HC Deb 23 May 1988 vol 134 cc24-79
Mr. Speaker

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the names of the Prime Minister and others. No fewer than 22 hon. Members have sought so far to participate in the debate and I appeal for brief contributions so that as many as possible of them may be called.

3.41 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I beg to move, That this House condemns the housing policies of Her Majesty's Government which have created record levels of homelessness, a dramatic decline in the supply of low cost rented housing, house price inflation and increasing urbanisation of the South East; and therefore calls upon the Government to introduce policies which will end dependence on bed and breakfast accommodation at the earliest possible time and restore a planned programme of house building, repair and renovation, and to introduce a reformed system of housing finance designed to create a genuine and fair choice between renting and buying for people at all levels of income, and an effective system of regulation of development to enhance the rural and urban environment of this country.

One of the hallmarks of a civilised and affluent society is that it finds it possible to provide good, high-standard housing for a large majority of its citizens, if not for all. There is no reason why we in the United Kingdom should not achieve that aim. Housing is vital to the welfare of the nation, for we know that people in poor housing suffer poor health and that some people in inadequate housing achieve less than others in education. We know that families are more likely to disintegrate if housing is inadequate or inappropriate. We know also that the supply of good housing affects the general level of community welfare.

I have pointed out to the Government many times that they will not be able to deal wholly and properly with crime prevention until they deal with homeless young people. Home Office research demonstrates a close and strong link between young people being homeless, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and crime generally. I see the previous Minister with responsibilities for housing wearing his new hat as a Government spokesman on crime prevention. I know that he is out of touch with the problem and he does not understand the nature and extent of crime, especially casual street violence and the rise in alcohol abuse among young people, and crime generally.

The Government have had the blessing of North sea oil to prime the pump of the economy. They have not used it in the way in which we, the Opposition, or many others would have recommended. Instead they have used North sea oil revenues to finance mass unemployment. We have seen the housing crisis growing at an alarming pace.

House price inflation is running at 20 per cent. this year. The Halifax building society states that in the first few months of 1988 the house price inflation rate has been at that level. In real terms, that is greater than the rate which prevailed in the 1970s. The rate in East Anglia is 40 per cent., which is the highest in the country. East Anglia has overtaken both London and the south-east.

The Government would like to raise interest rates to dampen the house boom, but they cannot do so. We saw the trap in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister placed themselves, and we are aware also that there is a danger that borrowers will overstretch themselves and that the various financial institutions that are lending them money—many others apart from the building societies and banks—will demand that borrowers repay their debts. If they do not, they will become homeless or get into arrears.

The evidence is clear. In 1985, mortgage defaults were 16,490 for building societies and 570 for local authorities. By 1987, local authorities had been able to reduce the number of defaulters to 490 as a result of good management. In the private sector, the number of mortgage defaults had increased from 16,490 to 22,630. There are now 10,080 families who are homeless because they have defaulted on their mortgages. Many of the people in accommodation for the homeless in places such as the new town of Telford are there because they have not been able to pay their mortgages. The Government blame local authorities for using emergency accommodation. It is significant that the Government are happy to use taxpayers' money to subsidise mortgages, yet somehow when mortgage companies cannot come to an arrangement with those who fall into difficulty—perhaps because of unemployment or ill-health—the ratepayer is expected to provide. There are 64,000 people who are more than six months in arrears on their mortgages, and the numbers are increasing.

This is not the end of the crisis. The repairs bill is frightening. In the public sector, it is estimated to be £19 billion. In the private sector, the repairs bill to maintain housing standards—let alone improve them—is £27.5 billion.

The Government tell us that, although they are willing to subsidise purchase, they must not, in their terms, "over-subsidise" rents. They talk of fair rents and market rents. Between 1979 and 1982, fair rents on unfurnished accommodation increased by 47 per cent. Between 1982 and 1984, they increased by another 18 per cent. and between 1984 and 1986 by another 17 per cent. As everyone recognises, people cannot sensibly afford to choose renting over buying. They are forced into buying, even if they want to rent. A person who cannot afford to get a mortgage has no option but to pay rent, which is often equivalent to mortgage repayments.

Housing benefit has been cut eight times. Despite the £100 million concessions wrung out of the Government, there is still the £500 million cut which was made last April. It is time that we put the meat on the bones of that argument. A 64-year-old pensioner lady suffering from diabetes came to my advice surgery to tell me that she had lost £10.81 per week in housing benefit. Because of the concessions that we wrung out of the Government, that will be reduced—temporarily—to £2.50, unless rates and rents increase, when it will probably be more. The most for which she can hope is that that £2.50 will be held for about a year. After that, she still stands to lose the rest of that money. A 75-year-old couple—the man was disabled in the war—who will lose £7.40 a week heat their home with paraffin. What are we supposed to be doing to such people? How can the Government possibly justify that?

Housing subsidies tell us a lot. Last Thursday, during Environment questions, the Secretary of State made a desperate attempt to evade answering a question about the different forms of subsidy for different tenures. In 1987–88, a local authority tenure attracted a subsidy of £271, compared with £265 in 1981–82. As I pointed out, those figures were misleading. Even on the right hon. Gentleman's figures, that was an increase in subsidy of £6. For the owner-occupier, the increase was £62. The subsidy increased from £514 in 1981–82 to £576 in 1987–88.

But those were not the real figures. These are the real figures. in 1980–81, local authority tenants received subsidy worth £1.393 billion. By 1987–88, that had been cut to its present level of £500 million. That is a cut of nearly two thirds in the subsidy available to public sector tenants—while mortgage income tax relief for owner-occupiers for the same two years started at £2,190 million—about £700 million more in the first instance—and has now rocketed to a massive £5,000 million per annum compared with the £500 million available to local authorities.

It might be instructive now to look at the Government's White Paper issued towards the end of last year. Paragraph 1.10 states: These problems have often been compounded by indiscriminate subsidies from the rates to hold down rents. At the moment, many Conservative-controlled local authorities are increasing rents in the public sector to keep the rates down. It is almost as if they were using an owner-occupier's income to keep taxes down. That would be the alternative if the practice was operated in the owner-occupied sector. The White Paper went on to state that that created dependency among those people. If it creates dependency, the Government had better tell us why dependency is not also created when subsidy is given to owner-occupiers. That is why the Government's housing policy is so fundamentally flawed.

A cut in the subsidy to rent and an increase in the subsidy to buy means that the rented sector will dry up. I have explained that to Conservative Members time and again, and to be fair to some of them, including the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), they acknowledged that I was correct about the figures. In Dorset, the price of the average family house is about £90,000 and a manual labourer will receive £80 to £90 a week. If that house becomes vacant, the owner can sell it and put the money in a building society and he will receive nearly £200 a week in interest. Therefore, it is obvious that the market rent will be close to £200 at the very least. How can we expect that manual worker in Dorset to pay £200 a week rent out of his wages of £80 to £90 a week or to buy that house if it costs £90,000? He cannot do that. That is why the Government's housing policy is fundamentally wrong.

In England in 1975, 55 per cent. of people were owner-occupiers, 29 per cent. were local authority tenants and 16 per cent. were in the private rented sector. The Government have long boasted of their intention since they were elected in 1979—and before that—to increase the supply of private rented accommodation. In 1984—these figures have decreased more since then—63 per cent. were owner-occupiers, and that is an increase of 8 per cent. over the 1975 figure; 26 per cent. were local authority tenants, representing a drop of 3 per cent., and 11 per cent. were in the private rented sector, a drop of 5 per cent

We have told the Government time and time again that the private rented sector will continue to decline unless they do something about housing finance. The Rent Acts are only marginal in that respect. When the Rent Acts were abolished by an equally foolish Conservative Government in 1957, we saw the advent of Rachmanism and a dramatic collapse of the private rented sector. More houses were removed from the private rented sector then at any other time. In 1980, the Government tried to get rid of most of the Rent Acts then in force. As the figures that I have referred to show, there was another decline in the private rented sector.

I predict without any hesitation that unless the Government do something about housing finance, they can remove all the Rent Acts, but they will only increase harassment and the activities of some of the worst aspects of landlordism—although that does not involve all the private landlord sector by any means—and a significant minority of private landlords will behave extremely badly. As there will be no adequate supply, there will be no real choice for people who want to go to the public or private sector. They will not have any choice, because people will be keeping their houses empty for sale.

A survey undertaken by the Department of the Environment showed that only about 2.5 per cent. of properties were kept empty because of the Rent Acts. The vast majority of them were kept empty either for repairs or for sale.

I can pray in aid one newspaper that is becoming increasingly supportive to me. I quote none other than The Daily Telegraph, which on 17 May commented: A prudential restraint on the ratio of home loans to property values is called for: and notice should be served on mortgage interest tax relief before the credit boom turns, as these things do if unattended, into bust. This way too, the need for higher interest rates would be diminished, and the present tensions between Prime Minister and Chancellor resolved. I am grateful to The Daily Telegraph for that supportive evidence.

I make again the offer we have made to the Government several times. We are willing to talk about housing finance reform, but any such reform must be fairer both within and between the rented and purchase sectors. It must also be capable of being introduced in a way that does not cause either mortgage or rent payers economic distress. The last mentioned is particularly important, bearing in mind the increasing number of people being put into accommodation for the homeless because they cannot cope with their mortgages due to unemployment or rising interest rates, or because of the dramatic increase in rents in both local authority and private sector housing brought about by the present Government.

The most shameful and telling figure of all relates to homelessness. In 1978, 53,000 people were registered as homeless in Britain. Despite all the assets of North sea oil and the Government's boasts about an improving economy—although if one examines manufacturing industry, one sees no evidence of that; we must take the Government's word for it—the homeless figure has doubled to 100,000. That is the tip of the iceberg, because many homeless do not register. The youngsters sleeping under bridges in cardboard boxes do not register.

No one has made an accurate assessment of the number of homeless. We only know that the figure has dramatically increased. I emphasise again the enormous consequences of that trend for future generations and for safety on our streets. Young homeless on the streets at night will be exploited, and they will drift into drink, drugs and crime. Although some of them may survive that experience, it is inevitable that a larger number of youngsters are falling into such difficulties than need be the case.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

My hon. Friend refers to the fact that the number of homeless has doubled since 1979 to 100,000. What does he think of the sermon recently given by the Prime Minister when she preached about love of money and said that it was what one did with money that was important? There are an extra 50,000 homeless people. With all the money that this wealthy country of ours has, it is time that the Prime Minister preached about something else.

Mr. Soley

One of the reasons why the Prime Minister gets into so much trouble with the churches is that they have a different perception of what this country's priorities ought to be today: my hon. Friend makes that point very well.

It would be £4,000 per annum cheaper to build more council houses than to keep the homeless in bed-and-breakfast accommodation—yet it appears that the Government are willing to use taxpayers' and ratepayers' money to keep people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation when it would be cheaper to allow local authorities to build houses for them.

The Government try to blame local authorities for homelessness and the numbers in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. They accuse local authorities of owning all the void properties. However, if one examines the figures, something quite frightening emerges concerning the Government's responsibility in this matter. It is not just that they are cutting the money available to local authorities or that they have deliberately attempted to undermine and destroy this country's local authorities. The Government also have a responsibility for the level of voids.

The average level of voids among local authority properties is 2.5 per cent. The figure for housing associations is 3.1 per cent.—slightly higher, but still good. In the private sector, the figure is 4.2 per cent. The worst offender of all, at 6.9 per cent, is Government properties. Last Wednesday, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment stated that Government properties were sometimes kept empty for "operational reasons". Operational reasons? Is one in five Metropolitan police houses kept empty for operational reasons? Forty-odd flats and houses being knocked down outside Wormwood Scrubs prison for landscaping and car parking and kept empty for nine years in some cases—is that really for operational reasons?

When the Under-Secretary visited Southend, a Conservative borough, its members tried to impress on her that, although they had tried all the initiatives that she had urged them to try, they still could not cope with the basic needs of homeless people without using bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Despite all the initiatives that the Government have urged on local authorities, even their own supporters—the Conservative councils—cannot deliver.

The underlying cause comes down to two figures. In 1977, the figure for building starts for local authority houses was 140,000. By 1979, it had been reduced to about 92,000—a good figure to have maintained at that stage. By 1985, the figure had dropped to 33,000. There has been a dramatic cut in the supply of housing. A Government who are selling their economic philosophy on the basis of supply and demand do not seem to understand that if supply is deliberately and wantonly cut it will produce an acute crisis in demand. They do not understand their own lectures about the economy.

There is no way in which the private sector can or will ever he able to make up the difference, and the Government know it. Even if they pumped money into the private sector with tax handouts such as the business expansion scheme and the Chancellor's new approach of Rachmanism paid for by the taxpayer, they still would not be able to get the supply back to anywhere near the level of the late 1970s.

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

I noticed that the hon. Gentleman moved quickly from the figures on council housing to the totality. Would he care to confirm the most recent annual figures for private construction? Are they not the highest for 14 years?

Mr. Soley

As I said, they have gone up, but nowhere near enough. We are talking about a cut from 140,000 to 33,000. The increase in the private sector makes up only a few thousand of that.

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

I think that the hon. Gentleman would wish to have the complete story, as he referred only to the public sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) tried to get the total figures from him. Perhaps he knows that last year completions totalled just over 201,000, and that in the current year the figure is expected to be 223,000. Those are very large figures. I grant that the majority are in the private sector, but the hon. Gentleman must tell the House the whole story.

Mr. Soley

I have told it, but I will tell it to the hon. Gentleman again. He can add up. He has referred to an increase of 20,000; I mentioned a cut from 140,000 to 33,000. Let the hon. Gentleman work it out. The figure of 20,000 goes into that figure about four times.

Let me quote what was said by the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine): I am far from persuaded that building more and more houses—that fewer and fewer of our children can afford—actually addresses the problem". The right hon. Member for Henley knows full well that—[Interruption.] I shall return to the subject in a moment, so hon. Members need not get excited about it just yet. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that the number of new houses being built to which the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) referred are not for first-time buyers or for low-cost renting. They are being sold for £150,000 and £200,000 in the south-east of England.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. William Waldegrave)

So that we can have the complete picture, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that more than half the new houses built in the last quarter—these are the latest figures that we have—went to first-time buyers?

Mr. Soley

The problem with that is that the amount being borrowed in mortgages is now well over 80 per cent. The Minister knows the message from The Daily Telegraph on that. He also knows that it is profoundly dangerous. There need he only a slight decline in the present boom in house prices, and the consequences will be catastrophic for those who have overreached themselves.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware of any occasion on which a homeless family in a bed-and-breakfast hotel in London have been able to go to an estate agent and buy one of the new houses which have been built since the Tory Government came to office, and which they have encouraged in the private sector?

Mr. Soley

Precisely. I shall return to the subject of house prices in the south-east in a few moments.

The other figure that adds to my argument is this. Residential construction Investment in the United Kingdom has fallen to an all-time low of about 2.1 per cent. For almost all our competitors, it is over 3 per cent., and in places such as West Germany and many other parts of Europe it is about 6 per cent. We are investing less in housing than almost any comparable country in North America or Europe.

The Government say that the answer lies in the Housing Bill, as we see in their rather pathetic amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is it?"] It is a long-running farce, but we have not seen it yet.

The Association of District Councils, a Conservative-controlled body, does not agree that the answer lies in the Housing Bill. The association thinks that the Bill is a disaster. Nor does that answer please the Conservative-controlled council of Barnet, in the Prime Minister's constituency, which had this to say: the Government's White Pa per"— that is, the White Paper that led to the Bill— confirms the belief that the legislation is clearly aimed at breaking up the housing stocks of local authorities, rather than to give a clear 'tenant's choice'".

In Southend, a representative of another Conservative council—this time in the constituency of the Secretary of State for Transport-said: I have been asked to register with you strongly that the Committee believes that the proposals would without safeguards be likely to reduce the Council's already grossly inadequate ability to meet its minimum statutory obligations to provide accommodation for priority applicants". The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said: it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the pick-a-landlord idea has more to do with political ideology than good management", and the Royal Institute of British Architects said: the general tenor of the proposals is weighted against the local authority, even when it has a good record of housing management".

