bring himself to condemn that action ; nor could the hon. Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight) condemn the manipulation of the system by a Conservative Member of Parliament. If that is not manipulation of the system, what is ? The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) had the gall to say that people should act responsibly. Conservative Members have no right to tell people that they must act responsibly. People out there do not want to listen to such things from Conservative Members. The outrage to which I have referred turned to blind anger when people in my area heard the auditor's provisional findings in the case of the homes-for- sale scandal in Westminster. This policy is noxious. I go further than the auditor, who merely described the actions of Dame Shirley Porter and the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) as disgraceful, wilful, unlawful, unauthorised and improper. The auditor said that what had been done was improper and disgraceful gerrymandering. I say that the Conservatives were just following their instincts. I had to listen to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) smearing the auditor. She said that he was a partner in Touche Ross, and she alleged that the four-year investigation had been strung out for the purpose of increasing his fees. What a preposterous allegation.
I should like to say something about contacts between Westminster council and councils in my area. Westminster council approached councils in north- east Lancashire. It offered councils in Burnley and Blackburn £400 a head to take homeless people from Westminster as part of the plan to make Westminster fit for Conservatives to live in. That is what it was all about. What the Conservatives have failed to do since 1983 is make Lancashire--in particular, north-east Lancashire--a decent place for people to live in. Our housing stock is crumbling. Even the Minister has said that we have a unique cocktail of problems. [Interruption.]
Column 377There is no point in the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford) sniggering. We have a unique set of problems, which the Government have not addressed.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn said, we have amazingly high levels of owner-occupation--86 per cent. However, the housing stock is decrepit, falling to bits and collapsing around people's ears. The Government are doing nothing to rejuvenate that stock and to support local authorities in their quest to improve housing conditions for the people who live in their areas.
I hesitate, as I have had to junk 80 per cent. of my speech. Let me finish by saying that when it comes to the instincts of the Conservative party on housing, they stink. Conservative Members just could not bring it upon themselves to condemn the actions of Members of Parliament who use the system to featherbed their own positions. The idea that the Conservatives could preside over the best housing in Europe is nothing less than a sick joke.
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West) : What is clear to everyone except the Government and the Minister is the sheer scale of the housing crisis which has been rejected by the Government. Britain is far from being able to claim to be "a well-housed nation". Every Conservative manifesto at the past three general elections has made that claim--it is far from the truth.
Why is it that everyone now, except the Government, accepts that this country faces an unprecedented and increasing housing crisis? The crisis affects people who face the extremities of homelessness on our streets, the people who are waiting for decent and appropriate housing conditions and the people who live in conditions of severe overcrowding. There is the pressure on families to split up, and on young parents who are imprisoned in high-rise blocks. There are pensioners without proper heating who are living in damp and cold homes, who now face VAT on fuel. That is the reality.
The speeches in the debate have highlighted the fact that there is a distinct difference of approach to housing between Labour's positive strategy for tackling the housing crisis and the Conservative Government's complacency and neglect. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) spoke of the need to address not the symptoms but the causes. He pointed out that there has been a loss of 2 million homes from the rented sector under the Government, and that that was one of the primary causes of the problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) spoke of how demand has outstripped supply, and of how Manchester city council has been deliberately starved of resources by the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) spelled out how the Government's policy of competition at a local level has turned people into winners and losers, and has pitted the badly housed against those who are housed in even worse conditions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) suggested that we ought to support co-operatives more positively. However, the Minister has undermined support for co-ops and has cut housing budgets for them. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) spoke of the actue shortages that people in desperate need are facing.
Column 378My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) has carried on a sterling campaign to try to persuade the Government to do something about empty Ministry of Defence homes in his constituency. Yet the Government have done practically nothing about that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) spelled out what was right at the heart of the Government's policy. Here is a Government who claim to support the private sector, but what did they do in the Budget last November when they were faced with the problem of bad conditions? They undermined the renovation grants which enable local authorities to tackle the problem.
As for Government Members, the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) called for a real free market in housing. She wanted the abolition of planning constraints and of the homeless persons legislation. "Let's get rid of all the distortions in the housing market," she said.
The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry)--the chairman of the all-party homelessness group--told us that there could not be a problem with homelessness because not many homeless people are writing to him. We then heard what was perhaps the most revealing remark of all from the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who said that he was previously the chairman of Wandsworth's--perhaps appropriately named--disposals committee. He said that the homeless people he meets on his way home are there of their own volition. May he stand condemned from his own mouth. That is the real Tory view shining through again : it is not the Government who are the problem ; it is always the people who are to blame.
