HC Deb 04 February 1986 vol 91 cc238-44

Queen's Recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Housing and Planning Bill, it is expedient to authorise—

  1. (1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenses of the Secretary of State under the Act and any increase attributable to the Act in the sums so payable under any other enactment;
  2. (2) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of sums received by the Secretary of State under the Act; and
  3. (3) the payment out of or into the Consolidated Fund or the National Loans Fund of any increase attributable to the, Act in the sums so payable under any other enactment.—[Mr. John Patten.]

10.15 pm
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

In opposing the money resolution, I should like to say that it is to be hoped that the Minister who replied to the previous debate does a better job at solving crime than he does for housing. His deplorable attitude in the 20 or 25 minutes of winding up offered no comfort whatever to the millions of families who look to this place for some relief from the conditions in which they live.

No fewer than 1.25 million houses are defined as unfit to live in and more than 2.5 million homes suffer some form of damp. That means that the House, people in the Strangers' Gallery and those who are reading speeches should have heard something from the Government to show that they take account of the suffering of more than 4 million households, but we heard nothing from the Dispatch Box about alleviating the problem.

A line in the 1983 Conservative party manifesto ran: Our goal is to make Britain the best-housed nation in Europe". That is laughable in 1986. The Government spend less—about one third—as a proportion of national income than any other Common Market nation on housing. Seven years of this Government have produced real cuts in housing expenditure of two thirds. For every £1 spent in 1979, 20p is now spent on public sector housing. One of the consequences is that 400,000 building workers—skilled chippies, plumbers, bricklayers and electricians—are condemned to life on the dole when they could be repairing, modernising and improving the decaying housing stock of cities such as Coventry.

At current rates of house building, it is estimated that it will take until 2950 to replace the current housing stock. Nobody alive today will see that. Many generations will have to live in squalor if the Government's record is maintained. [Interruption.] I sat through the majority of six hours of the previous debate to make statements like that. According to Government definitions, Coventry has 1,000 houses that are unfit for human habitation and another 6,000 houses which lack one or more of the basic amenities—hot and cold running water, an inside toilet, a bath or a shower. We have 14,000 houses that need at least £4,000 spent on them to bring them up to an acceptable standard. Workers and their families in Coventry might have had an illusion of an expectation that the Bill and the money resolution would have offered some amelioration for one in six in the city.

The statistics involving workers in the west midlands are equally worthy of mention. No fewer than 450,000 houses in the west midlands are deemed unsatisfactory for present-day requirements and another 100,000 are in serious disrepair. Just before Christmas, a group of eminent medical experts and officials from the area health authority in Coventry brought out a weighty document called "The Health of Coventry". Time does not permit me to give the details of that report, but one of its central contentions is that to protect, develop and enhance the health of working people, a basic requirement is a decent house to live in.

According to the report, 402 families in Coventry are at serious risk because they need to be moved, but the council is unable to move them. In Coventry there are 5,000 houses without an inside toilet. There are 2,428 families—that means kids as well—do not have a bath or a shower. Some 1,266 people share a bath and 3,500 Coventry citizens cannot expect to have a hot water supply. [Interruption.]

These facts seem to make Conservative Members laugh. I would like to inform you, Mr. Speaker, as you were not in the Chair earlier, that the House heard a speech from the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) in which, apart from gaining concessions from the Minister with regard to cheaper methods of selling off houses under clauses 4 and 5, he made an interesting revelation about his colleagues seated around him. He said he was surrounded by chartered accountants.

The chartered surveyors on the Tory Benches have no experience of the kind of problems that I hear in my constituency. People come to me weekly and fortnightly with their problems. For example, a young woman with two children under the age of five, living on the third floor of a council block, told me that she had to go down to the garden to use an outside toilet. She pleaded with me to get the council to install an inside toilet, as when her kids are ill they become sicker by going out into the wind and the rain. When I write to Coventry city council, all that I receive back are letters from the housing department saying that there is no prospect of installing an inside toilet for at least 30 or 40 years.

In the face of that, Conservative Members wonder why some Labour Members get angry about the situation.

Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman feels very strongly about what he is saying. Can he explain why, apart from the Opposition Front Bench, there are just two of his colleagues in the House? Is it because they do not share his concern about the matter?

Mr. Nellist

Apart from the fact that the hon. Gentleman cannot count, my remarks are—

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is any of this relevant to the money resolution?

Mr. Speaker

If it was not relevant, I would have stopped the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist).

Mr. Nellist

The central point about the money resolution is that it gives money and authority to the Government to fulfil and enact the Bill.

The central clause in the Bill, clause 5, deals with increasing council house sales—both individually, by increasing the amount of discounts and shortening the time before that discount is applied, and collectively, by selling off blocks and estates. As I mentioned earlier in an interjection, one of my constituents in Stoke Aldermoor remarked to me on Friday evening that were the Government to get away with selling off council houses and place pressure on local authorities like Coventry to sell off chunks of estates, there would, in the midlands, be islands of affluence inside seas of effluent.