The Government's answer did not please any of those organisations. Nor did it please the most senior Tory on Gloucester city council, who resigned after 16 years as chair of the housing committee. In his retirement speech, he said: I took my decision riot to seek re-election while convalescing from a heart operation last year. I am concerned about the future of public housing in this country and especially with the legislation that is going through Parliament at the present time. I do not want to be part of it. He said that on housing the Government had simply got it wrong.

So we know what Conservative councillors think up and down the country. The response to the White Paper from a Conservative-controlled local authority was either neutral or sympathetic; the rest tended to be critical. So much for Conservative support for the White Paper.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo


Mr. Soley

I will not give way. I would be impinging on other Members' time.

Telford and Milton Keynes tell us something very interesting. When tenants in Peterborough new town were asked whether they would prefer a housing association or a council landlord, they voted by 94 per cent. to stay with the council. What are the Government doing? In Telford and Milton Keynes, they have decided to do away with elections for two years. They will transfer them first; then, after a couple of years, they will let the people have a vote—by which time they will have done all that they can to sabotage the ability of the local authority to offer an alternative management. That is why the so-called "tenants' choice" is in fact the landlords' choice. It is the opportunity to pick a tenant. If there were any real choice, it would apply to non-resident landlords in the private sector, so that tenants could genuinely make a choice in either the private or public sector. They are not allowed to do that.

The crisis hurts most for those who are homeless or in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. An article in The Guardian last week by Michelle Beauchamp put it very well. She wrote about one individual: For three pounds, he got a bed in a room with six other people (three bunk beds and a single bed), a few blankets and a cooked breakfast the next morning. I assume that that was to escape the provisions of the Rent Acts. There was also a television room with 12 beds in it and, at a guess, seven other rooms with between six and 12 people each. In all, there must have been close to 100 people staying there—all young and all homeless. That would mean a rent of about £300 a week, and that is probably what the landlord would charge. The alternative would be for the landlord to sell the property and put the money into a building society. Without any of the hassle of being a landlord, he would get more money. That is why in my area, a few months ago, I found four people sharing a room, each of whom was paying £70 a week.

The Housing Bill will push up market rents to such a level that either landlords will go to the rich end of the market—to the companies and overseas businesses in London—or they will pack in as many people as possible. If they are really sharp, they will use the business expansion scheme that was introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, get a tax return after five years and then evict under the much easier to evict procedure of the Housing Bill in order to sell the property with vacant possession. They will enjoy both a vacant possession sale and a tax handout—all from the Government.

The Centre Point organisation that caters for many homeless people in London points out that it is very difficult for young people to return home. Conservative Members say from time to time that that is what they ought to do, and in her lecture to the Church of Scotland the Prime Minister seemed to think that it is a good idea, too. One quarter of the young people who stay at Centre Point have been in care. A number of them have been sexually abused at home. Are we really saying that they ought to return home? Is that the answer to the housing crisis?

What is happening is desperately serious, and in a funny sort of way it is now coming home to roost among the Conservatives in the south-east of England. The Government have divided the north from the south by using the proceeds from North sea oil to fund the south. They are also building the Channel tunnel. Incidentally and significantly, engineering companies are now advertising that they will pay the mortgages of the engineers that they are recruiting from overseas and in Britain because they will not move to the south-east unless their mortgages are paid. The M25 has also pushed up values. One may argue that all this should happen, but if it happens without sensible planning and without a sensible system for spreading economic wealth throughout the country, the result is a crisis in the south-east.

Last Monday, I said that it was all about boundaries and votes in the south-east. Some Tory Members said that it was not about that at all, but now we have written evidence from the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). He wrote a letter to a Conservative councillor but a copy was also sent to another councillor. In his letter the hon. and learned Member for Burton said: Burton's structure Plan. I note that 4,500 new homes are proposed. This means an increase in the number of electors of about 11,000 bringing the overall total to 83,000—some 15,000 above the figure we were warned at the last redistribution (when Burton was saved from fragmentation) would be likely to be acceptable at the next redistribution. It follows that the building of any more houses on this scale is likely to lead to the dismemberment of the Burton constituency which is likely to reduce"— this is it— my Parliamentary majority—and ensure a Labour majority on the East Staffordshire District Council for most if not all of the time. I am pleased to see that in the Burton Mail the Conservative councillor concerned said: I have no wish to be associated with the contents of this letter. Full marks to him. I note that the hon. and learned Member for Burton said in the Burton Mail that this letter was intended only for a Conservative colleague. [HON. MEMBERS: "Surprise, surprise."] If so, I wonder why it is written on House of Commons notepaper. You, Mr. Speaker, will have a view about using House of Commons notepaper for party political purposes.

The truth of the matter, as the right hon. Member for Henley said, is that the introduction of so-called rural villages will change the structure of Conservative voting in the south-east and lead to boundary changes. I said last Monday that I was one of the Labour party Members who suffered last time from boundary changes. This time it will affect the Tory party. That is one of the small morsels of pleasure that I get out of what is otherwise an appalling scene.

Many people in the south-east, as well as some Conservative Back Benchers, are right to be concerned about the unplanned building of houses and housing estates in the south-east. I referred last week to Old Basing, near Basingstoke. The new houses at Old Basing are not for first-time buyers. They are not low-cost accommodation for rent. Those houses will cost a minimum of £150,000. Nobody on low or average incomes will be able to afford them.

The Secretary of State's problem is that he has twigged that the Government will have to do something fast about housing. That led to the introduction of the business expansion scheme. The Government tried to let it rip in the south-east, in the hope that, somehow, the market would meet demand. The Government then found that a number of Conservative Members oppose their plans because they find that their nice, comfortable, cosy little areas will begin to look like urban parkland. Without sensible planning in Greater London, in the south-east and nationally, we shall not get this right.

Conservative Members believe that the answer lies in more and more home ownership. I accept that home ownership has increased by about 10 per cent., but if they believe that home ownership will solve the problem, I remind them that Switzerland, with one of the best housing records in Europe, has a very low level of home ownership. On the other hand, in Bangladesh, there is about 99 per cent. home ownership. The idea that tenure is the deciding factor is irrelevant.

If the Government are serious about solving the housing crisis, they must give money to local authorities, housing associations and other organisations. They must reform housing finance in such a way that people can choose between renting and buying their homes. They should not feel that they must buy because if they do not they will never be able to afford a decent home. There is no flexibility between renting and buying.

In other countries, one can switch from the rented sector to owner-occupation, and then switch back again without economic hardship. That cannot be done in the United Kingdom. It is impossible for elderly people to rent accommodation because they can no longer look after their own property. The young, those on low incomes and the unemployed cannot become owner-occupiers. They have to rely on rented accommodation. That is what is wrong with this Government's housing policies. What they have done is criminal. They have destroyed what was once an improving housing market, and thereby they have destroyed the lives of many people, particularly the lives of young people who are out there with their cardboard boxes looking for somewhere to live. It is time that this House gave them somewhere to live.

4.17 pm
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. William Waldegrave)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'congratulates the Government on the success of its home ownership policies, enabling more people than ever before to own their own homes; notes with satisfaction the Government's proposals in the Housing Bill to encourage private renting, to expand the role of housing associations, to give council tenants the right to seek a new landlord of their choice, and to establish Housing Action Trusts to improve conditions for tenants in some of the worst council estates; deplores the incompetence displayed by some Labour housing authorities who have on the one hand condemned homeless people to bed and breakfast while they have empty council property, and on the other failed to deal with delays for existing tenants who seek to exercise their right to buy; urges the Government to press ahead with its radical reforms of the rented sector of housing in the interests both of present tenants and the homeless, and to continue to maintain a proper balance between the needs of development and the protection of the environment; and congratulates it on extending and maintaining the protection afforded by green belts round major cities.'.

There is always a ritualistic quality about these debates. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) says that everything that is happening is the fault of this Government. If the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) were here, he would include a wide range of subjects: the black death and other matters. If the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) were here, the three-day week would be put down to Thatcherite Britain. That kind of approach is sad. The hon. Member for Hammersmith said nothing that went to the root of the problem.

We know where the Opposition's priorities lie. We were to have this debate last week but, much to my disappointment, it was swept aside so that Opposition Members could support the picketing in a particular industrial dispute; but, their having gone to the aid of those people, the strike rapidly collapsed, as one might have expected.

It is easy enough to apply the ritual in reverse and to show the answer to Opposition Members. A number of my hon. Friends have already pointed to the weaknesses in the arguments of the hon. Member for Hammersmith. The hon. Gentleman ended his speech with a rhetorical flourish about the worsening situation. Let him wait until the English house condition survey comes out. The Welsh house condition survey was published recently and revealed a very encouraging position, with the standard of housing improving. The difficulty for Opposition Members is that any good news is by definition bad news for them. Let us wait and see.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Waldegrave

No. I shall develop my argument a little further and then I shall give way to the bon. Gentleman.

It would be wise for Opposition Members to wait for the results of the English house condition survey. Its preliminary results are reasonably encouraging so they should not attach their flag too firmly to that mast. Since the Opposition left office we have managed to double in real terms improvement grants to the private sector, and investment in the public sector has been increased in the past three years. It will not be surprising if we find that there has been steady improvement in the underlying condition of the housing stock.

As the hon. Gentleman said, there has been a major increase in home ownership in this country. He belittled that and likened it to Bangladesh. I do not see the logic of his argument. It is clear—and every poll has always shown it—that the majority of people wish to own their own homes. I should have thought that hon. Members would agree that it was a good thing that 2.5 million more people own homes now than under the Labour Government. The proportion has gone up from 47 per cent. to 66 per cent. and includes 1 million council tenants. That is no matter for apology.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Waldegrave

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished this point.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith talked about first-time buyers. He said that people are building houses and no one will buy them. The hon. Gentleman is wrong. People will buy them. As I have said, in the first quarter of this year more than half the houses sold—285,000—were bought by first-time buyers. Last year, there was a record number of new, first-time buyers. The hon. Member for Hammersmith was quite wrong to say that first-time buyers are excluded from those markets.

Mr. Heffer

The Minister said that surveys and polls show that the majority of people would like to own their own houses. I do not disagree with that one bit. Ordinary people in this country always like to own their own houses, but thousands, if not millions, of people are in no position to buy their own homes. Although some people are getting the opportunity to buy their own homes—incidentally at tremendous cost and with astronomical mortgage repayments—basically, it is the yuppies who are buying new homes, particularly in London and along Canary Wharf which is about to be developed. What about those who cannot buy their own homes? The Government are putting local authorities in such a position that, increasingly, they cannot provide houses for such people. That is the real sadness.

Mr. Waldegrave

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is a good thing that many more people are able to own their own homes under this Government than under the Government that the hon. Gentleman supported. Some 2.5 million more people are now able to own their own homes and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that.

There is a variety of ownership. Recently, I had the privilege of visiting the Eldonian co-operative in Liverpool, which the hon. Gentleman will know very well. It was delighted to have escaped from being a tenant of the Liverpool council. It urged us to transfer the freehold of its property to the urban development corporation so that the co-operative could go ahead. We are supporting a variety of different types of ownership.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) reminded the hon. Member for Hammersmith that total starts are running at a very good rate. In the first quarter of this year there were 215,000 new starts. The hon. Member for Hammersmith does not realise that when a house is built and sold into the market another house somewhere else is released. Without those 215,000 houses being built, prices would be even higher and first-time buyers would be in real difficulties.

The hon. Gentleman made a moving plea for speeding the planning and building of more houses. I am with him in that so long as he is with us in maintaining our commitment to the green belt, which has doubled, in encouraging and further developing the process which has led to 55 per cent. of all building in the south-east being on recycled land, and in slowing down the rate of the loss of agricultural land from what it was under the Labour Government. It is now running at about a third of what it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Of course we can and will do more in that respect. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the direction of policy and therefore the establishment of the urban development corporations, which are helping to bring forward recycled land.

Mr. Morgan

The Minister said that, although houses costing £150,000 may seem out of reach to the first-time buyer, they create a vacancy lower down the system as a well-off person buys a house for £150,000. Does he agree that during a period of intense shortages of carpenters, bricklayers and plasterers, houses built predominantly in the £150,000 to £250,000 price range use the scarce supply of bricklayers and carpenters who might otherwise be building houses for social need? That would be a balanced approach to housing, for which we aim, and for which the Government do not.

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman sings a different tune from that which his party normally sings, which is that we should greatly expand the amount of construction to cut unemployment in the construction industry. Perhaps he should get his act together. Houses costing £150,000 are not being sold to first-time buyers. Houses costing between £30,000 and £40,000 are now being built for first-time buyers and are within their reach.

Mr. Soley


Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)


Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)


Mr. Waldegrave

I promised to give way to the hon. Member for Hammersmith first.

Mr. Soley

The Minister is skating around the problem. I shall give him credit for knowing that the problem in the south-east is the lack of low-cost rented accommodation. He has to address himself to my comments about house prices in Dorset, and to the problem of some villages in north Cornwall, as censuses have revealed that 70 per cent. of those villages are empty for most of the year due to the second homes issue. The Minister talked about rhetoric. I have offered him the opportunity to talk about reforming housing finance, which will go a long way to resolving that problem. Will he accept that offer?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman must sort out his own ideas. In the past few weeks I have seen a number of corrections by him in newspapers as to what he is proposing. Is he proposing simply an additional £4.5 billion, which is the amount of mortgage interest relief? If he is, the problem mentioned by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) will become still more acute.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Boateng


Mr. Waldegrave

I cannot fail to give way to that duo.

Mr. Banks

Both together?

Mr. Speaker

Order. It must be one at a time, but which one?

Mr. Waldegrave

It is a judgment of Solomon. I give way to the ex-Whip.

Mr. Banks

Will the Minister tell me and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) exactly where in the south-east, and London in particular, a new house can be purchased for £30,000 to £40,000?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am well aware that in London such a house would be extremely difficult to find, if it could be found at all. I refer to the average prices nationally. Of course they are very much higher in London.

Mr. Boateng

Will the Minister tell us what proposals he or his Department have to assist local authorities in London with the problems of first-time buyers and to restore the assistance that they were able to provide to first-time buyers prior to 1979 so that people can afford low-cost housing in London, especially at the current high rates of that so-called low-cost housing?

Mr. Waldegrave

I shall come in a moment to the improvements that we might seek in the use of the huge local authority stock in London to bring help to the people about whom the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) is concerned. I am delighted that in the constituency of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) large areas of land are now being brought forward for development by the local authorities and the London Docklands development corporation, on whose land considerable numbers of cheaper and subsidised rented houses are being offered. I shall return to the use of the stock in a moment.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith and I disagree not about whether a minority of our people are being failed by the system but about the right response to that problem. Broadly speaking, the Opposition say that we should deal with the failures of the system—which means that too many people are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, or homeless—simply by going on with the system as it always was. I do not believe that that is the right response. It is a scandal that we have 10,000 families in bed and breakfast. That is why I have announced today the allocation of the latest tranche of money—I hope that there will be more—to help get some of them out of bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Are we saying that, although we have 4.5 million council properties, we cannot run the system flexibly and efficiently enough to find those 10,000 families proper homes? I simply do not believe it. There is £9.5 billion-worth of support for poor people's housing. That is more than twice as much as mortgage interest relief. It behoves the House to examine how we use such enormous sums of money.

The London borough of Southwark takes about 24 weeks to let a flat or house. If it reduced that length of time just to the average—if it were no better than the average—the equivalent of another 1,800 properties to let would be produced. I doubt whether the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will disagree with me about this. That figure just happens to be a little more than Southwark's bed-and-breakfast list. If, therefore, it could manage its property properly, it could solve the problem now. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about repairs?"]. If it collected its rents, Southwark would have plenty of money for repairs.

The Audit Commission recently calculated that if we could achieve a little improvement in the re-let period—not anything dramatic—we would have the equivalent of another 20,000 re-lets annually. There are 100,000 empty council properties, 20,000 of them in London. There is complete chaos in the management of many local authorities, which have the task of helping some of the most vulnerable people.

