HC Deb 26 January 1994 vol 236 cc294-397
Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.47 pm
Mr. Jack Straw

I beg to move, That this House, noting that investment in housing has more than halved since 1979, whilst housing benefit costs have rocketed, that homelessness has trebled, that for the one million who face negative equity the dream of home ownership has turned into a nightmare, and that half a million building workers are on the dole, condemns the failure of the housing policies of Her Majesty's Government, the latest proposals to remove the basic right of the homeless to a permanent home, and the mean and nasty consequence of government policies which led Westminster City Council to spend millions on designated sales schemes which have harmed tenants and owner occupiers alike; and calls for policies to secure real choice between tenures, which revive housebuilding through the phased release of capital receipts, which make more effective use of a socially responsible private rented sector, deal humanely with the homeless, and provide better advice and protection for home purchasers. Britain faces a housing crisis unparalleled for four decades. In the past 18 months, the Labour party has published five separate documents setting out its proposals to tackle that crisis. If the Government had any sense, they would adopt them today. Those documents set out a clear strategy and a call for action to deal with that housing crisis.

The right to a decent home is fundamental in a civilised democracy. Without that basic entitlement, it is almost impossible to exercise all the other rights that we all take for granted. We now are faced with a Government, however, who see themselves as having little responsibility for ensuring that every one of our citizens has a proper home. We have a Government who, in the face of such a crisis, have decided to slash still further their pitiable capital investment budget.

The biggest problem is the lack of adequate housing supply. What makes the Government's response even worse is the fact that the resources are there to make a start on tackling that crisis. They exist in the form of more than £5,500 million of accumulated capital receipts, which are currently locked away in council bank accounts by order of the Government. We believe that those receipts should be used to buy up empty and repossessed homes and to build new homes. With the number of housing starts down by 100,000 on the level achieved by the Labour Government, before 1979, that emergency house building programme is desperately needed.

Only absurd Treasury dogma stops those receipts from being invested in housing now. How can the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction explain to the young couple who want to set up a home before starting a family that they may have to wait indefinitely, because his Government will not let their local council build homes with money which it already has, but which is locked in the bank by Government order?

It was difficult enough for the Government to justify their refusal to allow local authorities to spend their capital receipts before the 1992 autumn statement; it is virtually impossible now. In the 1992 autumn statement, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer—the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont)—conceded the exact principle for which we have argued: that councils should be able to use all their current capital receipts to rebuild houses and rehouse people. If the receipts could be unfrozen for 13 months, why could they not be unfrozen for another year? If current receipts could be reinvested in housing, why could not the same apply to accumulated receipts?

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his proposal would add £5.5 billion to the public sector borrowing requirement? How does he square that with the assurance given by his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) that the Labour party has no firm spending commitments?

Mr. Straw

This is the difficulty that the hon. Gentleman and all his hon. Friends faced last year. If it was right to unfreeze capital receipts last year—notwithstanding the way in which the PSBR is defined—why is it wrong this year, when the housing crisis is even worse?

What lies behind the Government's prohibition is an irrational hatred of council housing. They believe that there is only one legitimate form of housing tenure: home ownership. They have a one-club housing policy, which is as profound a failure as their one-club economic policy. Labour believes in real choice among different forms of housing tenure, which is why we have published proposals for flexible tenure.

Potential owners should be given more flexible choice in regard to home ownership. Shared ownership schemes should be offered by social landlords, allowing people to own as much of a home as they can afford while paying rent for the rest. They could then "staircase" up to full ownership as income and circumstances permit it; we believe, however, that they should be able to "staircase" downwards as well. Reducing the mortgage element that people pay and turning mortgages into rent is surely better than turfing families out of their homes when they cannot manage mortgage repayments.

If there is to be real choice between different forms of tenure, we need a healthy private rented sector. Conservative Members routinely pay lip service to that; yet the proportion of households renting private homes has halved since 1979 and there are more than 800,000 empty private homes. Since 1989, deregulation has been a profiteers' charter, just as deregulation in 1957 did not lead to an increase in the private rented sector—as Conservative Ministers then claimed—but led to a collapse in that sector, and to Rachmanism.

In a speech last week, launching what was described as a swingeing attack on the Government's housing policy", the chief executive of the Halifax building society spoke of a polarisation of tenures between owner-occupation and housing association or local authority renting. Little choice exists. Britain suffers from the lack of a viable alternative to social renting or owner occupation. Labour has presented proposals to encourage the development of a new, socially responsible private rented sector.

Home owners and potential buyers have not been helped by the Government's one-club policy, either. They have been given precious little protection against the unscrupulous and irresponsible behaviour of some mortgage lenders. Many thousands of households are trapped in homes that are worth less than they paid for them, with mortgages that they cannot afford. Labour wants tougher regulation of mortgage lenders, and better advice and protection for home purchasers.

The measures that I have outlined have been demanded for years by housing organisations, building firms, home owners and tenants alike. They are common-sense measures, which ought to be utterly uncontroversial. Not long ago, even a Conservative Government would have based their policy upon them. In 1924, the first Labour Government had to establish the basis for a common-sense housing policy, and it will be our job after the next election to re-establish it.

Although it was often a matter of intense debate, for many decades after the war a broad post-war consensus existed between the parties about the balance and purpose of housing policy right up until 1979. There were mistakes as Government and councils tried to make up the massive deficit of houses caused by bombing and slums beyond repair, but those mistakes were shared.

Today, almost every Conservative speech on housing is peppered with references to 1960s tower blocks, as though they were a Labour invention, but it was the 1944 Abercrombie plan agreed by the wartime coalition which had the idea of tower blocks, and the 1951–55 Conservative Government who began the error of forcing tower blocks and industrialised buildings on councils whether they wanted them or not. New subsidy arrangements by the Conservative Government in the mid-1950s encouraged tower blocks against the building of traditional homes by increasing the subsidy on buildings of six storeys or more.

Under pressure from private construction firms, the then Conservative Housing Minister, Sir Keith Joseph, became an evangelist for tower blocks, telling the House in November 1962 and again in December 1962 of the necessity to take advantage of industrialised techniques which make smaller demands on available labour in order to meet this larger programme".—[Official Report, 13 November 1962; Vol. 667, c. 22.] At least at that time, both sides recognised the importance of a mix of tenures. Whilst the majority of people—an increasing number—rightly wanted to own their own homes for the rest of their lives, there would always be a need for affordable, decent homes to rent which had to be provided through councils and housing associations.

That broad consensus changed in 1979, with the first election of the present Administration. The Conservative manifesto of that date committed the incoming Government to legislating on the right to buy and to measures to revive the private rented sector. It was wholly silent on any positive role for the social housing sector.

Since 1979, council house building has been virtually abolished, but building by housing associations has only spasmodically reached levels attained by Labour. The overall consequence is that the number of social housing units being built each year has dropped from 100,000 a year with Labour to 35,000 —or one third—under the Conservatives.

Nor has private housing fared much better. Overall starts are down 110,000, from 270,000 under Labour in 1978 to 160,000 under the Conservatives in 1992. During that period, public investment in housing has halved, at today's prices, from £13 billion in 1978 to £6 billion in 1991–92 and it is still falling, with a cut of £500 million imposed by the current Housing Minister on even the parsimonious plans for next year proposed by the current Home Secretary.

What is crazy about Government policy on public housing is that, as investment has been halved, personal subsidies, so derided by the Conservative party, have shot up. In the wake of massive and unjustified increases in rents, housing benefit costs have risen by 55 per cent. in real terms in just five years, now standing at £7.3 billion —£1.5 billion more than we invested in housing—while the social security bill for the payment of mortgage interest alone has risen fourfold in real terms in five years and now tops £1.1 billion.

The consequence is greater misery in all tenures than any of us can remember for owner-occupiers, tenants, the homeless and building workers, 500,000 of whom have lost their jobs. More than 1 million home owners are trapped in their own homes, unable to move because their houses are worth much less than they paid for them and much less than their mortgage. Some 35,000 people are more than six months in arrears; 60,000 families lost their homes in 1993 through mortgage repossessions; waiting lists have increased by 200,000 and number of homeless people has gone up threefold.

Council rents have been forced up at 2.5 times the rate of inflation, and housing association rents are now so high that, as the Environment Select Committee reported: Welfare ghettos are now being created where only those on housing benefit can possibly afford to reside, and once there are forced to stay on the dole rather than to take lower paid work available. The Government talk about rolling back dependency on the state, but they have increased dependency on the state with every policy. In 1979, only one in 12 people of working age was dependent on the state. It is now down to one in six. Many of those people are desperate to get back to work, but are trapped on the dole by the insane housing and social policies of the Government.

That situation is almost entirely of the Government's making. Had they established a system by which councils were able to reinvest the proceeds of council house sales in renewing and rehabilitating the social housing stock, a substantial part of this crisis would never have happened. Had they not switched from investment to personal subsidy, they would have saved the public purse millions of pounds and not created welfare ghettos.

Mr. Streeter

What about the £6 million?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman wants to know where the money will come from for investment. He must look at council house receipts, the amount that is being squandered year after year on housing benefit and other subsidies that subsidise the policy of excessively high rents.

The Government are not renowned for accepting their share of the blame. "The buck stops anywhere but here" is what should be inscribed on every Minister's chair. Never has there been a group of people more ill fitted to lecture the rest of us on individual responsibility than the collection of handwashers and scapegoaters on the Government Front Bench.

Seventeen years ago, the late and good Stephen Ross, the Liberal Member for the Isle of Wight, piloted through the House his Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, with the active support of the Labour Government and many Conservative Members as well. That Act brought in overdue reform. It ended the unfairness of the old law that allowed some councils—usually Conservative—to evade responsibilities for the homeless, and gave those who were homeless through no fault of their own some highly qualified rights of access to local authority accommodation.

That Act has all-party support and survived the test of time, as even Lady Thatcher recognised when she was Prime Minister. The 1977 provisions were consolidated by the Conservative Government in the Housing Act 1985 and were amended—only slightly—by the Government in the Housing and Planning Act 1986. The Act was the subject of a major review by the then Secretary of State, the late Lord Ridley, in 1988.

The conclusions were announced by his successor, Chris Patten, who, on 15 November 1989, said: We believe that the Act remains important … The present terms of the Act strike a reasonable balance between the interests of the genuinely homeless and others in housing need. We do not intend therefore to change the law, but we have proposals— which were sensible— to make it work better. He went on to say: The real and long-term remedies to the levels of homelessness are to be found in an effective housing strategy, based on the contributions of the private and the public sectors".—[Official Report, 15 November 1991; Vol. 160, c. 243–244.] I could not have put it better myself.

Mr. Stephen Milligan (Eastleigh)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the situation in my constituency, where the number of homeless people has fallen sharply over the past 18 months, the number of people accepted as homeless has fallen and the number of people in temporary accommodation has fallen, but at the same time 443 people on the council waiting list have been waiting for a long time? Of those, only one family was rehoused last year. Given the limited resources, are not the Government right to change the rules to ensure that people on low incomes, who have a normal family life, do not have to become homeless to get a council house?

Mr. Straw

I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. He has just damned himself out of his own mouth. He said that the number of people accepted as homeless has dropped in the past six months. I suspect that, in Eastleigh, that is not a very high proportion at all. He knows that there are hundreds on the waiting list and that only one was rehoused last year. Why is that the case? It is not because the homeless are jumping the queue, but because of the fundamental failure of the Conservative Government and his council in collapsing the house building programme.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to do something for the people on the waiting lists in Eastleigh or anywhere else, he should join us in the Lobby tonight—join us in unfreezing capital receipts and in giving his council and every other council the right to spend the money that they have raised from the sale of council houses on housing those who are homeless and those on the housing waiting list as well.

Despite the continuing squeeze on resources, councils and voluntary organisations have continued to support the conclusions of the 1989 review of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act. Many, especially Labour-controlled councils, have made sterling efforts to cut numbers in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, in some cases to eliminate bed-and-breakfast accommodation altogether— as Camden has done, for example, despite worse pressure from the homeless, with three main-line stations in its area, than adjoining Westminster, which continues to have to house hundreds of the homeless in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Mr. Streeter

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

Not again: I shall spare the hon. Gentleman.

No council or voluntary organisation that I can identify, except, I think, Westminster and Wandsworth—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—has made any call for a further review. There the policy, broadly accepted, rested until the Conservative party conference last October.

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) once attributed the success of his right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) at Tory party conferences to, I paraphrase, the right hon. Gentleman's elegant anatomical knowledge of the body politic of the Conservative party. But no such skill is possessed by other members of this Administration. They know only where to find the cesspit of the Tory party, and their only appeal is to whip up the crudest, the basest, prejudices inside their party.

How they succeeded at the Conservative party conference. The Secretary of State for Social Security won the biggest ovation of the week, so The Daily Telegraph told us, with an attack on alleged foreign scroungers. The Secretary of State for Education launched what may now be seen as a rather injudicious attack on "parents who walk away". The Home Secretary roamed even wider. Single parents with more than one child could have their benefits capped, he mused, and their rights as homeless people severely restricted.

But the man who played the most disreputable role at the Conservative party conference last October, was the man who, until then, had enjoyed a reputation as the most liberal and humane man in this Administration—none other than the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction. His speech signalled that, not content with blaming the unemployed for being jobless, the Government were now going to blame those without a home of their own for being homeless. The specific target of his attack was single parents, especially younger single parents.

Since Christmas, the Government have recognised that the "back to basics" scam of last October has been a catastrophe for the Tory party. Hopeless denials have come from the Tory party that anything was ever said about private morality, while the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction sought to salvage his reputation by pretending that deliberate queue-jumping by single mothers was not the case I was making for reform", as he told me in a letter.

References to single mothers have been excised from the consultative document. In addition, there is a most revealing omission which speaks volumes in the brief for this debate, presented and prepared by the Conservative research department, which a well-wisher in that extraordinary department has sent me.

The brief is of no more general reliability than the brief issued on Haringey recently, which alleged that two town halls in Haringey had been demolished, both of which are still standing. But if we trawl through it, we find endless extracts from the Minister's speech at the Conservative party conference, except the one extract that earned him all the publicity, the one extract that he wishes he had never said.

Let me remind the House what he said: How do we explain to the young couple … who want to wait for a home before they start a family … that they cannot be housed ahead of the unmarried teenager expecting her first, probably unplanned, child? Every prejudice one can think of is plumbed in every word. As it happens, single mothers of whatever age have never had priority in the homeless queue, and the right hon. Gentleman knew that when he made his disgraceful speech.

The 1989 review also made it clear that no homeless person had an automatic right to housing, whatever his or her condition. Indeed, the opening section of the review went out of its way to say: It is important to remember that the legislation does not require councils directly to provide homes for people. A council's task is to assess people's need, and then, if satisfied that they genuinely do need accommodation, to help them secure it. Authorities may use their own stock to do so, or may make arrangements for people to be housed by a housing association or other provider in the private sector. It goes on to say that people presenting themselves as homeless must satisfy three separate tests, and that only if they meet the necessary criteria will they be offered any kind of housing, temporary or otherwise.

Last Thursday, the right hon. Gentleman published his so-called consultation paper, to universal condemnation from all those who have to deal with the homeless. That is no wonder, for, if implemented, its proposals will set back the clock 30 years or more. Fine words such as continuing to provide homes for families and vulnerable individuals trip easily from the right hon. Gentleman's lips, but Conservatives had better understand what the proposals mean.

The proposals mean that councils will no longer be obliged to provide accommodation for applicants while investigating their application. They will be obliged to secure accommodation for homeless households for a limited period only. They will have no responsibility to help people who have been asked by friends or relatives to leave not their own home but someone's else home if the council believes that they can reasonably continue to live there without what is called "undue strain".

The overall consequenced of the proposals is that many homeless families will not be eligible for accommodation unless they are physically on the streets—not only homeless but roofless. In addition, many families will be moved from one borough to another, from one set of accommodation to another. What will that do for the basic rights of those families, and especially for those of their children?

We must ask again where the demand for the change is coming from. It is not coming from those who have to deal with the homeless; nor is it a response to the facts. A leaked internal Cabinet paper showed that there was no evidence to link single parents with higher levels of crime or other social disorder. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that single mothers deliberately become pregnant to jump the queue, as the right hon. Gentleman insinuated at the Conservative party conference.

I now read an interesting quotation: I have yet to meet a 'single mother' who has deliberately become pregnant in order to gain housing or financial advantage. They are the words of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), the Minister for Roads and Traffic, as reported in The Journal in Salisbury last week. He was right, and the Conservative Members who have sought to scapegoat young single mothers for their own failure should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

The general household survey published yesterday revealed that the number of single families has altered little since 1990, shortly after the previous review was published. During Question Time only last Wednesday, the Minister of State was trumpeting the fact that the number of homeless acceptances had fallen in each of the previous six quarters. So where is the problem that requires the Government's extraordinary solution?

The problem does not lie with the legislation or its enactment. Of course, there is a reason that waiting lists have lengthened, and to near-infinity in Westminster, as I outlined at the beginning of the debate.

If, at a time of rising household formation, one halves investment in housing, stops councils building any new homes, cuts the total number of new homes in the social housing sector to a third of what it was under Labour, and forces hundreds of thousands into mortgage arrears through crazy economic and social policies, one will of course end up with a crisis—one for which not the homeless, those on housing waiting lists or those trapped in homes worth less than their mortgages are responsible but one for which the Government are patently responsible.

The Government's policy on the homeless has nothing whatever to do with housing need and everything to do with the desperation and political bankruptcy of the Conservative party. Yes, this is a "back to basics" policy, but it is back to the Victorian basics of the Poor Law and the Vagrancy Acts, when the homeless were chased across parish boundaries so that they did not become a burden on the ratepayers—a technique already applied, with disastrous social consequences, by Westminster city council, which sent housing officers scampering across the country to Wigan and to my constituency of Blackburn, offering those astonished boroughs £400 a head if they would take Westminster's responsibilities for its homeless people off its hands.

Yes, "back to basics" is a moral issue; a matter of public morality and of decency. That policy is amoral, indecent, and unworthy of any Government in the late 20th century—and worthy, above all, of the Minister.

Our motion speaks of the mean and nasty consequences of Government policies. That phrase comes from the formal instructions that were given by the Conservative leadership in Westminster to housing officers, who were told to be "mean and nasty" with the homeless.

What has been revealed in the district auditor's report on Westminster is not simply an embarrassment to the local Conservative association. It was central Government's neurotic hatred of council housing which created the climate in which Dame Shirley Porter could set about the social cleansing of Westminster. What started as Tory dogma has ended in the corrupt gerrymandering of Westminster city council's designated sales scheme.

The victims of that policy are, first, the homeless in Westminster, whose needs were mocked by watching decent council homes being boarded up for sale some time, maybe or never.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

The hon. Gentleman complains about vacant houses in Westminster. Is he aware that, under the housing investment programme application in April 1993, 2 per cent. of the Westminster housing stock was empty, but in Hackney the percentage was 9.2 per cent., in Waltham Forest 4.6 per cent., in Tower Hamlets 4.6 per cent. and in Lambeth 3.6 per cent.? Should not the hon. Gentleman's motion tackle those Liberal and Labour councils and not Westminster city council?

Mr. Straw

I have been kind and gentle to Conservative Members. I warned them about not listening to or following Conservative party research documents. I have seen the same one. Unfortunately, I have here a Department of Environment "housing investment programme all items" print. It shows for Hackney, not that 9 per cent. of the homes are empty and available for letting, but 1.54 per cent. [Interruption.]

Mr. Marshall


Mr. Straw

I will not give way.

That 1.54 per cent. is way below the average for local authorities, and seven times below the level of the Government.

Mr. Marshall


Mr. Straw

I will not give way.

Hon. Members

Do your homework!

Mr. Marshall


Mr. Straw

I will not give way. I will spare the hon. Gentleman his embarrassment.

I was saying, Madam Speaker—

Mr. Marshall

On that very point—

Mr. Straw

No; I do not want a very point. The hon. Gentleman was wrong. If he has an argument, he had better take it up with the Department of the Environment, which provided me with those figures.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith)

It is upside down.

Mr. Straw

As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) says, I think that the hon. Gentleman has read the figures upside-down—1.6, not 9.1.

The first victims of the policy followed by Westminster city council were the homeless. The second victims were the residents, whose council spent £21 million on what the district auditor said was an unlawful housing policy. Many former tenants were sold a false prospectus and are now stuck with maintenance bills they cannot pay, in homes they cannot sell.

Much attention has rightly been paid to the effect of designated sales on the homeless, who were treated little better than chattels, but many of the supposed gainers also ended up as losers.

The objective of the policy was obvious. As the district auditor said in his report, it was motivated by considerations of electoral advantage. The intention was to change the electoral base in 18 wards through the sale of council property to people who were likely to be Conservative voters.

Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)


Mr. Straw

No, I have to get on.

The link between Westminster city council and the Government is not based simply on similar policy objectives and land deals. There is now overwhelming evidence that Westminster city council involved Ministers. Not only was the Prime Minister happy to commend the example set by Dame Shirley Porter to other local authorities, not only did the present Secretary of State for Employment describe Westminster's policies as a stunning success, but we now know that Ministers were present at key meetings in which Westminster Conservative councillors discussed the designated sales policies.

The right hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), who is now a Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office—I told him that I would raise the matter today—has already admitted to being present to at least two seminars with Westminster councillors, in 1986 and 1988, at which the designated sales policy was discussed. He could hardly have denied being present, because one of those meetings took place in his room.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage has explained to me that he could not be present today because of a ministerial engagement, and I entirely accept that. The right hon. Gentleman was also present at the meetings, and in a statement to The Observer he said that he was aware there was a political dimension to the policy. The right hon. Member for Westminster, North went further, and his spokesman said: Of course he knew about the designated sales policy and supports it. This policy is fantastically popular in Westminster.

Mr. Booth


Mr. Straw

No, many other hon. Members want to speak.

Perhaps it is the involvement of members of the Government in meetings with Westminster councillors which explains another curious aspect of the saga—the fact that the Government have fallen uncharacteristically silent about the whole affair. They are latter-day converts to the "due process" idea when allegations are made against councillors who are members of their party—a subscription which they did not exactly take out when the allegations were about councillors from other parties.

Ministers are now trying to say that a district auditor's report that took more than four years to complete does not provide sufficient evidence to enable us to make a judgment about the policy that Westminster council pursued.

Mr. Booth

Will my hon. Friend—

Mr. Straw

No—and I am not your friend, anyway.

Ministers are at great pains to emphasise the idea that the district auditor's recommendations are only provisional. That is true, and those named in the report are entitled to due process. However, Ministers conveniently gloss over the fact that the district auditor is in no doubt that the designated sales policy was unlawful, unauthorised, and to the detriment of the interests of local taxpayers". Westminster council has not felt obliged to restrict its discussions of the report, and now, notwithstanding the ludicrous leaflets that it was putting out a few days ago, it has decided to abandon the policy, because it recognises how wrong it was. It is high time that Ministers who were involved up to their necks in what was going on in Westminster had the guts that Westminster councilors have, and at long last admitted that the policy was wrong. They should understand that they can condemn the policies without in any sense prejudging whether those responsible for them committed unlawful acts.

What happened in Westminster was not an aberration, but the natural consequence of Conservative housing and social policy, bearing the indelible fingerprints of Conservative central office, of local Conservative Members of Parliament and of a succession of Ministers.

The pathetic brief put out by central office for the debate today gets up to the usual nonsense of trying to denigrate the record of Labour councils. I say "trying", and it is indeed very trying, because even that effort backfires. The brief contains a list of rent arrears as a percentage of the rent roll. Top of the list, with £16.8 million owing—more than one third of the total rent roll—is Brent, an authority which has been Conservative for the past four years.

We need no lectures from the Conservative party about efficiency or probity in housing, or in public life generally. If the Tory party wants to get back to basics, it should start examining the beam in its own eye before looking for the mote in the eyes of others. Of course what is owing should be collected. That is why Ministers should start with the £1.7 billion in uncollected tax, and the several billions of pounds in tax that the Inland Revenue says should come from the black economy.

Of course no public sector house should be empty a day longer than is necessary. So Ministers had better explain why there were 25,000 empty Government properties last March—seven times the empty property rate for local authorities. Ministers had better start applauding the record of councils, especially those such as Hackney, which, with less than 2 per cent. of its stock empty and available for letting, has the best record in any sector. Most such authorities are Labour.

If Ministers want to pick on a council, they would do best to choose that of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the Secretary of State for the Environment. Again, if we consider figures from the Department of the Environment, we find that that council has only 40 properties left under its ownership. I would have thought that that would not be difficult to manage. Of those 40, 13—a third—are lying idle. According to figures from the Department of the Environment, that is the highest proportion of houses lying idle of any authority in the country. With 1,463 persons on the waiting list, surely it should not be difficult to fill those dwellings, but perhaps that is someone else's fault too.

Labour wants tenants to get value for money and affordable homes to rent to be available. That is why rents in Labour areas are much lower than in Conservative areas. The Tory party is trying to price up tenants in work out of their own homes. Of the six London boroughs with the highest rents, every one is Tory. The highest rent to be found anywhere in the country is in Conservative Ealing —the borough of the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction—where the average council rent of £66.06 a week is more than twice the national average.

Just as Labour Governments have had the best housing policies, so Labour councils have had, and continue to have, the best housing policies. Of the 25 most efficient housing authorities recently named, 11 are Labour-controlled, three are Labour-dominated and just four are Conservative. That list comes from none other than the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction.

The Government have failed home owners and tenants alike. They have created a crisis and sought to scapegoat others for their moral, financial and political failure. We need a Government who will end that crisis, provide for those in need and ensure real choice of tenure. The Labour party will provide that Government.

4.26 pm
The Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction (Sir George Young)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: welcomes the fact that the Government is set to surpass its manifesto commitment to produce 153,000 homes in the first three years of this Parliament by 25,000; notes with approval the reduction in the number of families accepted as statutory homeless and temporarily housed in bed and breakfast accommodation; notes that the size of the nation's housing stock has grown faster than population growth over the last 15 years and its quality has improved and that the mortgage rate is now at its lowest since the 1960s as a result of the Government's economic policies; commends the Government's policies to secure decent housing for those in need, to provide a safety net for vulnerable people faced with losing their home and to provide more opportunities for home ownership; and calls on Her Majesty's Opposition to condemn the actions of those Labour-controlled councils who wasted taxpayers' money through mismanagement of their housing stock, failure to collect rents and the imposition of high council taxes. It is a coincidence that, on the day after I had pointed out to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) at a public debate on housing that the Labour Front Bench had not held one Supply day debate on housing in the whole parliamentary session, the Order Paper should have shown a response to that suggestion.

I welcome the opportunity to set out our record on housing and to describe the wide range of initiatives which we are promoting to bring decent housing to those in housing need. I shall do so on a day when we have good news from the construction industry of a 14 per cent. increase in orders in the last quarter of 1993 and when new orders for private housing are 38 per cent. up on the same period in 1992.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

Will the Minister give way?

Sir George Young

Let me make some progress and then I shall give way. I want to contrast our portfolio of ideas on this side of the House—[Laughter.]—with the empty rhetoric of Opposition Members. In its latest editorial, the magazine funded by Shelter, "Roof', says about the housing policies of Opposition Members: perhaps the biggest change of all needs to come from the Opposition parties. There is a huge policy vacuum there, waiting to be filled with imaginative ideas. Before I move on, I shall deal with the question of Hackney council. The hon. Member for Blackburn may have read, inadvertently, from the wrong line. The figures that we have in the Department from local authorities show that in Westminster the total number of management vacancies—[Interruption.] I shall give both figures. In Westminster, the total number of management vacancies as at 1 April 1993 was 92. In the London borough of Hackney, the figure was 1,091. There were 0.6 per cent. management vacancies in Westminster and 4.7 per cent. in Hackney. The total vacancies, not just the management voids, in Westminster were 331 and in Hackney, 3,750. The percentages are as follows: 2 per cent. for Westminster and 9.2 per cent. for Hackney.