If the Bill was to be carried through Committee and the rest of the stages in the House, why has there been no recognition tonight from Conservative Members of those people in greatest need? Why have we not heard any statistics about the people on council house waiting lists whom the selling off of council homes condemns to further years of waiting before they can get a transfer or an application granted for a house or flat? When local authorities sell houses, those in greatest need, those who have been on waiting lists for many years, see their chances of a flat or a house receding. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member deserves a fair hearing. All the chit-chat on the Back Benches is very unseemly.

Mr. Nellist

Those people who come to see me in my surgeries with housing questions come about basic problems. For example, some people want to move quickly as they have already waited six or seven years and others would like to have an inside toilet. If we pass the money resolution to give authority and effect to the Bill, those people will be ditched. Selling council houses reduces local authority housing stock and condemns to an even longer wait those in greatest need of public sector housing.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Nellist

I shall give way in a minute.

I attempted during the speeches of the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment to ask a question on behalf of the thousands of tenants whom I represent: if the Government complete the Bill's plans and encourage councils to sell more local authority houses to their occupants and to private developers, collectively or individually, what happens to those who cannot afford to buy, or do not wish to buy? What happens to those who want to remain as tenants? What happens to the debt charges of £200 million in Coventry which lie on the backs of local authority tenants? If the number of houses and flats in Coventry is reduced from 25,000 to 20,000 or 15,000, the proportion of debt charges that must be serviced by rent increases to be paid by the tenants who are left will grow year by year.

As I have had no answer from the Minister, I give way to the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames).

Mr. Soames

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify a small point? Is it not now official Labour party policy to allow the sale of council houses?

Mr. Nellist

When my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) was specifically asked by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) whether a future Labour Government would take back into local authority ownership from tenants the houses that had been bought, my hon. Friend gave the unequivocal and categorical answer that a future Labour Government would make no attempt to repossess those houses. The hon. Member for Crawley may want me to expand on that point. The theme I am trying to develop is that those most in need of local authority housing do not gain any benefit from the sale of council houses. They would gain a benefit by massively expanding public sector building, as councils such as Liverpool have attempted to do in the past two years. I hope that a future Labour Government will take account of that fact. I hope that the Labour party will initiate these measures when it takes office in the next months or year or so.

When the hon. Member for Eastbourne referred to the chartered surveyors and the estate agents who sat on the Tory Benches, it became obvious that the Tories mainly supported the Bill not because it gave people a rational, reasonable choice on the type of home they could have but because it was in the narrow interests of profit—the interests of the builders, speculators and others who hoped to take a slice of the £75 billion public sector housing which the Government intend piece by piece to continue to privatise.

Ministers talk not about homes and houses but about units. They talk not about improving houses but about recoverable loans. How can they understand what it is like to live in damp, inadequate housing when they are led by a Prime Minister who had a house built by Barratt for £400,000 in Dulwich? They do not comprehend what it is like to live in the inner cities.

What has Coventry got out of the Bill? Absolutely nothing. We have had six or seven years of seeing our money for housing cut time and time again. In 1979, we were given £13 million by the Tories for repair, renovation and new build but this year, in cash terms, that has fallen to £7.2 million. In real terms, our city has lost £80 million over the past six or seven years. There are 3,000 or 4,000 building workers who could be working to repair buildings in the area represented by myself and other Labour Members, if the money were given back to Coventry. There are 8,000 people who desperately need a place in a council house or flat but have no opportunity to obtain it. There are people who live in overcrowded conditions, but the Government would rather spend £10 billion on Trident and sell chunks of our manufacturing industry to the Americans.

The money resolution and the Bill seek to destroy everything that local authorities have built up in public housing. They seek to denigrate and attack those local authorities such as Lambeth and Liverpool that have tried to swim against the tide and maintain or extend their housing stock. The money resolution and the Bill seek to sell the fallacy that one can choose to buy a house, but this is done on the back of increased rents for council house tenants. They seek to increase the profits of the Wimpeys, Laings and Barratts, which wish like sharks to get in on the buying up of council estates, with no regard to those who cannot afford to move out or to buy the houses that they intend to improve.

I urge that the money resolution be not passed and that authority be not given to the Government to act upon it. Let a report of the debate be made available to working-class people throughout the country so that the Government are chucked out of office as soon as possible.

10.30 pm
The Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction (Mr. John Patten)

I make a surprise appearance at the Dispatch Box. I congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) on his ingenuity in finding something to raise on the money resolution. However, to my mind he has not addressed the terms of the resolution as drafted. The resolution would have been drafted in the same terms if the Bill had included all the provisions which the Opposition wanted to see and none of things about which they complained.

The essence of the resolution is that it is purely qualitative. It does not require any expenditure to be incurred, nor does it impose any limit on expenditure. Those matters will be dealt with by the House when Estimates and cash limits are under consideration. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum sets out accurately and absolutely what we expect the effects on expenditure to be. Accordingly, I commend the money resolution to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Housing and Planning Bill, it is expedient to authorise—

  1. (1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenses of the Secretary of State under the Act and any increase attributable to the Act in the sums so payable under any other enactment;
  2. 244
  3. (2) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of sums received by the Secretary of State under the Act; and
  4. (3) the payment out of or into the Consolidated Fund or the National Loans Fund of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums so payable under any other enactment.