A puzzled Councillor King—he sounds a reasonable fellow—who is the successor to the hon. Member for Tottenham in Haringey, said recently that, although the housing department there was stuffed to the gunwales with party members and sympathetic workers it has proved incapable of tackling the basic problems of 1000s of tenants. Some of my hon. Friends might think that Councillor King's views show cause and effect.

Tenants' leaders in Lambeth recently looked at that borough's accounts, and said: What we have seen from a brief glimpse of the books is akin to lifting the lid on a Pandora's Box of gross inefficiency and mismanagement. A major survey, which nobody has challenged, has shown that more than half the people who are alleged to he in need of council housing are not.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

What has the Minister to say about a council such as Tower Hamlets, which has several hundred homeless families, many of them in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and which has recently decided that some 50 or more families are intentionally homeless because they came from Bangladesh, leaving property which they had previously occupied there? Does he accept Tower Hamlets council's excuse that it is following this admittedly savage policy in relation to homeless people on the grounds that it is not getting sufficient Government money to convert property and make it available to those families, or does he think that the council is behaving irresponsibly and without regard to its duties as a housing authority?

Mr. Waldegrave

I do not think that. The right hon. Gentleman and I have followed this matter and we have discussed it with people who are interested in the problem. Tower Hamlets borough council has tried to clarify the law through the courts. By chance, my officials are meeting officials of Tower Hamlets this afternoon to discuss what happens next. I am not sure that I think it fair to describe the officers and elected members of that borough as the right hon. Gentleman has described them, although I could detail plenty of improvements that I would like the council to make in its housing management.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

Before the Minister gave way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), he claimed that waiting lists are grossly overestimated. He made the same claim some months ago. In Leeds, the figures are collected quarterly and registered daily. How was the evidence behind the Minister's claim put together, or is he simply suggesting that a statistical exercise in his Department is now getting rid of the reality of homelessness in our cities?

Mr. Waldegrave

If the hon. Gentleman has another look at the press notice, he will see that it directs him to a major piece of research, which is in the Library, and which is the first in-depth survey of how waiting lists are managed. It was carried out by people quite independent of my Department, under contract. It was found that a huge range of methods are employed to keep waiting lists. People involved in housing, as the hon. Member has been, will be aware of that fact. The survey found incontrovertible evidence to suggest that the figures do not mean what they seem to mean.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

I sat for eight years on a London borough housing committee. The Labour-controlled council refused during that time to review the waiting list although anybody could put their name on it. At the end of that time, it was reckoned that about 60 per cent. of those who had put their name down did not live in the borough.

Mr. Waldegrave

One thing that the research discovered was that, if a council offered a house or flat to people on the waiting list, some of those people could not be contacted.

All the indicators show that, to the despair of the Opposition, there is a slow but steady improvement in housing and that the great majority of the nation is well housed. The argument between us is whether it is best to deal with those whom the present system has let down simply by providing more resources for the organisations that I have just mentioned, or whether we have to develop some new policies.

Conservative Members have been waiting with excitement for the new Labour policies. We are aware that a major operation is going on in terms of reforming Labour policies. Nothing is more convenient for a Government than to have an Opposition which is producing good clothes that we can steal. That is how Governments have always proceeded. We await the work of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) attentively. I am afraid that our hopes will be set at naught. I am trying as best I can to keep up with the work of the Labour party, and I read recently in the New Statesman that its view of the work is that: Vacuity, if not a political philosophy, is certainly espoused as a neo-political style". Unfortunately, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) seems, after labouring for a year, to have produced a mouse. It seems that we cannot look for much help there.

There is simply no point in piling money into the Councillor Kings and the Lambeth councils of the world, because they could not spend it effectively. We are therefore trying, by agreement with local authorities that will co-operate—through Estate Action and the priority estate programme, for example—to target resources that work well. We are setting in train a range of improvements on some of the worst council estates. I am aware, however, that that type of activity and targeting money on those in crisis most urgently—for whom I have announced money today—will not solve the failures of the system that produces those symptoms. The underlying problem is that we have managed, almost uniquely in Europe, to drive investment out of the private rented sector. That is why we are bringing forward measures in the Housing Bill——

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Waldegrave

No. I have given way a great deal. Hon. Members will no doubt have an opportunity to make their own speeches.

We are bringing forward reforms to the Rent Acts which will bring back a reasonable private rented sector. With the business expansion scheme, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done exactly what the hon. Member for Hammersmith argued for—provided some fiscal equality in these matters. That is why we are bringing land back into use via the urban development corporations and why we will direct considerable resources to the housing action trusts to improve some of the worst estates. Often those estates are full of empty properties, even though some of them may be a few hundred yards from the House. Some of those estates have much empty property and that demonstrates a failure in their management and original design to produce tolerable conditions. That is why we shall be directing a large amount of our resources to getting those properties back into use.

The tenants in the subsidised rented sector need far closer involvement in the management, and preferably ownership, of their properties. Otherwise any money that is made available may well go straight down the drain.

Mr. Tony Banks

What about the private sector?

Mr. Waldegrave

There are more voids in the private sector than in the public sector and that is largely as a result of the Rent Acts and their effect on property letting.

We want an expansion in the number of housing associations because we believe that their traditions will make subsidised housing better managed. I am happy to announce today that housing association schemes, supported by local authority loans, will still be eligible for Exchequer grant under the Housing Bill.

Another article in the New Statesman—I just happened to be leafing through the copy—said that when it came to management of the countryside Notably absent from the play of forces is the Labour Party. On the basis of the contribution from the hon. Member for Hammersmith, I believe that there is no Opposition thinking in that respect. I am happy to tell the hon. Member for Hammersmith that he should not have to wait too long because, shortly, we shall bring before the House a Housing Bill that goes to the heart of many of the underlying problems——

Mr. Tony Banks

Where is it?

Mr. Boateng

Where is it?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Members on the very Back Benches will have the pleasure of carrying that Bill through its next stage shortly. I am pleased that they are impatient to get on with their proper work. Part of the joy will have gone because the Whip who carried the matter through so efficiently in Committee has unfortunately been compelled to resign.

We recognise the weakness in many of the present systems which are intended to bring help to those who are most vulnerable within the housing sector. We recognise that failure, but the Labour party has learnt nothing and that is why it has little to offer to this debate.

4.41 pm
Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington)

I shall be brief because I am aware that a number of hon. Members wish to participate in this debate.

I found it odd that the Minister should make jibes about the delay in holding this debate because, yet again, no date has been fixed for bringing back the Housing Bill. Is it true that the confusion that the Government have got into regarding concessions made in Committee has meant that they are unable to bring it back? Are there problems between the Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment? When are we going to have that Bill back? We would have been pleased if he had announced that today, but we heard nothing.

I spent three and a half months in Committee on the Housing Bill and I am not surprised at the delay because we witnessed the Government's utter confusion regarding housing. The proposals within that Bill have nothing to do with housing need or housing conditions.

I should like to describe the conditions in Manchester. It is a case study of the Government's record on housing people, the conditions that they must live in, and homelessness. It was an absolute surprise, if not shock, to discover in the Housing Bill—it may come back in a different form—that there was no chapter, paragraph or sentence on homelessness. The word "homelessness" did not appear in the Bill. There has been no reference to homelessness in the Government's second flagship of housing policy. That is a mark of their commitment to housing.

A few facts and figures give a clear picture of the situation in Manchester. In 1987–88, as a result of the fine efforts of the housing department and its management in Manchester—contrary to the Minister's jibes about the efficiency of housing departments—it managed to rehouse 12,694 people compared with 10,882 in 1984–85. It has managed to reduce the waiting list from 38,266 to 32,839 in the same period. Despite the limited resources it receives, that department is trying to make an effort to manage the stock at its disposal efficiently.

The Minister has tried to cook the statistics on waiting lists, and it is important to look behind the rehousing statistics to discover what is happening in Manchester. It is clear that, between 1984 and 1988, the number of homeless families in temporary accommodation has risen from 181 to 433. The number of homeless people who have been rehoused has risen from 907 to 1,341. Other factors that have affected people in temporary accommodation have meant that the number who have been rehoused by the housing department has increased from 379 in 1985 to 1,096 in 1988.

Those rehousing statistics show that the trend is that more and more homeless families are reliant on the local authority to rehouse them. Coupled with the increase in the number of people being rehoused, a massive extra demand for housing has been placed upon the local authorities by homeless families. Manchester is successfully tackling that problem.

In Manchester, however, there are other indicators of unmet social need. The number of households now requiring accommodation has increased, as has the number of second-generation families requiring to be rehoused locally. The number of elderly people requiring decent units of accommodation locally has also increased and that would free their current houses for the second-generation families and others. What has been the Government's response? In this context it is important to consider the private rented sector. A survey undertaken last year by the research section of the Manchester housing department gives a clear picture of the situation. It shows that in the private sector there are 3,150 unfit dwellings, 3,620 dwellings that lack basic amenities and 8,740 properties in urgent need of renovation.

I was absolutely amazed to hear the Minister say that improvement grants have been increased. In Manchester, those grants have been squeezed. The survey showed that there are 3,000 applicants waiting for improvement grant—3,000 families are waiting to do up their properties. They are already aware that the chances of receiving an improvement grant have been minimised.

I am reminded of a public meeting that I attended about the Housing Bill. The leader of the Tories, Councillor Joyce Hill, said that the Housing Bill was about three important issues. First, she said, it intended to ensure that all families had security of tenure. That is wrong; it is about insecurity and about doing away with security of tenure. She said that it would ensure that fair rents would continue in the public and private sectors. That is wrong; fair rents are being abandoned for market rents. She also said that the important thing about the Housing Bill was that it ensured that everyone would have an improvement grant when they needed it. That is wrong; improvement grants are not even mentioned in the Bill. That is what the leader of the Tories in Manchester had to say—she could not even read a brief from Tory Central Office when she was standing on a public platform.

What has been the Government's response to housing need in Manchester? Let us consider the housing investment programme. I was staggered when I thought I heard the Minister say—he can correct me if I am wrong—that housing investment programmes for cities such as Manchester have increased. Let us consider the figures. In 1979, when the Government came to office, the H IP allocation for Manchester was £65 million. Today, that allocation is a miserly £28.8 million.

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman has abused a Conservative councillor for not reading out something right. Would he care to comment on the fact that Manchester city council has spent a lot of ratepayers' money on a leaflet that says that if tenants transfer under the right to transfer, they will lose their right to buy? If those tenants read the Bill, as the hon. Gentleman has done, they will see that that claim is false.

Mr. Bradley

It is rich for a Minister to talk about leaflets being sent out by a city council when the Government are not prepared to answer the question about how much they are spending on political propaganda and on supporting private developers going around cities such as Manchester to try to fiddle people out of their home in advance of the Housing Bill.

In real terms in Manchester, since the Government came into office, the housing investment programme has been cut by a staggering 350 per cent. If in real terms we had the same amount of money available as we had under the previous Labour Government, we should be receiving £129.65 million. Instead, as I have said, we are receiving a paltry £28.8 million and that has to be used to try to bolster the conditions in which people live in Manchester.

Manchester undertook a massive survey of its own stock and produced its housing defects report. It found that it needed a minimum of £600 million to be spent on housing stock just to repair the defects that already exist. If we had a five-year programme in Manchester and the Government committed themselves to properly funding the housing in a city such as Manchester, we would be able to repair the 46,000 traditional dwellings needing improvement and we would be able to spend money on the 12,500 non-traditional dwellings in urgent need of repair.

If we had such a programme, we would be able to spend money on the 118 tower blocks needing re-cladding, re-roofing, heating improvements and security systems. In my constituency of Withington we would be able to undertake a modernisation programme on the 9,000 inter-war houses that desperately need to be modernised so that people can live in decent conditions.

We have estimated that, if the Government would put public money, as they should, into our housing stock, it would not only improve the conditions in which people live, but would create jobs. If we had a five-year rolling programme in Manchester, thousands of jobs would be created not only on building sites and in the construction industry but in related industries. Our survey entitled "Jobs, Homes and a Future" emphasises the need to bring employment into cities such as Manchester and public sector investment would bring that about.

The Government's response has been to cut housing benefit, so reducing the amount of money people can spend on their housing. We estimate that in Manchester over £15 million will be lost in housing benefit to people in desperate need. As a result of the Government's Housing Bill, housing is high on the political agenda. I do not think that it is any coincidence in Manchester that we had sweeping victories in the local elections and for once housing was an issue on people's lips as they went into the polling stations. They see that there is no answer to the housing needs of people in Manchester by selling off their houses to private developers; selling off their needs and their children's needs.

It is no coincidence that, over the period of the Housing Bill, the number of people who have put in right-to-buy applications has increased massively. When we talk to those people about their applications, we find that they have put them in not because they want to become owner-occupiers but because it is the only way they can see of securing a future for their families. They are scared that their rights will be taken away by the Bill and they feel that the only way to protect those rights is to put in a right-to-buy application before that draconian Bill becomes law.

Mr. Squire

Will the hon. Gentleman assure me that, when he meets constituents who express that fear, he points out that as long as each and every one of those people wants to remain a tenant, nothing in the Housing Bill can deprive them of that?

Mr. Bradley

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we do everything possible to tell applicants exactly what the current position is under the Housing Bill. However, because the Bill has not come back to the House, we do not know exactly what the legislation will be. When the Bill comes back, we will be able to tell them exactly what the facts are.

I should like to give an example of what is happening in Manchester as a result of the Housing Bill. As I have said, people are scared into taking out right-to-buy applications and are being pressurised by unscrupulous property developers who are going around the estates with glossy magazines about what they can offer. Manchester may be trying to counteract that with its leaflet, but that is nothing compared with the millions of pounds that will be invested by private developers.

There is a firm in Manchester called Home Owners which we have caught on video going round offering deals to prospective buyers. It is offering central heating, double glazing and new kitchens and it is offering to consolidate rent arrears. It is offering all that with mortgage tax relief. In order to obtain the package in advance of the Housing Bill, it is offering endowment insurance schemes and giving applicants seven days to make a decision. Those people sign the forms for seven days and, even if they do not go ahead with the purchase of their property, they still have to have the insurance scheme. That is what is happening as a result of the Government's policy. The Government should be looking at the needs of local people.

Mr. Waldegrave

The solution to the problem that the hon. Gentleman has indentified lies in his own hands. It has been created by Manchester city council saying that people would lose their right to buy if their property was transferred under tenants' choice. That is not the case.

Mr. Bradley

Clearly, the Minister has no understanding of what is going on in council estates. I am surprised at that because he went to Manchester—although he did not offer to meet the local Members of Parliament—to discuss housing action trusts with the tenants. I should have thought that he would understand the needs of Manchester a little better now that he has been to see what a tenant looks like and what a council estate in Manchester looks like.

The purpose of our motion is to place some emphasis on the needs of low earners and the needs and rights of people to have a decent home. That is what the Labour party is about.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I remind the House of Mr. Speaker's appeal for brief speeches.

4.56 pm
Mr. Ken Hargreaves (Hyndburn)

I have listened with interest to the speeches. I was always taught not to criticise unless I could do better. If Labour Members used the same criterion, today's short debate would have been even shorter.

The criticisms and condemnations of Government policies made by Labour Members will be greeted with some disbelief in my constituency, where housing is still one of our most serious problems. However, there is recognition of what the Government have achieved. My constituents are aware that in 1978, under a Labour Government, the borough council was able to spend £228,000 per year on improvement grants. Under this Government, we have spent £1,800,000 per year. In an area with 80 per cent. owner-occupation, I would be the first to say that that is still not enough, but it is clearly a vast improvement on the record of the previous Government.

The neighbourhood revitalisation scheme to be launched in Accrington next week is another initiative supported by the Government. It will be of immense help in tackling the housing problems we have faced for so long. We have also seen a welcome increase in the involvement of housing associations, with splendid new developments for old people in Accrington, Oswaldtwistle and Great Harwood. There is also good news for our council estates. We have seen estates such as Huncoat and Fern Gore, neglected and virtually abandoned by Labour Governments and Labour councils, undergo a £1.5 million transformation thanks to a Conservative housing chairman and the Government's priority estates programme and Estate Action projects.