Mr. Straw

I have a copy of the printout. I was quoting the figures—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Apologise."] The person who should apologise is the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall). He had the figures the wrong way around—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. Seated interventions are not helpful.

Mr. Straw

The Minister is up to his usual tricks of trying to include, in his figures of empty houses available to let, houses awaiting demolition, houses awaiting major repair and those awaiting renovation. Let us consider the proportion of homes available for letting, in respect of which I have not misread a line. According to the printout, the percentage for Labour-controlled Hackney in Greater London is 1.54.

Sir George Young

The figures are clearly on the record and I read them out a few moments ago. Those figures were supplied to my Department by the local authorities concerned. The 1.9 per cent. is actually the figure below 4.7 per cent. and relates to Lambeth.

However, it is worth repeating the figures. Hackney has 10 times as many empty local authority properties as Westminster. There are 3,750 such properties in Hackney as opposed to 331 in Westminster.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Hackney has a greater percentage of its housing stock empty and available to be sold than Westminster? Should not the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) have pointed that out?

Sir George Young

The day the Labour party tries to shelter behind the efficiency of the London borough of Hackney is the day when Labour loses all credibility.

I want to place in a broader context some of the issues referred to by the hon. Member for Blackburn. Since we came to office, the housing stock has grown from just under 21.5 million homes in 1980 to 24 million homes in 1991. If we convert that into homes per 100 people, it is clear that in 1980 there were 38 homes per 100 people and that there are now 41 homes per 100. In addition, the condition of that stock has improved. The English house condition survey shows that there are an estimated 160,000 fewer unfit dwellings across all tenures than there were five years ago. There are more homes; they are better heated and have more standard amenities and better insulation.

Each year, more of those in housing need are being rehoused than when we started. We are making better use of the public housing stock, with lettings in 1992–93 running at more than 500,000 compared with 473,000 in 1979–80. New lettings, rather than new builds, are the currency that really matters for those on the waiting list and those in housing need. The right to buy has brought home ownership within the reach of hundreds of thousands of families.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Will the Minister give way?

Sir George Young

No, I will not give way at the moment.

Nearly 1.5 million people throughout Great Britain have benefited from a policy which is so successful that Opposition Members have now been forced to accept it. Before the hon. Member for Blackburn lectures us about capital receipts, let him recognise that there would have been no capital receipts if we had taken his advice not to proceed with the right to buy.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The Minister referred to the right to buy. Will he take this opportunity, as the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction, to condemn the actions of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) who used an intermediary to buy the council house next door to his home in Gayfree street at a £50,000 discount? Was not that an abuse of the scheme? Will the Minister responsible for housing condemn those actions?

Sir George Young

No, I will not. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister, and indeed any hon. Member who is addressing the House, is entitled to be heard, however unpopular the remarks might be.

Mr. Straw


Sir George Young

I am not giving way. I must make some progress.

Mr. Straw


Sir George Young

I am not giving way. I have given way twice to the hon. Gentleman. I want to make some progress.

The hon. Member for Blackburn touched on the private rented sector. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman had the face to talk about the private rented sector when Opposition Members' policies led to a decline in the private rented sector for 60 or 70 years. The Housing Act 1988 has arrested and reversed 70 years of decline of the private rented sector. The latest figures suggest that it has increased in size in recent years to more than 9.5 per cent. of the housing stock. I welcome the Labour party's belated conversion to the merits of making better use of the private rented sector and the abandonment of its dogmatic hostility to private landlords.

We are tackling rundown estates by creating new housing action trusts to begin the work of regeneration, working with tenants to secure a better future. Five housing action trusts have already been established, and residents at Stonebridge Park in Brent will vote shortly on whether to set up a sixth. Housing action trusts are yet another bright idea that Labour failed to welcome at the time. Elsewhere, we have promoted the redevelopment of unpopular estates with the private sector, diversifying tenure and creating a human scale environment with effective local management.

By harnessing the resources of the private sector to housing association development, we have added £2.6 billion to investment over the past six years, providing over 70,000 homes more than would otherwise have been possible. We look set to exceed by 25,000 the number of new homes to which we committed ourselves in our manifesto.

We are tackling the problem of rough sleeping on the streets of central London, where the problem is at its worst, with a closely targeted, practical package of measures in the rough sleepers initiative, which is significantly bringing down the numbers on the streets. As Shelter's magazine, "Roof', said after the initiative got off the ground: Homeless people are finally beginning to disappear from the streets. And not into hospitals, prisons or cemeteries, as so often happened, but into good quality accommodation provided through a unique partnership between the Government and the voluntary sector.

Mr. Geoffrey Hoon (Ashfield)

If the rough sleepers initiative is so successful in London, why does the Minister not agree to extend it to other towns and cities where there is a problem of homelessness?

Sir George Young

Funds are available from my Department to help projects that bring direct help to the single homeless. Outside London, for example, we are helping Bristol with about £250,000 in grant. I urge local authorities outside London to look at the model that we have adopted in London and see whether, in partnershipwith voluntary organisations, it can be replicated elsewhere.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

My right hon. Friend should be congratulated on the rough sleepers initiative, which powerfully demonstrates his compassionate concern for the homeless. Does he agree that voluntary organisations have an indispensable part to play in the policy? Will he therefore consider further with colleagues in the Home Office how to ensure continuation of the funding which the voluntary services unit has provided for six charities involved in the rough sleepers initiative and the homeless mentally ill initiative? There is a question mark over the future of that funding. Will my right hon. Friend see whether he can secure its continuation?

Sir George Young

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I applaud him on his perceptive article in today's issue of The Guardian, which I read with great interest. The answer is yes, I am in close dialogue with my hon. Friends in the Home Office and in the Department of Health whose co-operation in the rough sleepers initiative I greatly welcome. I will pursue that matter.

As a result of the policies that I touched on a moment ago, the figures on homeless households accepted by local authorities for rehousing are now falling for the first time since the original legislation was set up in 1977. The figures for the previous quarter were the sixth in succession to show a decline in the year-on-year figures. The number in bed-and-breakfast accommodation has dropped dramatically by 41 per cent. over the past year.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

As the representative of a south-east London constituency, I should like to say that among the things that local residents have noticed most are the programmes aimed at providing proper heating and proper insulation in some of the massive tower blocks and estates that were constructed 10 to 20 years ago. I want to convey to my right hon. Friend the thanks of those people, who are now able to keep warm on £5 a week instead of being cold on £20 a week. Thanks to the help of various Government Departments under schemes such as the EMMAUS project, people who are roofless, jobless and lonely have found what is almost a secular monastery, where they can rebuild their self-respect, enabling them to return to normal society.

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention to the heroic work done by many voluntary organisations and by some local authorities to help the homeless. I applaud, in particular, the work of the EMMAUS project in Cambridge, which I look forward to visiting soon. My hon. Friend has also reminded the House of the estate action programme, which focuses on some of the worst estates, where properties are most difficult to let. Under that programme, homes have been renovated and life has been made more comfortable for tenants.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

I should like to put a point to the right hon. Gentleman who, in better times, has given me some assistance with my arrangements. Let me give him a chance to extricate himself from the pack of ravenous Tory wolves whom he fell in with—inadvertently, I hope—at the Tory party's conference. What I understand him to have said on that occasion is not what he is reported as having said. He said that it was difficult to explain to a young married couple that they could not have a house because some young girl had unintentionally fallen pregnant. Will he confirm that he was not suggesting that young women were becoming pregnant intentionally for the purpose of securing a council house, and thus dissociate himself from some of the ravenous Tory wolves who have been peddling that cheap story for the past few months?

Sir George Young

I would not describe my hon. Friends in the language that the hon. Gentleman has just used. I hope that it will not be too long before normal relations between the two sides of the House can be resumed and the informal arrangement to which the hon. Gentleman referred is restored. I shall come in a moment to the question of access to social housing. In one respect the hon. Gentleman is right: I did not suggest that young ladies became pregnant intentionally in order to secure a council house. The principal advocate of that case is the BBC, which devoted an entire "Panorama" programme to support for the proposition. I believe that there are other grounds for reviewing the legislation on homelessness, and I shall deal with them when I have made some progress.

Against the background which I have just outlined, I can say that we have a good housing record. However, I am determined to do even better. Of course we need more good-quality homes. Of all our people, 78 per cent. want to be home owners. How do we help those people? Economic policies creating the right conditions for sustainable growth, low inflation and low interest rates have meant that the affordability of homes for purchase is at its best for many years. That means that more and more families will be able to buy their homes as the economic recovery gethers pace and as builders construct more dewellings.

The Labour party's motion, by referring only to public sector housing investment, demonstrates the Opposition's usual knee-jerk reaction of assuming that the state must always provide. It measures success only by public investment in housing and ignores the very substantial contribution that the private sector has made in meeting housing need.

I am happy to say that the latest figures for mortgage repossessions show a fall in the number of homes repossessed by lenders and show that the number of possession orders applied for by lenders is down—there were 10,000 fewer in 1993 than in 1992—and that the number of people in arrears on their mortgages has fallen by 10 per cent. 'Those figures are further welcome news for borrowers and are good for housing market confidence at a time when housing starts in the three months to November are up by 34 per cent. on the same period last year, when housing transactions in the last quarter are up by 24 per cent. on a year ago, when chartered surveyors forecast that the housing market recovery is set to continue through 1994 and when mortgage rates are at a 25-year low of just under 8 per cent.

We are determined to continue to work to improve the nation's housing. We are encouraging local authorities to make use of the planning system to achieve mixed and balanced communities, bringing more private investment into affordable housing, and we shall see the benefits of those policies even more as the recovery continues. For example, through our planning policy guidance note 3, we are encouraging local authorities to enable local people to secure affordable homes in the areas where they live, instead of having to move elsewhere. Local authorities are encouraged to include in their district plans obligations on developers to include in substantial new investments affordable homes for local people.

Large-scale voluntary transfers are giving councils the chance to transfer their stock to new owners, bringing in fresh capital and private sector management expertise. So far, 23 authorities have transferred—I hope to see many follow their lead—which will enable my Department to focus its resources on those authorities that have not yet transferred.

The right to manage, which will come into force in April, will give tenant groups the opportunity to take over the management of their homes, making an investment of their time and commitment in a better future for their communities and breaking free from intransigent and sometimes paternalistic local authorities.

Compulsory competitive tendering will also challenge monopoly control of council housing management, bringing private sector expertise into the day-to-day business of running council estates. I want tenants to be fully involved in that process. Tenants will, of course, benefit from the value-for-money improvements that flow from greater competition.

Then we have the new rent-to-mortgage scheme and the extra funds for cash incentives that were announced in the Budget. Those measures expand yet further the opportunities for home ownership, and cash incentives will help families in need by creating even more lettings in the social housing stock.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

The Minister must not be allowed to run away from his review. Is it not the truth that the initiative for the review of the homeless came from Wandsworth borough council? It is contained in the paper that was put to the housing committee on 4 November, which says: Once the private rented sector is fully regenerated, it should be possible for local authorities to move to an assessment and emergency housing role for homeless families, but not retain a responsibility for permanent housing. The local authority could be obliged to offer temporary accommodation for, say, three to six months, after which time the family would have to find private rented accommodation … this can only happen when the private sector is regenerated and provides a reasonable range of choice. Does the Minister believe that the private sector is fully regenerated and ready for people to be pushed into a temporary situation?

Sir George Young

I regret having given way to the hon. Gentleman. As I said a moment ago, I shall come shortly to the question of access to social housing and the review of the homeless. At that stage, I shall gladly answer his question as fully as possible.

I hope that over the past 20 minutes I have outlined a wide range of radical housing ideas being introduced to bring decent homes within the reach of more people. As usual, all that the Labour party can do is sit and listen while the policies are introduced, criticise them initially and adopt them later.

The Opposition have now embraced the concept of the right to buy and have gradually become more committed to tenants' rights, and more recently they have been won over to cash incentives. The Labour party's support for cash incentives—support that I greatly welcome—is tucked away in a document that the party produced last year, which is rather inaccurately entitled "A Moving Experience". On page 5, under the heading "Making Mobility Easier", tht document says: We support 'portable discounts' which enable people to buy on the private market while freeing up a rented home for others. There should be no restriction on where families who receive such discounts buy a home, so long as the home is suitable for their needs and they genuinely required a discount in order to buy a reasonably priced property. I hope that there is all-party agreement that cash incentives have a role to play in a coherent housing policy.

Ministers in my Department were aware of schemes run by the councils in Bromley and Brent—one of them Conservative-controlled and the other Labour-controlled —in the mid to late 1980s. Under those schemes, the councils paid grants to their tenants to encourage them to buy a home in the private sector. That released their council property for letting to homeless families. Following a study of their schemes, we decided to provide a specific power for local authorities. That was approved by Parliament, and it is now section 129 of the Housing Act 1988. That was extended in 1990 by allowing housing associations to pay similar cash grants under the tenants' incentive scheme.

The benefits of that policy are clear. It allows local authorities or housing associations to improve the supply of affordable housing for rent, and it is cheaper and quicker to secure those vacancies with a cash grant than with other forms of provision. It is also cheaper than keeping families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and it encourages and increases home ownership. For every one home that can be built for rent, three could be released by a similar investment in cash incentives.

There has been some comment in the newspapers about grants to people who did not buy a home in the United Kingdom, but used the grant to move abroad. Councils and housing associations were allowed to formulate their own policies, and they could choose whether to place a geographical restriction on where tenants could buy a home with the grant. Both Labour and Conservative-controlled authorities have run cash incentive schemes without such a restriction, but to maximise the benefit to the United Kingdom housing market and to the construction industry, I have decided that all grants under the cash incentive scheme and the tenants' incentive scheme in 1994–95 should be restricted to those tenants who buy a home in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Blackburn made allegations about Westminster city council. I hope that the House will understand that it is not possible for me to go into the details of the auditor's report. I can say that a cash incentive scheme cannot and should not be run in isolation.

Local authority schemes should tackle the housing problems of their areas and ensure that the number of grants paid is the same as the number of people who are rehoused in rented accommodation.

I will say a word about the designated sales policy, which the hon. Gentleman touched on. As for the principle of a local authority disposing of some of its stock of housing which was originally built or required for letting, that may be a perfectly sensible way of meeting aspects of housing need in an area. Selling at a discount enables people on the waiting list to buy, and that satisfies the wish that is shared by about 80 per cent. of householders who wish to become owner-occupiers. Such sales help to break up the monolithic feel of some local authority estates and can produce more mixed communities.

The local authority gets a capital receipt, part of which can be reinvested in its stock. All that is good for existing tenants and for those in housing need. Many authorities —Labour and Conservative—have decided that block sale policies have a role to play. I have seen some successful schemes involving the sale of hard-to-let blocks in which no one wanted to live and which the council could not afford to do up. Sometimes, those sales are to individuals and sometimes to developers; for example, at Minster court in Liverpool, and in Salford. The sales can be part of estate action schemes, such as the one on the Bonamy estate in Southwark. Buildings in Holly street in Hackney are being demolished and rebuilt to provide homes for sale and for rent. Disposal of local authority stock can be the right solution and it would be foolish to condemn it out of hand.

The homelessness review was raised by a number of Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Blackburn talked about a review of the homelessness legislation in the wild terms we have come to expect. The principles behind the proposals that we published last week on reforming the access to local authority and housing association tenancies did draw support from a wide audience. For example, the idea of having a review was welcomed by Shelter, and the London Boroughs Association has now welcomed the thrust of the proposals.

The hon. Member for Blackburn has asked where the idea for a review might have come from. Did he see the 7 July 1993 edition of The Independent? The headline for the article stated, "Labour slants homes policy against the single parent". The article stated that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), who is the chairman of the Labour party, had talked of changing council waiting list systems to reward "responsible couples". The article said that there was a need to transform housing services so that more appropriate housing could be readily available. There was also a need for a housing waiting list structure which positively rewarded those who had tried their best to take responsibility and to have some order in their lives, such as people who were involved in a stable relationship prior to having children.

The hon. Gentleman went on to say in the article: People … are not fools. If you can't get a house by waiting on the list, you present the maximum number of reasons why you should receive priority. That is not encouraging people to accept responsibility for their own lives and society.

Mr. Straw

The Minister has trotted out that cutting at least five times, to my certain knowledge. He knows that the last person in the world who would endorse either the review or its conclusions is my hon. Friend, who has called repeatedly for the type of policies which I spoke about this afternoon. Those policies include an extension of the numbers of houses that are built so that the housing crisis is dealt with. Will the Minister now say whether that is the total provenance for the review? Which boroughs called for it?

Sir George Young

The House will understand the hon. Gentleman's embarrassment at hearing that quotation. However, it is on record, and the article enunciates widely held views. I believe that the hon. Gentleman makes a mistake in trying to distance himself from those views.

If the hon. Gentleman does not accept what the chairman of the Labour party says, perhaps he will accept the views of a leader writer in The Guardian. Commenting on our proposals the day after they were published, The Guardian—not normally one of the Government's strongest supporters—asked: Who should have priority? A 'registered' homeless family, in temporary but comfortable accommodation—or an 'unregistered' homeless family, stuck in two cramped rooms in the home of a relative. The article continued: Sir George Young … believes the criteria should be changed so that the individual needs of all families on the two separate routes to a rented home—homelessness and housing waiting lists—are weighed against each other. In principle he is right … In some areas the only available way to be rehoused is to make yourself homeless. That is simply absurd. Those who have read the consultation paper will be in no doubt that we are ensuring that a proper safety net will remain—

Mr. Straw

Will the Minister give way?

Sir George Young

No, I am not giving way.

Mr. Straw


Madam Deputy Speaker


Sir George Young

I feel that I have given way a substantial number of times to the hon. Gentleman. There are many hon. Members who want to partake in the debate, and I propose to make some progress.

Mr. Straw


Sir George Young

I am not giving way.

Those who have read the consultation paper will be in no doubt that we are ensuring that a proper safety net will remain for families and other vulnerable people who find themselves genuinely without anywhere to live, in a crisis that is not of their own making. I want local authorities to do more to prevent homelessness and do more to enable an increase in the supply of housing. The consultation paper sets out a number of ideas on how local authorities can act more effectively to prevent homelessness, how to give more advice to households on how to secure their own housing and how to build better links with the private rented sector.

I want people to think positively about how the enabling role of local authorities can be strengthened. I find suggestions that we are somehow going back to the days of "Cathy Come Home" quite absurd. The BBC went so far as to suggest on "The World Tonight": this plan may lead to families being split up if mothers and children are housed"— as the report suggested that the Government had envisaged— in special mother and children units, while the fathers are directed towards men's hostels. That is a travesty. There is no question of families being split up, and no one who read the paper could possibly believe that.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)

Does the Minister accept that removing the entitlement of homeless people to have emergency accommodation while their case is being investigated, removing the obligation to provide permanent accommodation and allowing local authorities to assume that, if people can be deemed to have accommodation in the private sector, there is no need to accommodate them will totally undermine the provisions of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977? Will that not leave many families with children on the streets, in which case there is an obligation on social service departments to receive children into care? Will not that split up families?

Sir George Young

I reject that unequivocally. In a civilised society, there is no question of vulnerable people, which includes families with children, not having a home. I regret and deplore the scaremongering that many people have indulged in since the paper was published.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Will the Minister give way on that point?

Sir George Young

I have given way often enough. Other people want to take part in the debate, and I am conscious of the fact that I have taken up a substantial amount of time.

One of the other issues which was raised immediately after the publication of the document was the concern about the use of temporary accommodation. However, there is nothing temporary about the accommodation that authorities will be expected to provide in discharging their duty. I do not think that one can regard an assured shorthold in the private rented sector which runs for a minimum of six months, and often for many years, as temporary, other than in the sense that it does not guarantee the tenure of that property for life.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

A few moments ago, the Minister quoted an editorial in The Guardian headed "A policy where the roof leaks." As he quoted that editorial, does he agree with its conclusions? It said: This is a sticking plaster reform when fundamental change is needed: unfreezing capital receipts, an emergency mortgage repossession package and a serious Whitehall crackdown on Westminster-style cleansing operations.

Sir George Young

I intend to say something about capital receipts. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that, on the specific question of the review, The Guardian said what I said it said, and recognised an anomaly in the present position.

I envisage local authorities finding good-quality accommodation in the private sector, which some families might prefer to council or housing association homes. We all know from our experience of private sector leasing that such homes can often be available for periods of three years or more. In some cases, that accommodation is of a high standard. It is sometimes more attractive than the stock that many local authorities operate.

Millions of people live in satisfactory accommodation which does not carry total security, but in which they can lead decent and comfortable lives. One should not assume that the only answer to homelessness is a home provided by a local authority or a housing association. At the same time, one has to do more to bring back into use some of the 800,000 properties standing empty—700,000 of them in the private sector.

Through accommodation agencies and other initiatives, I want to bring together landlords and tenants and ensure that there is real scope for developing the private sector yet further, providing good-quality accommodation for those who might otherwise be homeless. Already, in many parts of the country there are promising initiatives such as the Derby Landlords Forum, which actively promotes a partnership between the local authority and private landlords in effectively meeting housing need.

I am encouraged by the success of a commercial accommodation agency in my constituency that successfully places homeless families with private sector landlords and manages the property. I want to build on the best practice that is emerging and to encourage more local authorities to develop partnership arrangements and make faster progress in building links with the private sector.

The hon. Member for Blackburn touched on the Housing Corporation and housing associations. At a time when public expenditure restraint is necessary to secure sustainable growth, we have had to look squarely at what is possible and consider how best to use the resources at our disposal. We have done that with our proposals for housing associations.

In conjunction with the Housing Corporation, we have reorganised the investment programme to increase the output of new lettings from the cash available. We have done that by bringing in more private sector finance, taking advantage of reductions in development costs and increasing cost-effective home ownership schemes, which have the double benefit of the householder moving into owner occupation and a family getting a new tenancy as a result. At the same time, I have asked the Housing Corporation to increase the amount of its programme that goes towards rehabilitation of older properties, bringing new life to rundown areas and ensuring that we make the best use of the stock that is already available.

Unspent capital receipts are not simply stored in bank vaults, as one recent Labour policy document had it, lying around in piles of crisp fivers for a Labour Chancellor to get his hands on. Regardless of whether set-aside receipts have already been used to pay off debt or have been invested, to be drawn on later for debt repayment, the fact remains that they have reduced the overall level of indebtedness of local authorities and reduced the public sector borrowing requirement. Spending the receipts would increase indebtedness and hense the PSBR. The Leader of the Opposition seemed to appreciate that once.

A spokesman for the Leader of the Opposition was reported as saying before the last election: We certainly have no plans to alter the PSBR in this way … You don't make new resources available by making new definitions. We have plans to change the way the accounts are presented, by making a distinction between investment and current spending, but that has nothing to do with taking receipts out of the PSBR. I woke up this morning to the voice of the shadow Chancellor telling me that the Labour party had no manifesto commitments to increased expenditure. I come to the House of Commons and the first thing I get is a Labour party commitment to increase expenditure.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Does the Minister accept that, while it might be true that, under Treasury rules since 1990, capital receipts have been used for the repayment of debt, before then there was no such rule and, therefore, receipts generated before 1990 were accumulated by local authorities? Those receipts are sitting in treasurers' accounts and could be used without affecting any realistic definition of the PSBR.

Sir George Young

That is not the case at all.

In the past 15 years, the Conservative Government have devised, introduced and implemented a range of radical solutions to meet the nation's housing needs. They include the right to buy; housing action trusts to tackle the worst estates; tenant incentive schemes; shared ownership, bringing home ownership within the reach of more people; the right of local authority tenants to manage their own homes; the tenants charter; large-scale voluntary transfers; rough sleeping initiatives; housing associations as managing agents; the flats over shops initiative; private funding for housing associations; using the planning system to provide affordable homes for local people; and much more.

While all that creative work has gone on, Labour has sat back, grumbled, moaned, criticised and then agreed when it has realised that our policies work. Those who really care about housing need to ask themselves who is likely to promote and implement the radical policies that we need for housing in the 1990s. Who will promote the mixed economy in housing? Who will break down the barriers and bring in private finance? Who sees the private sector as a useful ally and not as an enemy? Who really believes in empowering the tenant against a recalcitrant Labour-controlled authority? Who has the policies to keep interest rates low and bring home ownership closer to reality for more people? Who is challenging the inefficient monopolies in local authority housing? The answer is that we are. I urge all my hon. Friends to vote for our amendment.

Several hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I remind the House that there have been a number of requests to speak and unless those who speak early in the debate exercise some restraint, there will be some disappointed Members at the end.

5.6 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I hope that I shall be able to honour your request, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to focus my comments to some extent today, largely because in the past I have spent much time condemning the Government's lack of a housing policy and I cannot say much that is new about the failure of the Government's policy. However, I repeat one thing that I have said in the past. When there is a loss of 2 million homes from the rented sector, both public and private, and at the same time the Government slash benefits for young people, there are two consequences. One is a dramatic increase in homelessness; the other is homeless teenage children begging on our streets for the first time in 70 years.

The Government say that they have reduced the number of people sleeping on the streets in London. That is a sad claim to make in arguing the success of their policy. The Government put those people there in the first place. When I was a probation officer in King's Cross in 1979, I could always get someone under the age of 21 somewhere to sleep for the night. From the early 1980s onwards, that was no longer possible. It was the first time that that had happened in Britain for about 70 years.

Some 2 million homes have been lost and not replaced in the rented sector. If those homes are cut out of the rented sector, of course there will be long queues. Some people have been in bed and breakfast for years. That never happened before. It needs to be said loudly that the problem is not one of single-parent families trying to get ahead of the queue.

There is a desperate shortage of affordable rented accommodation. That creates a dog-eat-dog situation in the housing queue. People from all types of background who cannot afford any other form of accommodation will fight to get ahead in the queue. I understand people when they do that. But they are not the problem. They are a symptom of the problem. The problem is the loss of that rented sector. The Government could have done a number of things. If the Minister had wanted more initiatives, he could have mentioned them today.

The Minister talked about the slight revival of prices in the housing market. If the Government want the revival of prices in the private sector market, why do they delay it by dumping hundreds of the 30,000 empty homes in the Government-owned sector on to the private market for sale? They could transfer those homes to housing associations or local authorities so that they can be rented out. Homes at a former air force camp at Biggin Hill, a Conservative region, are empty and awaiting sale. The Government's policy depresses house prices and keeps people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It is lunacy.

The Government could also extend the use of leaseback so that local authorities can get rid of their final bed-and-breakfast cases. I warn the Government that, if they go ahead with their proposal to move the homeless from accommodation to accommodation and do not give them a permanent home, children will suffer dramatically. If children are moved from property to property while they are being brought up, they will suffer acute personal distress, their social development and educational achievements will be inhibited, and their health prospects will worsen. Umpteen pieces of evidence to confirm my argument are available to the Department.

The Government could also allow local authorities to buy in the private sector rather than use bed-and-breakfast accommodation, which, together with leaseback in certain circumstances, is by far the most expensive form of temporary accommodation. The Government should also consider the problem of residents in council blocks who bought their flats under the impression that they would not have to pay large lease costs. Almost inevitably, they face those costs—it is happening in a number of local authorities. I wrote to the Minister a couple of years ago on that matter. People are often trapped by enormous debts that run to thousands of pounds caused by a right-to-buy policy that was not thought out properly. They will continue to be trapped unless the Government help local authorities to buy them out.

The Minister knows my views on the subject. I have no objection to the right-to-buy policy if it is backed by a duty to replace. That would be a brilliant housing policy. From 1978–79, it was the policy of the Tory party, but it was dumped by Lady Thatcher. Hugh Rossi, the Government spokesman at the time, said that the money should be used to replace homes, but the Government then abandoned that promise. That was the cause of the problem. The right-to-buy policy without a duty to replace led to a housing disaster that was waiting to happen.