It is crystal clear that the Conservative party's policies still pull towards the notion of owner-occupation for everyone and leaving housing to the free market. In stark contrast, we argue for tackling the causes of the housing and homeless crisis. We campaigned for national policies and strategies that increase the number of desperately needed decent and affordable homes to rent. We demand that the Government call off their petty vendetta against local councils and allow them to play a positive role in housing provision.
Under each of the four Conservative Governments in recent years, housing investment has taken the brunt of Budget cuts. The amount spent on housing is down from 4.7 per cent. of gross domestic product in 1979 under Labour to a mere 1.5 per cent. In the Chancellor's November Budget last year the housing budget again was hammered. Little wonder that the amount of empty accommodation has increased by seven times under the Conservative Government. Little wonder that the number of homeless families has trebled since 1979. Yet the Government's Treasury press release on Budget day positively crowed that housing was a key area of "significant savings". That is what the Treasury had to say.
The Housing Corporation budget was cut by £313 million. As a result, it will approve between 10,000 and 13,000 fewer homes in the coming year. The Government and the Minister are pulling the plug on housing associations as the providers of affordable housing for rent. At a Budget stroke, local authorities have had £193 million, or 11 per cent., cut from their plans for capital investment next year. The reimposed restrictions on capital receipts will mean a loss of £500 million of housing investment resources next year. Yet yesterday the Government's own figures from the Department of the Environment pointed out that construction orders in
Column 379housing for local authorities and housing associations showed a 13 per cent. drop--a further loss of another £500 million of housing investment.
Mr. Thomason : Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that the cost of construction has fallen, and that the cost of land acquisition has fallen, so that an equal amount of resources will now provide far more properties and a smaller amount of resources will provide the number that was originally anticipated? Does he accept that the position would be much better if Labour authorities collected rents?
Mr. Battle : If that is the case, why are local authorities not building more homes? Let the hon. Gentleman ask them why. Who pays the price for the cuts in housing investment under the Conservative Government? The net result will be fewer homes built for rent, housing associations cut back, councils still not allowed to build and a further loss of construction jobs.
I remind the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) that in October last year, before the Budget, the Institute of Housing and the National Federation of Housing Associations warned the Government :
"Cutting the Housing Budget would be economic madness. Building homes is labour intensive, putting construction workers back to work, increasing tax receipts and reducing social security expenditure. Since 1990 480,000 construction workers have lost their jobs. Reducing the Housing Corporation's capital programme by £300 Million could mean that another 6,000 construction workers are made redundant and as many again in related industries. This would add an extra £100 Million on the PSBR in unemployment benefits".
Now let the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and the Minister tell us about economic common sense. They are the ones who are economically inefficient. They fly in the face of common sense. The cuts go on regardless.
Tory housing policy all fits in with an age-old Tory obsession with tenure which came out during the debate today. The Tories believe solidly that our society should be divided according to whether one buys or rents. The Government are even skewing this year's housing programme to even more initiatives to promote home ownership. With 69 per cent. of the housing stock in owner-occupation, the imbalance in tenure in our society is proving unsustainable.
Why? Because there are insufficient homes to rent. There is an absolute and acute shortage of homes to rent. Even the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), in his pamphlet entitled, perhaps appropriately, "An End to Illusions", complained that in the 1980s easy credit enabled
"too many house buyers and owners to treat their house not as a shelter or a form of saving but as a speculative investment or store of wealth which they could raid at will."
Mr. Hendry : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) to produce a photocopy of a copyrighted pamphlet? Is he not in breach of copyright law? [Interruption.]
I shall quote further from the pamphlet of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton. He said :
"But with more than two thirds of the housing market now under owner- occupied, the economic consequences of home ownership are becoming increasingly ambiguous"
We agree with him on that and so will at least 70,000 council leaseholders, primarily in London, who are unable to sell their bought council houses and face huge repair leases. They have been effectively abandoned by the Government, despite the efforts of my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith, for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Walsall, North. Despite their representations, the Government are still doing nothing.
In the Harry Simpson memorial lecture in May last year, the Prime Minister suggested that we should push home ownership up to 75 per cent. What are needed, however, are more homes for rent to combat the record level of repossessions--higher under this Government than ever before. The latest figures are higher than when the Prime Minister came to office.
The Government's response is to atempt to sustain the image of competence with a daily Department press release. They introduce piecemeal initiatives, acronymic schemes and competitions ; they pit one estate against another for ever diminishing resources. The Government tinker, but they still weight the housing tenure structure further towards owner- occupation and buying. The Government give residents incentives, as long as they move out., That is hardly a long-term policy or a national housing strategy. It is a short-term substitution for a policy. The Government short-change residents and bring in short-term measures such as a housing market package one year and a capital receipts holiday for a year. They promise that their proposal will deliver nearly £2 billion, but when we consider the figures we find that it produces less than £1 billion. The Minister was moved to decide what to do with the homeless figures. I get the impression that he is trying to do to the homeless what the Government have done already to the unemployed--turn them into disappeared persons by changing definitions, fiddling the figures, blaming the victims for their plight and pitting the desperately homeless against the poorly housed.