I am well aware that in Hyndburn there is still much to do in private sector housing and on council estates, not least the Fields Bottom estate at Clayton-le-Moors, where there are problems similar to those tackled at Huncoat and Fern Gore. However, I am optimistic that the problems will be dealt with. On two visits to north-east Lancashire, the Minister has impressed even his political opponents with his enthusiasm, knowledge and understanding of all that needs to be done.

Even the editorial in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph,which is not usually over-enthusiastic about most aspects of Government policy or about the Ministers involved, felt able to pay a glowing tribute to the Minister after his recent visit to Blackburn. In Hyndburn, maintaining our 80 per cent. owner-occupation is the major task. I hope that it will be possible to reform and improve the home improvement grant system so that a positive contribution is made to improving our private sector stock. Provision of financial aid is required, not only where it is needed, but where it can most effectively be used. The lessons of the pre-1979 period need to be fully considered before introducing new legislation.

It is pleasing that the Government's policy to extend owner-occupation has been so successful, but that in itself does not improve the condition of housing. With the increase of owner-occupation, it is now more important than ever that information about the repair and maintenance needs of housing should be available and promoted. The National Home Improvement Council has made a significant contribution, but much more needs to be done to get the message across to every householder.

Many home owners cannot afford to keep their houses in good condition, and need assistance. Home improvement grants need to be made available to selected home owners in such a way as to assist householders in need and improve housing stock at the same time.

I welcome the Government's support for the care and repair schemes and the neighbourhood revitalisation services scheme, but those need to be extended, and encouragement must be given to building societies and other financial institutions to develop lending packages to assist owners with repairs, maintenance and improvement.

Although I am concerned about improvement grants for home owners, I am equally concerned about people who do not have a home to improve. In England alone, there are, as we have heard, more than 100,000 families who do not have a home. On 30 March, I introduced the Empty Property and Community Aid Bill, which would require local authorities to take steps to identify empty properties and put them to use. We must act to end the scandal of empty properties in public and private sectors.

To have so many properties empty, often for many years, when so many families are living in bed-and-break-fast accommodation in which family life is impossible is not acceptable. My Bill has the support of hon. Members of all parties and it would make a real contribution to improving the availability of houses for homeless people I hope that the Government will feel able to support it as an extension of their own proposals to deal with empty local authority properties.

St. Augustine once prayed that God would make him pure—but not just yet. I wish the Minister well, and hope that he will move on to higher office—but not just yet; not until he has put into full operation the policies for which he sees a clear need——

Mr. Corbyn


Mr. Hargreaves

—to deal with the problems that need tackling in north-east Lancashire. I hope that he will not go until he has introduced policies that will build on the successes that have already been achieved—successes which are self-evident to all who live in my area and which make nonsense of so many of the Opposition's arguments this afternoon.

5.3 pm

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) spoke about a great Churchman. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said, the Churches seem to be in conflict with the Government these days. He rightly said that they, perhaps, know more about the social problems of the country than the Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends.

I note that all Scottish hon. Members have been sent a letter by the secretary of the Committee on Church and Nation of the Church of Scotland, telling us that the committee has completed an independent inquiry into Scottish housing. I hope that the Minister and his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will take note of that inquiry.

The Minister spoke of the great success of the sale of council houses. His right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland goes on television to tell us that he was right because everyone is now buying council houses. I know of people in Glasgow who go around selling cut-price whisky and no questions are asked about where they got it from. Just because everyone buys that cut-price whisky does not mean that they are right to sell it. The same goes for the deal upon which the Tories are embarking with the sale of council houses. They have dishonestly given people the chance to buy those houses without a thought for the people who are falling behind. A woman came to my surgery and told me that it was ridiculous, but her daughter could not get a council house, and asked me what the Glasgow district council was playing at. I told her that she had bought her council house, as had her sister two doors down—not to mention the neighbour in between. So, I asked, what chance was there for her daughter to obtain a council house if everyone in the area in which she wanted a house had bought one——

Mr. Brandon-Bravo


Mr. Martin

I shall not give way; the hon. Gentleman has intervened on several occasions.

It is all very well for the Minister to say that there are empty houses in Glasgow that the young girl I have mentioned could get. But the Minister knows well that that is misleading, because people in Glasgow and other parts of the country rightly want to stay in the communities in which they were brought up—they do not want to move to other parts of the city. I am not against the sale of council houses but the Government policy of not replenishing the housing stock is breaking up communities, and I am against that. The party of law and order should know that law and order was maintained when granny stayed up the next close and auntie was there to watch the child if the mother had to go on a message or was out at work.

I pay tribute to what the voluntary associations are doing for the homeless. I have a brother who works down here in London with the Simon Community and who takes a great deal of interest in the homeless of London. It saddens me every time I go north on the sleeper from Euston to see the many down-and-outs—a sad name—hanging around that station. Many of them are Scots men and women and people from the north who came to this city looking for work. Every time I speak to voluntary associations—the Salvation Army, the Churches and many other organisations that do commendable work which is appreciated by Ministers and Back Benchers alike—their representatives say that they could do with more help from the Government. I hope the Government bear that in mind. Every week, every year, that the divide between the wealthy south and the ever-poorer north grows wider, more people will come to the city and live——

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, whereas the English Housing Bill is apparently in suspended animation and has been out of sight between Committee and Report for some months now, the Housing (Scotland) Bill is through its Report stage and in the House of Lords? We have been given to understand that there is to be some special deal for housing associations in England. Would it not be outrageous if the English housing association movement got concessions from the Government but its Scottish counterpart were deprived of such benefits?

Mr. Martin

I know the work of the Scottish housing associations far better than that of the associations south of the border, and I think that that would be sad.

With a few other hon. Members, I went on a trip down the River Thames last week. The aim of the trip was not to look at housing, but we had an opportunity to see the work being done and the development in the London docklands on both sides of the river. Anyone interested in housing must say that it is a pleasant and impressive development, but it highlights what my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith said about the problems of affluence in this city. Perhaps London Members will mention this. I know, looking at the property and the advertisements in The Times, that no young couple, even those on the average skilled wage, could afford a flat in that development, which stretches for miles. If the Minister does not address himself to that problem in London——

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman is right. It is a matter of concern. I am sure that he will join me in welcoming the fact that about one fifth of all housing in the docklands area is broadly social, subsidised housing, which is helpful.

Mr. Martin

I am glad to hear the Minister say that. The test of whether that will help the communities in those areas will be if, in four or five years' time, the Minister and I can go back and see the properties still in the hands of the young couples who acquired them through those subsidies.

I have only two other points to make, because I know that colleagues wish to speak. First, I see that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who is responsible for housing, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), is on the Government Front Bench. I should like to address my remarks to him. I have written to the Secretary of State for Scotland about the rent and rate rebate system. I am appalled at the stories that I am hearing at my surgeries. An elderly gentleman came to see me. Two months ago, with the rebate system, he was paying a total of £9 a month. He has now received a bill for £119 a month. That is related to the fact that he gets a small pension for industrial deafness. It is small wonder that, faced with a bill of £119 a month, he took a shock and had to be taken to hospital.

The average tenant whom I see has to find another £30 a month this month in rent and rates. There is something Wrong. I hope that the Minister will examine that. I remember that when the famous Rent Act 1974 was introduced the Tory Government's argument was that anyone in difficult circumstances did not need to worry because there was a rent and rebate system to protect the weak and the poor in our society. I want to see that protection for my constituents.

Finally, I refer to the voluntary housing associations. On Friday I looked at an impressive scheme in my constituency, known as Thomson street school, in the east end of the city. The school was closed down because of a shortage of pupils and now there is a beautiful housing complex for disabled people on the ground floor and families above. The associations are worried. After all the work that they put in, in four or five years' time, those houses could be in private hands and the associations could have no control or input.

I hope that the Minister will look at the points that I have raised.

5.14 pm
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) seemed to be in a state of some confusion about the right-to-buy policy introduced by the Government in the Housing Act 1980. He started his speech by complaining about three houses in his constituency which were previously owned by the council, and which, as a result of the right-to-buy policy, had been bought by the former tenants, yet the hon. Gentleman, who criticised the purchase of those three houses by his constituents, went on to affirm his belief in the right to buy. He said almost in the same sentence that it was the fact that those three houses had been bought that had denied another of his constituents the right to be a tenant. There is still much confusion within and without the House about the consequences of the right to buy.

Mr. Michael J. Martin

I should like to make one thing clear. The point that I was trying to make is that there should be the right to buy, provided that the Government assist in replenishing the stock.

Mr. Gow

But those three houses that were bought by the former tenants, all of them the hon. Gentleman's constituents, are still there. If those former tenants had not bought those houses, the chances are that the tenants would have remained there and the prospects of the hon. Gentleman's other constituents finding a tenancy would have been neither improved nor impeded whether or not that sale had taken place.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) on selecting the subject of housing for today's debate. He will not misunderstand me when I say that I wished that he had been able to secure not a three-hour but a six-hour debate for the subject. It is common knowledge—this at least unites both sides of the House—that many hon. Members would like to take part, but time will not allow.

I want to address myself to one aspect only of the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Hammersmith and the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Minister. I think that it is a common view that, although in Britain today the overwhelming majority of our people are better housed than ever before, nevertheless, both the motion and the amendment refer to homelessness and bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I believe, and I make my own confession of error, that those at the very bottom of the pile to whom the hon. Gentleman refers in his motion and to whom my hon. Friend refers in the amendment—the homeless and those who are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation—represent a continuing scandal. I say this to my hon. Friend: the paradox of a greater supply of houses than of households, even though the empty houses are not always in the places where the homeless are, should be a continuing source of concern for the House.

I should like to talk particularly about London because it is in London that the problem is most acute. When I held the office now held by my hon. Friend the Minister, I made a journey in the company of Mr. Reginald Freeson, the predecessor of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), to look at some of the bed-and-breakfast hotels. Some of those so-called hotels are a rip-off of the taxpayer and the ratepayer and provide appalling accommodation for those who live there. I underline the word "some".

It is wholly unsatisfactory that in London houses and flats owned by local authorities stand empty while people have to live in wholly unsatisfactory bed-and-breakfast accommodation. If almost all the people living in the worst type of bed-and-breakfast accommodation—sometimes mum and dad and two or three or even four kids living in a single room—were offered the choice between remaining there or moving to a house or flat, they would prefer to move. They would exercise that choice even if the house or flat were not in good repair. It is a continuing indictment of some local authorities in London that that truth has not been understood.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith and other Opposition Members have understandably said that part of the reason for 20,000 empty houses and flats in London is bad repair. Even if I accepted that argument, I would still assert that many people living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation would infinitely prefer to live in houses and flats that are not in good repair. The cost of keeping individuals or families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation is in many cases outrageous. I repeat that that is a rip-off of taxpayers and ratepayers. In addition, void properties accelerate the opportunity for vandalism and mean that no rent or rates are being paid.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Would the hon. Gentleman apply the same strictures to empty private sector houses?

Mr. Gow

Among the evils that the Housing Bill seeks to address is the scandal of empty private sector houses and flats. It may not be morally right, but it is legitimate for any man to do what he will with his own. We are trustees in the public sector and have a different obligation. I am not talking about morality.

I shall give the hon. Gentleman an illustration. It is legitimate for him to leave the electric light in his house on all day if he wishes. By doing that, he is wasting his own money. In the case of public assets, whether in the sphere of central or local government, we are the trustees. I do not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman's central point.

Mr. Soley


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps some Front Bench interventions could be held back until we come to the winding-up speeches.

Mr. Soley

I shall be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would the hon. Gentleman direct his comments to the Government sector, which has 6.9 per cent. of empties? Before he moves from this important point, will he bear in mind the fact that, before the Labour Government left office, there were hardly any families in bed and breakfast but that now in Labour, Tory and Liberal boroughs there are literally hundreds of people in such accommodation? Can the hon. Gentleman tell us why that should be so?

Mr. Gow

I do not defend, nor could anyone honourably defend, a situation in which houses and flats owned by the Government are empty. There have never been so many empty local authority houses and flats in London. It is to that matter that I am directing my speech.

A long time is elapsing between the conclusion of the Committee stage of the Housing Bill and its return to the House on Report. The Minister's officials or the heroes who toil away drafting legislation could utilise that time to include two, three or four clauses in my hon. Friend's excellent Housing Bill that would apply pressure upon local authorities—especially, but not exclusively, in London—to bring unused. accommodation into use. That would do much to diminish the number of families living in totally unsatisfactory bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Such clauses would command the enthusiastic approval of all hon. Members.

5.25 pm
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

While listening to the Minister, I was reminded of a quote by no less a person than Zsa Zsa Gabor. She was asked for her comments about the condom and said that she was inclined to say that it all depended on what was in it for her. That seems to be the case with housing policy. No matter from what angle it is viewed, everybody seems to be concerned about what is in it for him.

We all seem to be missing the point about housing; the Government are certainly missing it. In Britain, probably more than in any country in the Western world. the access to decent quality housing depends almost entirely on one's wealth, income and social class. It is worth spending some time looking at the results of that. Some people who are lucky enough to be housed in rented accommodation are forced to live in almost ghetto conditions. Perhaps the standard and size of the property is an improvement on what a family had before, but in some ways it may he compared to a house in a ghetto of the 19th century.

Hon. Members have talked about homelessness steadily rising over a substantial part of this decade. I welcome the Minister's announcement of some new initiatives and resources; I am sure that we all welcome that. The Government have now been in power for almost a decade and all the problems of homelessness cannot be laid at the door of Labour or Liberal councils or anybody else. The problem of homelessness has increased under the Government and they have taken only small and insignificant steps to resolve it.

There has been a great deal of talk, especially by the Minister, about the use of resources and about who will benefit from the Housing Bill. Let us spend a little time examining the Government's recent record. We support owner-occupiers as much as anybody else does. About £5 million is currently spent subsidising people who are very often the people who least need that subsidy. At the same time, housing benefit to the least well-off or to people just above that level has been cut. That is a paradox, yet the Government and their supporters somehow seem to square that circle. Hon. Members must have had sackloads of letters from constituents explaining the difficulties that they have had as a result of the loss of housing benefit since April. These two factors co-exist—mortgage tax relief seems to grow without check, while the Government are happy to reduce the subsidy available to the least well-off.

The Housing Bill will shortly return to the House. I felt that some of the measures in it were worthy of discussion, and I spent three and a half months in Committee being willing to discuss them. However, on reflection, I feel that there is something inherently dishonest about that Bill. It is that the Government know, the Minister knows—although I suspect that the Secretary of State is so cocooned in an ideological straitjacket that he probably is not aware of it—all the officials who advise the Minister know, most serious commentators in the press know, and all the experts in the academic world and the great institutions involved in housing know that the Housing Bill will not make much difference at all. Areas such as my constituency, others in the north and all areas with severe urban deprivation, which is reflected in housing, will not be affected by the Housing Bill.

Mr. Corbyn

It will make matters worse.

Mr. Howarth

I do not know that that is so. Sensible tenants may say they do not want to get involved in any pick-a-landlord scheme, so it will make no difference to them. Unless resources are directed through the local authorities, those estates will continue to decline, and the tenants will know that without more resources, going to a private landlord will make no difference.

Mr. Corbyn

When a group of tenants on an estate near the City of London or an area of housing crisis are hoodwinked into allowing tenancies to be transferred, will that not be a setback in the long run, because it will take housing from the working-class people for whom it was built in the first place?

Mr. Howarth

I could not disagree with that.