The problem is so serious that it needs a fundamental review. We must have a stable financial regime for housing. The lack of such a regime is the fundamental reason why we are in a mess. The Government do not have a financial policy on housing. The Conservative party needs to stop worrying so much about house ownership —the Labour party made that break some time ago—and start worrying about three factors: affordability, quality of management and tenants' rights. If the Government meet those three objectives, ownership will matter far less, although it will not be immaterial.

I made it clear some years ago that tenants with a bad landlord should always have the right to transfer from one home to another. A bad landlord who has been imprisoned for harassing and assaulting his tenants can still receive a Government subsidy through housing benefit, which might go directly to him in prison. That is a ludicrous feature of the Government's financial regime.

One good Government policy, although they do not boast about it much, is the phasing out of mortgage income tax relief. The bad part of that policy is that they are not replacing that tax relief. As a result, people who cannot afford to pay their mortgages are getting less and less subsidy. When the Government finally get rid of tax relief in a few years' time—they have never denied that it is their intention to do so—those who lose their jobs and have to live on low incomes will be evicted that much sooner. That is the problem that the Government must tackle.

The Government should by all means get rid of the mortgage income tax relief—an open-ended subsidy that has caused the decline of the private-rented sector. The rent laws had only a marginal effect on that decline. The key factor was the introduction of mortgage income tax relief at the turn of the century, when the decline started. The Government can get rid of that relief, but they must ensure that a subsidy is available to those on low incomes who are in danger of having their homes repossessed because they cannot pay their mortgages.

I argued some time ago that we needed to provide stability in the housing finance regime for all areas of the rented sector. That was a Labour party policy at the last election. One of my suggestions involved the establishment of a housing bank, which exists in a number of countries and in some states in the United States. I cannot overestimate the importance of such a bank. When I made my suggestion, the Government would have had to guarantee about 1 per cent. of the funds in order to make the bank a gold key lender on the market so that it could be seen as a safe investment.

I was told by bankers in the City of London and by two major building societies that such action would not be necessary as they would be happy to co-operate in the scheme. I suggested that capital receipts, which at that time totalled £7 billion, should be lodged in the bank and would generate an enormous amount of additional private sector money. One could allow local authorities to draw their receipts, which they would not lose, and invest them in housing over a period. I would have ring-fenced such funds for housing. It was an important proposal, because the private sector was keen to develop it.

Everyone knows that the problem with obtaining private investment in housing associations is that the figures do not stack up, because there is no guaranteed funding arrangement. Pension funds and insurance companies look for long-term safe investments such as housing. A number of other private organisations said that they would like to put money into such a bank. If we had done that, we could have started spending money in the council sector, on housing associations and, indeed, in the private sector.

I made it clear that the private sector should receive such funds and sensible subsidies to help them invest, while the daft subsidy of housing benefit, which goes to a landlord, no matter how bad, should be dropped. In exchange for that help, private landlords would have to be registered so that, if they were bad landlords, they could be struck off.

Nothing is more stupid than imprisoning for three months a bad landlord who has been chased into court by a tenant—with difficulty and often with great fear—but allowing him to become the tenant's landlord again when he is released from prison. That is bad news for the tenant. Bad landlords should not be allowed to let a property again and should be struck off, in the same way in which solicitors or doctors who engage in bad practice in breach of guidelines are struck off.

A subject that has always troubled the Minister—and me, to some extent—is the definition of the public sector borrowing requirement. My view is slightly different from my party's historical view on the subject. We turn the PSBR into an artificial constraint on us. I was never convinced that the Maastricht treaty was a brilliant treaty —it contained far too much about economics and too little about politics. It requires all countries in Europe to harmonise their definitions. The countries in Europe are not daft enough to define the PSBR as we do. If we in this country were to define the PSBR properly, all mortgage tax relief would be included in the PSBR. Tax relief is an open-ended subsidy that does not draw any income from the people who receive it. I receive it, which is nice, but I do not need it and I would prefer it to go to someone who does need it.

If the PSBR definition is right, the lump sum that I and probably every other hon. Member receives, should be included in the PSBR. Investment that generates income, however, should not be part of the PSBR. The other countries of Europe and those in North America exclude such self-financing loans from the PSBR as defined in this country. For that reason, the French were able to subsidise the channel tunnel express line across Europe. They and other countries in Europe can subsidise other projects in the same way because they make it clear that, if the capital investment attracts an economic return, it falls within the boundaries of the PSBR. It also represents good Keynesian economics. The Government, however, now seem unsure whether they are Thatcherite monetarists or Keynesians.

The good part of that Keynesian argument is that public money is used sensibly to generate an income that creates wealth. If a house is built and rental income which covers its cost is received on it, it represents precisely the same type of long-term investment as a house owned in the private sector. If the Government simply say that they will subsidise rents or mortgages, they are committing themselves, indefinitely, to taking money from the taxpayer in order to give it to someone else. That is the uneconomic part of the equation.

It is right that such a subsidy should be offered in certain circumstances, but anyone who knows anything about finance knows that one must generate taxation and wealth to pay for it. The other type of investment, which generates an income, is different. We need to treat it as such.

We must forget a lot of the garbage with which the Minister has tried to defend the indefensible. I know that he is trying to pick up the pieces after 15 years of housing disaster. The Tories have made a bigger mess of housing than they have of the health service, education or the British manufacturing base. Housing policy has a tragic history. The Duke of Edinburgh's report on housing, which was produced by the Rowntree Trust, says it all. It is a damning indictment of the Government's housing policy.

Since the Government came to office, 14 Ministers have been in charge of housing policy—roughly one for each year. As I have said to the Minister before, his colleagues were all on a short let. He is the first one on a medium-term let. If the Government stagger from crisis to crisis, the providers of housing will not know from one year to the next how many houses they can provide. That means that the supply of housing will not increase. Housing associations have only just overtaken their position in the mid 1970s, so they are unable to increase the housing stock.

The disastrous policy of the past must be put behind us. We should make sensible use of a housing bank and a sensible use of a redefined PSBR. We must adopt a sensible approach to ownership. We should not worry about whether someone is renting or owning. We should give an equal subsidy to each individual to create a level playing field in those sectors. Within the rented sector we should make it clear that we are not too troubled about ownership, but deeply troubled about affordability, tenants' rights and the quality of management.

If we get those three right, we will have a happily housed society. We will then be spared the horror, and I mean the horror, of seeing what I never dreamt I would live to see—homeless teenage children, stretching out their hands with a notice reading, "homeless and hungry". That problem is not as severe as it once was in London, but it still exists in other parts of Britain. It is a damning indictment of the Government.

5.22 pm
Sir Paul Beresford (Croydon, Central)

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has tried to blame the Government for the housing difficulties with which the Government have struggled—they have done so successfully, as my hon. Friend the Minister has pointed out—but his comments will not wash.

Those of us who worked in housing, especially in inner London, prior to and after 1979 have watched Labour local authorities struggle against the Government. We know that the blame should lie with those inner-London Labour authorities and other Labour authorities around Britain. In contrast, a Conservative-controlled authority—I choose Croydon for obvious reasons—which has followed good Conservative policies and has worked with the Conservative Government, has no housing crisis. Croydon, for example, has just 39 families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. They are now being assessed.

I accept that the difficulties encountered by Croydon do not compare with those encountered in inner London. It is worth considering some of them and the way in which Conservative policies can solve them.

It would be appropriate to choose a favourite authority of the Labour party, Conservative Wandsworth. It is worth comparing it with some of its Labour neighbours. The difficulty with making such a comparison, however, is that the relevant figures often are not available. London Labour authorities used to provide those figures for the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, CIPFA, but once they realised that those figures could be turned against them, they failed to present them. That has made life very difficult. It is clear that those authorities have something to hide.

Before 1979, Wandsworth was a leading Labour authority—the winning, red light Labour authority. It worked with the Labour-controlled Greater London council in blatant gerrymandering. Any Opposition Member who says that a Conservative authority has gerrymandered ignores the difficulties that were caused because of Labour party gerrymandering, particularly in London. That happened in the days before we had an Audit Commission to point out those problems.

In those days, it was called not gerrymandering or ethnic cleansing, but municipalisation. That sweet word covered the wholesale purchase of private properties, private land, the utilisation of compulsory purchase orders and the designation of entire areas as slums—which assisted the use of CPOs. In areas where such tactics were not possible, Labour authorities made individual purchases. I saw that happen in street after street in pre-1979 Wandsworth. After such a purchase was made, the most difficult tenant family that the authority could find was housed in the property. That family was used to apply pressure on other householders. Axes were put in neighbours' doors and windows were broken until those neighbours finally moved out.

In those days, Labour authorities made no attempt to use small grants to assist home owners, tenants or private landlords to do up properties. They were simply designated as slums.

Mr. Booth

Does my hon. Friend accept that that practice is still going on in boroughs such as Barnet?

Sir Paul Beresford

By Labour authorities?

Mr. Booth


Sir Paul Beresford


Mr. Booth

I am sorry. I am so upset about that incredible practice that I did not make my point particularly well. In Barnet, Labour authorities, such as Camden and Hackney, are buying some of the best houses and housing some of their worst tenants in that Tory-held authority. That backs up my hon. Friend's argument.

Sir Paul Beresford

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification.

A recent article in New Statesman and Society described Wandsworth as a council that would "sell, sell, sell". In the pre-1979 days, the Labour authority practised the reverse policy of buy, buy, buy. It would buy at any cost and surveys of any property were rare.

One of the more notorious Labour housing chairmen caught what might be called a "Tebbe habit, because he was renowned for riding the streets of Wandsworth, with notebook in hand, looking for "For sale" signs. The next day, the man from the council would arrive on the doorstep, with cheque book in hand, to purchase that property. Following purchase, however, those properties were not used to house tenants but were boarded up. If they were used, they were used by illegal squatters. The aim was to pool together a sufficient number of properties in order to bulldoze them. Wandsworth now suffers because of the shabby concrete tower blocks that were erected in their place. It was a straight scandal.

Additional scandals arose from that policy, although one of the Labour housing chairmen got caught by getting too close to T. Dan Smith—his accommodation was found for him. At one stage, Labour Wandsworth and Labour GLC proudly boasted that they were spending £1 million a month, mostly on house purchases. According to today's figures, that is equivalent to £15 million. Their policy was to buy, board up, leave to rot, bulldoze and rebuild.

The wastage involved is obvious when one considers what happened on a Battersea estate. It was made up of 600 good residential properties, but it was designated as a slum area and bulldozed. Five years later, the direct labour organisation finally finished building the new estate of 605 properties. Battersea lost housing stock for five years and the area was desecrated just to gain five additional properties.

According to the Labour party, a similar slum area was located next door to that estate. When the Conservatives took control, however, they used small grants to improve those properties. The owners, landlords and tenants were able to improve them, with the result that they are now classy, expensive properties, which house the same people who lived in them in the first place: hardly slums.

Labour's posture was that it was helping the homeless; in fact, it was leaving desolate areas boarded up behind corrugated iron and assisting squatters, while the tenants who were supposed to be looking after the estates were left to rot.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

In the 1960s, people like me—people on Tory-controlled councils such as Merton and Morden—were desperate for a change in local government to give us Labour councils that would do something about the current housing problems.

Sir Paul Beresford

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, he will learn that it is possible to turn the position around. When such estates are made acceptable to council tenants, those tenants will then support the council involved. That does not happen in deprived areas such as Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lambeth and Islington.

That municipalisation—that gerrymandering—completely changed the nature of aspects of inner London. In 1957, Wandsworth had 10,000 council dwellings; by the time of the Herbert Morrison techniques, it had 44,000. In Roehampton, one of the wards in Putney where Labour was trying to build the Tories out, 95 per cent. of dwellings were owned by the council. In the Parkside ward, mentioned in a certain early-day motion, 70 per cent. of dwellings were council-owned after perfectly sound, lived-in properties had been bulldozed. Next door, in West Hill, 60 per cent. of dwellings were council-owned.

Labour's difficulty lay, and still lies, in its inability to recognise that council tenants do not automatically vote Labour.

Mr. Betts

That is because of gerrymandering.

Sir Paul Beresford

The gerrymandering failed, and early-day motion 353 shows the fallacy of it. The two wards that it mentions returned Conservative councillors. In one of them—which I have just mentioned—70 per cent. of dwellings were council-owned; in 1974, it returned two Conservative councillors. In the other ward—West Hill—the figure was 60 per cent. The flaw in the EDM is this: that ward has never been Labour-controlled, despite the attempt to build the Tories out.

As I said earlier, there used to be no Audit Commission, and no technique by which Labour could be brought up short. The council tenants did that themselves, however: they had had enough of Labour's mismanagement, and the lack of respect that allowed their properties to remain in such an appalling state. They threw Labour out. In 1978, we had a Conservative council, following the Conservative policies of central Government. The residents—including council tenants—had had enough. That was understandable. Wandsworth's last housing chairman, whom I met, had a reputation for throwing away tenants' letters of complaint about the state of disrepair in their properties without answering them. He left those council tenants to rot.

In 1978, the incoming Conservative council inherited an appalling inner-city problem, which is still found today in many Labour areas in London. Many private dwellings were in a poor state because of the lack of improvement grants. Labour's idea was to designate them slum areas, allow them to decline and then purchase them. In many areas, building firms had been driven out because the direct labour organisation took all the work available; meanwhile, the council estates were left in an appalling state of disrepair.

I visited an estate in Earlsfield, central Wandsworth. It had been built as a council estate before the war, and had subsequently been deserted by Labour. A good tenant living on the top floor would tell the lady living on the bottom floor to put the plug in her bath before flushing their toilet; otherwise, the contents would come up in the bath. The plumbing had been in that state for years—but Labour was spending its money on municipalisation and gerrymandering.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

My hon. Friend has mentioned the sorry state of properties in Wandsworth and Putney in the late 1950s and 1960s. May I take him back a little further? Those properties were put there by Lord Morrison of Lambeth, then leader of the London county council, when he was building in Wandsworth to a degree that was completely disproportionate to the area's needs. It had no requirements related to homelessness or medical problems. Lord Morrison should have been building in other parts of London—which some members of his party have mentioned today—but, instead, he was building in Wandsworth, and skewing the housing figures.

Sir Paul Beresford

Of course, it was not called gerrymandering then; but, by God, that is what it was.

When the Conservatives inherited Wandsworth, they found not only that the housing stock—expecially council housing stock—was in a disreputable state, but that the council was up to its eyes in debt. The area was full of rotting empty properties—and rotting full properties; a bit like Sheffield. Labour housing policy had failed. The rent situation was awful: rents were not being collected. The vacancy level was horrendous, the squatting figures were up in the thousands and the caretaking was non-existent.

Slowly, the Conservatives have changed that. They had to begin by selling two small estates and one tower block to the private sector; they used the capital receipts for pump priming. One of the estates was half-empty: its residents had been partly decanted out by the Labour party, which intended to carry out works using the direct labour organisation. Owing to the mismanagement of the DLO, the costs escalated and the council ran out of money; so it just left the estate. Two other estates—also built by Labour —were so riddled with asbestos that, after the asbestos was taken out, one of the tower blocks was a mere skeleton.

The capital receipts were turned around and reinvested. Good Conservative management was brought in: voids were filled, squatters were pushed out and the caretaking was vastly improved. The estates no longer resembled what might have been expected in the Dickens era; they had been brought into the modern world. They were given new roofs, central heating, decent security systems and decent plumbing: that lady living on the top floor could flush her toilet now without the contents coming up through the bath on the bottom floor.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

If Wandsworth is such a marvellous example of Conservative-controlled London boroughs, why does it contain more people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation than any other local authority in the country?

Sir Paul Beresford

I think you had better check your figures. You will find that that is not correct.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I think the hon. Gentleman has forgotten that he should be addressing me.

Sir Paul Beresford

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman should examine the figures a little more carefully.

When the quality of those estates was improved, the right-to-buy measures introduced by the Conservative Government really took off. An added advantage was mixed tenure, which had an effect on many estates. As a direct result, certain estates across the borough were selected as "sales areas": properties that had become vacant through the normal transfer procedure were sold to people on the "housing to purchase" list. That was based on housing need. A homeless family in Wandsworth will be placed at the top of both lists: such families have bought as well as renting. That meant that the council was able to meet its housing demands on the basis of need through rent and sale. It was also able to obtain capital receipts for reinvestment. Latterly, the council decided to designate the poorer estates to speed up the positive effect of the mixed tenure.

Wandsworth council started with a stock of 44,000 properties. It sold 19,000–5,000 through designated sales areas—to people in housing need whom it would have had to house in any case.

The Conservative housing methods in Wandsworth are pretty widely accepted, not only by Conservative authorities up and down the country. Many of the methods have been accepted by Labour authorities. Lambeth council actually purchased the privatised caretaking scheme and the software that goes with it. I am not too sure whether it will be able to implement it, because it involves joined-up writing.

The techniques have also been accepted and utilised in Hong Kong, New York, Australia, New Zealand, Moscow and even Ireland.

The results have been quite dramatic. The vacancies among lettable properties in Wandsworth represent less than 1 per cent. There are 1,381 vacancies in Lambeth and 117 in Wandsworth.

Earlier in the debate we were given a figure about Hackney. On a like-for-like basis, there are 117 vacant properties in Wandsworth and 1,911 in Hackney. If we take into account the sale of properties—there has been a slowing down of sales on vacant property estates because of red lining—on a like-for-like basis about 400 were vacant in Wandsworth, compared with 3,900 in Hackney.

The average re-let period for vacant properties in Wandsworth is one quarter of that of Hackney. The Conservative sales policy in Wandsworth has raised more than £400 million. That has provided a total capital programme of £286 million in the past six years. It has also provided an opportunity to pay back debt and invest many of those funds in revenue-earning benefits for the ratepayers, the poll tax payers or the council tax payers.

The council has also worked with the private sector. Private sector management has been particularly successful. The savings on the privatised caretaking service which provided a 24-hour service that could be monitored and enforced were 18 per cent. of what Labour was paying.

There have been partnership schemes, renewal of properties and sales to people on housing lists on the basis of housing need. Mention has been made of rent arrears. in Wandsworth they are 3.6 per cent. of the gross figure, in Hackney they are 31 per cent. of the gross figure and in Southwark they are 27 per cent. of the gross figure.

Whenever anyone mentions Southwark, I am filled. with horror. How the Labour party, with its headquarters in Walworth road, can preach about housing when it is based in the middle of one of the worst housing authorities in the country is beyond belief.

The gerrymandering in that borough has been such that, in 1978, 86 per cent. of the properties were owned by the council. Even today they are appalling, filthy and often squatted. The council even gerrymandered compulsory competitive tendering. I understand that the estate grounds maintenance went out in three geographical sections. The private sector won one and the other two were won by the in-house management. After three to six months there was regular reporting back, during which the direct labour organisation admitted that, although it was taking 100 per cent. of the fees, it was providing only 42 per cent. of the service. Yet the council kept it on.

I shall now touch on the homeless figures. Wandsworth council started with 44,000 properties; it sold 19,000 and has reinvested many of the capital receipts. It has worked with housing associations and the private sector, rented accommodation and home ownership. It has pioneered partnership schemes where the private sector provided the money and did the work and the tenants bought high-class, low-cost homes. It is all good Conservative Government policy.

As a consequence, since sales began, Wandsworth council has rehoused 9,000 homeless families. It has alsso reduced the waiting lists. Lambeth council next door has housed 6,000 families and sold 600 properties.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You called for relatively brief speeches. May I bring it to your attention that the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford) has now spoken for 23 minutes without any sign of reaching a conclusion? Although there is no time limit, it seems to me to be an abuse and goes directly against what you have urged hon. Members on both sides of the House to do.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I made my point in the form of a request as I have no powers to force anyone to make a speech of a certain length. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have noted it.

Sir Paul Beresford

I have noted it indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker.

When the Conservatives took over from Labour, the waiting list for rented accommodation in Wandsworth was between 12,000 and 13,000. Conservative techniques and housing policy halved that figure and it has consistently stayed at half that level.

The council tenants support the Conservative council because it is low-cost, high-quality management and because it recognised that the residents wanted different means of solving their housing difficulties.

In Wandsworth, 19,000 homes have been sold to families, many of whom would have continued to be council house tenants under Labour. In May 1990, the voters went against the trend and returned a council of 48 Conservative and 13 Labour members. The residents of Wandsworth, including the council tenants, voted Conservative. The council tenants in Wandsworth helped to put my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) and my right hon. and learned Friend the member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) back in the House. The council tenants and residents of Wandsworth supported Conservative policies.

5.47 pm
Mr. David Bendel (Newbury)

The entire debate is based on one critical set of facts. Between 1982 and the present day, the total number of social buildings for rent in housing associations, new towns and the council sector is down from some 5.3 million to 4.6 million. At the same time, homelessness has doubled, and the use of temporary accommodation has gone up by a factor of seven. That is the problem, the difficulty, what has gone wrong; so what is the solution?

Only yesterday, I received a letter from a Mrs. Irons, who lives in Streatley in my constituency, who put the problem and its potential solution at its best. She also said that I could pass on her letter to a member of the Government, and I hope that a Minister will take the opportunity to reply to her.

She wrote: Why are local authorities not permitted by the Government to spend the money they have locked up from the sale of council houses on building more houses? We have thousands of homeless people living in bed and breakfast accommodation, or worse. Employment of builders would also presumably provide some sort of a kick-start to the recession and a good follow-on effect to other industries. This question may seem ignorant and naive"— not in my view— but no one I know locally—including many staunch Conservative supporters—seems to know the answer". I can confirm that many Conservatives in local government are furious about the way that the Government have insisted on not following the policy of allowing council house receipts to be used. I am sure that they, as well as Mrs. Irons, would require some evidence of the Minister changing his mind.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain to Mrs. Irons that, if local authorities are debt-free—as are many that have transferred their stock under large-scale voluntary transfer—they can use their capital receipts in whatever way they wish towards investing in social housing.

Mr. Bendel

In Newbury, we are told that that is not entirely true. We can use some of our other receipts, but not necessarily the council house receipts, for that purpose. We can use only those that are not used to pay off the original debt. That is something that we have had to do, and we use a considerable amount on that.

However, the point is that the money is available, and that the policy would in effect kill two birds with one stone. As Mrs. Irons quite correctly points out, we need to solve not only the homelessness problem, but the problem of the recession that we have suffered for so many years. As we are all aware, the construction industry is one of those that has been worst hit. It could form a lever by which we could wrench many other industries out of recession as well. If we put more money into housing and got the housing market moving again, many other businesses would gain greatly.

I shall speak to the motion and then the amendment, because I have noticed that hon. Members do not always speak to the words of the motion. Having looked through the Labour motion, I would like to take exception with one small part of it. On the whole, I find it almost totally acceptable, but I am sorry that it includes a phrase about the phased release of capital receipts". It seems that that is quite unnecessary. Anyone who has worked in local government knows that, if capital receipts were released now, it would not be possible for councils to use them all at once. They simply do not have the management staff there ready to do so. As they do not all need to use them, or are not capable of using all of them, there is no need to place a restriction on local government by phasing the release of capital receipts. I fear that that is merely a sop to Government propaganda concerning the potential inflationary effects, which I do not believe holds true.

There are a number of things in the amendment with which I cannot agree. First, the Government seem to be proud of the fact, believe it or not, that they have succeeded in producing some 178,000 homes over three years—under 60,000 a year. That is nothing to be proud of, and it nowhere near meets the need. It is true that that is more than was in their manifesto, but surely that just shows that they should be ashamed of what was in it, and not that they should be proud of exceeding those amounts.

Secondly, the amendment says that the size of the nation's housing stock has grown faster than population growth over the last 15 years". So what? If they are saying that with their housing hat on, what they are saying with their planning hat on is that it is not the size of population growth that matters, but the size of growth in numbers of households.

In Berkshire, we were told that we would need 30,000 to 40,000 extra houses over the next 10 years simply to keep up with the growth in the number of households, even if our population did not grow. If the Government are trying to force those extra houses on us because of the number of households, surely they must realise that it is no argument in this amendment to talk about population growth. They must say the same thing with both hats on. They are certainly not doing that at present.

Thridly, the Government amendment says: the mortgage rate is now at its lowest since the 1960s as a result of the Government's economic policies". That is a shameless thing to say. What they should have said, had they had any integrity, is that the mortgage rate is down as a result of the failure of the Government's economic policies. We are in a major recession—a recession that the Government tell us they never wanted and which they never thought would last as long as it has. The recession has brought down interest rates. They have come down as a result of the failure of Government policies, not their success.

Fourthly, the Government say that they wish to go ahead with a number of changes to housing legislation, and consult people on them. I do not believe that they can genuinely feel that, by housing the homeless is temporary accommodation, they can possibly solve the problem. They have recognised that there is a difference between supply and demand in housing. Instead of answering that by increasing the supply, they are simply trying to reduce the demand—not the actual demand, but that as shown in the figures—by putting some homeless people into temporary accommodation without the true security of tenure which they have had up until now.

As we are all aware, the problem of homelessness is traumatic. We have all seen, and have heard from, people about their problems. When they lose their homes and, so often as a result, their jobs, they often suffer considerable psychological damage and family break-ups. The Government are supposedly a Government of family values. Any Government who cherish family values and wish to keep families together should surely concentrate on the problem of building more homes for those who need them, instead of simply redefining the homeless when they put them into temporary accommodation.

There is a need to create stable communities and stable families. The Government are not even attempting to meet those two needs. The Minister is saying that there is nothing wrong with temporary housing. I hope that the tenants of Nos. 10 and 11 Downing street accept the fact that their housing may be somewhat temporary if the present Government's policies continue. There are a number of people who do not accept that there is nothing wrong with temporary housing.

Try telling that to those women who live in battered women's hostels. Try telling them that there is no means for them in future to get permanent accommodation again. Try telling those who have lost their homes through fires that the Government are simply not willing to provide any sort of permanent accommodation for them. They will not agree with the Government's new policy.

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)

Has the hon. Gentleman had a chance to confer on this discussion with his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)? His hon. Friend said last week: It is an unacceptable position that a first time tenant, whether they are a conventional two children, married family, a single mum with three children or a single person with mental illness, goes … to what may, in many cases, be brand new housing stock, when over the other side of the road are people who have been overcrowded for 30 years, paid their rent on time and cannot be moved".

Mr. Rendel

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend on that point. I was just about to come to it, but, unfortunately, Conservative Members have a tendency to break in just before one reaches the point that would answer the question.

There is a need for change, not necessarily to current legislation, but certainly to the way in which it is implemented. Authorities up and down the country are avoiding the problem that the hon. Member for High. Peak (Mr. Hendry) just mentioned. It is perfectly possible to use a cascade system for the allocation of housing, so that the newest and best housing goes to those who are waiting to move from perhaps rather less good housing. The slightly less good housing could then be used for those who are immediately homeless and are coming off the homeless list.

That is being done already in various local authorities, and there is no reason why it should not be done in all of them. If one uses such a system, one avoids the problems of envy that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Therefore, my hon. Friend is quite right to say that changes are needed to bring that system into effect wherever it is not being carried out now.

Some further changes are also needed. As has been mentioned already, we need to change the system for emergency accommodation, particularly in cold weather and particularly outside London. Far too many people who lie on our streets in shop doorways, cold and sometimes near to death, are not being given even emergency accommodation outside our great city.

There is also a need to look into the problem of 16 and 17-year-olds out on the streets, who are not thought of as vulnerable and therefore not a priority, and who, particularly if they are female, are liable to be dragged into prostitution. That is not a situation that the Government or any Government should allow to continue.

If "back to basics" in housing means anything, it surely means back to the basics of four walls, a roof and security of tenure. It is that last point that the Government have forgotten.

Interestingly" the Government got one thing right in their housing policy a year or two ago when they began to provide extra money for the purchase by housing associations of second-hand housing, a policy that worked well for a time. A number of houses were bought up, which to some extent stopped the slide in the housing market and meant that some accommodation was brought back into use much more rapidly than it otherwise would have been to house the homeless and those at that time on waiting lists.

