Harold Gurden – 1972 Speech on Home Ownership and Right to Buy

The speech made by Harold Gurden, the then Conservative MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, in the House of Commons on 18 January 1972.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend to the tenants of dwellings owned by local authorities and other housing bodies the right to acquire the ownership or leasehold of their homes.

Public ownership of housing, extended as it has been over the years under both parties, with additional controls on building and other housing regulations, in the opinion of many people and many experts, has accentuated the housing shortage. Many of these regulations were designed to cure the housing shortage, but some of us believe that they have only made matters worse. The object of this Bill is to “denationalise” family homes. However much one believes in nationalisation as a principle, surely the family home should be exempt.

This is nationalisation in a most discriminatory form—against only the lower wage earners and the workers of this country, because the better-off can and do own their own homes. Few people, and fewer politicians, ever declare themselves opposed to the principle of a property-owning democracy. My own party has made this a very important part of its policy. Yet we have all allowed public authorities to deny nearly half Britain’s families the right to buy their homes.

These are the homes provided by the taxpayers and ratepayers by means of subsidy. It is true that some local authorities in control of council houses permit tenants to buy their homes, but they are not in the main enthusiastic about it and many local authorities do not allow tenants to do so. There are now millions of families in this category, and in future they may never be allowed to buy their own homes. This will affect families from one generation to the next.

This situation is clearly a class discrimination if ever there was one. It applies only to the lower income groups. Nearly all the higher income groups own their own homes. The tenant families and the working classes under both parties have had to accept constantly rising rents, and the Housing Finance Bill uses the Labour Party’s fair rent principle to increase the rents only partly to cover the cost to the tenant. So unless these tenants have the right freely to buy their own homes, they can never peg the cost of their home against inflation. The best way for a householder to insure himself against rising rents is to buy his home: it is better than a rise in wages.

Also to be considered is the pride of ownership in one’s own home, the incentives that there are to improve one’s property and enhance its value. The Government’s improvement grants are freely available and are used mostly by home owners. It is easy for most of us to recognise property which is owner-occupied as we go about the country. In Birmingham, in my own constituency in particular, urban deterioration is a serious problem, but was made less acute by home ownership. It is or should be an essential part of our policy to create home ownership if we are to defeat urban deterioration.

Another consideration is the mobility of labour. In our large cities, many unemployed are unable even to consider taking a job at the other side of the town, for the sole reason that they are municipal tenants and do not find it easy to move home. Changing a tenancy is far too slow and uncertain. If a job is offered to an unemployed man at the other side of a city as large as Birmingham, he has to think twice about accepting. I believe that many of our unemployed would not be restricted in their choice of job if they could sell their home and buy another.
I have carried out some research on this matter and the best estimate that I can make is that about 10 per cent. of the people in the home owner belt are mobile and do change their homes in any one year, whereas only about 2 per cent. of the people in council-owned properties move.

This leads one to assume that the security of tenure of having a municipal house is the main incentive, rather than employment. A man can easily get social security and unemployment pay, but he cannot easily get another house. This Bill is based on the Leasehold Reform Act, which was supported by both parties, to ensure specifically the right for people to own their own homes. The Bill carries this principle one stage further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) initiated a debate just before the recess which was very valuable and saves me having to mention many of the facts of the situation which we should be considering and which I hope will be considered in debate.

Why should city councillors prevent home ownership? I am told that, in Bristol, an alderman voted against the city council allowing tenants to buy their homes, and after that vote went to the local authority and bought his own municipal house, before the city council could change the rules—

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

On a point of order. This cannot be in order, surely, in initiating a Ten-Minute Rule Bill, which has overstayed its time.

Mr. Speaker

These are matters for me.

Mr. Gurden

All I ask today is the right to debate this matter in the House. Any criticisms of the Bill—of its principle or any matters relating to it—can be debated at a later stage to the benefit of millions of people in this country.