The Minister and his colleagues have made great play of the use of housing action trusts, of which it is proposed that there will be 10. The Minister will be aware that I have the forerunner of a HAT in my constituency—the Stockbridge village trust. I have taken a great deal of care not to criticise the trust. I hope that it will work, because for many people the prospect of decent housing depends upon it. However, as Ministers may be aware, it has not been a great success. Part of the reasoning behind the building of Stockbridge village and the setting up of HATs is that they will uplift areas and ensure a greater mix. For example, if some spare land is left over, private developers can build houses for owner-occupation. However, Barratt built some houses three or four years ago in Blackthorne crescent in Stockbridge village, with a purchase price of £22,500. I understand that a developer is now offering the Abbey National building society, which owns them, £5,000 a unit, so that cannot be said to be a great success.

The Stockbridge village trust has not succeeded in making owner-occupation attractive. I suspect that if areas of the greatest deprivation are chosen for HATs, that will ensure they are not a success. We are dealing with a phenomenon that is not entirely the responsibility of councils or to do with rented houses—it is to do with the local economy.

In the Committee that considered the Housing Bill, I tried to promote a consensus of support, from hon. Members on both sides of Committee, for housing co-operatives. One product of the Bill is the use of private finance in a system of flexible housing association grants. I know that the intention is to increase the supply of houses in the housing association sector, but when that is applied in an area with low values and high costs—and one or both of those problems applies in most areas—the net effect is that the housing co-operatives and housing associations will have to do package deals with construction companies, cutting out the architect. Those package deals lead to system building, a problem on many housing estates. It is ironic that housing co-operatives, which the Minister and others support, may be killed off by the application of private finance.

The Housing Bill will not work, and the Minister knows it. He knows too that the Government's housing policies are not working. The civil servants know it, the academics and housing experts know it. I suspect that the Secretary of State does not know it, and that the Minister, who is a nice chap who tries to build up his role as the acceptable face of the Department of the Environment, will not escape criticism, because there is a housing crisis. It is an intellectual crisis for the Secretary of State, but a human crisis for thousands of people.

5.36 pm
Mr. John Heddle (Mid-Staffordshire)

I hope that the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) will forgive me if I do not pursue most of the points that he made. However, I was disappointed, as I am sure that the House was, that he did not pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, who announced last week an additional £20 million for the housing investment programme, to go specifically to those local authorities that have within their housing stock Airey houses, Smith houses, Wates houses and other system-built houses. I place on record my gratitude and that of my constituents in the Pear Tree estate in Rugeley in the Cannock Chase district council who, through that announcement, have received a substantial sum of increased resources, which will relieve the hardship of owners and tenants on those estates. In the west midlands area in general, the Department of the Environment has announced an increase in its housing investment programme for this purpose of £4.6 million. For that, my constituents are extremely grateful.

Another form of hardship could be alleviated if only local authorities behaved more prudently and responsibly in the way that they manage their properties. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) touched specifically and in an enlightened way in his reply to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) on the difference between the ethic of private ownership and the way that a private individual spends his or her money, and public ownership, and the fact that local authorities, elected councillors, and Members of Parliament are custodians and trustees of the public purse. It is a scandal that local authorities have failed to collect £2.5 million in rent arrears. That is "squandermania" on an increasingly horrible scale. Had that money been collected, it could have been recycled and spent on improving hard-to-let houses and blocks of flats.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heddle

I shall not give way because I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if hon. Members follow your strictures to be brief, as I intend to do.

One form of hardship which has not yet been mentioned but is referred to in both the Opposition motion and the Government's amendment to it is the question of the ever-escalating cost of homes, particularly as it affects the first-time buyer. My hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that we said in our manifesto: Some people are still deterred by the costs and complications of house purchase. That is why we must look for new ways to make house-buying simpler and easier.

I wish to declare a non-pecuniary interest. I have the honour to be a vice-president of the Building Societies Association. All financial institutions involved in providing money for house purchase, whether they be local, regional, national and, increasingly, international, building societies, banks and other lending institutions, have a duty to regulate the amount of money that the public can borrow and to educate them about that. Most building society posters show that the societies are prepared to lend up to four times the applicant's income. I wonder whether that is prudent and sensible in the long run and whether it is perhaps fuelling house price inflation and encouraging some people, particularly first-time buyers who have no alternative but to get on to the first rung of the ladder of home ownership, to spend more than they can afford.

In the context of the manifesto commitment to which I have just referred, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, if not on his occasion, then on a future occasion before the next Session of Parliament will bring forward legislation to reduce, if not outlaw, the dishonourable practice embodied in the horrible word gazumping—the practice of people's word no longer being their bond. I should like to put to the House four practical ways in which that practice can be reduced, if not eliminated.

First, it can be done simply by reducing the time beween the acceptance of an offer and exchange of contracts. It can be done by improving the recommendations of the Law Commission's conveyancing sub-committee, under the chairmanship of Professor Julian Farrand who suggested, in his report of January last year, that the vendor and purchaser, on agreeing a price and the terms of the transaction, should be voluntarily obliged to place half or a three quarters deposit so that, if either party withdrew from the transaction unreasonably, that deposit would be forfeited. Professor's Farrand's recommendations amount to no more than a toothless tiger, because, no vendor, while there is a buoyant housing market and, indeed, the majority of first-time buyers, because they cannot afford to do so, will want to put down such a preliminary deposit. That deposit should be made mandatory and enshrined in an Act of Parliament.

Secondly, on the acceptance of the purchaser's offer, the vendor should be obliged to produce local searches for the purchaser, thereby eliminating the necessity for solicitors to spend time and the purchaser's fees on obtaining local searches.

Thirdly, if that is not possible, I hope that my hon. Friend can be persuaded to impose upon local authorities the duty to respond to local searches within a reasonable time. In that context, the Law Commission's conveyancing sub-committee has suggested that 10 days is a reasonable time. It is, therefore, scandalous that some local authorities, such as Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets, take up to five or six months to respond. When I introduced an Adjournment debate on that subject two months ago, I produced heart-rending, tear-jerking letters from nurses and schoolteachers wanting to buy but who had been frustrated in their wishes because of the bureaucratic log-jam and the inability and insensitivity of some local authorities.

Finally, I hope that my hon. Friend, without having to come before the House with a Bill, will be able to impose upon a local authority the duty to computerise its search procedures. If local authorities are incapable, unable or unwilling to do so, he should encourage them to put that function and that responsibility out to the private sector. By adopting those positive, simple and straightforward proposals, the majority of first-time buyers, who at present are either being gazumped, or frustrated by local authority bureaucracy in their attempts to get on the vital first rung of home ownership, will realise their ambition and achieve their dream much sooner.

5.44 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

This Opposition debate is welcome and, as hon. Members will have noticed, my colleagues and I have added our names to the motion without amendment. We did that specifically to show, first, that the two main Opposition parties agree in large measure that the Government have gone wrong and, secondly, that we agree what the priorities should be. The majority of people in this country share those priorities and, together, we, the two largest Opposition parties, represent the majority of the electorate of the United Kingdom. Thirdly, we need to confirm those areas that are at the root of the housing problem, for example, the need to change the housing finance system. I am glad to see that the Labour parry now joins us in, for example, advocating a change in housing finance and recommends equal subsidy for those who rent and those who buy, as we have long advocated.

The word "homelessness" has been heard often in this debate, and rightly so. The figures give the lie to the argument that homelessness is the fault of specific local authorities. For example, in 1979 in Southwark 651 families presented themselves as homeless, but last year that figure was 1,700. In inner London in 1979 the figure was 9,610, but last year it had risen to 19,000. The figure for Greater London in 1979 was 16,650, but last year it had risen to 30,000. In 1979 the figure for England was over 50,000, but last year it had risen to over 110,000. Those figures show that it is not local authorities that have failed, but rather that the nation has failed and homelessness has increased, whoever runs the local councils.

Although I agree that by putting our empty property back into use we would go a long way towards solving the problem—I have sponsored Bills on that subject—it is not possible for Ministers to blame local authorities entirely, because the problem has grown, whichever local authorities have been responsible. The country knows that for the past nine years the Government have squeezed local authorities in all sorts of ways, above all in the resources available to them. Of course, management by local councils must improve. My local council in Southwark has an appalling record, as have many others, but increasing homelessness is not only the responsibility or fault of local councils. Increasing unemployment over the past decade has meant that more people have been unable to keep up mortgage payments, let alone rent payments, and the drive towards home ownership has driven many people too far, such that they have had their homes repossessed.

Additional resources to help the homeless are now the priority. The Government's announcements, both last year and this year, have been welcome, but the amounts announced are a tiny proportion of what is needed and by no means make up for the 70 per cent. cut in housing investment over that time. Much of the additional cash apparently given is in fact cash which the Government announced they were giving a week or two earlier. The Government announced £25 million extra for the homeless in the Autumn Statement, but the same announcement was made in a different press release on 30 November. Another announcement was made on 3 December, but it again referred to the same money. We are not fooled by that, and nor are the homeless, because substantial numbers of them were still homeless after all those announcements.

There has been a massive increase in the number of families, including women who are expecting children and others in priority categories, who are accepted as homeless by local authorities, and there are many more single people and young people, both men and women, who are homeless on the streets. Homelessness is visibly the major housing problem of 1988. The homeless do not come only from the poor parts of Britain. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) cited Centre Point, which deals in London with some of the young homeless. The young homeless there do not come only from Ireland, Scotland and northern towns. Increasingly people from the home counties homeless in London because they cannot find housing.

It is right for criticism to be made when local authorities do not do a good job. I contend that it is entirely unacceptable that anyone should be homeless on the streets of London, including members of foreign communities such as the Bangladeshi community who come to Britain and who cannot return home without losing the immigration rights that enable them to stay here. They must be housed whether they are in Tower Hamlets or any other borough. If the responsibility for housing that group and others does not lie with the local authority, it must be a shared one with the Government.

On this subject, this is a crucial week for the Government and all local authorities, and I say that with friendship and courtesy to all those who represent the various parties in London. Now is the time when the issue of homelessness, as it especially affects members of immigrant communities, must be addressed across London and elsewhere and by all London boroughs. It is unacceptable that any group within our community should not be housed. If local authorities cannot independently of Government house the members of these communities, the Government must find the necessary resources at the end of the day independently of local authorities, or with their support.

Bed-and-breakfast accommodation is a continuing scandal, but the responsibility for this too must not entirely be attributed to any local authority. We all have responsibility. For example, Camden's homeless persons unit was closed for several months while the unit in Tower Hamlets, was open. The way in which Lambeth dealt with homeless persons has been criticised by the ombudsman. Brent's homeless persons unit was closed for months. The use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London over the past year increased by 22 per cent. while in Tower Hamlets it decreased by 11 per cent.

As I have said, all families should be housed. We must concentrate our efforts on housing families and not on making party-political points against our colleagues in this place.

Mr. Shore

I think that the House, especially those Members who have followed the saga of the intentionally homeless, as it is alleged, of Bengali families in Tower Hamlets, will welcome the hon. Gentleman's forthright and courageous statement. Some of his colleagues in Tower Hamlets are this very week pitching out 11 families on to the streets—they are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation—who are in Britain lawfully under our immigration rules. I hope that they will heed his words carefully. I accept entirely that the problem is too large to be handled by any one council in London. The Government must provide adequate resources to deal with what is a national disgrace.

Mr. Hughes

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's comments. The Select Committee on Home Affairs has specifically said that the Government must help local authorities to deal with this aspect of homelessness. I have been in consultation with my colleagues in Tower Hamlets and I believe they understand that a collaborative effort is needed. I believe, too, that they are willing to participate in that approach along with the representatives of other parties, if that is possible; so that once and for all there is no group in Britain that does not have secure accommodation because of its immigration status. I look forward to discussing the issue further later tonight with other colleagues.

The Government's response to the crisis has been to increase home ownership. The Minister referred to the great increase in first-time buyers. There has been such an increase, and many have responded to the Government's right-to-buy policy. Many of those who have taken advantage of that scheme have not been in the south-east, where many of those who wish to become first-time buyers cannot afford to buy. The right to buy has also come at a time when greenfield sites have been under pressure. It was not a shortcoming in presentation that led to the homeless not being mentioned in the Housing Bill, which we are waiting to consider again on the Floor of the House. It is a fact that developers are causing pressure to be put on land use in the south-east, at the same time as cheap rented or for sale accommodation is not being provided.

The Housing Bill is flawed in many fundamental respects. It perverts the system under which people will have a choice of remaining council tenants, by rigging the voting system. It does not come to the rescue by providing affordable rents in the social housing sector. Unless the Government reintroduce the Housing Bill in an amended form, which includes a fair voting system for tenants and a finance system that will ensure affordable rents, they will be failing in their duty. Tenants in the area which I represent and in many others are entirely critical of these and other fundamental flaws that are to be found in the Bill.

Those in special need and the vulnerable, need housing. They do not need speeches about housing. Last weekend the Prime Minister bared her soul and revealed her personal theology in Scotland. I reflected that Christ, followed by the Salvation Army and many others ever since, thought that the best way of preaching the gospel was to act it out. The best way of dealing with the needs of Britain must be to provide practical help and support rather than preaching about self-reliance and the acquisition of more money. If the housing of the homeless and those who are in bad housing has not been a priority of the Government for the past eight years—the figures testify to this and show that there is a crisis of unparalleled proportions—that is a more powerful fact than any that can be made in a speech by a Minister, no matter how mighty she or he might be.

5.56 pm
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate briefly in the debate, especially as matters concerning both public and private housing are of great importance to my constituents. Housing is one of the major issues in Norwich.

I did not agree with every word that was uttered by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), but I accept that the party-political approach is not the best one for housing. There is a great need for constructive ideas to be advanced for the future instead of continually returning to the old party-political battle-ground. I was surprised when the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) implied that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that would be found if a Labour Government were elected. Heaven forbid!

It is clear that the hon. Member for Hammersmith has a short memory. During the period to 1979, when the Labour Government were still in power, we read of the lowest ever number of housing starts. We read also that 400,000 houses which were available to rent were lost, as it were, during the time that that Government were in office. There was a major decrease in housing improvement grants, and mortgage interest rates rose as high as 11.75 per cent. There was a fall in gross expenditure on public sector housing. To suggest that the Labour Government presided over an improvement in housing is a travesty of the truth, and every hon. Member knows that.

It is difficult to learn from the terms of the motion what the Opposition's housing policy is. That being so, I shall not refer to it. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey attached his name to it. After all, the Social and Liberal Democrats chose to ignore housing in their policy document, which was entitled "A Democracy of Conscience." It was cobbled together in about 24 hours. It appears that the hon. Gentleman was reading the Bible during the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin). At least he has been searching for some inspiration for a housing policy.

The important difference between the Government and the Opposition is that the Labour party still believes that the answer to the housing problem lies in massive public housing programmes. That means a vast increase in the number of council houses. That is Labour's view, fair enough, but I disagree with it.

In Norwich there is 42 per cent. public housing and 54 per cent. private housing, which means that there is a 'high proportion of council houses. The proportion is changing slowly. The amount of private housing is steadily increasing, partly because of house building by private house builders and partly because of the right to buy council houses—a policy which has an increasing influence in Norwich. In the past few months the number of council houses sold has increased remarkably. I think that I am right in saying that 3,500 council houses have been sold.

I should like to talk about the problems rather than debate the differences in philosophy between the two sides of the House. My constituency case load in Norwich, North is made up almost entirely of housing problems—for example, waiting lists, transfers and damp, which some officials would have us believe is condensation, delays to repairs, empty houses and delays and errors in dealing with right-to-buy applications. The list is endless. Housing is a major problem for my constituents. I do not approach this matter in a partisan spirit. My constituents want these problems solved. They do not particularly mind how they are solved, so long as there is some way out of their unhappy circumstances.

I believe, although the Opposition will not agree, that there are overlarge council estates. There are 22,500 council houses in Norwich——

Mr. Boateng

Not enough.

Mr. Thompson

My point is made for me. Time does not permit me to launch into a great criticism of Norwich city council, but even the most efficient housing authority would find it difficult to run a council estate operation of that size efficiently. That is why the Housing Bill is a major step forward.