That was a policy that we in Newbury commended, although we were not a Conservative-controlled authority at that time. It is a policy to which the Government would have done well to stick. Unfortunately, it has now come to an end. It does not work in all parts of the country, but it works in some.

It is odd that, in a sense, it is exactly the reverse of Westminster city council's policy. Westminster city council sells properties that were in the public sector to private owners. Under the other policy, housing associations bought properties that had been owner-occupied for those on the waiting lists who desperately needed them. How the Government can think that both policies were right I am not sure. It is similar to what I described a moment ago—when, wearing their planning hat, they reversed the policy that they had adopted wearing their housing hat.

The Government's amendment condemns the policies of Labour-controlled local authorities. I am interested to see that the Government have found nothing to condemn in Liberal Democrat-controlled authorities, such as my own, whose housing policy, I am glad to report, the Department of the Environment has frequently praised.

However, the Government's amendment is hypocritical, because they are responsible for the worst housing management. Let us look at the facts. In 1993, there were 864,000 empty properties. If we divide that up into the various sectors, 1.9 per cent. of council houses were empty, 2.4 per cent. of housing association homes were empty, 5 per cent. of the private stock was empty, but, worst of all, 6.8 per cent. of the Government's stock was empty. The Government are three and a half times as bad as local authorities at managing their stock. That shows the sheer hypocrisy of the Government's amendment.

This debate is about temporary accommodation and the homeless. Temporary accommodation is what we all like when we go on holiday. What the Government need to realise is that homelessness is no holiday.

6.3 pm

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

A great plethora of figures has been bandied around tonight by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Naturally, the Opposition will not accept any figures with which they do not agree. I do not believe that the Department of the Environment produces one set of figures for Labour Front-Bench spokesmen and another for the Government, but if the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who sadly is not here at the moment, was trying to suggest that Hackney performs better than Westminster in maintaining its houses, he must be joking, because no one on this earth will believe that.

Rather than dealing with facts and figures, may I suggest something easier, particularly for those Opposition Members who do not know London very well because their constituencies are far away and they do not spend a lot of time in the centre of London? All they have to do is go out of the door, turn left, walk for a few minutes, cross Lambeth bridge and walk down to the imperial war museum. On a nice day, it is a pleasant stroll.

Across the road, hidden behind a tall modern tower block called Lambeth towers, they will see an old Lambeth-owned council estate. It is one of those estates built by the great gerrymander Herbert Morrison. At the time, they were well built, and, as he put it, he built them to build the Tories out. He did not say Tories; he used another word which would be unparliamentary.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

When I go home, I walk to Charing Cross tube station. If I walked a little further up the Strand, I would find, sadly, despite what the Minister said, a number of people sleeping in doorways. They sleep in doorways in very cold weather, and they have no other accommodation. That is quite a common sight in various parts of central London, but it was not the case before 1979. It might be useful if the hon. Gentleman took a look tonight.

Mr. Atkinson

I too walk around that part of London. People have slept rough of their own volition in that area for many years. [Interruption.]Hon. Members should listen. For those who need them, beds are available.

May I continue my walk south of the Thames into Lambeth, where that Herbert Morrison block is to be found, which, in its day, was well built? I suggest that hon. Members wander round that block. When it was built, it provided ideal homes for families. It was low-rise and looked out over little gardens. The trees that once adorned the gardens of the 19th-century houses that were whacked down to build it were retained to make a nice backdrop for the families.

Look at that block today. Several of the flats are boarded up, no doubt awaiting maintenance. I went there today and spoke to a lady who said that the flat next door to hers had been empty for four years. Other flats were occupied but had boarded-up windows. Paving stones were broken and dangerous, and litter and cans disfigured the courtyards. From some flats, where I am told squatters still live, came the sound of deafening reggae music.

That block is 10 minutes away from the House. Hon. Members can go there and see the effect of bad management by a local authority. That little estate could be turned into a paradise if Lambeth council so wished. If it had been properly managed and not been allowed to decline over the years, families would have volunteered to live there. If it had been sold to the private sector, those flats would be advertised in The Sunday Times as 10 minutes away from the West End and the City. That is why they are desirable apartments.

In past decades, that estate has lacked proper and competent management. That property is owned by Lambeth council, which has spent its time and money on crackpot schemes, about which we all know. It is a shame that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley), who speaks for the Opposition on transport matters and who was a Lambeth councillor, is not here tonight. She is responsible for shipping affairs, but God help the British Navy if she were in charge of it.

Lambeth council has squandered money over the years on its crackpot schemes. An investigation costing £20 million is under way into money allegedly unlawfully spent on civil engineering projects. It is alleged that £800,000 has been overpaid to some Lambeth teachers. That would have done up some of the flats on that estate. We have heard of housing benefit fraud involving 750 members of staff, and there is nearly £30 million of uncollected rent.

From a sedentary position, I heard the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) comment on London housing. I have had first-hand experience, because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford), I happened to be a member of Wandsworth council. I was pleased and surprised to be part of the team that had to sort out the mess left by Labour.

To recap one or two of my hon. Friend's points, the Labour party had a policy of municipalisation under which the chairman went about on a bike, writing down which houses the council should buy. Once we had chucked out Labour, I was given the job of chairing a committee to dispose of those houses. I could not go around on a bike, as there were too many houses involved—there were nearly 2,000 boarded-up houses in the borough of Wandsworth, many in the leafy streets of Putney, when we took over.

It was amazing that the council did not know what it had bought—we did not know to whom the boarded-up houses belonged. As chairman of the disposal committee, I was given the task of advertising in the local paper, asking anyone who lived next door to a boarded-up house please to get in touch with the council, because we were not sure whether it might belong to us. We found several dozen properties in Battersea and Putney which the council had purchased but then forgotten. We strongly suspected that the owner of one property had been paid twice for it—he must have thought that he had struck it lucky.

Labour spent millions on nutty schemes in Wandsworth and, as a consequence, was unable to do up its houses. It boarded them up and left them empty for many years, during which time they became eyesores. Labour had spent the money on buying the properties and did not have sufficient money to maintain its existing council properties. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central explained exactly what happened.

The Labour council's gerrymandering scheme went wrong, because the tenants rose up and chucked out the Labour party. I was standing in a ward in which nearly 80 per cent. of the voters were council tenants and, as much to my surprise as to anyone else's, I was elected, because the tenants were fed up with inadequate and poor maintenance.

It was not only Wandsworth's Labour council which had municipalised and sought to gerrymander—the Greater London council was also in the game, trying to help the Putney Labour party keep Putney Labour. Of course, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) was involved in the Putney Labour party in those days.

The Labour council built the Roehampton estate. Why? It is a tower block estate on the edge of Richmond park. It was not built to disfigure the skyline, which it ruined anyway; it was not built to provide convenient homes because the flats were high rise; and it was not built because of its convenient location. The council dumped thousands of people miles from any jobs, in an area with virtually no public transport. They were stuck in a wasteland because the council wanted to increase the number of Labour voters in that part of London.

When the GLC finally transferred all its Wandsworth properties to Wandsworth council, councillors were puzzled because no rent was forthcoming from two of the blocks. Eventually, someone went to see the two blocks that the GLC had given us and discovered that the blocks did not exist—the GLC had had no idea of what was going on.

It is easy to score points off loony left councillors in London—it is all good knockabout stuff—but Labour Members should take my advice and walk across the Thames. Despite the rhetoric and the jokes, I am angry that families have to live on the Lambeth estate in unacceptable conditions merely because of the idleness, ineptitude and corruption of a bunch of Labour councillors.

6.13 pm
Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

I shall be brief and confine my remarks to my own city.

Housing in Manchester, as in every other major city, is under extreme pressure for the simple reason that, since the Conservative party took office, we have witnessed a decline in capital resources. That decline has brought in its wake a deterioration in housing provision and conditions the length and breadth of the city.

The central Government allocation for housing investment programmes has been severely cut and, as night follows day, the local authority cannot meet the needs of its citizens. In 1992–93, our housing improvement bid was £131 million and the allocation was £35.8 million. In 1993–94, the bid was 28 per cent. of the previous year's —we submitted a request for £40 million but received only £36 million. In 1994–95, the bid was treated in exactly the same way—a bid for £46.8 million was met with an allocation of £29 million. One does not need to be a mathematician to realise that the resources are not sufficient to provide decent living accommodation for the people of Manchester.

I stress the fact that there is a tremendous need for housing and housing improvements. It will be possible to rectify the situation only with investment from central Government and the private sector, as has now been acknowledged by Manchester city council. The Government must act as a catalyst, but I regret to say that they are failing miserably in that role.

The local authority in Manchester has stressed time and again that additional resources are essential if we are to get off the treadmill. If the resources are not forthcoming, things can only get worse. If we bear in mind that the council estimates that £300 million is needed for private sector improvements and £500 million for public sector improvements, we get some idea of the scale of the problem facing the providers of housing for those in need. Because of the widening gap between needs and resources, Manchester city council has had to take a long look at the problem and has come up with what is termed a corporate housing strategy.

The strategy recognises the need for a fundamental review of the council's own role in the housing market. It has taken cognisance of the limited resources and of the necessity to stimulate private sector investment. Its aim is to deliver an effective housing service. The Manchester strategy has also taken into consideration the changing tenure patterns and the trends which have led to the rethink of housing policy. Gone are the days when the direct works department built 1,300 houses, employed 5,000 workers and 1,000 apprentices, provided jobs for the disabled and saved the ratepayers money—we now have a new ball game.

The Government's financial controls have led to a severe reduction in local authority housing in recent years. Private investment has been directed towards houses for sale, not towards houses for rent. Housing associations, which once had a minor role to play in the provision of housing, were given a new status by the Government but, as their finances dry up, their properties in Manchester are boarded up, vandalised or used for the illegal dumping of waste or they become havens for undesirables. That is a sacrilege while people are waiting for a roof over their heads.

There have always been changes in housing. The mean terraced streets of houses at the turn of the century, which were all owned by private landlords, gave way to the great slum clearances which resulted in monolithic council estates. At one point in the 1970s, Manchester city council owned about 90,000 properties.

However, there have been rapid changes in the past 10 years. We have witnessed a decrease in the number of houses to rent in the private and public sector. The right-to-buy policy has taken the more desirable houses from the pool of properties on offer to waiting list applicants. People do not buy the flats that we are knocking down—the system-built rubbish. They buy council houses that overlook golf clubs, and so on. Those are the desirable properties.

Sir Paul Beresford

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Litherland

No; I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman took 40 minutes of precious time.

We have witnessed the demolition of system-built obscenities that have blighted the city. That has also reduced the relets.

The city, in its strategy statement, welcomes the diversity of tenure and of choice, but I warn the city council that it must never lose sight of the fact that any change must be for the benefit of people.

The choice of increasing ownership is useless if a family cannot pay the mortgage payments, suffers repossession and has to turn to a local authority for help. We have witnessed the increase in homelessness. What choice do homeless people have? How does the council tackle that acute problem without adequate resources? The number of households who are admitted to be in priority need has more than doubled. The demand for specialised homes for the elderly and disabled has trebled.

The sharp increase in homelessness has led to a 22 per cent. increase in the number of households living in temporary accommodation. It is estimated that 618 persons become homeless every month in Greater Manchester and most of them gravitate towards the city. That is not one of the features that we are proud of. We do not show the International Olympic Committee the people sleeping rough in the streets of Manchester.

Patterns have changed, but not for the better. Whatever imaginative policies the council pursues in response to the ever-changing scenario, the financial resources must be made available to meet the needs. Those needs are great. The council points scheme alone, shows that 20,000 households from the waiting list are classified as being in housing need.

Different types of accommodation are needed to meet the demand from single parents and as a result of the break-up of families. Overcrowding is now estimated at 39 per cent., and that has coincided with the right to buy and the reduction in the availability of family housing. More than 13,000 good-quality houses have been bought by tenants, which has added to the problem of diminishing stock.

Manchester's structure and population change continually. The decline in population to about 400,000 does not mean that the pressure on housing has decreased—quite the opposite. We have more low-income families and more vulnerable and immobile households and the demand for affordable houses to rent is increasing.

Poverty adds to the problem, as does unemployment, especially in the inner-city area. In the inner-city area of Manchester, unemployment is well above the national average. Male unemployment is 30 per cent. That should take the smirk off the face of the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford). There has been an increase in the number of households who receive free school meals and in the number of households who receive benefits.

Those are the people who do not have a choice. They are denied access to home ownership. Those are the victims of the Government policy. Demand outstrips supply at every turn and the providers are not providing.

When a city council's housing stock decreases by 3,000 in one year and the replacement is only 874, and those dwellings are built, not by the city council, but by a housing association, that proves that there is no support from the Government for a serious house-building programme.

The city council's ideas and aims are well-intentioned and thought out and they are enshrined in six key objectives. I will quote from its report:

  1. "1. To provide a choice of desirable and affordable housing to improve the quality of life for current residents and to encourage people to come and live in Manchester.
  2. 2. To make special provision for people who are homeless or inadequately housed and for people with special needs.
  3. 3. To offer tenants a wide choice …
  4. 4. To deliver a customer orientated, locally based, value-for-money housing service …
  5. 5. To prevent homelessness …"
Those objectives are commendable but, whatever the strategy undertaken to remedy the crisis in Manchester or any of the major cities, we shall always return to the dependency on the Government for adequate levels of funding resources. That is where the exercise is flawed. We have only to consider the Government's appalling housing record to realise that the objectives of the Manchester city council strategy for housing will remain just a well-intentioned programme of words and figures in a well-presented brochure and that none of the aims for decent housing will materialise for the people. If they have to rely on the Government to make them work, it will all remain a pipe dream.

The Government have lost credibility. The Government cannot be trusted.

6.25 pm
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

We should consider why the market for housing, compared with other markets that meet people's needs, manifests such desperate mismanagement and terrible shortages. Surely that is so largely because the property market is bedevilled by legislation which has been passed by the House at different times in the past few years.

Planning controls are one type of legislation; they have limited the amount of land available on which to build housing. Secondly, controlled rents have meant that, for many decades, low rents gave no incentive to people in the private sector to provide or recycle property. Thirdly, the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, which was passed by the Labour Government, increased enormously the number of people who flooded into inner cities, especially London, and put enormous strains on the housing market there.

It is to the credit of the current Housing Minister that he has tackled many of those problems and introduced some imaginative policies. For example, when I was a member of Westminster city council, we identified more than 50 acres of land in the Westminster part of the central London catchment area alone which were derelict and could not be built on because, for one reason or another, planning consents were bedevilled by past legislation. There was a vast amount of housing which had fallen into complete disrepair and where no one wished to live; it accounted for some of the startling figures which we are often given about the number of empty houses. It was not so much that they were empty as that they were uninhabitable, in the centres of cities.

The world and his wife, coming to Britain, often ended up in Westminster, expecting to be housed by the city council, which already had to tackle an enormous demand from the British people and from people who were long-standing residents of Westminster or had family connections there. Children were growing up and wanted alternative accommodation to a room in their parents' house. That situation, coupled with the driving out of the private landlady, who has always in the past provided short-term accommodation for young people, many of whom are highly mobile and simply want accommodation on a short-term basis, has made the housing problem of places such as Westminster unique.

The policies that the Government have recently adopted, including that of making it possible for private individuals to take in lodgers without being bedevilled by half a dozen inspectors and to earn a modest amount of money—about £3,000 a year—without having to fill in complicated tax returns, have helped to free up accommodation for many young people.

It is a fact that 35 per cent. of all the people on waiting lists are under 25, and many of them are unmarried. Many of those people would have been willing to take a small flat or rooms in a private house if those had been available, but they resorted to the council because there was no alternative, especially in inner cities, as the cost of the housing available in the private sector was beyond their means. They turned to the council, not because they wanted council housing but because that was the only available housing that they were able to afford.

All those factors distort many of the so-called statistics that the Labour party likes to hurl at the Government as a testimony to their supposed failure to provide adequate housing. It is the responsibility of everyone in the House to ensure that those policies are reformed. The Government are determined, and their latest consultation paper continues to meet those problems head on, so they are to be commended.

The result of those restrictive policies has been that all sorts of palliatives, such as housing associations, have been adopted. Although housing associations provide low-cost housing, they do so at heavily subsidised rates. Those subsidies would not be necessary if we freed up some of the property suffering from planning blight, such as the enormous number of empty dwellings over shops. The dwellings cannot be let for residential use because, under planning regulations, the buildings are zoned for commercial purposes. They have stood there for years becoming derelict. I recall writing a paper on the subject back in the mid-1970s, long before I became a Westminster councillor. The Government, sensibly and commendably, are tackling the problem head on, so that is another plus for them.

We also introduced the right to buy—a sensible policy, but one that still deals only with those who wish to own a property. Many people are mobile and want not property to own but property to let.

No mention has yet been made of the deplorable policies of councils such as Camden and Islington, which in the mid to late-1970s bought whole streets of houses, boarded them up and then let them to what became known as SLUGs, pronounced "slugs"—short life user groups. The SLUGs in turn let the houses to their chums, most of whom were socialists, to judge by the number of red banners that appear down the streets at election times.

That was another distortion of the housing market, because those councils were buying up massive areas in the inner cities and deliberately converting them into housing for council tenants. Furthermore, much of the housing was sub-standard, and that made it difficult for people to find properties in the private sector.

I am familiar with the situation in Westminster, because I was on the housing committee of Westminster council for two years, and in that time I was party to the implementation of many Government policies, such as designated housing. I say straight away that I have no vested interest in council housing, because I have never lived in, rented, bought or sold council accommodation, under the right-to-buy scheme or any other scheme. However, I have suffered from a slur put about by Labour members of Westminster council, who deliberately asked council officers to present them with confidential files on Conservative councillors and Conservative Members of Parliament-1 ask hon. Members to note the word "Conservative"—who have bought freeholds in Westminster.

The council owns, or did own, a great deal of land in Westminster, for which it obtained peppercorn rents. In an attempt to raise money to build a large leisure centre, the Queen Mother centre, the council examined its assets and decided to get rid of the freeholds of many of those dwellings.

One of the people who bought the freeholds was the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), but he did not feature in much of the material printed in the newspapers early last week, because he is a Labour Member, and the councillors concerned, Andrew Dismore and Gavin Millar, deliberately asked the officers for files on transactions involving Conservatives. That is a scandalous use of privilege to bring about the disclosure of confidential file material to a national newspaper, and those people may yet have to answer for it.

Incidentally, I must point out that the Transport and General Workers Union bought the freehold of its building, Transport house, as did many other commercial organisations—at the market rate.

The Labour party may feel that the report about Westminster council gives it the opportunity to run another smear campaign. The report was leaked; none of us has yet seen it—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

It is in my office.

Mrs. Gorman

We should consider carefully the people who prepared the report. One of them, Mr. Tony Childs, who is now with the Audit Commission, is no stranger to controversy, because he was the solicitor and adviser to the hard-left Greenwich council for several years. During that time, the council was ill advised enough not to set a rate and it was eventually overruled by the district auditor. In the end, Greenwich ratepayers had to pay much more than they needed to pay. Greenwich council was also advised to have the temerity to take the Department of the Environment to court, because it did not consider that it was getting enough in its grant settlement.

That individual, whom I maintain is highly politically motivated, helped to produce the report, which we are given to understand is peppered with emotive language. That is what has given rise to the quotable quotes in the initial report supplied to the press. We have heard the case for the prosecution; I am waiting to hear the case for the defence.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gorman

No, I shall not give way, because I am obeying the request from the Chair to be as brief as possible.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a precise point. The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) is putting into the mouth of the person to whom she referred the comments of Mr. Magill, the district auditor. I know, because I was the objector, all the reports are in my office and I have read them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is certainly not a point of order for the Chair.

Mrs. Gorman

While we are on that subject, Mr. Magill was put into the job by Touche Ross, a firm that, by prolonging the inquiry over many years, has been claiming £250 an hour for every hour served by him. Westminster people have also had to fork out for that.

I have dealt with the difficult problems of Westminster council, and I shall now deal with its extremely credible record both of housing homeless people and of dealing with the unique problems of the area. Only 20 per cent. of the people of Westminster own their own homes, compared with 60 per cent. nationally. That means that there was an enormous gap between the people who could afford to buy their homes and people who could find only rented accommodation—low-income people in either council housing or housing owned by associations such as the Peabody Trust and the Guinness Trust.

It was to deal with that deficit of middle-class, middle-income people who could not afford to buy property in Westminster that the council decided to implement the designated sales policy, for which there was total Government approval. Through designated sales, many people who did not wish to buy council property in an area that was not congenial were allowed to choose to exercise their right to buy within a designated block, which did not have to be in the area in which they were living.

There was also the cash incentive scheme, to which the Minister has already referred. That allowed residents who wanted to move out, especially people who were retiring, to use the equivalent of the rebate that they would have received had they bought their apartment or house—but only if they were purchasing property elsewhere. The money did not go into their pockets; there was no giveaway. It had to be used to find accommodation in areas where there were properties that they found more congenial. That again is part of Government policy.

As a result, council tenants, housing association tenants and people from the waiting list were able to find accommodation under designated sales. Of all the sales under that scheme, 96 per cent. were to people whose original residential area was in Westminster. It is not true that hundreds of people came from outside Westminster and bought flats from the council at cheap prices.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gorman

I will not give way.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before the hon. Gentleman begins his point of order, let me say that I hope that it is about something on which the Chair should rule in relation to procedures before the House. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on that.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I shall certainly reflect on that matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not it clear that in refusing to give way, the hon. Lady recognises that there is a counter-case that she does not want to be put?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is a senior Member of the House and has shared with me years on the Public Accounts Select Committee. He knows that that was not a genuine point of order. I hope that in future he will be a little more responsible.

Mrs. Gorman

If the hon. Gentleman can contain himself and not keep interrupting me, he may get a speaking spot himself.

Westminster council, with its unique problems of large numbers of people coming into the area and the difficulty, because of high property prices, of its own residents being able to buy property, took part in the London mobility scheme. It was a scheme operated between boroughs so that if people were waiting to be housed in one borough and another borough had empty properties, boroughs could do a swap and enable people to find accommodation.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mrs. Gorman

It was extremely unpopular—

Mr. Peter Bottomley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Twice, we have had examples of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) trying to make a point of order when he could not. There is a constant run of sedentary interruptions making it difficult to listen to the speech. I should be grateful if hon. Members would listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) because what she is saying should be heard on both sides of the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that helpful suggestion.

Mrs. Gorman

It seems that the hon. Member for Workington is slightly agitated about the fact that I am telling truths about which his party does not wish to know and does not wish to go on the record.

Under that scheme, relatively few people were rehoused outside the borough. Most of the boroughs did not want to take other borough's residents. Unfortuntely, fewer than 2 per cent. were, in the emotive language used by the Opposition, "shunted out". In fact, few people were housed outside the Westminster council area during the period covered by the report.

Last, but not least, we must deal with those homeless people who live on our streets. It is true that the number of people who are sleeping rough has increased enormously since the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 was introduced. That is partly because people were attracted to the city and thought that they would find accommodation, which, unfortunately, was not available.

Of the people housed temporarily by Westminser, none of them stayed in temporary accommodation for more than a year and, at present, the waiting time is down to under six months. That is a creditable record, not matched by many of the boroughs around Westminster that deliberately put people in extremely grotty hotels and often basic accommodation in and around the central Westminster area.

Camden currently has 295 people in almost substandard accommodation and does not seem to care that people are living in poor accommodation. Hackney pays for 430 temporary households in Westminster. The story of temporary housing in Westminster is largely one of other boroughs putting their residents into temporary accommodation there.

Ms Glenda Jackson

Would the hon. Lady clarify a point in which she referred to my local authority of Camden? Is she saying that there are 295 families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation or 295 individuals, because there are no families who come under Camden's remit who are in bed-and-breakfast or hostel accommodation and there have not been for more than a year.

Mrs. Gorman

I accept the hon. Lady's intervention. I am dealing with official figures which have been provided by Westminster council—[Interruption.]—on privately leased units in the city of Westminster. I make no bones about that. Camden has 295 units which are currently leased in the City of Westminster. The situation in Westminster is not one of failure to meet its obligation under the housing responsibilities laid on it—far from it. It is dealing with an extremely difficult and almost unique set of circumstances and doing it responsibly and with admirable zeal.

Another scheme that the council adopted, which was enormously successful in improving the quality of housing, was the housing improvement area scheme, in which Westminster co-operated with the private sector—individual or commercial landlords—and put up half the money under Government schemes to improve areas. Places such as Pimlico benefited from that scheme and improved out of all recognition, as did parts of Paddington in north London.

By improving the general tone of the neighbourhoods, the council made the opportunity to buy more attractive in places where formerly tenants wanted only to get out. Again, the council was both stabilising and assisting the population with sensible policies. All those policies, Government-backed and legal, were undertaken by Westminster to deal with its unique circumstances.

I shall briefly and finally deal with accusations of gerrymandering on the grounds that the council deliberately planted people in marginal wards or Labour wards with a view to influencing their political representation. At the 1990 election, which is discussed in the district auditor's report, five Labour wards returned Conservative councillors. Not a single council flat was sold in two of them—West End ward and Maida Vale ward. There was not a single council house sale to a yuppie or a local or anybody. In the marginal ward of Victoria, which covers this area and where Labour has always thought it might win, not a single council flat is available for sale. So there is no question of gerrymandering.

In another one of those five wards, Little Venice, only 26 units of accommodation were sold, but the Tory majority was much greater than that. The Labour party was wiped out. En Churchill ward, only 35 units of accommodation were sold. Again, that was nothing like the overall majority which the Conservative party had and it was certainly not influential. In Bayswater ward, 105 units were sold. In fact, sales in Westminster under the designated sales scheme and the cash incentives are still not as high as the council wishes. Only about 1,000 properties are affected under those schemes.

Westminster council owns 20,000 units of accommodation, which gives one some idea of how influential or otherwise the sale of properties was likely to be on changing the voting results in any one of those wards.

Mr. Rendel

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gorman

No; I shall not give way because I am winding up my speech.

The reason why the council did so remarkably well in the 1990 election was its splendid record on low community charge, which was introduced at the second lowest rate in the country. Naturally, that meant that the sensible people of Westminster turned out in their thousands to vote for the Conservative party, knowing that if there was a Labour council, they were likely to get rates of the proportions in Lambeth, Southwark or Peckham or any other high-spending, poor-level accommodation Labour housing authority.

The last thing to which I wish to refer, because it is brought up time and again, is—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gorman

No. I will not give way.

We keep hearing about houses that are boarded up. Westminster city council, just like other boroughs, occasionally boards up houses. If hon. Members want to see boarded-up houses, they need only take a walk around Lambeth. It seems that someone has cornered the market in corrugated iron in Lambeth, because so many of the houses are boarded up. Those properties are boarded up because of the threat of squatting. The only way in which squatters can be kept out is by boarding a property up until it is refurbished and tenants can return.

At the moment, there are only six squatted buildings in Westminster. Lambeth council has several hundred such properties. That is a measure of the success of Westminster council's policies. The allegations about boarding up property and empty property are nonsense.

I end with an anecdote. When I was a councillor for Millbank ward, we decided that properties on the very old-fashioned Rose street estate immediately to the west side of Horseferry road which had baths in the kitchens should be refurbished quickly. We devised a scheme whereby we offered the residents the opportunity to take another flat temporarily or to receive money for the cost of entering temporary hotel accommodation of their own choice for the period. The tenants co-operated. We boarded the flats up and refurbished them in six weeks flat. The tenants returned to their original properties, which now contained brand new kitchens and bathrooms.

If one had toured that estate and counted the boarded-up doors, one would have found whole blocks which were boarded up. However, they were boarded up for the very sensible reason that we wanted to carry out the refurbishment not around the tenants, as that might have taken 18 months, but quickly, cleanly and with the best interests of the tenants at heart.

When we consider those points, and read the report in its entirety, I am sure that the accusations laid at Westminster's door will be refuted.