The proposals in the Minister's consultative document mark a fundamental move from the basic and fundamental right to a home. That right is not mentioned in the tenants charter. The Government are going to replace the duty on local authorities to ensure a permanent home with a limited duty to provide temporary accommodation. They will restrict even temporary emergency assistance to some homeless people. They are effectively shredding the so-called safety net. People will not be eligible for homeless assistance in Britain if there is a single notice for private let in a newsagent's window. At the "Roof" debate, the Minister condemned families to a recurring cycle of temporary accommodation in shorthold assured tenancies. The message from the Government to parents with children is, "Live with grandma". People face a life of built-up disruption in schooling and health care as they are shunted from short-term temporary let to short-term temporary let. The
Column 381Minister still gives succour to the policies of Westminster and Wandsworth councils. He gives the green light to local authorities to offload their homeless on other boroughs, turning them into internal exiles, wandering around their own country.
What about the document that referred to housing the homeless "anywhere in the region"? So much for the back to the value of basic communities in Britain. How can people feel secure if they can never settle in their own community? Rather than attack the cause of homelessness by building and repair, the Minister now plans to attack those on the homeless list.
We should not forget the hidden agenda. It was the Minister who came out with the most critical, moralising attack on single parents at the Conservative party conference on 7 October. He it was who referred to the unmarried teenager
"expecting her first probably unplanned child."
It is tempting to ask the Minister how he knows that. Perhaps he and his hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), instead of holding constituency surgeries, as we all do, hold family planning advice sessions. Perhaps they give planned pregnancy advice such as that now on offer from the Government. The rest of us, councillors and Members of Parliament, know that queues of people at our surgeries are asking why there is a shortage of decent and affordable housing. They want to know why the council cannot help to provide them with accommodation because they have been repossessed. They want to know how long they must endure cold and damp conditions. Those conditions have been caused by the cuts in local authority investment income.
When the Minister was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment--the last time that he was in charge of housing--he declared :
"too many people are living in bad conditions"--[ Official Report, 13 March 1986 ; Vol. 93, c. 1128.]
I must tell the Minister that those people are still there, because 137,000 local authority properties are still unfit for occupation and a further 213,000 require renovation and repair. What have his Government done about it? They have cut the budget year on year. This is the Minister who has failed time and again to stand up to the Treasury. This is the Minister who has let the Chancellor cut spending on local authorities and housing. His Government have presided over a remarkable fall in the number of rented homes available.
The Tory party, which we all now know is the party of high taxes, is also the party of high rents. It has been the Government's policy for years to force up rents deliberately across all tenures to market levels. That has priced people out of their homes. Working people are unable to accept a new job because rents are too high. If they receive housing benefit, they will lose it if they take a low-paid job.
Local authority rents have been forced up this year by a national average of £36.63 a week. I must remind the Minister that housing association tenants are facing a 75 per cent. rent increase by 1996. That will be imposed because the amount collected must match the 27 per cent. drop in housing association grant to fit the Government's objective of a 55 per cent. grant by the year 1995-96. The average private sector rent registered in the second quarter of 1993 is £46.50 a week in London.
This is the Government who are still chasing the chimera of the free market. They should make that clear to
Column 382the thousands of people who belong to the London Campaign for Fairer Rents, because every time they go before a rent assessment committee their rent is then pushed up even further. They are suffering because of the Government's pro-market rent policy. The Minister should try telling the thousands of people who are having to pay those high rents that the Government are operating a policy of fair rents. In practice, the housing benefit bill is going through the roof.
The Government cannot grasp the fact that a high rent policy cannot go with a high unemployment and low incomes policy. Private sector rents are now subsidised to the tune of £2,500 a year per housing benefit claimant. In the meantime, the Minister goes through his subtle sleight of hand. In his review of housing and homeless persons, the Minister claims five times that council housing is subsidised. He should check his own figures, because it is not. Council tenants are now contributing £66 million to the Treasury and the Exchequer. Subtle sleights of hand are not new to the Minister. When I asked a parliamentary question on the figures for the new local authority bills, for some strange reason the answer I got now includes the housing association starts for Wales. We then asked the Minister about the Government's task force on empty homes. We are now told that it is called "the Government task force on empty houses". At a stroke- -with a single word change--the Government have removed thousands of properties from the list.