Unlike the Opposition parties, which merely hark back to the past, we say that things cannot go on as they are and that we must have a change for the benefit of those who need or live in this housing. I welcome the Government's intention to take powers to compel local authorities to dispose of empty properties. Even in Norwich, which has quite a good record, more than 100 properties have been empty for more than six months. This is a major problem to which hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), have referred It is right that the Housing Bill should address that point.

There are 75,000 more houses than households in Britain. The question is how we can best match the houses that already exist with those who, we all agree, need them. Contrary to the criticisms of Labour authorities, the measures in the Housing Bill—I hope that we shall debate them soon—will help the homeless and young people, will give young people and council tenants more rights and choice and will give local residents more opportunities to be involved in decision making.

Mr. George Howarth

In what way will the Housing Bill give all these additional powers to people on council estates?

Mr. Thompson

I could speak at great length—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why give those powers?"] I shall talk at great length on why the Housing Bill will help tenants on council estates. Many of them look forward to the opportunities——

Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackey, North and Stoke Newington)

Name one.

Mr. Thompson

We have been asked to make brief speeches, so I shall say only that Labour authorities, including Norwich, have been circulating leaflets which put across the kind of rubbish that we have heard from the Opposition and have been totally misleading people about the Bill's contents. With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall confine myself to that comment.

Labour has claimed that the tenants' chance to opt out will offer a bonanza to property speculators, but Labour does not explain properly the role of the Housing Corporation. Every landlord will have to be approved by the corporation. Labour's leaflets do not explain the role of the Housing Corporation in supervising discussions and consultations between tenants and landlords, even during the period of the ballot. It is important to remind the House that under the Housing Bill any tenant who wishes to remain with a local authority can do so.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Has the hon. Gentleman heard of estate management? If he goes to Barnsley, he will find the best estate management in the business. That was said by the Minister, who came to examine what was happening. The hon. Gentleman has talked about private landlords. I hope that he will take care to look at the position of former National Coal Board tenants who now have private landlords.

Mr. Thompson

I am interested in that remark. I am in favour of good estate management, whatever the authority.

It is unlikely that housing action trusts will be set up in Norwich in the near future, but I think that my point about them still applies. People in my constituency and Norwich city council feel that it would be a good idea if the meetings of the housing action trusts were held in public, and I agree. I remind my hon. Friend the Minister of that point, which I have discussed with him, and hope that he can find time to respond as soon as possible.

There is another problem in Norwich that needs to be addressed. It is generally agreed that there is a problem with the deterioration of many houses in the private sector. Labour-controlled Norwich city council and the Government must work together to find a solution. Many of these houses are let to tenants and the condition of many is deteriorating. My hon. Friend the Minister has said that an amendment to the Housing Bill may be introduced to insist on higher standards from private landlords. I think that both sides of the House agree on this point. Anyone who drives around Norwich or any of our other great cities will be worried about the deterioration of parts of these cities and the housing stock. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will address this point.

Under this Government, 2.9 million more people own their homes, including an increasing number of young people. We have improved the right-to-buy provisions. Since 1979, improvement grants have increased by 46 per cent. We have provided more rights for council tenants. The Opposition offer only policies of more public spending, which would lead to high interest rates, which would destroy any chance of a good housing policy. We should welcome the Housing Bill as a constructive step forward. We should reject Labour's motion and support the Government's amendment.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. It may be helpful if I say that I understand that the first of the Front Bench speakers will seek to rise at 6.30 pm. A large number of hon. Members wish to take part in the debate and five-minute speeches would be helpful.

6.9 pm

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) will understand why I will not follow his points.

The Opposition motion calls for a planned programme of house building, repair and renovation. There is a definite need in Wales for a housing strategy and a major injection of funds to sustain that strategy. There is a problem in north-west Wales in the county of Gwynydd where many houses are in a state of disrepair. There is also a totally unacceptable position in the south-eastern valleys. That has arisen because in that area there is the highest percentage of pre-1919 houses occupied by owners who frequently are the least well-off in our society.

The biggest problem in Wales involves council houses built between the two world wars, which now require the highest investment where modernisation has not been carried out. I appeal for a boost for housing expenditure in Wales. I warn the House that if the problems are not tackled and if the money is not forthcoming, slum clearance will be required at the turn of the century at the latest.

In calling for fair play, I must state that unemployment is highest and dereliction and environmental blight are at their worst in those areas with severe housing problems. The people living in those areas gave Britain great economic service delivering coal and steel when the nation needed it during the first and second world wars. In the time remaining to me, I, like other hon. Members, want to emphasise the predicaments in which my constituents find themselves with regard to housing benefit cuts.

A constituent of mine from Llay, an old mining village, has lost an estimated £18 a week as a result of the new regulations. He is a world war 2 veteran and he has a British Rail pension. I believe that he is a brave man. He served in the 4th battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers and he fought from the Normandy beaches right through to Hamburg. His family and I believe that he has been shabbily treated. The whole family are worried sick—financially—at the consequences of the proposed cut.

Another constituent has written to me as follows: We are writing as a family to express our abhorrence of the effects of the new 'Housing Benefit' rules on our widowed mother. On a total income of £63 per week with no savings remaining, she is expected to pay £18.73 in rent, previously this was £15.73 per week … If a 72 year old widow on low income who has had two operations for cancer is not part of a priority group, we wonder who is. Less than a fortnight ago I interviewed Mr. Tarren from Buckley who is aged 76. He has defeated cancer after a major operation and is now in good health. However, the new regulations will deprive that cheerful battler of £80 a year in housing benefit cuts. At my constituency surgery on Saturday a 74-year-old widow told me that her income would drop by £2.44 a week as a result of the cut in housing benefit. She now lives on an income of only £44.05 a week. At the same surgery a 68-year-old man with a defective knee and a severely arthritic spine reported that he would lose £80 a year in housing benefit.

Another constituent of mine on Deeside has a mild mental handicap,. He was given a tenancy by the local housing authority under the all-Wales strategy for services to people with mental handicap. Before his tenancy, he conscientiously went on a course for two and a half years. Under the old regulations he had rent and rate rebates of £16.30 a week. Despite his mental handicap, he is now not entitled to rebate. Despite his low income, the 65 per cent. rent taper disqualifies him.

Another constituent showed me his rent book at my surgery on Saturday. His fortnightly rent and rates is now £50 instead of £6—the figure during the previous financial year. He told me that the family's diet has fallen away. They live on chipped potatoes because they are so hard-pressed.

The background to the cases that I have described is considerable unemployment, near poverty, social isolation, ill health, hopelessness, bewilderment and immobility. I report the concerns of the most vulnerable people in the fine community that I represent.

I remind the House that the Prime Minister addressed the Church of Scotland on Saturday. She adopted a high moral tone and she quoted the Bible to the assembled clerics. She held forth about money in her homily. I believe that the Prime Minister's stance is an affront to my vulnerable and honourable and respectable constituents. They have very little ready money and they suffer real hardship.

If the Prime Minister had been beside me for the four hours that my surgery lasted on Saturday, she would have felt ashamed. She might even have felt some humiliation about the predicament in which her hard policies had placed my constituents.

6.16 pm
Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), who may have sacrificed his chance of speaking in this debate by allowing me to speak now.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning on the wording of the Government amendment to the Opposition motion. I support the amendment and its priorities. We are coping with the self-evident consequences of a success in home ownership and it is right that accordingly we are concentrating on the rented sector. I want to refer to quality, quantity and choice in that rented sector.

Mr. Gow

Would my hon. Friend care to send a message to his noble Friend the Captain of the Gentleman-at-Arms, because over the past few moments in another place—this is most relevant to the subject of housing which occupies us today—the amendment tabled by the noble and gallant Lord Chelwood has been defeated by 317 votes for the Government to 183 votes against?

Mr. Squire

I can assume only that Opposition peers stayed away.

I want to refer to quality in the rented sector. It is a sad fact that the quality in much of the rented sector today is very bad. In referring to the rented sector I include the private rented sector and much of the council sector.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke at some length on matters about which we share common views. He would be hard put to suggest—and indeed he did not—that future investment in the rented sector should be aimed exclusively at council property. If he were to say that, he would be going against his experience in the London borough of Southwark, which experience is all too often repeated up and down the country by other local authorities and has been highlighted by the Audit Commission. It is not good enough for Opposition Members to talk as though, uniquely, the private rented sector is all bad. The fact that there is bad property in the private sector is willingly conceded by Conservative Members. We seek in return a concession that the service given to and the quality of property enjoyed by many council tenants is equally bad and requires attention.

My second point, which is about quantity, follows from the thrust of the Housing Bill. The Government expect an increase in the volume of housing that will in future be privately rented. I fully support them in that aim. It is essential that there should be some increase, on mobility grounds alone. Representing as I do an outer London constituency, I can see that there is an appalling shortage of rented property, and that view is surely shared by hon. Members for London, wherever they sit in the Chamber. One of the ways in which that shortage can be tackled is by enhancing the private rented sector, including housing associations. That is essential if we are to have normal and free movement of labour.

It is over the question of choice that the biggest divide arises between the two sides of the House. Until now there has been little argument between us about council housing. However, my hon. Friends believe that there is an advantage in offering a genuine choice to would-be tenants rather than having, as there is in most parts of the country, a near-monopoly of tenanted property owned by the local authority. Where there is a good local authority, such a monopoly will be in the interests of tenants. Sadly, in too many instances the local authority is not good and there are few alternatives, if any, from which would-be tenants may chose. Those who are looking for rented property—apart from those at the luxury end of the market—are, by definition, people who have an average or below-average income and have few, if any, alternatives. it is not open to such people to buy their way into house ownership.

London and the home counties in particular face appalling problems in staff recruitment over a wide range of employment in both the public and private sector. I refer to the public transport system, to the National Health Service, and to the catering and entertainment industries. The central reason for that is insufficient housing at an affordable price. My hon Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning is aware of the problem. I have made the point to him on a number of occasions and he knows that it remains a concern of mine. Provided that we get the balance right on the very important question of housing benefit—and we await the details of the scheme, along with others relating to the Housing Bill—the Government will be able to tackle that problem.

We must use the planning system more to achieve a proportion of social housing in most, if not all, local authority areas around London and in our other major cities. Otherwise, it will not be possible for essential workers——

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)


Mr. Squire

In fairness, I must continue speaking because I know that there are other hon. Members wishing to contribute.

If the housing benefit scheme is unable to be of assistance, we shall need areas zoned for social housing, otherwise the people who are essential to making a big city tick will not be able to find accommodation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) mentioned the importance of using empty property. As a supporter of his original Bill, and as someone who attempted to have his proposals passed in Committee on the Housing Bill, I am a firm supporter of greater use being made of empty property.

I have made clear my support for the Government's priorities. I conclude with a comment on homelessness, because ultimately it is that which we are seeking to tackle through many of the provisions of the Housing Bill. If we can succeed in our efforts to overcome that problem, we shall ensure in a number of ways that the majority of the population, who are well housed or adequately housed, will be so aroused that they will keep up pressure on both local and national politicians to provide more housing opportunities—particularly in the rented sector.

It is in the interests of all hon. Members to press my hon. Friends the Minister for Housing and Planning and the Under-Secretary of State so that in their discussions with the Treasury—which they will undoubtedly have at regular intervals—they are both persuaded that housing is of the highest priority in our nation's affairs. If we can persuade my hon. Friends of that and can strengthen their hands in their discussions with the Treasury, the reforms, which already look encouraging, will be followed by further reforms. Above all, the conscience of that part of the nation that is well housed will be extended to the minority who are homeless or badly housed.

6.25 pm
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

The Minister of State has had the bare-faced gall to come to the House and accuse Opposition Members of a so-called dearth of housing policy. That is obviously nonsense. I can tell the Minister that we shall restore the level of public spending on housing which, under the present Government, has been cut from £6.7 billion to £2.7 billion. That cut lies at the heart of the Government's failure to tackle the housing crisis.

The means by which the Minister chooses to attack this side of the House is by reference to a magazine, which he produced and showed us all, called the New Statesman—an organ that makes an intellectual contribution to the Labour party, and a very welcome one. I shall tell the Minister of a magazine that was recently drawn to my attention. It is a glossy publication which is surprisingly well written. It deals with the fads, the fancies and the foibles of the parvenus and parasites who make up the core of the Conservative party. Lo and behold—what did I see as I sifted through that publication, between the adverts for houses which are a snip at £375,000, and for bijou flats in Wandsworth for £160,000? I saw an article about the golden boy of the Thatcherite housing policy—none other than the Minister of State himself.

When I heard the line the Minister was taking in this debate, I asked those working with me to obtain a copy of that magazine. I even provided them with a plain brown envelope so that they could do so. However, my secretary has written me a note saying, "Sorry, couldn't get one." They are sold out. So interested is the world in the Minister of State's utterances that my assistant could not obtain a single copy of that publication, which I can now name as the Tatler, within one square mile of this Palace of Westminster.

At the heart of that article, the Minister of State comments on the need for community and how housing must serve the community. Anyone hearing what he and other Conservative Members said during the course of this debate, and anyone who had to sit through hour after hour of the Housing Bill, as we had to do, knows only too well that the Government's housing policy has destroyed the sense of community in all of the constituencies we represent, and that the bed-and-breakfast population have had any possibility of a community life removed from them. In my constituency, more than 900 families are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and mine is a constituency that has been praised by the Minister of State and his chief acolyte for the advances it has made in coping with its housing crisis. The other day the Minister of State talked about us in glowing terms. That is unusual for my borough.

Despite all the work that we have done for those in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, however, our housing allocation has been viciously cut by some 20 per cent. in real terms in the space of a year. Having asked for £82 million, we were given £19.25 million. That is the priority that the present Government give to housing. The result is a destruction of the community and a grouping in our society of people who have no opportunity to obtain public housing, and no opportunity to buy houses either.

We have heard cheers of delight from Conservative Members about the defeat of the Lords' amendment in the other place. They should reflect that that in itself will cause a massive spiral of inflation in house prices, particularly in the south-east, as a direct result of the poll tax. It will do nothing to help the housing crisis, any more than the measures so far proposed by the Government will dent that crisis.

We have heard talk today about the Bangladeshis. It is as if they, through no fault of their own, had contributed to the housing crisis in some parts of our country. That is not the case; the crisis was there long before they came. I can, however, name one person from the Indian sub-continent who has made a contribution to solving the housing crisis, Mother Teresa. That the day should ever come when she should have to leave the streets of Calcutta to point the finger of reproach at us in our capital city, and when Members of Parliament making their way home at night see people sleeping in boxes, is a reproach that Conservative Members must face.

The odour of sanctity clings to Mother Teresa as it has never clung to the Prime Minister, and we need to listen to what she says to us about housing. She says that we should care more, that we should devote more resources to housing and that we should put strategy in the place of rhetoric. That is the challenge that Mother Teresa presents to the House, and I only wish that Conservative Members were up to it.

6.32 pm
Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. It is also a welcome debate, and far too short for the right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate. But one never knows. Eventually—perhaps before the summer recess, perhaps after it—we can have a major debate on housing if the Housing Bill goes through Report stage and receives its Third Reading. The Bill is now lost in the limbo of the Department of the Environment and the disputes between the Secretary of State and the Minister for Housing and Planning as they desperately try to define a "social landlord" in the private sector.

Last night I met a Mr. Roy Murphy. People in the north-west will know that he is Shelter's representative in the region. He said that he had just been to a Shelter meeting on "social housing". It used to be council housing; then it was public housing; now it is social housing. If I went on to the streets of Bootle and offered someone a social house, they would wonder what I was talking about. They would understand what a public house was, but that is not what the Minister is talking about. They want to be offered council housing. They do not want houses with private landlords.

Meetings all over the country during the run-up to the elections on 5 May were packed with people who made it clear, on council estate after council estate, that they did not want to go back to private landlords—especially the elderly and middle-aged, who started life as private tenants and waited and fought to get their council houses. They know what private landlordism means, and there is no going back to it for them.