6.51 pm
Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)

I am glad of the opportunity to make a contribution on a very important issue for which we have responsibility—housing. There can be no doubt that good housing is a fundamental in a decent society. However, we must remember that it involves more than shelter and a roof over one's head.

Housing is crucial to good health, to good education and to good family and social relationships. Wherever we look, the evidence is clear. If one is badly housed, one is more likely to suffer ill health. If one is badly housed, one is less likely to continue in full-time education. If one is inadequately housed, one is bound to be subject to more pressures in one's family and social relationships.

All Opposition Members—and, if they are honest, many Conservative Members—can tell stories of constituents whose lives have been blighted by the Government's failure to provide adequate housing for everyone. During the months that I have been here, colleagues have told me about the problem of housing in our inner cities. I do not argue with them that poverty is greatest and housing worst in our inner cities.

However, I do not want to consider the housing problems of the inner cities. Instead, I want to address an issue which I feel very strongly receives far too little attention in Parliament. That issue, which is becoming more important in our nation and is a festering sore in many of our cities, involves our outer-ring areas.

What is happening in the outer-ring areas of our cities? What is happening on the housing estates which once offered a new start for a previous generation of inner-city residents? The Government's policies have consistently led to housing problems in those outer-ring areas being ignored. That is causing great resentment among the residents in outer-ring areas.

The Government's approach to housing finance is almost obscene. They allocate money not on the basis of housing need, but as prizes for competitions which they have invented. Prizes for the estate action competition take up 20 per cent. of the 1993–94 capital spending budget. Two thirds of the £40 million worth of prizes for the housing action trusts went to just two locations.

In the city of Birmingham, the recent housing investment programme bid for £92 million saw £41 million top sliced for estate action, leaving a mere £22 million for all the council housing in the rest of the largest city in western Europe. With regard to the urban renewal scheme, four areas of Birmingham each receive £3 million, while the private housing stock in the rest of the city shares £19 million.

The situation is clear. The way in which the Government's housing policy operates means that the little money available for housing, both in the private sector and the rented sector, is concentrated in a few mainly inner-city areas. As Government policy intended, that money acts as a magnet for other resources from the council's own budget and from elsewhere.

Over the years, there has been a proliferation of dedicated schemes and special projects and the continued allocation of funds on a competitive basis. The result of that is clear. There has been an increase in the division between housing winners and housing losers. That is not the fault of local authorities. The figures to which I have just referred are not the fault of Birmingham city council or the way in which it would like to allocate its housing resources.

Mr. Baldry

Does the hon. Lady accept that no one obliges Birmingham to bid for estate action, for housing action trusts or for any of the other initiatives she mentioned? All those decisions, including what bids to make and how to make them, are decisions for Birmingham city council.

Ms Morris

The Government's guidelines encourage city councils such as Birmingham to make HIP bids with regard to other resources which might take the form of city challenge or estate action funds. Does the Minister accept that it is his Department that asks city councils to focus attention on areas of greater housing need and to focus resources within those areas? The Minister should consider the directions in the HIP bid guidelines for local authorities.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

Does my hon. Friend agree that Birmingham city council's HIP bid, which Ministers considered, set out very clearly—and the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction attended a presentation in Birmingham in this regard—the housing needs across the city in the public and private sector totalling £200 million? However, the council was allowed to bid for only just under £100 million and, of that, the council received an allocation of less than £50 million. Does not that show the ridiculous way in which the Government allocate housing finance and how that does not in any way match the housing needs in Birmingham and other cities?

Ms Morris

My hon. Friend is right. We both have constituents who suffer as a result of the way in which the Government allocate housing money. I also attended the presentation when the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction heard Birmingham's HIP bid. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) was as delighted as I was by the compliment that the Minister paid Birmingham city council for the way in which it runs its housing stock and the way it acts as a housing authority.

If local authorities want money, they must play the Government's game. However, the way in which the rules are written mean that many areas and many people never stand a chance of winning. According to the Government's guidelines: Estate Action will increasingly focus on the re-generation of larger, more run down estates. Housing action trusts are offered for larger inner-city estates. City challenge draws together initiatives in urban and inner-city areas and urban renewal money is allocated on the basis of an area strategy. It is obvious that local authorities are constantly under pressure from the Government to focus resources in a few areas and usually in inner cities.

While Ministers tour the country for photo opportunities in successful projects, whole chunks and swathes of our housing estates receive absolutely nothing, and they are often outer-ring areas.

My constituency is one of the areas that the Government choose to ignore. Constituencies such as mine and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield attract very few of the scant housing resources. But we too have housing need. We have pockets of deprivation; I know that they are not as large as those in other constituencies. We have unfit houses; I know that the situation is not as bad as it is in some neighbouring wards. We have homeless people; I know that the problem is worse elsewhere.

Two in every 100 constituents in one of my wards have houses with outside bathrooms or toilets, or share such facilities. Despite the fact that the number of elderly people in my constituency is in the top seventh nationally, 44.2 per cent. of houses have no central heating. It is the 14th worst constituency in that respect.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)

When dealing with her constituents, does my hon. Friend encounter the same problem that I find time and again when dealing with mine? They ask, "Why is the council's priority this rather than that? Why has it spent such a huge amount on that estate when it cannot even provide me with a date for something that is basic and fundamental?" Does my hon. Friend also find that, every time, she effectively explains that the rules about housing finance have been imposed upon the local authority by central Government 90-odd miles away? The quality of decision taken in Whitehall cannot be equal to the quality of decisions that could be taken nearer to the problems locally.

Ms Morris

My hon. Friend is right. We have seen massive centralisation in respect of decisions affecting very local matters such as a house in a street or a street in an area. I am sure that my hon. Friend's constituents also ask him, "How bad does my house have to become before it falls into the category that the Government think need assistance?"

There is no doubt that constituencies such as mine have great housing need, but they are made to compete with areas that have even greater housing need. The 2 per cent. of my constituents without indoor facilities have to compete with the 4.6 per cent. in the neighbouring Sparkhill ward. The 44 per cent. of my constituents without central heating must compete with the 62.5 per cent. in the nearby Washwood Heath ward. The result if obvious—constituencies such as mine lose, and need is unmet.

Just as the proposed new Government guidelines for homelessness attempt to pit the homeless against the inadequately housed, so the Government's obsession with competition pits people with poor housing against people with even poorer housing. The Government should be under no illusion about the potentially devastating consequences of making the needy compete against the more needy.

The statistics show that outer-ring areas, constituencies such as mine, are often the losers when it comes to housing allocation, are where unemployment is increasing the most and where crime has risen the most. People in outer-ring areas have a growing feeling of isolation and community breakdown, and they consider that the Government are ignoring their needs and leaving them out.

I do not question the need of areas with city challenge and estate action status. I would be the first to welcome an attempt to regenerate those areas, but let us be clear about why special projects exist. The Government did not choose their strategy because it is the best way of meeting housing need; it is born out of the need to concentrate resources because there is not enough to go round. Their strategy is born of the political objective of eventually handing over publicly renovated houses to the private sector. That strategy is driven by the desire to take the role of social landlord from local authorities.

The Government have singled out my local housing authority as being one of a high standard, yet its housing investment programme allocation has fallen from £67 million to £62 million, £53 million and £49 mil lion in recent years. The Government leave it with little discretion as to how to spend its money. The Government's policy has turned it, just as it has turned every other local authority, into a city of housing winners and housing losers. Conservative Members expect millions of citizens to live in conditions which none of them or their families would tolerate.

The housing crisis now extends far beyond the inner areas of our great Victorian cities. It is at the root of many other problems which we have discussed in the Chamber. Saddest of all, it is a crisis that the Government have never, and certainly not today, shown any ability to solve.

7.5 pm

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)

I am grateful to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle). I hope that he will listen carefully, because it might enable him to get some of his facts more accurate than he did when we had a discussion on Radio Leeds on Thursday morning.

During the radio phone-in, the hon. Gentleman told listeners that not one penny of the money that had been raised from council house sales could be spent on housing. Perhaps on further reflection he will accept that that is not the case. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman stated that the number of houses is getting "smaller and smaller" all the time. That is a quote from him. I hope that he will further reflect on the fact that that is not the case. As he knows, there are 2.5 million more houses in Britain today than there were in 1979.

Mr. Battle

kept a note of what was said. I shall show the hon. Gentleman the transcript, because he seems to have a selective memory. I said that we were short of houses to rent. Under the Conservative Government, since 1979 the number of homes to rent in Britain has decreased by 2 million. Now tell me about the facts.

Mr. Hendry

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He worked himself up into his usual hysteria slightly more quickly than he normally manages, but I will gladly look at the transcript with him.

It appears that the misuse of facts is spreading to all opposition parties. On housing, we have a tremendously positive story, and it is not just the fact that there are 2.5 million more houses in Britian today than there were 14 years ago, but the encouraging construction figures, particularly in the private sector. Also, the year-on-year number of families who are accepted as homeless has been dropping for 18 months.

Is it not slightly unfortunate that, if we have two months of bad news, the Opposition and the pressure groups who talk about housing say that that is a trend, but, when we have 18 months of good figures, they say that it is too early to tell and we cannot judge the figures yet?

Elsewhere, the figures are looking better as well. Figures on the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation are immensely encouraging and must be welcomed. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, today's figures on repossessions, showing a further substantial drop, are good news indeed.

Also useful are figures recently produced by the Bank of England on the extent of negative equity. They show that, between the first and third quarters of last year, the number of households with negative equity dropped from 1.8 million to 1.2 million, and that the total negative equity involved dropped from £11.7 billion to £7.3 billion. All hon. Members want the amount of negative equity to go down further, but that is a much more dramatic, impressive drop than was expected.

As joint chairman of the all-party group on homelessness, I find particularly encouraging the dramatic drops in the number of people sleeping rough. Independent figures collected by the London Homelessness Network suggest that the number of people sleeping rough in central London has dropped by two thirds over the past two years. All hon. Members would expect those encouraging figures to continue.

On this optimistic note, it is worth pointing out that there is more good news to come. Indeed, it is already in the pipeline. The new right of repair, which will come into force in April, will enable thousands of tenants in all parts of the country who have had to wait endlessly for basic housing repairs to have the work done privately under a certain cost ceiling, and to pass the bill to the local authority.

As has been said already, we have seen encouraging progress in terms of the reduction in the number of empty properties owned by the Government. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) gave a figure that he must realise is completely out of date, as it includes a huge number of individual units in nurses' hostels. If the suggestion is that each of those could be used to house a homeless family, that is a very worrying prospect. Such accommodation is clearly unsuitable for homeless families, and such an arrangement would be unsuitable for the nurses living on site.

The figures have been revised, and we now find that the proportion of Government-owned houses currently empty is much lower than was previously estimated. More important, the Government are taking a direct lead. Here I should mention the pressure that was announced in the Budget—especially the pressure on the Ministry of Defence, which, I willingly accept, has been the worst offender in this respect. If the Ministry of Defence is to maintain its defence budget, it will be expected to make better use of its housing stock. That is a move that I hope the whole House will welcome.

I also welcome the changes to be made under phase 2 of the rough sleepers initiative. I accept that there is concern about this matter. Last week, at the request of John Bird, the editor of The Big Issue, I looked at McNaughten house, which, under these proposals, may well be closed. Within a few hours, I spoke to the Minister, and an assurance was given that the Government fully accept the need for off-the-street accommodation and are committed to keeping it. In the case of an establishment like McNaughten house, the main question is whether the owners are seeking an extension of the lease.

I welcome the consultation paper on the review of homelessness legislation, which was published last week. It is vital that the Government take action to remove some of the distortions in the current housing structure. Like all other hon. Members, I receive many letters about housing. Most of these come not from people who are homeless. [Interruption.] I probably get rather more letters about general homelessness than does the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), as, being chairman of the all-party group, I am contacted by people in all parts of the country.

In my constituency, I receive a few letters from people who are homeless, but a much larger number from people who want help to secure a council house as they are in inadequate accommodation. Those people wait their turn, but never seem to make progress up the waiting list. One does not wish to discriminate against anybody, but the situation must be put into more balance.

Not everybody seeking a council house is in need of permanent council accommodation. Some people's needs would be met by short-term provision. Providing someone with a house for 20, 30 or 40 years—some council houses are passed on to other family members—is not necessarily the best, or even an appropriate, solution.

I object to the hysteria that has greeted the publication of the consultation paper to which I have referred. My right hon. Friend the Minister has referred to the suggestion that we could see a return to the "Cathy Come Home" situation. The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) referred to this matter on BBC Radio Leeds last week.

It really is unmitigated drivel. Since "Cathy Come Home", we have seen the introduction of income support to ensure a degree of social security for families—

Mr. Battle

It replaced family income supplement.

Mr. Hendry

And family income supplement was not in place in those days. More important, we now have housing benefit—introduced by a Conservative Government, of course. This benefit is available for use either in the private sector or in the public sector. Thus the extreme cases of homelessness depicted in "Cathy Come Home" simply could not exist today, and nothing proposed in the consultation document would result in the return of such a situation.

I should like to express some concern about three aspects of the consultation document. First, I hope that my right hon. Friend will assure us that those who are forced to leave home and are vulnerable will not find themselves on the street. This point was made forcefully by Centrepoint in a briefing that was sent to hon. Members.

Centrepoint does tremendous work in this field, as do other charities. One of its particular anxieties is that an abused mother should go to a housing office on a Friday evening only to find that, because she cannot be assessed immediately, she is left on the street over the weekend. It is important that we should be assured that such vulnerable people will be treated as urgent cases.

Sir George Young

I can give my hon. Friend a categorical assurance that circumstances such as he has outlined will never arise.

Mr. Henry

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that assurance. Most of us believed that such would be the case, but my right hon. Friend's categorical assurance will be comforting to the charities in this field.

The second key element of the consultation document concerns the fact that the role of the private sector must be enhanced. I am certainly encouraged by the fact that the proportion of houses in the private rented sector is beginning to grow. That could be accounted for partly by the current housing situation, in which people who cannot sell their properties seek to rent them out, and those who are not ready to commit themselves to purchase go for renting in the meantime. However, I am not convinced that the changes proposed in this document will, by themselves, bring about the necessary growth in this sector. We need to go further.

I am encouraged by the extension of the tenants incentive scheme to become the cash incentive scheme. However, there is also a strong case for looking at the incentive scheme for tenants who move out of the public rented sector into the private sector. We need an assurance that provision will not be for a period of just six months, after which the people concerned will again be homeless, but will be for a significant period. There will be considerable scope for introducing such a scheme.

I encourage my right hon. Friend to talk to his colleagues in the Treasury about the proposal to extend the tax-free element of rental income. It seems to me quite reasonable that, if a person can rent out a room of his home for £60 a week, a similar income derived from the letting of a private house should be tax-free. This matter was eloquently dealt with in a pamphlet that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) produced last year. The principle could be applied to newly available properties.

We also need to move towards a strategy for vulnerable young people leaving home. Many such people going to university live in halls of residence. They are housed, fed, clothed and given social support.

Mr. Battle

The hon. Gentleman is quoting me.

Mr. Hendry

I have been saying this for a long time, and it is very similar to things that have been said by my right hon. Friend the Minister. I am grateful that, for once, the hon. Member for Leeds, West and I are in agreement.

We must consider the needs of people leaving home at the age of 16 or 17. Youngsters coming from backgrounds other than those from which they might well go to university are more vulnerable and need more help in the early stages. It is not enough to say that they can move into flats and fend for themselves—budget, cater and provide for all their own needs.

There is very encouraging evidence of the success of the Foyer scheme. This is a national network that concerns itself with the accommodation, training and work of young people. I hope that the Government will continue to provide backing in this area, and will move towards a national strategy to cater for the needs of young people leaving home.

I will touch briefly on only one other point before sitting down, as I recognise that a number of other hon. Members wish to speak. I believe that too much emphasis in the housing debate can be put on the need for new build accommodation. Figures such as 100,000 or 200,000 houses are bandied about, but too often those figures are unsubstantiated. In particular, I do not think that we should talk the whole time about new build when there are over 750,000 houses which currently lie empty in this country.

The Government are setting an example in terms of their housing stock. They are trying to help in the private sector—by far the biggest sector, with nearly 700,000 empty private houses—through the encouragement of housing associations and of managing agents. They are also trying to help through the flats above shops initiative, but I want them to go further. If, for example, a house is kept empty by a private individual, that individual is relieved of half his council tax bill on that property.

If it is a commmercial organisation which is wilfully leaving an empty flat above its premises, it should not be entitled to get the half rebate on the council tax. Therefore, where properties are owned by corporate organisations, those organisations should pay the council tax in full, so the costs of keeping those buildings empty are brought home to them.

Local authorities remain big offenders in the matter of empty houses. We heard earlier from the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland). Last year, I took part in a BBC television programme from the Moston estate in central Manchester, where 18 per cent. of houses are empty. Since then, the estate has been given a vast amount of money under the estate action programme to help bring some of the empty houses back into use. However, there will continue to be a problem until local authorities can prove themselves better wardens of the public interest and until they start to look after council stock better.

I am sympathetic to suggestions that, if councils do not make good use of properties, or do not bring them back into use quickly, those properties should be made available to individuals, who will bring them back into use as quickly as possible.

My final point relates to empty offices. We have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) talk about the volume of derelict land in London. A huge amount of that derelict land has been designated for office development. There are already the equivalent of 25 empty Canary Wharf lowers which have been built in the central London area. The Government have said that they will encourage and support moves to change those buildings into living accommodation where it is appropriate and possible.

Such properties may be suitable for short-term accommodation for students, and for young professional people who want to live in the city rather than be forced further out into the suburbs. That is an idea whose time has come. I am not talking about every building, but there are a significant number where it is possible that that approach could be widely used.

There has been a significant improvement across the board in the statistics relating to housing and to homelessness. That is something which all hon. Members should welcome. The Government's policies are producing results, and are very much on track. I encourage my colleagues to reject the motion tonight, and also to make sure that sensible views are expressed as the consultation document moves forward. My hon. Friends must make sure that the views of our constituents, who have overwhelmingly backed that consultation document, are heard widely.

7.23 pm
Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

This debate on housing is overdue, and I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends for using this Opposition day debate to place on record our criticisms of the Government's policy on housing, which have persisted since 1979.

If the Minister needs evidence of the Government's gross neglect, he need do no more than look at my town of Wolverhampton. In 1979, there were approximately 2,000 people on the waiting list; today, there is a waiting list of 13,000. Hon. Members should just consider the misery and the frustration which lie behind those statistics.

In the few minutes which I have allotted to me, I will make a few comments on housing co-ops. As a Labour Co-operative Member, and proud to be so, I wish to point out that housing co-operatives are an ideal way of harnessing personal responsibility to meeting housing need. They are important in terms of maintaining choice and diversity, as well as accountability to users.

Recently, the chief executive of the Halifax building society acknowledged that little choice exists in Britain between owner-occupation and local authority/housing association renting. What is needed is a recognition of the distinctiveness of co-operative housing, and the role it could play in a comprehensive housing strategy. More could be done to support innovations such as self-build for rent, and many different types of co-operative housing schemes.

When one considers that homelessness has increased by more than half since 1979—from just over 56,000 to over 148,000—and that homes needed for rent outstrip supply by 100,000 homes, the case for housing co-ops is overwhelming.

Unfortunately, the Housing Corporation's response to the substantial cuts—cuts of £320 million, as the Minister knows—to its approved development programme has been to reduce the share of that programme that is devoted to housing co-operatives from a promised 3.4 per cent. to 1.3 per cent. That commitment to housing co-ops of 3.4 per cent. was promised me by Sir Christopher Benson in 1992 when, as we know, he was chairman of the Housing Corporation. I was then, as I still am, the chairman of the all-party group on housing co-operatives. The Minister was a founder member of that group, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth).

Given that the percentage of all public spending on housing has been reduced from 6.1 per cent. in 1979 to 2.5 per cent. in 1993, I am sure that all hon. Members will recognise that that is a severe reduction of housing co-operative support from the Housing Corporation.

The Minister has supported tenant management co-operatives, and I understand and welcome the basic principles of the right to manage introduced in the Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. However, I fail to see how that makes up for the increase in housing provision, given that it is a right for existing tenants in existing homes. Indeed, local authority housing starts have fallen from 100,000 in 1979 to 2,000 in 1993.

With the current levels of homelessness, with 60,000 people in temporary accommodation, with 1.5 million people on waiting lists, and with 500,000 people in mortgage arrears and in the trap of negative equity, will the Minister and the Government admit that what is needed is not the tinkering that the latest document represents? Changing definitions does not change the underlying reality of the problems which those figures manifest.

Will the Minister admit that what is needed is a comprehensive strategy that recognises, and fully and equitably supports, a mix of tenures and ownership? That, as I have suggested, would harness the energy and the innovations which have been shown by all involved in co-operative housing.

7.29 pm
Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)

I am delighted to be called to take part in this important housing debate. I should start by declaring my interest as a parliamentary consultant to the Institute of Housing, although our views do not always coincide.

My right hon. Friend the Minister will be delighted to know that I do not propose to talk about local housing companies, about which I have bent his ear on many occasions. I still say that it is an idea whose time has come. They increasingly could become the vehicle to deliver cost-effective, well-managed social housing.

We heard from the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) about his regrets that there is no longer a consensus about social housing. It is difficult to have a consensus with people who, rather than come into the 1990s and embrace radical ideas for the delivery of social housing policies that work and of quality services to tenants, prefer to remain in the 1950s and stick with policies with which they feel comfortable and safe.

There are occasions on which there is consensus between myself and Opposition Members and other people with whose views I do not always agree. For example, on 15 May 1992, Tribune magazine commented as follows about Labour's performance in the 1992 local government elections: It would be wrong to blame the debacle of May 7th entirely on that of April 9th. In several of the councils where Labour did worst, it did not deserve to do any better, simply on the basis of its dire record in office…in many areas…Labour local government is lacklustre and incompetent. In a few it is simply corrupt. This is nothing new. Ineffectual or rotten Labour councils…have been a feature of political life for as long as anyone can remember". I agree with that.

I also agree with the comments made by Councillor Simon Matthews, a Labour councillor in Hackney council. In May 1993, he said: That we have failed many of the people of Hackney is beyond doubt. The sole objective of housing management in Hackney seems to be 'muddling through'—buying off tenants and councillors with short term expedients and gimmicks. Complacency is rife; incompetence is widespread …. Our figures for rent arrears and empty properties are the worst in the country. There totals are massaged … to show bogus improvements. With nearly 5,000 empty properties we have 4,000 homeless families in temporary accommodation—most headed by women, most of them black, an appalling record. I agree with Labour Councillor Simon Matthews. There is consensus on some issues.

I also agree with the former leader of Liverpool city council, Mr. Keva Coombes, who said: we are the worst landlord in Liverpool, probably in the country. All the new building has taken place and been run by a central unit and all despite the housing department. It takes genius — voids gone up, rent arrears soared … the breaking of the law on racial equality … I think the fundamental cause is frankly we've put the interests of the providers of the service, the workforce, above the interests of the tenants". I agree with him on that.

I also agree with the director of housing in Hackney, who produced a report recently which said: By April 1990, there was a massive backlog of cases of arrears which was distributed as follows: Approximately 9,000 on the Estate Manager's Action List with arrears in excess of £13 million. 5,000 under investigation by the Rent Recovery Teams in the 6 District Offices with arrears in excess of £3 million; Another 4,000 in the DoLs or in the County awaiting Hearings or eviction warrants with arrrears of about £3 million. The report stated that the whole process of recovering arrears was a series of built-in delays.

So there can be a consensus in social housing. I agree with the remarks that I have just read out. It is a consensus that we should welcome. For is it not true that too many Labour-controlled housing authorities are incompetent, corrupt and stuck in the past? They abandon the people who elected them in the first place. Is it not, therefore, the height of hypocrisy and humbug for Labour Members to protest about the conduct of one Conservative housing authority when they have so many skeletons in their cupboard?

Why do not Labour Members clean up their record and their back yard? I should like to ask the Labour housing spokesman, the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), the following questions. What has he done to force Labour councillors in Lambeth to collect their rent arrears—a staggering £22.7 million, or 30 per cent. of its rent roll as at March 1992? What has he done to persuade Labour councillors to get their act together in Lambeth? What has the hon. Member for Leeds, West done to persuade Labour councillors in Southwark to collect their rent arrears—a breathtaking £29 million as at March 1992? What action has he taken to clean up the incompetence and corruption of Hackney council?

Mr. Gordon Prentice

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Streeter

I will give way to the Labour Front-Bench spokesman so that he can answer my questions.

Mr. Battle

What has the Minister done about those Conservative authorities which have the highest rent arrears in Britain—Brent, which has been Conservative for some time, and the Minister's constituency borough of Ealing, which has the highest rent arrears in Britain? While the hon. Gentleman is on about housing and Conservative councils, let him tell us why the list of top rent increases includes 17 Tory authorities.

Mr. Streeter

The House will notice two things. First, the hon. Member for Leeds, West cannot tell the difference between a council which has been Labour-controlled for decades and two authorities which have recently changed to Conservative control, which must now deal with the mess that Labour councillors have left behind. Secondly, the House will notice that the hon. Gentleman singularly failed to answer my question.

Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)

While we are quoting councillors, may I quote a councillor in Plymouth? I am reading from a document put out a few years ago. It says: The Tories clung to power in Plymouth by just one seat and their policies on education, the health service, the poll tax and many other things are hated. They have had their day. That was a comment by a Social Democratic party councillor who was the housing spokesman for the SDP, who was the hon. Gentleman who has the floor.

Mr. Streeter

I anticipated that. The hon. Gentleman should realise that there is great rejoicing in heaven for every sinner who repents.

The truth is that Labour Members do nothing to sort out the corruption and incompetence of Labour authorities throughout Britain. They speak like lions in the Chamber, but like lambs when they go back to their constituencies. They are incapable of cleaning up their own back yards.

Mr. Rendel

If it is true that the local authorities to which the hon. Gentleman refers are so incompetent, why does he not mention that the Government's own housing policies are so bad that they as landlords have a worse record for housing vacancies than the local authorities?

Mr. Streeter

If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I will come to a part of my speech in which I shall urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to maintain the pressure on the Ministry of Defence to release empty houses in Plymouth. I urge the hon. Gentleman to be patient.

I wish to deal briefly with the Government's proposed changes in access to local authority and housing association tenancies. Again, I want to find a consensus with people with whom I do not usually agree. I should like to read an extract from an article written by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). It has already been quoted, but it bears repeating. He said: We need … a housing waiting list structure that positively rewards those who have tried their best to take responsibility and have some order in their lives … a stable relationship before having children. We need to encourage them rather than punish other people. They need to know it's worth waiting…People … are not fools. If you can't get a house by waiting on the list, you present the maximum number of reasons why you should receive priority. That is not encouraging people to accept responsibility in their own lives and society. That was from The Independent in July 1993.

On 21 January 1994, The Guardian reported: Sir George Young … believes the criteria should be changed so that the individual needs of all families on the two separate routes to a rented home—homelessness and housing waiting lists—are weighed against other. In principle he is right. The proportion of new lettings going to homeless families has swelled to 45 per cent. In some areas the only available way to be rehoused is to make yourself homeless. This is simply absurd. I agree.

The truth is that the Government's proposals are intended to produce a fairer system of access to local authority and housing association properties. They have nothing to do with bashing single parents; they have nothing to do with them.

It is worth considering what might happen to two couples in my constituency. The first couple may wish to leave the parental home or the home of friends with whom they are currently staying. They want local authority housing to raise a family, when they can afford to do so. They want to be settled in that long-term home before they raise their family. All young people should be given that advice.

Why should they have to wait longer for the home of their choice than another young couple who have no settled home or financial resources, but who have gone ahead and had a child or children anyway? Why should they get priority over that first couple? What kind of signal does that send to young people who want a council house? The only way to get such a property is to make oneself homeless. One way of being classified as such under current legislation is, of course, to have a child.