Conservative Members have a nerve. They attack local authorities for having a mere 1.9 per cent. of their properties empty ; how on earth can they justify the £1.75 million that it has cost the taxpayer to keep 145 Ministry of Defence houses in Braintree boarded up and empty since 1989 ? Meanwhile, there are 3,500 families on Braintree council's waiting list.
This is the Government whose review spells out the fact that they are at the fag end of burnt-out market policies. The review's comments about "lubricating the market" are dated now : this is the Government who cannot tell the difference between subsidy and investment. They are locked into short-term survival tactics, and cannot see beyond them.
There is now an acute shortage of homes for rent. Instead of irresponsibly blocking capital receipts, the Government should release the money that local authorities have received from council house sales. That would enable authorities to take building workers off the dole and introduce our policies for radical, flexible tenure so that people could remain in their homes. We ought to be finding new instruments for long-term investment in homes for rent. Our policies are far-sighted, far-reaching and far removed from temporary market short-termism ; but I suspect that long-term investment in our homes and futures will prove far too much to ask of this short-term Government. Under this Government, there is scant chance of bringing a decent home within the reach of every family. We could literally build ourselves out of the recession--and a Labour Government will do that.
Column 383--the absence of any Labour housing policy ideas. If any hon. Member doubted that, he needed only to listen to the speech by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle). The hon. Gentleman spoke for 20 minutes, but, as Hansard will reveal tomorrow, his speech contained not a single new idea, thought or policy. It was a simple, straightforward rant from beginning to end, totally devoid of policy content.
It is always worth while examining Opposition motions. This motion goes from the blinkered to the confused. It is blinkered in that the reference to investment in the first line means only public-sector investment : that shows that, in Labour's view, only the state can provide. It is confused about the question of capital receipts. Before the last general election, Labour party officials said : "You do not make new resources available by making new definitions."
Today, that approach was dismissed by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) as "absurd Treasury dogma"--on the very same day that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), the shadow Chancellor, said on the radio :
"There is no commitment to spend money on anything."
That shows total confusion.
This afternoon, Labour Member after Labour Member cried, "Spend more money ; spend more money." It is clear that they were not up early enough this morning to hear what was said by the shadow Chancellor. We now have a "Jekyll and Hyde" Labour party, which advocates fiscal restraint in the morning and spending sprees for all in the evening.
Mr. Straw : The Minister is wrong again. If he consults the Board, he will see that I spoke for less time than the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction. I spoke for 39 minutes, and I gave way about five times.
The Minister said that I called the Government's refusal to allow local authorities to spend their capital receipts "absurd dogma". I did indeed. What I want to know from the Minister is why, if it was right last year, under the Chancellorship of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), to unfreeze capital receipts, it is wrong this year? What is the answer to the question that the Minister of Housing dodged throughout his speech?
Mr. Baldry : Those are good diversionary tactics by the hon. Gentleman. Clearly, he should have but did not address the clear discrepancy between what he and other members of the shadow Cabinet said today.
Labour Members obviously were not up early enough to listen to the shadow Chancellor. Perhaps I ought to tell the House what he had to say. He said,
"These commitments, or so-called commitments, simply do not exist".
That provoked the interviewer to question,
"But all were either made in Parliament or at a party conference". "Well," said the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown)
Column 384"They just were not. There is no commitment about equalisation of the pension age at a certain age. There is no commitment to spend money on anything".
"Well," said the interviewer,
"That was carried at the party conference by 59 per cent." The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East replied :
"We will spend only what we can afford to spend. We will spend only when growth allows us to do and we will spend as resources allow". What weasel words and totally incapable of being reconciled with every Labour Member who has spoken today and demanded more public spending.
It is little surprise that the first newspaper that had the opportunity to comment on the words of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East since the programme was recorded wrote : "This has to stop. Once again Gordon Brown has come up with the mantra beloved of Labour at the last election as resources allow'. In an interview on the Today' programme this morning, Mr. Brown expressed extreme crossness at being reminded of Labour's conference commitments to instance universal freee nursery education and pensions at 60 for men and women. It was preposterous', Mr. Brown said to his interviewer, to make out that these conference resolutions amounted to anything so vulgar as a spending commitment.' What Labour really meant was that, if the economy grew enough to generate sufficient money, a Labour Government would introduce all the desirable social measures that had been passed at the party conference."
I know that Labour Members do not want to hear this, but they had better take it on board.
It is a difficulty that the Labour party has plenty of time to sort out before the next election and it had better start now. It is precisely where it came a cropper last time--the discrepancy between the party's spending ambitions and the amount of money likely to be available. Bridging the gap with "as resources allow" does not deceive anyone.