The Housing Bill—an amazing feat on the part of the Secretary of State and the Minister—has made the Government's right-to-buy policy a vote-winner for the Labour party. People on council estates, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley) pointed out, are dying to escape the consequences of this legislation. It was one thing for the Government to destroy the public rented sector to sell council housing to sitting tenants by means of discounts or other incentives—to sell to people who wanted to become owner-occupiers. It is another to start selling council houses over the heads of the sitting tenants, which is what they are now proposing—and, in some cases, selling off the sitting tenants as well, against their wishes.

Nearly 30 per cent. of people who live in council houses have bought them. That is not simply a tribute to the right to buy; it is a tribute to public sector housing. The tenants would not have bought the houses if they were not attractive low-rise houses. The Conservatives may be proud of selling them, but Labour is proud of building them. They would not have been there to sell if we had not built them in the first place. It is a myth perpetrated by the Tories that all council housing is bad and badly managed, but they are beginning to believe it themselves. Most council housing is low-rise and attractive. Of course there have been mistakes, the mistakes of the late 1950s and early 1960s: the high-rise flats for families and the deck-access flats. But those mistakes represent a minority of the council houses in which nearly 30 per cent. of the population live.

What does the Minister think of council housing and council tenants? In a speech in August 1987, he said: My belief is, there should not be much of it at all. It is an oddity confined largely to Britain amongst European countries that the state goes landlording on this scale. So now we have it: council housing and council tenants are an oddity. That is the view of the Tories, and that is why for doctrinaire reasons they are setting about destroying public sector housing against the wishes of the tenants. As I have said, it is one thing to sell to sitting tenants; it is another to force people to give up their tenancies and be handed over to the private sector.

The Government say that the pick-a-landlord scheme gives council tenants a choice. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) mentioned that. Any council tenant is free to choose now: he can give up his council house and rent from a private landlord. I do not notice many of them doing that. However, I notice many people coming to my advice bureau and saying, "I rent from a private landlord. The property is infested with cockroaches; it is damp; he is fiddling the meter; he is overcharging; I cannot get the repairs done. Please will you get me a council house?" That has been the history of our advice bureaux for the past nine years of Tory rule, and it is the history of Conservative Members' advice bureaux as well, if they would only tell the truth.

The Government know that council tenants do not want to pick a private landlord. That is why they are rigging the voting system so that 51 per cent. of the people living on an estate picked out by a private landlord who wishes to take it over—not one that the tenants have asked to be taken over—must vote against the takeover; otherwise it will go ahead. It will not be 51 per cent. of those who vote, but 51 per cent. of those living on the estate. If someone dies while the vote is taking place, he will be counted as having voted yes because all abstentions will be counted votes. A tenant cannot go on holiday if he does not want to be taken over, because if he does not vote he will be counted as having voted yes.

Those who have exercised the right to buy—the owner-occupiers on the estate—will have a vote as well. They can vote for their neighbours to be taken over. It is a voting system worthy of Stalin or Franco. It gives the lie to the Tories' claim that people want to opt out of the council sector. They know full well that that is not true.

Mr. Michael J Martin

This applies not only to council housing, but to the Scottish Special Housing Association, which is a Government agency. All the tenants are happy with the organisation, yet the Government are forcing new landlords on them.

Mr. Roberts

We talk about the voting system for the pick-a-landlord scheme, but housing action trusts will not even get a vote. The Minister promised to tell us their position when the Bill received its Second Reading, but we still do not know. He said that he was going to announce six trusts. But there will be no choice whatever for them.

This is a con trick that the Conservatives always operate: "Starve the public sector of resources; do not give the Health Service the money that it needs; that will cause waiting lists." Then they say, "It does not work; go private."

The Government are doing exactly the same in public sector housing. They are starving local authorities of the resources that they need to maintain and manage housing. They are also starving local authorities of the housing allocations that they need to build houses and offer transfers. They are making it difficult for local authorities to run public sector housing effectively. Then they say, "It does not work; go private." But people on the council estates know what the Government are up to. They have rumbled them.

The Government have tried to obfuscate and hide the facts. When the Secretary of State for the Environment answered a question about subsidies he said: The total figures for Exchequer contributions to council housing in 1981–2 was £1.3 billion and in 1987–88 £0.8 billion."—[Official Report, 18 May 1988; Vol. 133, c. 940] That is a massive drop. However, the Secretary of State said that that does not matter because there were fewer houses in 1987–88.

I have the figures for 1978–79. The subsidy was £1.457 billion, an even bigger amount. It is not that there is less subsidy because there are fewer houses: there are fewer houses because there is less subsidy. The cut in subsidy has resulted in fewer houses. There are I million fewer houses for rent. The decline in subsidy over the last nine years of Tory rule is because the 1980 Act got rid of the Labour Government's direct subsidies to local authorities for the building of new council houses and the modernisation of older council houses.

Subsidies bear no relationship to the number of new council houses that are built or to the number of older houses that are modernised and improved. Central Government told local authorities to increase rents every year by a set amount—the local contribution—until the housing revenue account was in surplus. Central Government subsidies were reduced and it was hoped that eventually they would disappear. In many areas, they have disappeared. The housing revenue accounts of many local authorities are now in surplus. That is a direct consequence of this Government's attempt to cut subsidies to local authorities so that they build no more council houses, thereby ensuring that the public rented sector declines even further.

There are fewer houses and, we must assume, fewer tenants. However, as rents have increased during the last nine years, housing benefit payments, despite the seven cuts that this Tory Government have introduced, have increased from £1.7 billion in 1981–82 to £3.5 billion in 1987–88. There have been massive cuts in public expenditure subsidies to build council houses and improve older ones, but there has been an increase in public expenditure to help those who have to face the massive rent increases imposed by this Government.

There have also been massive cuts in the housing improvement programme allocations. In today's prices, South Bedfordshire spent £13.6 million in 1978–79. Now it has been given £809,000, a cut of 94.1 per cent. Manchester was spending £108,329,000 on its housing investment programme. That has been reduced to £23 million, a cut of 78.8 per cent. The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) did not refer to the housing problems that have been caused by the cut of 80.9 per cent. in the housing investment programme between 1979 and now. Norwich regularly returns a Labour council. At Beauthorpe it was building houses for sale, houses to rent from housing associations and houses to rent from the local authority. That has been stopped because of the Government's cuts in the housing investment programme.

What do this Government offer? They claim that the way to solve homelessness is to make sure that councils fill their empty houses, but they have ignored the huge number of empty houses in the private sector. In 1987, 511,000 private sector houses were standing empty, but only 108,600 public sector houses were standing empty.

The Government's answer to the problem has been to hand over housing to the private housing market. They want to destroy the public rented sector completely. They have introduced the concept of assured tenancies, which destroys security of tenure for most tenants in the private sector. They have also handed over council housing to the private rented sector.

The Government believe in only one kind of free market in housing—a shortage of housing. Market rents and house prices would fall if there were a surplus of housing. As the Government believe only in their own free market—a shortage—they will not build houses in the public rented sector. That would destroy the shortages that provide the profits in private rents and house prices. A house is not worth what it costs to build or what it costs to replace. A house is worth what people can get for it on the open market. That also determines rent levels. There is profit in the private rented sector and in the free market only if there is a housing crisis, a housing shortage and waiting lists.

Aneurin Bevan said that the best kind of rent control is nine families chasing 10 decent houses. That is why I make no apology for restating Labour's answer to homelessness and the housing crisis. It is to build more low-rise council houses in the public rented sector that people want so that we can eat up the waiting lists, rehouse homeless families and get people out of bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Public expenditure will be needed. The Government say, "We agree, but where is the money coming from?" But they cannot say that after the last Budget. There is plenty of money, "loadsa" money, and we are going to spend it on building council houses.

6.46 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Marion Roe)

As the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) has said, this has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate. Hon. Members have made many points, to which I shall respond. First, however, may I put the debate in the context of the changes that have been taking place in housing.

After the war our housing problems were on a large scale but they were relatively simple. What was needed was a massive programme of slum clearance and a massive programme of new building. It was arguable that, because of the uniform nature and scale of the problem, the house building programme had to be centrally planned and directed both nationally and at local level.

Today circumstances are very different. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has already said, nationally there are more houses than households. At regional level it is quite clear that the problems of each region are very different from one another; that within each region the inner city, the suburbs, the small towns and the rural areas each have different needs. Even within a single locality there is a range of different specialist needs—for example, for the elderly or for single parents.

People's wants have changed, too. Most people want to own their own home. Even if they cannot afford ownership they want a choice. They are fed up with being on the receiving end of a distant and sometimes downright inefficient bureaucracy.

The difference between the Government and the Opposition is perhaps not so much one of ideology but that the Government have recognised that different circumstances require different solutions, while the Opposition, stuck in the groove like some cracked 78 record, keep repeating their worn-out formulae, unwilling to admit that the world has left them behind.

The Opposition motion invites us to "restore a planned programme" and to create… an effective system of regulation. The language is revealing. Plans, programmes, regulations are apparently the panacea. But what are plans, programmes or regulations if they are not decisions that affect our lives taken by someone else: by Whitehall, or by the town hall?

People would never accept for a moment that the quantity or type of food they eat or the clothes that they wear should be planned or programmed by their town hall, and they do not want to be dependent on them for their homes. Even more important, perhaps, the centralised approach to meeting housing needs can never work when those needs vary so much. Especially it will not work when our people are—and rightly so—so independent minded. It is no accident that many local authorities face severe housing management problems. These are the inevitable consequences of an approach that is no longer fitted to today's circumstances.

Mr. Boateng


Mrs. Roe

The Government's policy is based on offering people choice: letting them decide what they want. What most people want is to buy their own homes.

Mr. Boateng


Mrs. Roe

Since 1979, 4 million people have bought a home for the first time, including 1.1 million who were formerly council tenants. The number of home owners has risen by a quarter, and private sector house building has reached the highest level for 14 years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) asked about proposals for improvement grants. As I am sure he knows, a consultation paper was issued on 5 November. We shall bring forward legislation as soon as we can.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) spoke about the rise in house prices. However, more people are able to buy their own homes. In 1979 there were 390,000 first-time buyers; last year there were 620,000. Total housing output continued to rise by 8 per cent. in 1987 to a total which is higher than in 1979. I was most interested by the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire for speeding up house purchase and reducing gazumping. I shall certainly examine his suggestion.

There is of course a minority who do not want, or who cannot afford, owner-occupation. It is tenants who in the long run have suffered most from decades of excessive regulation and a centralised, programmed approach to housing provision. In practice, the tenant has had to accept whatever accommodation and whatever level of service his monopolist local authority landlord offers.

We want tenants to have a real choice. We need to break down the local authority monopoly and encourage private investment in the rented sector, creating competition between landlords so that landlords have to respond to tenants' needs rather than the other way round. To those who are already tenants of local authorities, and who cannot buy their home under the right to buy, we want to offer the possibility of choosing a new landlord.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) suggested that tenants might want to stay with local authority landlords. That is their choice, but the hon. Gentleman should remember that a National Consumer Council survey has shown that more than one fifth of tenants would prefer a new social landlord. Even if they decide not to make that choice, we are putting in tenants' hands a power which they can use to persuade their local authority to improve their level of service, a power that will even up the unequal contest between the tenant and a distant or uncaring management.

Several hon. Members have referred to the private rented sector. Excessive regulation of the private rented sector has stifled investment. In 1938 the private rented sector accounted for 57 per cent. of the stock; now it accounts for only 8 per cent. In 1981 17 per cent. of the private rented stock was in serious disrepair.

Mr. George Howarth


Mrs. Roe

We must encourage new investment. The business expansion scheme will stimulate investment by offering tax relief. Local authorities are being given a power to give subsidy where it is needed. Those measures will provide a major incentive to the investment that is needed to improve the housing conditions of those who rent.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Hammersmith welcomes our policy of supporting housing associations. Housing associations have a record of flexibility and responsiveness to tenants' needs. They are much better adapted to cope with the enormous variety of housing needs that we now face. The Government intend to build on that success. We are bringing in more private investment and increasing public sector support through the Housing Corporation.

Mr. George Howarth


Mrs. Roe

The Housing Corporation's investment programme has been increased to £737 million in the current year and will increase further to £850 million by 1990–91. The private investment which is already coming in will be over and above that.

The increase in the Housing Corporation programme was part of a general increase in the resources made available for housing investment. The housing capital programme this year was increased to £3,827 million; up 10 per cent. on earlier plans and £140 million above outturn for 1987–88.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Unless the hon. Lady gives way—[Interruption.] She does not have to give way.

Mrs. Roe

I agreed to curb my comments to 15 minutes so that I could respond to hon. Members' points without giving way.

Local authorities continue to account for the bulk of expenditure. They continue to account for a very significant proportion of tenancies. It is vital, therefore, that local authorities offer a good service to their tenants.

The first priority is to improve the state of the stock and to bring back into use vacant dwellings. There is no lack of resources for repair and improvement of the local authority stock. Plans for the current year allow for capital expenditure of £1,770 million, an increase of II per cent. over last year's outturn. Total expenditure on repair and maintenance is nearly £3 billion—more in real terms than in 1979–80 even though the stock is smaller. More important perhaps is the fact that the money is used effectively, and that improvements to the fabric are matched by improvements in management.

Run-down estates get special attention and extra resources through the Estate Action schemes. Projects involve renovation of the fabric, the bringing in of private investment, and the establishment of responsive locally based management. Since 1985 schemes have been supported with £120 million of allocations, benefiting 110,000 homes and 300,000 tenants. Expenditure this year will almost double to £140 million.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne and other hon. Members referred to the numbers of homeless, and to local authorities' use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It really is extraordinary that some authorities cannot manage without extensive use of bed-and-breakfast—even though they have properties empty and idle—particularly as other authorities with just as many homeless to care for do manage without bed-and-breakfast.

Local authorities have more than 112,000 empty properties; 28,000, or 25 per cent., have been empty for more than a year. That is nearly three times the number of families in bed-and-breakfast. In London, which accounts for over 80 per cent. of those in bed-and-breakfast, local authorities have nearly five times as many empty properties as there are families in bed-and-breakfast.

Local authorities have unlimited access to their capital receipts to bring empties back into use. But not every authority uses its receipts. For example, Labour-controlled Camden and Hammersmith and Fulham had at 1 April 1987 over £60 million in accumulated receipts and 600 households in bed-and-breakfast while 150 and 250 council dwellings respectively awaited major repairs. Some authorities that could raise more receipts through right to buy and use them to bring empties back into use have been dragging their feet.

There are 20 authorities with 4 per cent. or more of their stock empty. Twenty authorities with the most vacancies have more than 50,000 empty dwellings between them. In London, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Southwark, Islington and Lewisham have between them some 13,800 empty homes. Some authorities re-let their dwellings in three to four weeks, but it takes Southwark an average of 24 weeks. That reduces the number of dwellings available by 1,800—enough to house all its homeless. I repeat that the Audit Commission estimated that if the national average re-let preiod could be reduced by just two and a half weeks an additional 20,000 empty dwellings could be occupied.

The Opposition motion protests at the numbers of homeless and the number in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and calls for an increasing supply of low-cost housing. I share their concerns. The difference between us is this. The Opposition talk of their concern while their own authorities keep houses empty for months or even years and fail to collect the rents, fail to use receipts to carry our repairs and fail to deliver a decent service to those whom they claim to represent. Faced with the challenge of the changing pattern of housing needs, the Opposition can think of little better than to return to the formulae of the 1950s.

The Government have faced up to the challenge of the 1980s and the 1990s. We have come forward with a programme of radical reform. Our approach is based on giving people greater freedom to make their own choice, on creating diversity in the housing market and competition between landlords and on breaking down remote, insensitive, and inefficient local authority monopolies.

The Opposition used to condemn the idea of giving tenants the right to buy their own homes. They do not do so now. It is far too popular. Perhaps in time they will come to realise that those tenants who cannot afford to buy still want a choice and a better service. They want less politicking and more efficiency. They do not want to be dependent on a municipal monopoly. The Opposition's approach is based on the town hall deciding what housing people should have. The Government's approach is based on giving people the freedom to make their own choice.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 204, Noes 331.