I am not suggesting that women are deliberately getting pregnant to get council property. Opposition Members should read the article that I recently wrote for "Roof" to discover my view on the subject. We should encourage young people to plan their family once they have the resources to raise it properly. Our welfare system must encourage responsible behaviour, as the hon. Member for Brightside has suggested, and discourage irresponsible behaviour. If the Opposition fail to recognise that, they have no solution to offer.

Mr. Rendel

Will the hon. Genlteman give way?

Mr. Streeter

No. I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.

We must maintain a safety net to prevent children from suffering. That is offered in my hon. Friend's proposals, because young people, whether single or in a couple, will be rehoused as homeless by local authorities if they have children. They will not, however, necessarily be offered long-term accommodation. If even The Guardian can accept that that is reasonable, surely Opposition Members can.

The Government's proposals are worthy of support. They are fair and they will encourage responsible behaviour. It is true that many local authorities are already implementing such a sensible approach to housing the homeless, and I pay tribute to them. I also pay tribute to the many local authorities, Conservative and Labour, which have done an excellent job in the past few years in difficult circumstances. Many have got their act together by reducing costs and carrying out repairs efficiently. Many have entered partnership deals with housing associations for the benefit of their citizens. Many are seeking to improve the services that they deliver to their tenants—helped by the compulsory competitive tendering arrangements. Many Conservative and Labour-controlled authorities are getting their act together, helped by Government legislation.

The Ministry of Defence is being far too slow in releasing houses in Plymouth for the use of local residents. I urge my hon. Friend to exert whatever pressure he can bring to bear on his colleagues at the MOD to ensure that those properties are released at the earliest possible moment so that local people can enjoy the benefit of them. I hope that my hon. Friend will take up that matter.

The one abiding truth is that too many Labour authorities, especially in London, are incompetent and corrupt. That is why those Labour Members who refuse to put their own house in order and who point the finger at one Conservative authority are not just an example of the pot calling the kettle black, but are guilty of the ultimate hypocrisy.

7.44 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Housing is the subject that most people come to our surgeries or write to us about. The shortage, indeed the acute shortage, of affordable rented accommodation causes immense hardship and misery. That was not recognised, however, in the rather complacent speeches that we heard today from Conservative Members.

If the Government really were interested in the welfare of the family, as they always claim, they would ensure that adequate, affordable housing was provided for those people unable to buy. At times, I find it heartbreaking to listen to the genuine accounts of housing hardship that are recounted at my surgeries. Those people are often in desperate need. If they were able to buy, they would not come to my surgery, but it is precisely because they cannot afford to service a mortgage, or are unable to obtain one because of their low incomes, that they look for local authority accommodation.

I do not pass judgment on their family circumstances, unlike some Conservative Members who believe that one should do just that. The one thing I know is that many people, often with children, need housing and should not have to put up with their current living conditions. Everything should be done to resolve their problems.

I write to my local council about such cases. I know full well that, in most cases, the response will be that the constituent is on the list and that an offer will be made in due course. That is understandable in view of the acute housing shortage locally and the very long waiting list, but it does not show when that offer will be forthcoming.

The reason for the housing shortage is obvious. In 1978, the last full year of the Labour Government, there were nearly 80,000 council house starts. Last year, there were fewer than 3,000 throughout the country. In my borough, Walsall, not a single council dwelling has gone up since 1979.

I make no excuse for the existence of any vacant properties. Of course all local authorities, be they Labour or Conservative, have an obligation to get vacant properties back into letting as quickly as possible. That obligation is all the more pressing at a time of acute housing shortage.

I know that my borough—for the moment, it is no longer Labour controlled, but that will soon change—has few vacant dwellings. Some dwellings are vacant because work needs to be done on them. Even if they were all returned to the housing stock for renting, the housing shortage would not be relieved, because since 1979 there has been a fall nationally of nearly 45 per cent. in investment in housing.

Bearing in mind the figures I have quoted, is it any surprise that council house building has virtually come to a stop? Is it any surprise that we have so many homeless people and such long waiting lists? Is it any surprise that we have families living in furnished rooms and many couples with two children, not just one, living in high-rise blocks of flats?

Many of those couples ask me how much longer they will have to wait before they are transferred to a house. But some of the best council housing stock has been sold off. We predicted that that would happen when the right-to-buy policy was introduced. In the main, it is those high-rise blocks that have been left unsold.

Today's edition of The Birmingham Post draws attention to a problem faced by people who bought flats, rather foolishly in my view, in such blocks. Those properties are virtually impossible to sell now, because no one will give a mortgage on them. Those people are prisoners in their own homes. They are willing to sell at a reduced price, but there are no buyers.

From 1979, the Government were determined virtually to stop council house building—and, moreover, to reduce existing stock substantially. When I returned to the House in 1979, I was put on the first Select Committee on Environment, to which evidence was given by senior civil servants and the then Secretary of State for the Environment—the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. It was made clear then that Government policy would be to stop the continued building of council dwellings.

No one should be surprised about what Westminster council has done. Of course, Tory Members who have served on that council, and others who wish to act as apologists, want to present a different picture. The fact is, however, that Westminster council tried as hard as it could to reduce its housing stock substantially and offered council tenants bribes to get them out of the borough. How could anyone take seriously the claim of some Conservative Members that those actions had no political implications?

Although he has not made a statement in the House, the Secretary of State for National Heritage has admitted that discussion of the political implications took place at some meetings—understandably, he said. Westminster's political aims were clear: to ensure that the council remained Tory-controlled and to ensure that the more marginal parliamentary constituency was also retained by the Tories.

Responding to questions last week, the Prime Minister spoke of "allegations" about Westminster council, but these are not allegations. They are the provisional findings of the district auditor, following an exhaustive inquiry. One hon. Member said that the inquiry had been very costly. Does she suggest that it should not have taken place? Surely the district auditor's findings have justified the cost. It is interesting to note that, even when all this was happening, one or two Conservative members of Westminster council were courageous enough to argue that it was wrong; I consider what occurred to be one of the most shameful episodes ever to take place in local government.

A few years ago—much to the annoyance of Conservative Members—I said that Lady Porter's conduct over the cemeteries should have disqualified her from serving on any local council, or in the House of Commons. I hold that opinion even more strongly now: Lady Porter has no right to take part in public life. I hope that the time will come when she must explain her actions in person, but she seems somewhat reluctant to return to the United Kingdom.

In a long speech, the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford) gave us a list of justifications for what had happened in Wandsworth. In my view, however, Wandsworth was trying to do exactly what Westminster did, and its behavour was equally shameful.

In some respects, there is no difference between the parties—[Interruption.] I hope that Conservative Members will listen to what I am saying. The parties agree that most people want to buy homes of their own. That is entirely acceptable, and there has never been any dispute about it. Labour Members are owner-occupiers—[Interruption.] The Government Whip, the hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay), seems to wish to intervene from a sedentary position. Let me repeat that there is no difference of opinion on this point—

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Winnick

No, I will not.

In the late 1960s, a Labour Government introduced the option mortgage scheme, whose purpose was to encourge people on relatively low incomes to become owner-occupiers. Such conduct would be strange, coming from a party that supposedly opposed owner-occupation, as Conservative Members claim that Labour does.

Mr. Thurnham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is clearly suffering from severe amnesia.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is not for the Chair to assess hon. Members' state of health.

Mr. Winnick

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) has just suggested that I repeat what I said earlier, so I shall do so. It was a Labour Government who introduced the option mortgage scheme in the late 1960s, to encourage owner-occupation among those whose income would otherwise have posed difficulties. It is not my fault if Conservative Members do not wish to be reminded of that.

A substantial minority—not 5 per cent., 10 per cent. or 15 per cent., but 25 per cent. or 30 per cent. of people—will never be in a position to buy their homes, because of their relatively low incomes. That is where the party difference occurs. My hon. Friends and I believe that most of those people should be able to obtain affordable rented accommodation, which should be supplied by local authorities or genuine housing associations.

It should not be forgotten that local authority accommodation was provided in the first place precisely because of the state of private dwellings, which had become slums or near-slums. We would not think it from what Conservative Members say, but local authorities began to play a dominant role in housing provision because of what was happening in the private rented sector. I make no apology for my view that local authorities should continue to play a major part in the provision of rented accommodation.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) admitted, local authorities have made some mistakes, as a result of the pressure imposed by Governments of both parties to keep costs low. High-rise blocks are an example. None the less, there is much to be proud of in local authority housing—certainly in my borough, and in many other parts of the country. There is also a role for genuine housing associations, as there always has been.

Unlike Conservative Members, I do not believe that the private rented sector can supply adequate accommodation for those who are unable to buy; I do not believe that it can be brought back to any large degree, and I do not think that it can provide the secure accommodation that is needed now. The people who write to me and visit my surgeries do not want to be housed just for six or nine months, with no form of security; what good is that to them? Nor do they want to pay exorbitant rents. Conservative Members should realise that those people want decent homes. They cannot afford to buy; they want to live in secure accommodation, knowing that they can live there for a long time. What is wrong with that? Because of Government policies, however, it is not possible.

Labour Members have always said that the two essentials are jobs and decent housing. The Government have done much to undermine the provision of both. They have brought back large-scale unemployment, which has affected many people who could be working in the building industry. They have implemented the same policies continuously since their return to office in 1979. Because they have not allowed local authorities to build as they used to, many people now live in misery and hardship.

If we, as Members of Parliament, want decent housing for ourselves, why should that not be possible for our constituents who are unable to buy? Why should we punish them for their low incomes? We are right to engage in today's debate, and to continue it subsequently. At the next election, we shall explain to people why there is a housing shortage—a housing crisis—and why so many people have been punished in the way that I have described.

We require a Government who are determined to ensure that those who cannot afford to buy are not punished, but can live in decent accommodation. That is the purpose of a Labour Government in housing matters, and that is the right policy.

7.59 pm
Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)

I came to the Chamber today unprepared to speak, but then I heard the extraordinary speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

Having been involved in the fringes of housing policy in the Cabinet Office for many years, and having written a considerable amount about the subject, I felt that the extraordinary statements that he was making were divorced from facts, filled with cynicism, horrific in the use of dismissive words such as "disgraceful", and designed to whip up dissension in the Chamber. His speech was wholly unhelpful to an important area of national policy.

For many years, we have tried hard to help people to reach some consensus about these crucial issues. I have been involved in inner-city policy, and there have been partnerships all over the country—in Leicester, Teesside and south Wales. When I inadvertently, in my youthful inexperience, called the hon. Member for Blackburn my hon. Friend, he said quickly, "I am not your friend," dismissing at a stroke the partnership history of housing in which I had been involved for all those years.

It was horrific that his speech contained no praise for the housing action trusts and no reference to the marvellous number of people to whom we have managed to give real rights in council housing. There was no reference to the charter that we gave council tenants in the early 1980s.

I met council tenants in Hackney, where I worked. They were filled with praise for the policy. They had been council tenants for many years, and they were at last enfranchised and could treat their houses as their own homes. They were able to paint their own front doors thanks to our policies. Was there any reference to that by the hon. Member for Blackburn? Not at all.

Dismissing for a moment those who have been hurt by negative equity, was there any reference to the hundreds of thousands of people who, since the rise in home ownership from 55 per cent. in 1979 to 67 per cent. now, enjoy the freehold ownership of their own homes? Was there a reference to that in the balanced and mature speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn? Not at all—there was only cynicism.

Was there a reference in his speech to anything that we had done correctly? He made no reference to the new rental options that we have provided, or to how we have helped so many people to maintain and look after both council houses and their own homes by providing insulation and other assistance. None of those policies had the slightest mention in his speech.

Instead, we heard one of the most gall-ridden speeches I have ever heard. How could a leading Labour spokesman have come to that Dispatch Box to tell us that we were responsible for so much gerrymandering because of Westminster, when the central tenet of Labour policy since the 1930s and since Herbert Morrison has been to build the Tories out of town after town? How could the hon. Gentleman come to the Dispatch Box and not once mention that fact?

In Putney, that policy returned a Labour Member of Parliament for many years, and we have heard the Wandsworth story this evening. Even in Norwich, the Labour party used the same gerrymandering Morrison policy. Labour councillors in south Norwich were using the same device in Eton ward. They put the worst council houses and problem families there in order to destroy the best Tory ward. We have heard that story time and again.

Even today, the Labour spokesman has the gall to say that the Conservatives are manipulating people. Even in my borough of Barnet, houses have been brought up by Camden council in a cynical attempt to destroy a Conservative area.

When Labour councils buy houses in Barnet and other Conservative areas, they put their very worst problem families into those wards. If that is not an exploitation of ordinary, good people I do not know what is. It is quite preposterous for the Labour party to say that we are cynical about human nature.

Last year and the year before, I was involved in a survey of what constituted the vacant, void property in Britain. When I was in the civil service, I constantly met the proposition that there were void properties but they were all in the wrong places. It was suggested to me that we had empty cottages in the highlands of Scotland that were no use for the homeless people in London. We looked into where those empty void properties were, and discovered that there were 83,000 void properties owned by councils, 18,000 in London.

If, as hon. Members have rightly suggested, we discount those that will soon be repaired and those that will be filled in a short time, and if we are pessimistic about all the discounting, there are 20,000 empty houses in council ownership that could be used for the homeless today. They are all or nearly all in Labour or Liberal-controlled areas. The honours are shared in London between Tower Hamlets and Hackney among others. Parts of the list have been read out today.

It has been said that Conservative Members came armed with bits of paper from Central Office. I have not seen any bits of paper from Central Office. I have learnt from many years' experience. Housing policy in those places is cynical. It is part of the old empire-building process that Morrison began.

Having found all those void properties, I made a proposal that was eventually published in a book called "Into the Voids", suggesting that ordinary homeless people could use those properties. I have had nothing but negative responses from many Labour council leaders around the country. However, I have had endless requests for interviews, and tremendous support from homeless people. I received a petition from hundreds of homeless people wanting to use my proposal.

What was my proposal? It was that those empty properties could be accessed by homeless people. If they spotted that a house had been empty for three months, they could slap a notice on the door of the council saying, "We will be your tenant in 14 days if you cannot show that you use it." If the property is used within 14 days, everyone wins, because someone has a home. However, if it is not used, the homeless person can use the property.

What reaction did I get from Labour councillors? What do they say about the proposal? They say that it will never work, because we cannot trust homeless people to do all the necessary renovation work.

All over the world, people of ordinary abilities are building their own homes, not just renovating them. Today, the largest sector in housing in Britain is not Barratt, Taylor Woodrow—which was referred to earlier by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) from a sedentary position—Laing or any of the others. It is self-build. We have 6 per cent. self-build in this country. The figure is 20 per cent. in Germany, 6 per cent. in Scandinavia and about 10 per cent. in America.

We should trust ordinary people to renovate houses themselves. If they can build, surely they can renovate. The Labour councillors around the country said, "But these people do not have any money." The Conservatives, through good, sensible policies, have given homeless people the money to use. We give them a dowry. The moment they become tenants, they can use housing benefit, if they are homeless and unemployed.

My suggestion has had a marvellous response from the Department of the Environment, from Ministers who have been open-minded and encouraging, contrary to the proposals and the negative response from the Opposition. The sensible proposal is to commit that sum of money —the dowry for homeless people—to pay for the renovations that they cannot do themselves.

Mr. Rendel

Given the encouragement that the hon. Gentleman has had from Ministers at the Department of the Environment, has he persuaded them to persuade the Ministry of Defence to start the policy with its empty properties?

Mr. Booth

It is probably a matter of consensus in the House that the 10,000 or so homes owned by the Ministry of Defence should be used as soon as possible. I thought that I heard an intervention earlier from the Front Bench saying that they will be used as soon as possible. I hope so. It is no part of my contribution to the debate to defend the failure of the Ministry of Defence to dispose of those houses even sooner.

The Government place tremendous store by a successful housing policy for all our people. We have the right policies and will go on having the right policies, because the Ministers have imagination and listen to new proposals. They have been listening throughout the debate. I encourage the House to support Ministers.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. I understand that the winding-up speeches will begin at 9.20 pm. Six hon. Members are hoping to catch my eye. With a bit of co-operation from all hon. Members, I may be able to call them all.

8.12 pm
Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)

I shall try to keep my comments brief so that other hon. Members can get in.

My interest in housing started as an elected representative back in 1970, when I was elected to the Solihull county borough council. Immediately, my talents were noted, because I became the Labour party spokesman on housing on that council, which is hardly surprising as I was the only Labour Member on the council at the lime. I remember the people who came to see me. They made the same points: inadequate housing; the houses were too small for their family needs; they needed to move on medical grounds; or they had no decent home in which to live.

Coming to the House 22 years later, I hoped that I would hear something different after 19 out of the past 24 years in which. Tory Governments have been in power. What is different now is that the situation is somewhat worse than it was in 1970. Why has the housing situation not improved?

We listened to the Secretary of State for Social Security at the Tory party conference—a normally mild-mannered man, or he likes to give that impression. But he suddenly found his bark at the conference last year. He blamed single teenage pregnant women for causing the problems of homelessness. He intimated that young teenage women were rushing out to get pregnant to qualify for a council property. It is probably not in the briefing from Tory central office, which has been circulating with some controversy on the Conservative Benches, but if he reads his Department's documentation, he will see that it says that only 2 per cent. of homeless households are headed by single people in the public sector.

Some of that 2 per cent. have no children and have been housed for special reasons, usually because of their vulnerability. The fact is that only three out of 1,000 public sector households are headed by a single teenage mother. But that did not stop the right hon. Gentleman making his attack on that most vulnerable group—single mothers. Those women are coping on their own, often in very difficult circumstances. Yet, to get cheap applause at the Tory party conference, the right hon. Gentleman managed, with others in the Cabinet, to blame them for the housing shortage.

There are empty houses all around Plymouth, Devonport. Many are former council houses that have been repossessed. During the heady 1980s, people were encouraged to buy their houses. Now they are being plunged into the Tory recession. Many people have lost their jobs. There has been a massive loss of jobs in the dockyard. In the 1987 and 1992 elections, we were told that that would not happen. Those people have had very little help from the banks and building societies, contrary to what we were told about a year ago by the Prime Minister.

What happens when those people's homes are repossessed? They find their way on the road to the city council and are then rehoused by the city council. The city council has now lost access to two properties: one that sold and is lying empty, often derelict and boarded up; and the other which is occupied. In and around my constituency, many private properties have been repossessed and are lying empty.

Contrary to the many speeches that we have heard from hon. Members on the Government Back Benches, many of whom are not in their places, the situation in Plymouth is good, because Labour-controlled Plymouth city council is not only working hard to maintain high standards and keep rents low, but has one of the lowest records of voids in the country—0.7 per cent. That means seven in every 1,000 properties are void at any one moment. They are mainly short-term between transfer of tenancies or are in need of repair.

Many other houses are empty. In my constituency, more than 200 properties are lying empty. Who owns those empty houses? Who has left those hundreds of homes lying empty? Often, whole estates are empty. Who owns those hundreds of vandalised houses? Who must pay to have security guards to guard those boarded up properties? Who is not collecting the rent? Who is ensuring that no council tax is collected from those houses? Which feckless uncaring landlord is destroying communities of people who have to live surrounded by boarded-up empty homes? Who has 675 empty properties in Devon and Cornwall?

The answer is the Government themselves. The large faceless bureaucracy of the Ministry of Defence has row on row of empty properties in my constituency. I must take issue with the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth), who said that there was a consensus on this matter, and that we all agreed. There may be a consensus among those sitting in the Chamber today, but it is certainly not shared by the Secretary of State for Defence.

Over the years, hon. Members on both sides of the House have tabled questions about empty properties. In October 1988, the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) asked about empty properties in Plymouth and he was told that a total of 486 housing units were in the ownership of the Ministry of Defence. The reply continued: Over the next 12 months it is expected that 164 will be offered for sale to service personnel under the discount scheme, 278 will be sold on the open market".—[Official Report, 24 October 1988; Vol. 139, c. 62.] After waiting a year to see what happened, in April 1989 my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), who spoke extremely well in the debate, asked how many Ministry of Defence properties were empty. He was told at that time that 14.4 per cent. of Ministry of Defence properties were empty. Mr. Neubert went on to say: Some of these vacant properties are in the process of disposal, others will be undergoing major maintenance or refurbishment, and yet others will be allocated and awaiting the arrival of families to the unit."—[Official Report, 20 April 1989; Vol. 151, c. 277.] What has happened in that time? What urgent action has been taken by the Ministry of Defence? In June 1989, in reply to a question about a report on empty Ministry of Defene houses, Mr. Sainsbury, the Minister said: The report to which he refers recognises that measures are being taken to improve performance in the future."—[Official Report, 13 June 1989; Vol. 154, c. 693.] By February 1980 we were certain that things had changed. In reply to a question, again put by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, Mr. Hamilton said that some of the vacant properties were in the process of disposal. So it goes on. The same dreary answers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. On three occasions the hon. Gentleman has mentioned Ministers by name. That is not done in the House. The hon. Gentleman must refer to them by their titles.

Mr. Jamieson

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I stand corrected.

I received a letter from the Ministry of Defence dated 17 January and that is why I take issue with the hon. Member for Finchley when he says that there is consensus on the matter. When I asked how many dwellings were owned by the Ministry of Defence and how many were vacant I was told: The majority of the vacant quarters were either undergoing or awaiting major maintenance work or modernisation, already allocated to service families who were due to move in shortly". —[Official Report, 17 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 443.] For six years the Ministry of Defence has been telling us that families will be moving in shortly or that houses are under repair. The one thing that does not change is the number that are empty.

When I asked my question last year, 9,291 properties were empty. The Minister will recall that six months ago I asked him to make representations to the Secretary of State for Defence on the matter. I am sure that he did so, but as a result of his actions, in December 1993, 10,112 properties were empty—14.4 per cent. of those properties are still vacant. Plymouth city council with 0.7 per cent. vacancies is 20 times better than the Ministry of Defence.

What is the effect of those empty properties on the taxpayer? No rent is collected and no council tax is paid, maintenance costs are high and the Ministry of Defence has to pay security guards to protect them. At the same time, local councils throughout the country, including Plymouth, are paying for people who could easily occupy those properties to go into bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The taxpayer is paying for those empty properties and for the temporary accommodation.

There is a further cruel irony in all this. Last year in Plymouth, 75 of the families that were deemed homeless were former service personnel; people who had come to the end of their time with the services and left or been made redundant. Those 75 families of service personnel were given six months and then received notice to quit their properties. They then became homeless and Plymouth city council became responsible for housing them. The houses that they formerly occupied then stood empty and boarded up. The Minister must take up that matter with the Secretary of State for Defence so that urgent action is taken and we do the best by the homeless and by the taxpayer.

There is a road to success. We have had success with a few homes in Plymouth that were owned by the Ministry of Defence. Eight months ago, in one small cul de sac, Mantle gardens, each of the 26 properties had their windows boarded up after being broken by vandals. One property had lost its roof after people had broken in. Now, with the excellent partnership between Plymouth city council and Devon and Cornwall housing association, I am pleased to tell the Minister that most of those houses are occupied by families who, exclusively, were living in temporary accommodation or in the most appalling cramped conditions. There is an answer to the problem, but we need urgent action from the Ministry of Defence so that those houses are released.

When the boards were pulled off those houses it was not just the homeless and the taxpayer who benefited. A number of young men and women were given jobs repairing the houses, so jobs were created. Instead of being unemployed, 10 or 12 people are doing useful work in the community repairing and rebuilding properties.

I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will address this important problem which is particularly acute in my constituency in the south-west. Its solution will be a partial answer to the serious level of homelessness in my part of the country.

8.26 pm
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

I am pleased to participate in the debate. I apologise for missing the first part of it but I had to attend a meeting of the Select Committee on Social Security at which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State commented on housing benefit and on the housing market. I am sorry to have missed the opening speech by my right hon. Friend the Minister, but I look forward to reading it. However, according to the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth), I do not seem to have missed any enlightenment from the Opposition, so I doubt whether the contributions of Opposition Members will be worth reading.

I have enjoyed hearing the speeches by my hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley made an excellent speech, particularly when he said that we should trust the people. I can see why it has taken so long for the Labour party to have a debate on housing. I cannot remember how many years it is since a debate on housing was initiated by the Opposition, but the Labour party's housing record is appalling.

The latest ombudsman's report on local government says that much the single largest group of complaints related to housing, about which there were 5,037 complaints, of which 2,257 related to the management of council houses, 1,155 to council house repairs, 210 to the right-to-buy policy, 721 to housing benefit and 240 to housing grants; and that is just a selection. There are plenty more and I recommend hon. Members to read the pamphlet entitled "Choose Your Landlord", which I produced recently.

Previous speakers have outlined Labour's appalling record in London. Lambeth, Hackney and Southwark councils alone have cumulative rent arrears of some £70 million, and on the latest figures, vacant houses total 3,400. I was sorry that the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland), who was speaking when I came into the Chamber, but who is not in his place now, did not allow any interventions.

There are many more points to be made about Manchester's housing record. I recently received a letter from a former councillor, Ann Carroll, which drew my attention to incidents that occurred during her service in Manchester between 1987 and 1991. She served on a number of committees, including the housing committee. She mentions the actions of the Labour-controlled council which she says purposely kept council properties unoccupied for periods of up to one year and then moved in their own supporters, and…bought votes by allowing rent and rate arrears to become completely uncontrollable, as well as giving massive grants to minority groups and any left-wing organisations…After the hard left took control of the City, wards with Conservative Councillors were targeted. Council property was used as was the Council's nomination on housing association lettings…In 1990 rent and rate arrears were in the region of £30M with £2.6M written off from tenants who had moved. Hundreds of tenants owed up to 2 years' rent and whilst in arrears were allowed to move to larger premises.

Mr. Straw

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Thurnham

May I please finish the point that I was making? I shall then be glad to hear an intervention from the hon. Gentleman.

The letter continued: Amongst those in arrears were council employees and an illegal immigrant who was in receipt of a weekly grant from the council. There were approximately 6,000 empty council properties, yet homeless families were accommodated in bed and breakfast accommodation…The wards with the highest rate arrears were with Labour Councillors. I shall now be glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's intervention.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman has made a serious allegation about Manchester city council's policy. He has alleged that it maintained a designated sales policy. Was the issue referred to the district auditor? If so, what was the result?

Mr. Thurnham

The hon. Gentleman will know that a number of matters were referred to the auditor. I have here quotations from the Municipal Journal of 30 July this year, from The Daily Telegraph of 5 January 1991, from the Manchester Evening News of 16 November 1990 and from the Local Government Chronicle of 21 September 1990, all of which deal with Manchester city council's work.

The council had to order an independent inquiry into its housing accounts after a series of multi-million pound accounting mistakes was uncovered. A council report concealed the fact that there had been major subsidy miscalculations and accounting errors. In the past, Manchester city council had rented out one house for £25 a week while renting the neighbouring property for £296 a week. The tenant in the latter was entitled to full housing benefit.

The Manchester Evening News, which revealed the case, repeatedly asked the local authority to justify its actions but the council failed to respond to suggestions that it had been ripping off the Department of Social Security and, therefore, the taxpayer. The newspaper story was published less than two weeks after private landlords had been warned that they could be taken to court for overcharging poor tenants on benefit.

In 1990, the ombudsman issued 15 further reports against Manchester city council over unreasonable delays in dealing with right-to-buy applications that affected thousands of tenants. Ombudsman Patricia Thomas said that the council's actions fell a long way short of providing a satisfactory response to her findings that an injustice was caused by maladministration.

An apology on its own is not enough. Manchester decided not to follow Mrs. Thomas's suggestion that it should compensate tenants for the extra costs that they had incurred or scrap demands for payment of the discount. The council had caused delays of between 18 and 60 weeks on applications. That is not a record of which any Labour Member should be proud.

Bolton council, my own authority, has dragged its feet over the years on the right to buy. A former Labour spokesman on housing, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) who was my predecessor in Bolton, said that she would allow the right to buy only over her dead body, if I remember rightly. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) was clearly suffering from a severe attack of amnesia if he thought that there was common ground between the parties on the question of ownership, because that was clearly not the case at that time.

