David Waddington – 1968 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by David Waddington in the House of Commons on 23 July 1968.

If I may crave the indulgence of the House, I should like at the outset to pay a tribute to my predecessor at Nelson and Colne. One thing he certainly had was political courage. There were, perhaps, not many occasions when I agreed wholeheartedly with the political opinions which he expressed, but I always admired the completely fearless way in which he expressed them. I am sure that the House will long remember his relentless campaign to bring about the end of capital punishment.

I trust that the House will also bear with me for a little time while I speak about my division. I do not think that there are many hon. Members—excluding, of course, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government—who know very well that part of the world. I find that many people in London imagine that it is a very bleak, drab and damp place in the centre of industrial Lancashire with very little to commend it. The recent by-election in Nelson and Colne may at least have educated many of the journalists who then visited our town.

The division is, in fact, a very grand place in which to live and work. One has only to travel for a very few minutes from the centres of our towns and one is in the most beautiful unspoilt countryside. Beyond that, a very great deal has been done in recent years to improve the amenities of the towns. Thus they are no longer composed of serried ranks of “Coronation Streets”, and no longer do those towns lack all amenities. I understand that not long ago hon. Members received from the local paper a coloured supplement which set out in great detail how good a place it was in which to live and work.

In recent years we have been confronted with very real and special problems, first of all because of the contraction of the cotton textile industry and, secondly, because of the very strong—and, as I believe, far too strong—inducements offered by the Government to industry to go to the development areas, which are not so very far from the boundaries of the Nelson and Colne division. This is a subject about which I hope I may have an opportunity to speak on another occasion.

On this occasion I must direct my attention to housing, and it is right to say that even there our part of the world has its special problems. It is interesting to note that although over England as a whole about 48.5 per cent. of all dwellings are owner occupied, the figure in Colne is 62.1 per cent. and in Nelson it is no less than 72.3 per cent. There must therefore be many people in Nelson and Colne who are extremely disturbed at the high level of the mortgage interest rates, and I hope that I am not being too controversial in a maiden speech in saying that I am bitterly disappointed at the non-fulfilment of the election promise of 3 per cent. mortgages. I suppose that the non-fulfilment is partly responsible for my presence in this Chamber now.

There are two or three specific points that I should like to make. What we all want, of course, is an end to the crisis conditions in which we have lived since 1964 so that we can move away from crisis rates of interest and thus allow the mortgage interest rates to fall. Obviously, however, the crisis will not end in the twinkling of an eye—indeed, I doubt very much whether it will end before the end of this Parliament.

In those circumstances, therefore, it cannot be in anyone’s interest for the Government to try—and I hope that they will no: seek to do so—to prevent the building societies from charging such a rate of interest as will enable them to pay investors what is necessary to pay them in order to get the money needed in the movement. At the moment, I understand that at least twice as many people are wanting mortgages as the societies can provide for, and the Government are not providing a service to those people who are waiting in the queue— and it is often people with the more slender means who are waiting in the queue and who have not yet been provided for—when they carp at and try to prevent increases in the mortgage rate.

Secondly, I consider—as does my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon)—the mortgage option scheme to have been a monumental flop. Only 10 per cent. of new borrowers have opted, and the reason is quite obvious. One needs a crystal ball to know whether or not it will be to one’s ultimate benefit to opt into the scheme. One has to bear in mind the possibility of the standard rate of Income Tax going up, in which case the benefit of mortgage option will diminish. One has also to bear in mind the unlikely eventuality of the standard rate of Income Tax coming down. One has to bear in mind that one’s earnings may increase, but one has also to bear in mind that one’s earnings may increase, but one has also to bear in mind the possibility that one may encounter trouble and one’s earnings decrease.

One has to bear in mind that after one has opted for the scheme the Government may, as the Government have done this year, increase family allowances and draw more people into the tax net. Perhaps—one never knows—the day may arrive when the mortgage interest rate will drop below 6 per cent. when, again, the advantages of having opted into the scheme will diminish. One really has to bear in mind the innate optimism of the British working man which must in itself militate against the success of the scheme. It is a rare bird who does not hope that either through his own efforts or good fortune—by winning the pools, perhaps—his means will increase, yet he now has to make the best calculation he can of his ultimate prospects and earnings.

One has to recognise also that the booklet advertising the scheme is very complicated as, indeed, it must be because of the complicated calculations that have to be made when a man is deciding whether or not the scheme will be to his benefit. There must be some better way of giving help to those with smaller means, and perhaps in the long run if not in the short run we should consider allowing everyone, whatever his means and whether he pays the standard rate of Income Tax or a lower rate, the right to withhold the equivalent of tax at standard rate in respect of mortgage interest payments.

I finish with a positive suggestion for the encouragement of home ownership. I think that the best incentive and the best way of encouraging people to improve their own homes would be by the introduction of some sort of tax allowance for improvement. Not only would that be a positive encouragement to home ownership, but it would also have one very beneficial side effect. One would remove a lot of the built in antagonism to re-rating and make more sense of the rating system if people knew that they could spend up to the annual value of their houses on repairs and improvements and get tax relief on those sums.

I hope that I have not trespassed for too long on the time of the House, and I am grateful for the patient way in which hon. Members have listened to me.