Division No. 316] [7 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Allen, Graham Clay, Bob
Anderson, Donald Clelland, David
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Armstrong, Hilary Cohen, Harry
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Coleman, Donald
Ashton, Joe Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Corbett, Robin
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Corbyn, Jeremy
Barron, Kevin Cousins, Jim
Battle, John Cox, Tom
Beckett, Margaret Cryer, Bob
Bell, Stuart Cummings, John
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bidwell, Sydney Cunningham, Dr John
Blair, Tony Dalyell, Tam
Boateng, Paul Darling, Alistair
Boyes, Roland Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bradley, Keith Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Dewar, Donald
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Dixon, Don
Buchan, Norman Dobson, Frank
Buckley, George J. Douglas, Dick
Caborn, Richard Dunnachie, Jimmy
Callaghan, Jim Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Eadie, Alexander
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Fatchett, Derek
Canavan, Dennis Faulds, Andrew
Cartwright, John Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Meale, Alan
Fisher, Mark Michael, Alun
Flannery, Martin Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Flynn, Paul Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Moonie, Dr Lewis
Foster, Derek Morgan, Rhodri
Foulkes, George Morley, Elliott
Galbraith, Sam Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
George, Bruce Mullin, Chris
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Murphy, Paul
Godman, Dr Norman A. Nellist, Dave
Golding, Mrs Llin Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Gordon, Mildred O'Brien, William
Gould, Bryan O'Neill, Martin
Graham, Thomas Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Parry, Robert
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Patchett, Terry
Grocott, Bruce Pike, Peter L.
Hardy, Peter Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Prescott, John
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Quin, Ms Joyce
Heffer, Eric S. Radice, Giles
Henderson, Doug Randall, Stuart
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Reid, Dr John
Holland, Stuart Richardson, Jo
Home Robertson, John Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hood, Jimmy Robertson, George
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Robinson, Geoffrey
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Rogers, Allan
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rooker, Jeff
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Rowlands, Ted
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Ruddock, Joan
Illsley, Eric Sedgemore, Brian
Ingram, Adam Sheerman, Barry
Janner, Greville Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
John, Brynmor Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Johnston, Sir Russell Short, Clare
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Skinner, Dennis
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Kennedy, Charles Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Snape, Peter
Lambie, David Soley, Clive
Lamond, James Spearing, Nigel
Leadbitter, Ted Steel, Rt Hon David
Leighton, Ron Steinberg, Gerry
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Stott, Roger
Lewis, Terry Straw, Jack
Litherland, Robert Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Livsey, Richard Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Turner, Dennis
Loyden, Eddie Vaz, Keith
McAllion, John Wall, Pat
McAvoy, Thomas Wallace, James
Macdonald, Calum A. Walley, Joan
McFall, John Warden, Gareth (Gower)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Wareing, Robert N.
McKelvey, William Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
McLeish, Henry Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
McNamara, Kevin Williams, Rt Hon Alan
McTaggart, Bob Wilson, Brian
McWilliam, John Winnick, David
Madden, Max Worthington, Tony
Marek, Dr John Young, David (Bolton SE)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Tellers for the Ayes:
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Ken Eastham.
Martlew. Eric
Adley, Robert Amos, Alan
Aitken, Jonathan Arbuthnot, James
Alexander, Richard Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Allason, Rupert Ashby, David
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Aspinwall, Jack
Amess, David Atkinson, David
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Fookes, Miss Janet
Baldry, Tony Forman, Nigel
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Batiste, Spencer Forth, Eric
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bellingham, Henry Fox, Sir Marcus
Bendall, Vivian Franks, Cecil
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Freeman, Roger
Benyon, W. French, Douglas
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gale, Roger
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Gardiner, George
Blackburn, Dr John G. Gill, Christopher
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Body, Sir Richard Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Goodlad, Alastair
Boswell, Tim Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bottomley, Peter Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Gorst, John
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Gow, Ian
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Gower, Sir Raymond
Bowis, John Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Gregory, Conal
Brazier, Julian Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Bright, Graham Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Grist, Ian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Ground, Patrick
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Grylls, Michael
Browne, John (Winchester) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Buck, Sir Antony Hanley, Jeremy
Budgen, Nicholas Hannam, John
Burns, Simon Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Burt, Alistair Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Butcher, John Harris, David
Butler, Chris Haselhurst, Alan
Butterfill, John Hawkins, Christopher
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hayes, Jerry
Carrington, Matthew Hayward, Robert
Carttiss, Michael Heathcoat-Amory, David
Cash, William Heddle, John
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Chapman, Sydney Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Churchill, Mr Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n} Hill, James
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hind, Kenneth
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Holt, Richard
Colvin, Michael Howard, Michael
Conway, Derek Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Cope, John Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Cormack, Patrick Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Couchman, James Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Cran, James Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Critchley, Julian Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Curry, David Irvine, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Jack, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jackson, Robert
Day, Stephen Janman, Tim
Dicks, Terry Jessel, Toby
Dorrell, Stephen Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dover, Den Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Dunn, Bob Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Durant, Tony King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dykes, Hugh Kirkhope, Timothy
Emery, Sir Peter Knapman, Roger
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Evennett, David Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Fallon, Michael Knowles, Michael
Farr, Sir John Knox, David
Favell, Tony Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fenner, Dame Peggy Latham, Michael
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lawrence, Ivan
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Rowe, Andrew
Lee, John (Pendle) Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Ryder, Richard
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Sackville, Hon Tom
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Lightbown, David Sayeed, Jonathan
Lilley, Peter Scott, Nicholas
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shaw, David (Dover)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lord, Michael Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Shelton, William (Streatham)
McCrindle, Robert Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Shersby, Michael
Maclean, David Sims, Roger
McLoughlin, Patrick Skeet, Sir Trevor
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Madel, David Soames, Hon Nicholas
Major, Rt Hon John Speed, Keith
Malins, Humfrey Speller, Tony
Mans, Keith Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Maples, John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marland, Paul Squire, Robin
Marlow, Tony Stanbrook, Ivor
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stanley, Rt Hon John
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Steen, Anthony
Mates, Michael Stern, Michael
Maude, Hon Francis Stevens, Lewis
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Mellor, David Stokes, John
Miller, Hal Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Mills, lain Sumberg, David
Miscampbell, Norman Summerson, Hugo
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Moate, Roger Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Monro, Sir Hector Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Moore, Rt Hon John Temple-Morris, Peter
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Morrison, Hon Sir Charles Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Morrison, Hon P (Chester) Thorne, Neil
Moss, Malcolm Thurnham, Peter
Moynihan, Hon Colin Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Mudd, David Tracey, Richard
Neale, Gerrard Tredinnick, David
Nelson, Anthony Trippier, David
Neubert, Michael Trotter, Neville
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Twinn, Dr Ian
Nicholls, Patrick Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Oppenheim, Phillip Waldegrave, Hon William
Page, Richard Walden, George
Paice, James Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Patnick, Irvine Walters, Dennis
Patten, Chris (Bath) Ward, John
Patten, John (Oxford W) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Pawsey, James Watts, John
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wells, Bowen
Porter, David (Waveney) Wheeler, John
Portillo, Michael Whitney, Ray
Powell, William (Corby) Wiggin, Jerry
Price, Sir David Wilkinson, John
Raffan, Keith Wilshire, David
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Winterton, Mrs Ann
Rathbone, Tim Winterton, Nicholas
Redwood, John Wolfson, Mark
Renton, Tim Wood, Timothy
Rhodes James, Robert Woodcock, Mike
Riddick, Graham Yeo, Tim
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Young, Sir George (Acton)
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Younger, Rt Hon George
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Roe, Mrs Marion Tellers for the Noes:
Rossi, Sir Hugh Mr. Robert Boscawen and
Rost, Peter Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question put, That the proposed words be there added:—

The House divided: Ayes 332, Noes 202.

Division No. 317] [7.13 pm
Adley, Robert Couchman, James
Aitken, Jonathan Cran, James
Alexander, Richard Critchley, Julian
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Currie, Mrs Edwina
Allason, Rupert Curry, David
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Amess, David Davis, David (Boothferry)
Amos, Alan Day, Stephen
Arbuthnot, James Dicks, Terry
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Dorrell, Stephen
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Ashby, David Dover, Den
Aspinwall, Jack Dunn, Bob
Atkinson, David Durant, Tony
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Dykes, Hugh
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Emery, Sir Peter
Baldry, Tony Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Evennett, David
Batiste, Spencer Fallon, Michael
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Farr, Sir John
Bellingham, Henry Favell, Tony
Bendall, Vivian Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Benyon, W. Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Bevan, David Gilroy Fookes, Miss Janet
Biffen, Rt Hon John Forman, Nigel
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Forth, Eric
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Body, Sir Richard Fox, Sir Marcus
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Franks, Cecil
Boswell, Tim Freeman, Roger
Bottomley, Peter French, Douglas
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Gale, Roger
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Gardiner, George
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Gill, Christopher
Bowis, John Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Goodhart, Sir Philip
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Goodlad, Alastair
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brazier, Julian Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bright, Graham Gorst, John
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Gow, Ian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gower, Sir Raymond
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Browne, John (Winchester) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Gregory, Conal
Buck, Sir Antony Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Budgen, Nicholas Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Burns, Simon Grist, Ian
Burt, Alistair Ground, Patrick
Butcher, John Grylls, Michael
Butler, Chris Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Butterfill, John Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carrington, Matthew Hanley, Jeremy
Carttiss, Michael Hannam, John
Cash, William Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Chapman, Sydney Harris, David
Churchill, Mr Haselhurst, Alan
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Hawkins, Christopher
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hayes, Jerry
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hayward, Robert
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Colvin, Michael Heddle, John
Conway, Derek Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cope, John Hill, James
Cormack, Patrick Hind, Kenneth
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Neubert, Michael
Holt, Richard Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Howard, Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Oppenheim, Phillip
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Page, Richard
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Paice, James
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Patnick, Irvine
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Patten, Chris (Bath)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Patten, John (Oxford W)
Irvine, Michael Pawsey, James
Jack, Michael Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jackson, Robert Porter, David (Waveney)
Janman, Tim Portillo, Michael
Jessel, Toby Powell, William (Corby)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Price, Sir David
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Raffan, Keith
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Rathbone, Tim
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Redwood, John
Kirkhope, Timothy Renton, Tim
Knapman, Roger Rhodes James, Robert
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Riddick, Graham
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Knowles, Michael Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Knox, David Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Roe, Mrs Marion
Latham, Michael Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lawrence, Ivan Rost, Peter
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Rowe, Andrew
Lee, John (Pendle) Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Ryder, Richard
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Sackville, Hon Tom
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Lightbown, David Sayeed, Jonathan
Lilley, Peter Scott, Nicholas
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shaw, David (Dover)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lord, Michael Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Shelton, William (Streatham)
McCrindle, Robert Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Shersby, Michael
Maclean, David Sims, Roger
McLoughlin, Patrick Skeet, Sir Trevor
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Madel, David Soames, Hon Nicholas
Major, Rt Hon John Speed, Keith
Malins, Humfrey Speller, Tony
Mans, Keith Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Maples, John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marland, Paul Squire, Robin
Marlow, Tony Stanbrook, Ivor
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stanley, Rt Hon John
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Steen, Anthony
Mates, Michael Stern, Michael
Maude, Hon Francis Stevens, Lewis
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Mellor, David Stokes, John
Miller, Hal Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Mills, lain Sumberg, David
Miscampbell, Norman Summerson, Hugo
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Moate, Roger Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Monro, Sir Hector Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Moore, Rt Hon John Temple-Morris, Peter
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Morrison, Hon Sir Charles Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Morrison, Hon P (Chester) Thorne, Neil
Moss, Malcolm Thurnham, Peter
Moynihan, Hon Colin Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Mudd, David Tracey, Richard
Neale, Gerrard Tredinnick, David
Nelson, Anthony Trippier, David
Trotter, Neville Widdecombe, Ann
Twinn, Dr Ian Wiggin, Jerry
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Wilkinson, John
Waddington, Rt Hon David Wilshire, David
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Winterton, Mrs Ann
Waldegrave, Hon William Winterton, Nicholas
Walden, George Wolfson, Mark
Walker, Bill (T'side North) Wood, Timothy
Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester) Woodcock, Mike
Walters, Dennis Yeo, Tim
Ward, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Younger, Rt Hon George
Watts, John
Wells, Bowen Tellers for the Ayes:
Wheeler, John Mr. Robert Boscawen and Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.
Whitney, Ray
Abbott, Ms Diane Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Fatchett, Derek
Allen, Graham Faulds, Andrew
Anderson, Donald Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Armstrong, Hilary Fisher, Mark
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Flannery, Martin
Ashton, Joe Flynn, Paul
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Foster, Derek
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Foulkes, George
Barron, Kevin Galbraith, Sam
Battle, John George, Bruce
Beckett, Margaret Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bell, Stuart Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Golding, Mrs Llin
Bidwell, Sydney Gordon, Mildred
Blair, Tony Gould, Bryan
Boateng, Paul Graham, Thomas
Boyes, Roland Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Bradley, Keith Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Grocott, Bruce
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hardy, Peter
Buchan, Norman Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Buckley, George J. Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Caborn, Richard Heffer, Eric S.
Callaghan, Jim Henderson, Doug
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Holland, Stuart
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Home Robertson, John
Canavan, Dennis Hood, Jimmy
Cartwright, John Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clay, Bob Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Clelland, David Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cohen, Harry Illsley, Eric
Coleman, Donald Ingram, Adam
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Janner, Greville
Cook, Robin (Livingston) John, Brynmor
Corbett, Robin Johnston, Sir Russell
Corbyn, Jeremy Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cousins, Jim Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Cox, Tom Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cryer, Bob Kennedy, Charles
Cummings, John Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cunliffe, Lawrence Lambie, David
Cunningham, Dr John Leadbitter, Ted
Dalyell, Tam Leighton, Ron
Darling, Alistair Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Lewis, Terry
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Litherland, Robert
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Livsey, Richard
Dewar, Donald Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dixon, Don Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Dobson, Frank Loyden, Eddie
Douglas, Dick McAllion, John
Dunnachie, Jimmy McAvoy, Thomas
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Macdonald, Calum A.
Eadie, Alexander McFall, John
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Rogers, Allan
McKelvey, William Rooker, Jeff
McLeish, Henry Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McNamara, Kevin Rowlands, Ted
McTaggart, Bob Ruddock, Joan
McWilliam, John Sedgemore, Brian
Madden, Max Sheerman, Barry
Marek, Dr John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Short, Clare
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Skinner, Dennis
Martlew, Eric Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Meale, Alan Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Michael, Alun Snape, Peter
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Soley, Clive
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Spearing, Nigel
Moonie, Dr Lewis Steel, Rt Hon David
Morgan, Rhodri Steinberg, Gerry
Morley, Elliott Stott, Roger
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Straw, Jack
Mullin, Chris Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Murphy, Paul Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Nellist, Dave Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Turner, Dennis
O'Brien, William Vaz, Keith
O'Neill, Martin Wall, Pat
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wallace, James
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Walley, Joan
Parry, Robert Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Patchett, Terry Wareing, Robert N.
Pike, Peter L. Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Prescott, John Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Quin, Ms Joyce Wilson, Brian
Radice, Giles Winnick, David
Randall, Stuart Worthington, Tony
Reid, Dr John Young, David (Bolton SE)
Richardson, Jo
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Tellers for the Noes:
Robertson, George Mr. Frank Haynes and
Robinson, Geoffrey Mr. Ken Eastham.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, 'That this House congratulates the Government on the success of its home ownership policies, enabling more people than ever before to own their own homes; notes with satisfaction the Government's proposals in the Housing Bill to encourage private renting, to expand the role of housing associations, to give council tenants the right to seek a new landlord of their choice, and to establish Housing Action Trusts to improve conditions for tenants in some of the worst council estates; deplores the incompetence displayed by some Labour housing authorities who have on the one hand condemned homeless people to bed and breakfast while they have empty council property, and on the other failed to deal with delays for existing tenants who seek to exercise their right to buy; urges the Government to press ahead with its radical reforms of the rented sector of housing in the interests both of present tenants and the homeless, and to continue to maintain a proper balance between the needs of development and the protection of the environment; and congratulates it on extending and maintaining the protection afforded by green belts round major cities.'.