I was elected in 1983. Of a total of 100,000 houses in Bolton, 26,000 were council houses. After 10 years of the right-to-buy policy, which has been successfully applied in most parts of the country, the number of council houses in Bolton has been reduced to 23,000, a reduction of a mere 3,000. Bearing in mind the average number of council house sales elsewhere in the country, it is clear that Bolton should have sold at least a further 2,500, which would have benefited the council to the tune of £25 million. The council could have used the money to repay its debts or for investment elsewhere.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) was the author of the Labour party's latest housing document, but it states that the private rented sector badly needs a boost. One sees that that is only too true when one compares the privately rented sector in this country with that in other countries.

Of the countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, we have the lowest proportion of housing in the privately rented sector. In fact, our privately rented sector is less than half the average of the OECD countries. Let us consider the position of some of our competitors: West Germany's privately rented sector is four times the size of ours; and Switzerland, which has one of the highest standards of living, clearly has a much more successful housing policy than virtually any other country—its privately rented sector accounts for 56 per cent. of its housing; the private owner-occupied sector is 30 per cent., thus leaving a mere 14 per cent. as socially rented housing.

In the United States, 30 per cent. of property is privately rented, only 5 per cent. is socially rented and 65 per cent. is owner-occupied. In Japan, the privately rented sector accounts for 23 per cent., the socially rented sector for 15 per cent. and the privately owned sector for 62 per cent. It is only in this country that the socially rented sector is more than twice the size of the privately rented sector. There is clearly a major imbalance.

The Housing Act 1988 was described by Mr. Philip Gibbs, the president of the North West Landlords Association, as a brilliant piece of legislation. I have no doubt that it has changed the climate in which we can develop the private rented sector. [Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) is laughing about. Surveys of tenants' attitudes reveal that tenants are more satisfied in a privately rented house than in social housing because in the latter they are faced with complaints such as those mentioned by the ombudsman. I recommend the report to the hon. Gentleman.

The 1988 Act provided the foundation on which to build a larger privately rented sector. I should like existing legislation to be amended to enable council houses to be sold to private landlords. The Housing Act 1980 established secure tenancies which provided the model for the successful assured tenancies. Under the 1988 Act, a council house can be sold to a private landlord only if he is approved by the housing corporation. I see no need for such an approval.

Mr. Pike

The hon. Gentleman is speaking about the growth of the privately rented sector but does he accept that, as a large proportion of housing in that sector will also depend on housing benefit, it will also in effect be socially rented housing? Should he not therefore be very careful about the context in which he uses the term "socially rented"?

Mr. Thurnham

If the hon. Gentleman cares to wait, I shall deal with that issue. He makes a valid point and I hope to be able to answer him in due course.

I should like the legislation to be amended so that a council house can be sold to a private landlord and so that the tenant can have full choice about who that landlord should be without the landlord having to be approved by the housing corporation. If the tenant has chosen the landlord, what can be wrong with allowing him or her to go ahead? I should like an extension of the right-to-buy policy—one could call it right-to-buy round two—to allow a much larger sale of council houses.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) talked about the Institute of Housing for which he acts as parliamentary consultant. He mentioned the institute's interest in housing companies. I do not know whether I could go along with that, because I do not like such corporatist intervention in the housing market. I should prefer private landlords to take initiatives and make investments of their own accord rather than wholesale transfers.

The Institute of Housing has valued existing council housing stock at £40 billion or more. I think that that was a modest valuation but it shows the sort of sums that could be raised and which would go some way towards repaying the enormous debts of local authorities across the country. It could also provide a means for investment elsewhere.

If the Government are serious about promoting the private rented sector, I hope that they will extend the remit of the existing agencies—the priority estates project, or PEP, and the tenants participation advisory service, the TEPAS project—because both agencies do little or nothing to promote private rented housing. It is somewhere in their scope but I do not see it mentioned in any of the leaflets that they have produced. The Government should give those agenices a better remit than they have at the moment or introduce a new agency to carry out that function more effectively and to issue a code of good practice for landlords and tenants. A certain amount has already been done, but I would like it to be done more openly.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), who spoke very well during the debate, talked about the rent-a-room concession of £60 a week and called for it to be extended. I support that. In a parliamentary question which was answered today, I asked how many people benefit from the rent-a-room tax relief. I received the answer that information about the number of people who benefit from the scheme, introduced in the Finance Act 1992, is not yet available. I do not know when we shall obtain that information, but I hope that we can extend that concession to include a tenant under another roof and not only under the roof of the landlord himself.

A number of new tax benefits should be considered. We have seen the end of the business expansion scheme, but we could consider new extensions of it—son of BES. The firm of Johnson Fry, with Mr. Owen Inskip, has done an enormous amount to secure investment through the previous BES schemes. Many hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested—in fact, as much as £900 million has been invested through that route. The Government therefore need to consider new routes for continuing to attract investment into the market.

That is the argument that I would like to make in reply to the intervention by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). We need sufficient tax incentives to encourage new investment. That is what has happened in West Germany, where the private rented sector constitutes more than 40 per cent. of housing. The situation has been brought about by very strong tax incentives. Then it is possible for new housing to be built for rent without it having to be subsidised in other ways, through housing benefit, to the extent that it would have to be if it were done at full cost. That is the way in which I would like the market to develop —that is my answer to the hon. Gentleman—so that the whole load is not taken by housing benefit but by housing being built with every type of encouragement.

Those incentives should be focused on individuals to encourage them to invest. I do not think that we should expect pension funds in the City to do that. Why cannot people see their pension fund sitting there as a house? They can own their own house and then, as they develop any wealth, they can use that wealth to invest in a house for their own pension.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the thinking behind the Labour party's philosophy is that it wishes to retain municipal landlordism as an oasis of social deprivation and that in those ghettos they see political advantage, which is demonstrated in his arguments about Manchester?

Mr. Thurnham

My hon. Friend is right, and it has not done the Labour party any good. Tribune said after the 1992 general election: It would be wrong to blame the debacle of May 7"— the local government elections— entirely on that of April 9 the general election. In several of the councils where Labour did worst, it did not deserve to do any better, simply on the basis of its dire record in office…in many areas…Labour local government is lacklustre and incompetent. In a few it is simply corrupt and nepotistic". So it has done the Labour party no good and my hon. Friend is right.

I would like the private rented sector to develop through encouragement to private individuals to invest. I would like sales of rented property to be exempted to some degree from capital gains tax, perhaps one sale a year, because that is what is allowed for an owner-occupier. Capital allowances should be introduced in the way in which they are in other countries, at a rate of perhaps 3 per cent. a year, and then, through VAT and corporation tax and inheritance tax, reliefs could be given to reduce some of the distortions that now exist in the market.

The hon. Member for Burnley, who intervened, mentioned housing benefit. Of course it has soared and is projected to increase to £9 billion and perhaps more. The way in which the benefit has grown is unsatisfactory. We need to consider it in a different way, not just as a personal entitlement but as an area entitlement and localised. That has happened with care in the community.

It would give local authorities an opportunity, if they were competent, to bid to be the agency to administer housing benefit, hopefully in a better way than they administer it at the moment. It would be a local entitlement which could be viewed as a limited benefit instead of a totally unlimited benefit. One could then live in the real world instead of a world in which all those things are unlimited.

Ms Glenda Jackson

Is it ideal that an area has a fixed amount of housing benefit and if that runs out the residents will be shifted to another local authority which perhaps has some housing benefit left over?

Mr. Thurnham

I told the hon. Lady earlier that we have an area entitlement with care in the community. I do not think that she is proposing that elderly folk and other people who need care in the community should be moved round from one area to another.

Ms Jackson

But they are.

Mr. Thurnham

I do not think that it is any more relevant than that.

The amount of housing benefit that is provided in any case could be judged much more than on the merits and needs. At the moment there is no incentive for a tenant to economise on a house. If a tenant could live in a smaller and more economical house than he or she is in at he moment, there is no incentive to do so because 100 per cent. of the rent is paid. Provided that the house meets the requirements of the assessment officer as far as the value of the rent goes and it is not so grossly large that the tenant can be asked to move on that account alone, there is no incentive for him or her to move. I do not accept what the hon. Lady said.

Conservative policies are obviously the right policies. Right to buy is an exceedingly successsful policy. My hon. Friend the Housing Minister has been responsible for administering Conservative policy in an excellent and fair way. The new policies of compulsory competitive tendering and right to manage are excellent. Those will make great changes. Rents-into-mortgages is now taking effect. We have the strength of the 1988 Housing Act to build for the growth of the private rented sector. The new consultation document is just coming out. I am delighted at the proposals there that the private rented sector can provide housing for the homeless. That has already been pioneered by Derby city and Wandsworth and I am sure that it can be applied successfully elsewhere.

In conclusion, I hope that the Government will consider amending the 1980 and 1988 Acts to allow sales to private landlords and consider tax breaks to help the private rented sector to build new houses for rent.

8.47 pm
Mr. Greg Pope (Hyndburn)

Perhaps understandably, the debate has centred around public sector housing, but I want to mention some issues of concern regarding people who live in their own homes and who have been rather neglected, not just in the debate, but by the Government.

I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Litherland) say that he considered a decent home to be a basic human right. I endorse that. It is disappointing, if not surprising, that neither the Housing Minister nor any of the members of the Wandsworth and Westminster fan club who have spoken from the Government Back Benches has endorsed it. They will not endorse it, because in my constituency thousands upon thousands of people are being denied the basic right to a decent home.

The Minister spoke about the aspirations of people to own their own home. He said that about 80 per cent. of the population would like to own their own home. That proportion was achieved in my constituency many, many years ago. The culture of home ownership was entrenched in east Lancashire years before it became fashionable with the Conservative Government. Well over four out of five of the population in my constituency own their own home. Only one in eight lives in a council house, only one in 17 lives in the private rented sector, and only one in 33 lives in housing association properties. In short, we are the Government's dream of a home-owning democracy.

However, of the 33,000 houses in my constituency, 8,500 are unfit for people to live in, another 8,500 require serious renovation work, and another 500 lack even basic amenities. What was the Government's reaction to the crisis in the private sector in my constituency? They cut the money that the council could spend on mandatory grants and clearance from £3.5 million in the current financial year to less than £3 million next year—a cut of 14 or 15 per cent. If it were not for the tragedy of the people who have to live in those appalling houses, the figures would be a joke.

The estimated total cost of renovating the 17,000-plus sub-standard houses in my constituency is more than £210 million, yet the council will be allowed to spend less than £3 million next year. At the currrent rate of expenditure it would take more than 60 years to renovate and to deal with all the houses. Yet almost all the houses date from the 19th century, and many of them will not last another five years, let alone another 60 years.

The Housing Minister was kind enough to meet me and representatives of my local authority last year in Accrington to discuss the problems. As the House might expect, he was sympathetic, spoke kind words and was his usual urbane self. Unfortunately, his sympathy and kind words did not extend to ensuring that we got the year-on-year increase in resources that would prevent people in my constituency from having to live in unfit houses.

I wrote a letter last summer on behalf of a constituent of mine who lives in Great Harwood. She and her husband and children are living in appalling conditions; among the many other problems that they have to endure, the two children share a bedroom with no external window. There is no question but that the family is entitled to a mandatory grant, yet the council has hundreds upon hundreds of similar applications.

I wrote to the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Strathclyde, asking for his comments on the situation, and his reply was interesting: responsibility for the renovation grant system rests with local housing authorities…local authorities are under a statutory duty to provide mandatory grants… There is no provision which allows an authority to make the award of grant subject to the availability of resources, or to operate a waiting list for grant applications. The letter went on to say that if a council did so it would be open to legal challenge and could be referred to the local government ombudsman.

When he replies, perhaps the Minister will advise me and Hyndburn council which law he thinks the council should break. It has mandatory grant applications far in excess of the resources that the Government are prepared to make available to meet them. Should it pay the grants anyway, in contravention of the Finance Act, because it is under a statutory obligation to do so under housing legislation? If councillors did that, doubtless they would face surcharge. Or should the council accept that the Government have not allocated sufficient resources to the problem and defer the payments, in effect operating a waiting list? That is what the authority does. Whichever course of action the authority chooses, it will end up either in court or before the local government ombudsman.

That situation is not unique to Hyndburn; it is common across the whole of east Lancashire. In the boroughs of Blackburn, Pendle, Rossendale and Burnley local authorities are in exactly that situation. My local council is in some ways an excellent housing authority. It is innovative and works well with the private sector; it has declared housing renewal areas, in line with Government policy.

Housing renewal areas are intended to be the flagship of urban renewal, and were much trumpeted by the Government in the late 1980s, but in my view they are a complete con and a sham. They build up the expectations of people living in sub-standard and unfit housing that extra resources will follow, yet there are no extra resources. Councils cannot even clear unfit houses to provide space for new developments by the private sector or by housing associations because they have not got the money to do so. In my constituency it is estimated that over the next five years more than 600 houses will fall into dereliction because the council does not have the money either to do them up or to clear them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) will be aware of the plight of residents of Langho street in Blackburn, which was suffering from clearance blight when I was a member of the housing committee on Blackburn council. The local authority, desperate to clear the houses, does not have the resources to do so. Even if we could clear the houses and demolish them, where would we rehouse the people who live in them? There is a desperate shortage of decent low-cost housing in east Lancashire. There is virtually no private rented sector there, and the council house waiting lists are as long as your arm. Of course, there has been no council new build in my constituency for years. The Minister cannot even say that the local authority is inefficient, because the voids are less than 1.5 per cent. of council stock.

In Accrington, in the heart of my constituency, people are now sleeping rough on the streets. The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) is not in his place now, but earlier he suggested that people who sleep rough on the streets do so out of choice. I am sure that at 9 o'clock, when it is dark and getting cold outside, many young people, on the streets of Accrington are having a chat and deciding whether to stay at the Savoy or at the Ritz and finally, on balance, deciding to sleep in the bus station. Those are the people whom the Minister thinks should not have priority on the council waiting list, as he said in his nasty little speech to the Tory party conference—it is fair to say that he sank to the occasion.

Only a few years ago, in the early 1980s, at the beginning of the Government's time in office, it was completely unheard of for people to sleep rough on the streets in towns such as Accrington, Blackburn and Burnley. If it had not been for organisations such as Nightsafe, a charity dealing with young single homeless people in east Lancashire, the situation would be a lot worse. Only yesterday a new initiative started in Hyndburn called the Stable project—another night shelter for young single homeless people. It was started by church leaders, who were sick of having to step over kids sleeping in doorways in towns such as Accrington. What a damning indictment of 15 years of Tory housing policy.

Housing underpins everything else in society. If, as a society, we cannot even provide every person with a decent home and a roof over their heads, I do not know what we can provide. We are dealing with a Minister who, for the first time ever, has prevented local authorities from bidding for resources on the basis of housing need. From now on, local authorities are to bid, as does my local authority, on the basis of resources that are allocated in the current year. The current year's allocation forms the basis for the consequent year's allocation, rather than in previous years, when bids were made on the basis of what councils felt that they would need to spend.

The Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction caved in to the Treasury in advance of the spending round this year. He knows full well about the acute difficulties that my constituents face and he chooses to turn his back on them. We have a Housing Minister who cares more about cutting the public sector borrowing requirement than he cares about the 17,000 families in my constituency living in housing need, and it is time that he went.

8.58 pm
Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash)

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) as I, too, represent a constituency in which a high proportion of people own their own homes. I have heard all my hon. Friends talk about the importance of good-quality housing and it is because of that importance that there are such things as grants to assist people who own their own home and to assist them in renovating their home.

Having a similarly high proportion of home ownership in my constituency to that of the hon. Gentleman, contrary to him I find people come to my door and say that they want to carry on owning their own homes. Others say that their desire is to buy their own homes. The hon. Gentleman will find that he hears the same if he asks similar questions in his part of the country.

The issue of home ownership has not had as much airing in the debate as it should have had, because it is one of the great successes of the past 14 years and one of the many successes which my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) listed in his excellent speech. For many years, I was a member of a local authority and I was on its housing committee. When the right-to-buy legislation came in, every impediment possible was put in the way of people who wanted to buy their council properties. I was therefore astounded by the comments of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) when he spoke on that issue. In practice, Labour councils were thinking of every possible excuse to prevent people from legitimately purchasing their own home.

Mr. Winnick

The reason why the policy was adopted at the time and why we expressed concerns and reservations was that we knew that the Conservative Government would not allow new council building to replace those houses sold off. If the Government of the day had decided to allow new building, there would have been no reason to object. The Labour-controlled local authority in my area was selling off council accommodation, rightly so in the circumstances, long before the Conservative party took office.

Mrs. Knight

The houses that were sold off did not, somehow, go away from the housing stock; they did not disappear. They were sold to the people who were the tenants and would have stayed tenants anyway.

If the hon. Gentleman looks at some of the housing estates, he will see the massive transformation that has taken place. In the part of the country where I was born and brought up, there were large monolithic council housing estates which were drab and uniform. The people who lived there could not even paint their own door the colour that they wanted, let alone get repairs done. As soon as those properties were sold, and those tenants were able to purchase their own homes, they did the renovation that they wanted and they painted their doors and windows.

All of a sudden, one went back to those same estates and saw a transformation in streets and in squares. Great proportions of what was the old, municipal, dull, drab and gray housing stock in the north of England has become mixed housing. The improvements are fantastic, which I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomes.

Council house sales were opposed all the time. I was sorry to see that opposition. The opposition to that policy was not just in delays or in slow sales, but in such rotten practices as trying to pass over to those who purchased their properties a whole series of other costs which those home owners were then told that they would have to continue to pay year after year. That is the truth of what has happened and the Labour party's policies on right to buy and home ownership.

I recognise the importance of the public sector rented accommodation. During the years that I served on that council, and when I was a member of the housing committee in Sheffield, at any one time there were between 1,600 and 2,000 empty council properties. That was a disgraceful state of affairs. Whether it shows it in any list that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has or not, I do not know, but those were the circumstances that arose in that city for many years.

Mr Campbell-Savours

I wonder whether the hon. Lady would be courageous enough to do what the Minister failed to do and condemn the conduct of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) for buying through an intermediary the council house next door at a £50,000 discount? Does the hon. Lady have the courage to stand up and condemn her colleague?

Mrs. Knight

I will not condemn my colleague. He has made his own statement. However, does the hon. Gentleman have the courage to condemn a city council which retained between 1,600 and 2,000 empty properties? Those empty properties affected far more people than the circumstance that he described.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) referred to estate action and housing action trusts in a somewhat derogatory manner. It is a sad fact that one reason why those initiatives exist is that local authorities failed to fulfil their duty to the housing stock that they control. Instead of condemning those initiatives, one should visit estates which have benefited from estate action. Where housing action trusts have started—and are increasingly being voted for by the people who live in those properties—it is clear that a great change is taking place which will benefit the residents.

Housing association property has not received the airing in this debate that it deserves. Housing associations are contributing to the new build accommodation. However, it seems that Opposition Members consider housing association property to be second class. They seem to believe that councils should be the only providers of public sector accommodation. I do not accept that.

I represent an area which is away from the major cities. It comprises small towns and, as a result of that, housing associations are a relatively recent arrival in the area. They are doing an excellent job. They provide special accommodation which meets the needs of specific sections of the population. Those needs were not met particularly well by so many local authorities.

The future of local authorities and councils will involve them in being enablers and in determining their housing plans. There is an opportunity which I hope councils and all authorities will grasp at least in respect of the preparation of their district plans—that is taking place in every area of the country. Within those district plans, it is possible for a local authority to ensure that its housing plan involves a mixture of home ownership and public sector accommodation through housing associations. If that happens, we will get away from the estates in the part of the country where I have spent most of my life. We will return to a far better and more preferable mixture of housing which will also bring great social benefits.

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) referred to capital receipts. As I listened to him, I wondered seriously whether he had discussed the subject with his colleague the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman). The hon. Member for Blackburn seemed to disagree totally with the points made yesterday by his hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Blackburn referred to £5 billion of frozen capital receipts as though those receipts were locked up in a box hidden beneath a Treasury desk only to be brought out and, if he had his way, spent. He forgets that only a handful of local authorities are not in debt. The vast majority owe millions of pounds. As council house sales have occurred, a great proportion of that money has rightly been used to pay off such debts.

If one has a mortgage, as most of us have, and one sells the property, does one pay back the building society or double the debt when one buys another property? Of course one does not do the latter. If individuals and local authorities do not repay their debts, they will have to be paid by subsequent generations. It is misleading to talk about capital receipts as the hon. Member for Blackburn did. It would have been far more honest of him to say that he really wants to increase public expenditure by another £5 billion.

I should like more emphasis to be placed on private rented accommodation. My hon. Friends the Members for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) and for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) made valuable points about the growth of housing stock, the fact that it has grown faster than the population has grown over the past 15 years, and the need to ensure that some empty private housing is let. Far too many properties are empty—about 700,000 homes in the private sector. If only a relatively small proportion were rented to people on housing waiting lists, we would quickly resolve many problems.

There is a greater awareness of the need for housing in cities. In areas such as mine there is still housing need, and housing need and available properties do not coincide. Housing associations can now be involved in letting properties for private owners. I welcome that practice and I would like it to be extended. I would also like housing associations aggressively to sell their services. There is greater awareness of private sector rented accommodation in cities in which there are colleges and universities than there is in smaller areas such as mine, Erewash. In such areas, I would like housing associations more aggressively to approach private landlords to assist in renting accommodation.

I now refer to my right hon. Friend's proposals and consultations on homelessness. People come to my surgeries to talk about their housing problems. There is great concern—indeed, in some instances there is anger —at the way in which council accommodation is rented. There is grave concern in my constituency at the way in which the allocation system sometimes works. It is seen to work unfairly and against the prudent. In many instances, it is seen to work against families who have been helping themselves to the best of their ability. Often, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making his proposals.

When I was a councillor, a case was brought to me by the parents of a young man aged 16. That young man had left home. Without making any inquiries, the council housed him, while his parents were contacting the police and everybody they could think of to find out what had happened to their son. I felt then that that was disgraceful and that the authority should have checked first. That is the only specific incident that I wish to bring to my right hon. Friend's attention. From this case, however, spring a whole range of issues. It was the tip of the iceberg. The individual in question was given priority over many others on the list whose needs were in many ways much greater than his.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his initiative, which will be welcomed by everyone who thinks clearly about these matters. People who come to my constituency surgeries to express concern about the pressure on housing and who see themselves as never, be housed will regard this intiative as the best way forward.

9.15 pm
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

I do not intend, in the couple of minutes available to me, to go over ground that was covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) in his splendid contribution. Many of the problems that afflict Hyndburn afflict my constituency too, as well as Burnley and Blackburn. I want to say a few words about Westminster.

Eleven years ago, in 1983, the Conservatives, in their election manifesto, promised to make Britain the best-housed nation in Europe. I shall not mention the Conservative party's 1992 manifesto because it contains no promises—just aspirations. During yesterday's debate on the Finance Bill we learned about Conservative instincts. I should like to say a few words about what people in north-east Lancashire think about Conservative instincts. They were outraged when they learned that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) had arranged to purchase a council house next to his home in Westminster. The house was reported to be worth £300,000 and was occupied by a man of 78. The hon. Gentleman regarded the purchase as a long-term investment.

The staggering thing is that, this evening, the Minister responsible for housing could not bring himself to condemn that action; nor could the hon. Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight) condemn the manipulation of the system by a Conservative Member of Parliament. If that is not manipulation of the system, what is? The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) had the gall to say that people should act responsibly. Conservative Members have no right to tell people that they must act responsibly. People out there do not want to listen to such things from Conservative Members.

The outrage to which I have referred turned to blind anger when people in my area heard the auditor's provisional findings in the case of the homes-for-sale scandal in Westminster. This policy is noxious. I go further than the auditor, who merely described the actions of Dame Shirley Porter and the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) as disgraceful, wilful, unlawful, unauthorised and improper. The auditor said that what had been done was improper and disgraceful gerrymandering. I say that the Conservatives were just following their instincts. I had to listen to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) smearing the auditor. She said that he was a partner in Touche Ross, and she alleged that the four-year investigation had been strung out for the purpose of increasing his fees. What a preposterous allegation.

I should like to say something about contacts between Westminster council and councils in my area. Westminster council approached councils in north-east Lancashire. It offered councils in Burnley and Blackburn £400 a head to take homeless people from Westminster as part of the plan to make Westminster fit for Conservatives to live in. That is what it was all about. What the Conservatives have failed to do since 1983 is make Lancashire—in particular, north-east Lancashire—a decent place for people to live in. Our housing stock is crumbling. Even the Minister has said that we have a unique cocktail of problems. [Interruption.] There is no point in the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford) sniggering. We have a unique set of problems, which the Government have not addressed.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn said, we have amazingly high levels of owner-occupation—86 per cent. However, the housing stock is decrepit, falling to bits and collapsing around people's ears. The Government are doing nothing to rejuvenate that stock and to support local authorities in their quest to improve housing conditions for the people who live in their areas.

I hesitate, as I have had to junk 80 per cent. of my speech. Let me finish by saying that when it comes to the instincts of the Conservative party on housing, they stink. Conservative Members just could not bring it upon themselves to condemn the actions of Members of Parliament who use the system to featherbed their own positions. The idea that the Conservatives could preside over the best housing in Europe is nothing less than a sick joke.

9.20 pm
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

What is clear to everyone except the Government and the Minister is the sheer scale of the housing crisis which has been rejected by the Government. Britain is far from being able to claim to be "a well-housed nation". Every Conservative manifesto at the past three general elections has made that claim—it is far from the truth.

Why is it that everyone now, except the Government, accepts that this country faces an unprecedented and increasing housing crisis? The crisis affects people who face the extremities of homelessness on our streets, the people who are waiting for decent and appropriate housing conditions and the people who live in conditions of severe overcrowding. There is the pressure on families to split up, and on young parents who are imprisoned in high-rise blocks. There are pensioners without proper heating who are living in damp and cold homes, who now face VAT on fuel. That is the reality.

The speeches in the debate have highlighted the fact that there is a distinct difference of approach to housing between Labour's positive strategy for tackling the housing crisis and the Conservative Government's complacency and neglect. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) spoke of the need to address not the symptoms but the causes. He pointed out that there has been a loss of 2 million homes from the rented sector under the Government, and that that was one of the primary causes of the problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) spoke of how demand has outstripped supply, and of how Manchester city council has been deliberately starved of resources by the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) spelled out how the Government's policy of competition at a local level has turned people into winners and losers, and has pitted the badly housed against those who are housed in even worse conditions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) suggested that we ought to support co-operatives more positively. However, the Minister has undermined support for co-ops and has cut housing budgets for them. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) spoke of the actue shortages that people in desperate need are facing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) has carried on a sterling campaign to try to persuade the Government to do something about empty Ministry of Defence homes in his constituency. Yet the Government have done practically nothing about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) spelled out what was right at the heart of the Government's policy. Here is a Government who claim to support the private sector, but what did they do in the Budget last November when they were faced with the problem of bad conditions? They undermined the renovation grants which enable local authorities to tackle the problem.

As for Government Members, the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) called for a real free market in housing. She wanted the abolition of planning constraints and of the homeless persons legislation. "Let's get rid of all the distortions in the housing market," she said.

The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry)—the chairman of the all-party homelessness group—told us that there could not be a problem with homelessness because not many homeless people are writing to him. We then heard what was perhaps the most revealing remark of all from the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who said that he was previously the chairman of Wandsworth's —perhaps appropriately named—disposals committee. He said that the homeless people he meets on his way home are there of their own volition. May he stand condemned from his own mouth. That is the real Tory view shining through again: it is not the Government who are the problem; it is always the people who are to blame.

It is crystal clear that the Conservative party's policies still pull towards the notion of owner-occupation for everyone and leaving housing to the free market. In stark contrast, we argue for tackling the causes of the housing and homeless crisis. We campaigned for national policies and strategies that increase the number of desperately needed decent and affordable homes to rent. We demand that the Government call off their petty vendetta against local councils and allow them to play a positive role in housing provision.

Under each of the four Conservative Governments in recent years, housing investment has taken the brunt of Budget cuts. The amount spent on housing is down from 4.7 per cent. of gross domestic product in 1979 under Labour to a mere 1.5 per cent. In the Chancellor's November Budget last year the housing budget again was hammered. Little wonder that the amount of empty accommodation has increased by seven times under the Conservative Government. Little wonder that the number of homeless families has trebled since 1979. Yet the Government's Treasury press release on Budget day positively crowed that housing was a key area of "significant savings". That is what the Treasury had to say.

The Housing Corporation budget was cut by £313 million. As a result, it will approve between 10,000 and 13,000 fewer homes in the coming year. The Government and the Minister are pulling the plug on housing associations as the providers of affordable housing for rent. At a Budget stroke, local authorities have had £193 million, or 11 per cent., cut from their plans for capital investment next year. The reimposed restrictions on capital receipts will mean a loss of £500 million of housing investment resources next year. Yet yesterday the Government's own figures from the Department of the Environment pointed out that construction orders in housing for local authorities and housing associations showed a 13 per cent. drop—a further loss of another £500 million of housing investment.

Mr. Thomason

Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that the cost of construction has fallen, and that the cost of land acquisition has fallen, so that an equal amount of resources will now provide far more properties and a smaller amount of resources will provide the number that was originally anticipated? Does he accept that the position would be much better if Labour authorities collected rents?

Mr. Battle

If that is the case, why are local authorities not building more homes? Let the hon. Gentleman ask them why.

Who pays the price for the cuts in housing investment under the Conservative Government? The net result will be fewer homes built for rent, housing associations cut back, councils still not allowed to build and a further loss of construction jobs.

I remind the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) that in October last year, before the Budget, the Institute of Housing and the National Federation of Housing Associations warned the Government: Cutting the Housing Budget would be economic madness. Building homes is labour intensive, putting construction workers back to work, increasing tax receipts and reducing social security expenditure. Since 1990 480,000 construction workers have lost their jobs. Reducing the Housing Corporation's capital programme by £300 Million could mean that another 6,000 construction workers are made redundant and as many again in related industries. This would add an extra £100 Million on the PSBR in unemployment benefits". Now let the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and the Minister tell us about economic common sense. They are the ones who are economically inefficient. They fly in the face of common sense. The cuts go on regardless.

Tory housing policy all fits in with an age-old Tory obsession with tenure which came out during the debate today. The Tories believe solidly that our society should be divided according to whether one buys or rents. The Government are even skewing this year's housing programme to even more initiatives to promote home ownership. With 69 per cent. of the housing stock in owner-occupation, the imbalance in tenure in our society is proving unsustainable.

Why? Because there are insufficient homes to rent. There is an absolute and acute shortage of homes to rent. Even the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), in his pamphlet entitled, perhaps appropriately, "An End to Illusions", complained that in the 1980s easy credit enabled too many house buyers and owners to treat their house not as a shelter or a form of saving but as a speculative investment or store of wealth which they could raid at will.

Mr. Hendry

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) to produce a photocopy of a copyrighted pamphlet? Is he not in breach of copyright law? [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) was not out of order. If he had been, the Chair would have so ruled.

Mr. Battle

When I hear comments by Conservative Members, I sometimes think that the important message in this place should be, "Don't adjust your brain, there is a fault in reality."

I shall quote further from the pamphlet of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton. He said: But with more than two thirds of the housing market now under owner-occupied, the economic consequences of home ownership are becoming increasingly ambiguous We agree with him on that and so will at least 70,000 council leaseholders, primarily in London, who are unable to sell their bought council houses and face huge repair leases. They have been effectively abandoned by the Government, despite the efforts of my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith, for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Walsall, North. Despite their representations, the Government are still doing nothing.

In the Harry Simpson memorial lecture in May last year, the Prime Minister suggested that we should push home ownership up to 75 per cent. What are needed, however, are more homes for rent to combat the record level of repossessions—higher under this Government than ever before. The latest figures are higher than when the Prime Minister came to office.

The Government's response is to atempt to sustain the image of competence with a daily Department press release. They introduce piecemeal initiatives, acronymic schemes and competitions; they pit one estate against another for ever diminishing resources. The Government tinker, but they still weight the housing tenure structure further towards owner-occupation and buying. The Government give residents incentives, as long as they move out., That is hardly a long-term policy or a national housing strategy. It is a short-term substitution for a policy. The Government short-change residents and bring in short-term measures such as a housing market package one year and a capital receipts holiday for a year. They promise that their proposal will deliver nearly £2 billion, but when we consider the figures we find that it produces less than £1 billion.

The Minister was moved to decide what to do with the homeless figures. I get the impression that he is trying to do to the homeless what the Government have done already to the unemployed—turn them into disappeared persons by changing definitions, fiddling the figures, blaming the victims for their plight and pitting the desperately homeless against the poorly housed.

The proposals in the Minister's consultative document mark a fundamental move from the basic and fundamental right to a home. That right is not mentioned in the tenants charter. The Government are going to replace the duty on local authorities to ensure a permanent home with a limited duty to provide temporary accommodation. They will restrict even temporary emergency assistance to some homeless people. They are effectively shredding the so-called safety net. People will not be eligible for homeless assistance in Britain if there is a single notice for private let in a newsagent's window.

At the "Roof" debate, the Minister condemned families to a recurring cycle of temporary accommodation in shorthold assured tenancies. The message from the Government to parents with children is, "Live with grandma". People face a life of built-up disruption in schooling and health care as they are shunted from short-term temporary let to short-term temporary let. The Minister still gives succour to the policies of Westminster and Wandsworth councils. He gives the green light to local authorities to offload their homeless on other boroughs, turning them into internal exiles, wandering around their own country.

What about the document that referred to housing the homeless "anywhere in the region"? So much for the back to the value of basic communities in Britain. How can people feel secure if they can never settle in their own community? Rather than attack the cause of homelessness by building and repair, the Minister now plans to attack those on the homeless list.

We should not forget the hidden agenda. It was the Minister who came out with the most critical, moralising attack on single parents at the Conservative party conference on 7 October. He it was who referred to the unmarried teenager expecting her first probably unplanned child. It is tempting to ask the Minister how he knows that. Perhaps he and his hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), instead of holding constituency surgeries, as we all do, hold family planning advice sessions. Perhaps they give planned pregnancy advice such as that now on offer from the Government. The rest of us, councillors and Members of Parliament, know that queues of people at our surgeries are asking why there is a shortage of decent and affordable housing. They want to know why the council cannot help to provide them with accommodation because they have been repossessed. They want to know how long they must endure cold and damp conditions. Those conditions have been caused by the cuts in local authority investment income.

When the Minister was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—the last time that he was in charge of housing—he declared: too many people are living in bad conditions"—[Official Report, 13 March 1986; Vol. 93, c. 1128.] I must tell the Minister that those people are still there, because 137,000 local authority properties are still unfit for occupation and a further 213,000 require renovation and repair. What have his Government done about it? They have cut the budget year on year.

This is the Minister who has failed time and again to stand up to the Treasury. This is the Minister who has let the Chancellor cut spending on local authorities and housing. His Government have presided over a remarkable fall in the number of rented homes available.

The Tory party, which we all now know is the party of high taxes, is also the party of high rents. It has been the Government's policy for years to force up rents deliberately across all tenures to market levels. That has priced people out of their homes. Working people are unable to accept a new job because rents are too high. If they receive housing benefit, they will lose it if they take a low-paid job.

Local authority rents have been forced up this year by a national average of £36.63 a week. I must remind the Minister that housing association tenants are facing a 75 per cent. rent increase by 1996. That will be imposed because the amount collected must match the 27 per cent. drop in housing association grant to fit the Government's objective of a 55 per cent. grant by the year 1995–96. The average private sector rent registered in the second quarter of 1993 is £46.50 a week in London.

This is the Government who are still chasing the chimera of the free market. They should make that clear to the thousands of people who belong to the London Campaign for Fairer Rents, because every time they go before a rent assessment committee their rent is then pushed up even further. They are suffering because of the Government's pro-market rent policy. The Minister should try telling the thousands of people who are having to pay those high rents that the Government are operating a policy of fair rents. In practice, the housing benefit bill is going through the roof.

The Government cannot grasp the fact that a high rent policy cannot go with a high unemployment and low incomes policy. Private sector rents are now subsidised to the tune of £2,500 a year per housing benefit claimant. In the meantime, the Minister goes through his subtle sleight of hand. In his review of housing and homeless persons, the Minister claims five times that council housing is subsidised. He should check his own figures, because it is not. Council tenants are now contributing £66 million to the Treasury and the Exchequer.

Subtle sleights of hand are not new to the Minister. When I asked a parliamentary question on the figures for the new local authority bills, for some strange reason the answer I got now includes the housing association starts for Wales. We then asked the Minister about the Government's task force on empty homes. We are now told that it is called "the Government task force on empty houses". At a stroke—with a single word change—the Government have removed thousands of properties from the list.

Conservative Members have a nerve. They attack local authorities for having a mere 1.9 per cent. of their properties empty; how on earth can they justify the £1.75 million that it has cost the taxpayer to keep 145 Ministry of Defence houses in Braintree boarded up and empty since 1989? Meanwhile, there are 3,500 families on Braintree council's waiting list.

This is the Government whose review spells out the fact that they are at the fag end of burnt-out market policies. The review's comments about "lubricating the market" are dated now: this is the Government who cannot tell the difference between subsidy and investment. They are locked into short-term survival tactics, and cannot see beyond them.

There is now an acute shortage of homes for rent. Instead of irresponsibly blocking capital receipts, the Government should release the money that local authorities have received from council house sales. That would enable authorities to take building workers off the dole and introduce our policies for radical, flexible tenure so that people could remain in their homes. We ought to be finding new instruments for long-term investment in homes for rent.

Our policies are far-sighted, far-reaching and far removed from temporary market short-termism; but I suspect that long-term investment in our homes and futures will prove far too much to ask of this short-term Government. Under this Government, there is scant chance of bringing a decent home within the reach of every family. We could literally build ourselves out of the recession—and a Labour Government will do that.

9.41 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry)

The debate has clearly backfired on the Labour party. It has exposed a vacuum —the absence of any Labour housing policy ideas. If any hon. Member doubted that, he needed only to listen to the speech by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle). The hon. Gentleman spoke for 20 minutes, but, as Hansard will reveal tomorrow, his speech contained not a single new idea, thought or policy. It was a simple, straightforward rant from beginning to end, totally devoid of policy content.

It is always worth while examining Opposition motions. This motion goes from the blinkered to the confused. It is blinkered in that the reference to investment in the first line means only public-sector investment: that shows that, in Labour's view, only the state can provide. It is confused about the question of capital receipts. Before the last general election, Labour party officials said: You do not make new resources available by making new definitions. Today, that approach was dismissed by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) as "absurd Treasury dogma" —on the very same day that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), the shadow Chancellor, said on the radio: There is no commitment to spend money on anything. That shows total confusion.

This afternoon, Labour Member after Labour Member cried, "Spend more money; spend more money." It is clear that they were not up early enough this morning to hear what was said by the shadow Chancellor. We now have a "Jekyll and Hyde" Labour party, which advocates fiscal restraint in the morning and spending sprees for all in the evening.

Mr. Straw

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Baldry

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. Let me point out, however, that he spoke for 45 minutes, during which time he gave way only twice.

Mr. Straw

The Minister is wrong again. If he consults the Board, he will see that I spoke for less time than the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction. I spoke for 39 minutes, and I gave way about five times.

The Minister said that I called the Government's refusal to allow local authorities to spend their capital receipts "absurd dogma". I did indeed. What I want to know from the Minister is why, if it was right last year, under the Chancellorship of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), to unfreeze capital receipts, it is wrong this year? What is the answer to the question that the Minister of Housing dodged throughout his speech?

Mr. Baldry

Those are good diversionary tactics by the hon. Gentleman. Clearly, he should have but did not address the clear discrepancy between what he and other members of the shadow Cabinet said today.

Labour Members obviously were not up early enough to listen to the shadow Chancellor. Perhaps I ought to tell the House what he had to say. He said, These commitments, or so-called commitments, simply do not exist". That provoked the interviewer to question, But all were either made in Parliament or at a party conference". "Well," said the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) They just were not. There is no commitment about equalisation of the pension age at a certain age. There is no commitment to spend money on anything". "Well," said the interviewer, That was carried at the party conference by 59 per cent. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East replied: We will spend only what we can afford to spend. We will spend only when growth allows us to do and we will spend as resources allow". What weasel words and totally incapable of being reconciled with every Labour Member who has spoken today and demanded more public spending.

It is little surprise that the first newspaper that had the opportunity to comment on the words of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East since the programme was recorded wrote: This has to stop. Once again Gordon Brown has come up with the mantra beloved of Labour at the last election 'as resources allow'. In an interview on the 'Today' programme this morning, Mr. Brown expressed extreme crossness at being reminded of Labour's conference commitments to instance universal freee nursery education and pensions at 60 for men and women. 'It was preposterous', Mr. Brown said to his interviewer, 'to make out that these conference resolutions amounted to anything so vulgar as a spending commitment.' What Labour really meant was that, if the economy grew enough to generate sufficient money, a Labour Government would introduce all the desirable social measures that had been passed at the party conference. I know that Labour Members do not want to hear this, but they had better take it on board.

It is a difficulty that the Labour party has plenty of time to sort out before the next election and it had better start now. It is precisely where it came a cropper last time—the discrepancy between the party's spending ambitions and the amount of money likely to be available. Bridging the gap with "as resources allow" does not deceive anyone.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Baldry

In the motion, the Opposition maintain that their plans for spending could be met by a gradual relaxation of the restrictions on spending capital receipts. That stance was blown apart by a row between the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) before the last general election.

Speaking in a public debate in which my hon. Friend the housing Minister took part, the hon. Member for Hammersmith claimed that senior colleagues had agreed to alter the definition of the public sector borrowing requirement to accommodate the relaxation in the rules on spending capital receipts without that spending counting as public sector borrowing.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith had quickly to retract his comments, claiming that there had been a misunderstanding. The House can understand and contrast that confusion with the clarity and consistency of policies put forward by my hon. Friends in this debate.

We have heard some excellent speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford), for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), for Finchley (Mr. Booth), for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) and for Erewash (Mrs. Knight). All my hon. Friends together comprehensively mauled the Labour party and the past and present record of Labour-controlled local councils.

We set out clear Conservative principles: greater choice, diversity of tenure, better management of social housing and harnessing the energy and resources of the private sector. We are determined to bring a decent home within the reach of every family, through promoting home ownership, securing better value for money in the public sector, encouraging the private sector and targeting public spending towards those people and those areas that need it most.

The power to choose and the right to own are two of the most fundamental rights that an individual has in a free society. That is why Conservatives have been, are and will continue to be, committed to the growth of a property-owning democracy. Some 1.9 million households have bought their council houses since 1979.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Why will not the Minister give way?

Mr. Baldry

Because I have been left with 20 minutes. The hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who spoke from the Front Bench at the beginning of debate, spoke for nearly 40 minutes —more than 40 minutes—and gave way twice.

Some 1.9 million households have bought their council houses since 1979. That is good news for them and good news for local authorities, because right to buy raises receipts for local authorities. The capital receipts holiday last year is expected to yield to local authorities £1.3 million for spending on local authority housing—[Interruption.] It is no good the Opposition trying to shout me down. It reminds me of why I came into politics. which was because of the Trots at Sussex university. I am sure that the Labour party does not wish to give that impression.

If it had been left to the Opposition parties, there would have been no right to buy and no capital receipts. We have other initiatives such as do-it-yourself shared ownership and cash and tenant incentive schemes, which also help to release existing accommodation for reletting to those in housing need. Home ownership is not just a good thing for the home buyer. It can also free up existing social housing for the benefit of others who might be in greater need. For every house built for rent, three can be made available to families through cash incentives. Home ownership generally is being encouraged by continuing recovery in the housing market.

Mr. Camplbell-Savours

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Baldry

Total housing starts in the three months to November were up by 34 per cent. on the same period a year ago. The House-Builders Federation reports a nearly 20 per cent. year-on-year increase in site visits, and 23 per cent. year-on-year increases in reservations for buying new homes. The majority of house builders expect continued sales growth this year, which is not surprising, because mortgage rates are at their lowest since 1960.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the Minister give way on that subject?

Mr. Baldry

Low inflation and low interest rates mean that the affordability of homes for purchase is at its lowest for 15 years. That is good news for those who want to buy their own homes—

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. The Minister appears not to be giving way. Hon. Members must understand that and not persist.

Mr. Baldry

The Conservatives recognise that a considerable number of people either do not wish, or are not able, to own their own home. We want them to have the same standard and quality of housing as home owners. We want tenants to have more control over how their homes are managed. That is why we have introduced a tenants charter, an updated right to repair, a new right to improve, and launched initiatives such as estate action and housing action trusts, which give tenants a real say in the regeneration of their estates. We have spent more than £1 billion on housing estates since 1985 in more than 1,000 estate action schemes. It is public money and has levered in millions and millions of pounds of further investment from the private sector to the benefit of local tenants.

We have invested to improve the physical conditions of homes, improve security, reduce crime and involve tenants in the management of their housing. We have set up housing action trusts in Hull, Liverpool, Birmingham and London. Within all those initiatives, our objectives have been to ensure that a decent home can be within the reach of every family.

Who, a few years ago, would have believed that in Liverpool tenants in 67 tower blocks would have voted to transfer from local authority control to a housing action trust?

All the evidence suggests that our policies are working. The number of households accepted as homeless in 1992 was 2 per cent. less than in the previous year, the first fall recorded since the homelessness legislation was introduced in 1977, and the latest figures show that that downward trend is continuing.

There has been a reduction in the number of households accepted as homeless in the previous 12 months for the past six years and the number of households in bed-and-breakfast accommodation has increased dramatically by more than 40 per cent. in the last year.

Lettings, the currency that really matters to those in housing need, were more than 500,000 in social housing in 1992–93, a clear increase on our estimate of 473,000 in 1980. That is a substantial increase, notwithstanding right-to-buy sales. Sometimes Opposition Members like to argue that right-to-buy sales have decreased the housing stock. What is important is the number of lettings and that has increased substantially.

Our objective is to ensure that a decent home is within the reach of every family. Clearly, a considerable part of this debate has been devoted to access to social housing and to the recent consultation paper published by my right hon. Friend. That consultation paper seeks to ensure fair access to subsidised rented housing and measures to prevent homelesness and to increase the supply of affordable housing.

Mr. Battle

Once again the Minister has let slip a reference to subsidised council housing. Will he confirm that it is not subsidised? Tenants in Britain are paying £66 million to the Treasury. Why does he not tell the truth?

Mr. Baldry

That question simply demonstrates why the Opposition are totally unfit to govern. Not only do they not listen to the shadow Chancellor, they are totally incapable of working out that there is a £4 billion housing revenue account subsidy from the Treasury. If the hon. Gentleman cannot grasp that fact—£4 billion—the Opposition are unfit to govern, ever.

Local authorities will continue to have a duty to ensure that accommodation is available for those households in priority need who are homeless through no fault of their own. The present legislation ensures that those who are accepted as statutorily homeless receive priority treatment, creating a perverse incentive to come within the terms of the legislation and penalising those who show initiative and make housing arrangements for themselves while on the waiting list.

The law at present of course provides an essential safety net, but there should be a difference between a safety net and a short cut. The simple fact is that, whether a pregnant teenager, married or not, should have a priority for social housing over a couple who have been patiently waiting on the waiting list who also have children, the safety net will remain. But we are proposing a fairer and more effective system for meeting the housing needs of those who rely on rented housing to allow local authorities to make better use of their housing stock.

We want to see the best use of all our housing stock. We want to see and encourage a continued revival in the private rented sector to encourage responsible landlords to rent out their property. People still do want to rent. Landlords still do want to let property. Tenants want confidence that landlords will respect their side of the contract and landlords want to be confident that they will receive a fair return on their investment and their property returned at the end of the letting. That is why we have introduced shorthold tenancies and assured tenancies and those reforms, in encouraging a private sector revival, are working.

Residential letting agents recorded a 60 per cent. rise in new tenancies in 1991 alone; expansion directly attributable to our reforms. The rough sleepers initiative has led to a marked decline in the number of people sleeping rough in London—285 at the last count. It has provided nearly 3,500 beds in temporary and permanent accommodation for people sleeping rough in London. It is being extended for another three years and a further £86 million is being made available.

We are determined to continue to increase home ownership, to make better use of our existing housing stock and to concentrate help on areas and people in the greatest need. In our manifesto we set out a commitment to provide 153,000 new homes through housing associations in the first three years of this Parliament, and we shall beat that target. We are also determined to give families a greater say in the running of their estates and the management of their homes. Conservatives will—

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Quesiton be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

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

The House divided: Ayes 279, Noes 319.

Division No. 92] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Enright, Derek
Adams, Mrs Irene Etherington, Bill
Ainger, Nick Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Allen, Graham Fatchett, Derek
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Faulds, Andrew
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Armstrong, Hilary Flynn, Paul
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Ashton, Joe Foster, Don (Bath)
Austin-Walker, John Foulkes, George
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Fraser, John
Barnes, Harry Fyfe, Maria
Barron, Kevin Galloway, George
Battle, John Gapes, Mike
Bayley, Hugh Garrett, John
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret George, Bruce
Bell, Stuart Gerrard, Neil
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bennett, Andrew F. Godman, Dr Norman A.
Benton, Joe Godsiff, Roger
Bermingham, Gerald Golding, Mrs Llin
Berry, Dr. Roger Gordon, Mildred
Betts, Clive Gould, Bryan
Blair, Tony Graham, Thomas
Blunkett, David Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Boateng, Paul Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bradley, Keith Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Grocott, Bruce
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Gunnell, John
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Hain, Peter
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hall, Mike
Burden, Richard Hanson, David
Byers, Stephen Hardy, Peter
Caborn, Richard Harman, Ms Harriet
Callaghan, Jim Harvey, Nick
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Henderson, Doug
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Heppell, John
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Canavan, Dennis Hinchliffe, David
Cann, Jamie Hoey, Kate
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Chisholm, Malcolm Home Robertson, John
Clapham, Michael Hood, Jimmy
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hoon, Geoffrey
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Coffey, Ann Hoyle, Doug
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Connarty, Michael Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Corbett, Robin Hume, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Hutton, John
Cousins, Jim Ingram, Adam
Cryer, Bob Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Cummings, John Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jamieson, David
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Janner, Greville
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Dafis, Cynog Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Darling, Alistair Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Jowell, Tessa
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Denham, John Keen, Alan
Dewar, Donald Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Dixon, Don Khabra, Piara S.
Dobson, Frank Kilfoyle, Peter
Donohoe, Brian H. Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Dowd, Jim Kirkwood, Archy
Dunnachie, Jimmy Leighton, Ron
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Eagle, Ms Angela Lewis, Terry
Eastham, Ken Litherland, Robert
Livingstone, Ken Randall, Stuart
Lloyd, Tony (Stratford) Raynsford, Nick
Llwyd, Elfyn Redmond, Martin
Loyden, Eddie Reid, Dr John
Lynne, Ms Liz Rendel, David
McAllion, John Richardson, Jo
McAvoy, Thomas Robertson, George (Hamilton)
McCartney, Ian Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
McCrea, Rev William Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Macdonald, Calum Rogers, Allan
McFall, John Rooker, Jeff
McKelvey, William Rooney, Terry
Mackinlay, Andrew Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McLeish, Henry Rowlands, Ted
Maclennan, Robert Ruddock, Joan
McMaster, Gordon Sedgemore, Brian
McNamara, Kevin Sheerman, Barry
McWilliam, John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Madden, Max Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Maddock, Mrs Diana Short, Clare
Mahon, Alice Simpson, Alan
Mandelson, Peter Skinner, Dennis
Marek, Dr John Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Martlew, Eric Snape, Peter
Maxton, John Soley, Clive
Meacher, Michael Spearing, Nigel
Meale, Alan Spellar, John
Michael, Alun Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Steinberg, Gerry
Milburn, Alan Stevenson, George
Miller, Andrew Stott, Roger
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Strang, Dr. Gavin
Moonie, Dr Lewis Straw, Jack
Morgan, Rhodri Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morley, Elliot Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Tipping, Paddy
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Turner, Dennis
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Tyler, Paul
Mowlam, Marjorie Vaz, Keith
Mudie, George Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Mullin, Chris Wallace, James
Murphy, Paul Walley, Joan
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Wareing, Robert N
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Watson, Mike
Olner, William Welsh, Andrew
O'Neill, Martin Wicks, Malcolm
Parry, Robert Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Patchett, Terry Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Pendry, Tom Wilson, Brian
Pickthall, Colin Winnick, David
Pike, Peter L. Wise, Audrey
Pope, Greg Worthington, Tony
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Wray, Jimmy
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Wright, Dr Tony
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Prescott, John
Primarolo, Dawn Tellers for the Ayes:
Purchase, Ken Mr. Jack Thompson and Mr. Eric Illsley.
Quin, Ms Joyce
Radice, Giles
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Aitken, Jonathan Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Alexander, Richard Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Baldry, Tony
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Amess, David Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Ancram, Michael Bates, Michael
Arbuthnot, James Batiste, Spencer
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bellingham, Henry
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Bendall, Vivian
Ashby, David Beresford, Sir Paul
Aspinwall, Jack Biffen, Rt Hon John
Atkins, Robert Blackburn, Dr John G.
Body, Sir Richard Fry, Sir Peter
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Gale, Roger
Booth, Hartley Gallie, Phil
Boswell, Tim Gardiner, Sir George
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Garnier, Edward
Bowden, Andrew Gill, Christopher
Bowis, John Gillan, Cheryl
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Brandreth, Gyles Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brazier, Julian Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bright, Graham Gorst, John
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Burns, Simon Grylls, Sir Michael
Burt, Alistair Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Butcher, John Hague, William
Butler, Peter Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Butterfill, John Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hampson, Dr Keith
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hanley, Jeremy
Carrington, Matthew Hannam, Sir John
Carttiss, Michael Hargreaves, Andrew
Cash, William Harris, David
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Haselhurst, Alan
Churchill, Mr Hawkins, Nick
Clappison, James Hawksley, Warren
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hayes, Jerry
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Heald, Oliver
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Heathcoat-Amory, David
Coe, Sebastian Hendry, Charles
Colvin, Michael Hicks, Robert
Congdon, David Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Conway, Derek Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Horam, John
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Cormack, Patrick Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Couchman, James Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Cran, James Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Day, Stephen Hunter, Andrew
Deva, Nirj Joseph Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Devlin, Tim Jack, Michael
Dicks, Terry Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Dorrell, Stephen Jenkin, Bernard
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jessel, Toby
Dover, Den Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Duncan, Alan Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Duncan-Smith, Iain Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Dunn, Bob Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Durant, Sir Anthony Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dykes, Hugh Key, Robert
Eggar, Tim Kilfedder, Sir James
Elletson, Harold King, Rt Hon Tom
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Kirkhope, Timothy
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Knapman, Roger
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Evennett, David Knox, Sir David
Faber, David Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Fabricant, Michael Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Fishburn, Dudley Legg, Barry
Forman, Nigel Leigh, Edward
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Forth, Eric Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Lidington, David
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Luff, Peter
French, Douglas Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Shersby, Michael
MacKay, Andrew Sims, Roger
Maclean, David Skeet, Sir Trevor
McLoughlin, Patrick Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Soames, Nicholas
Madel, Sir David Speed, Sir Keith
Maitland, Lady Olga Spencer, Sir Derek
Malone, Gerald Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Mans, Keith Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marlow, Tony Spink, Dr Robert
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Spring, Richard
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Sproat, Iain
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Mates, Michael Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Steen, Anthony
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Stephen, Michael
Mellor, Rt Hon David Stern, Michael
Merchant, Piers Stewart, Allan
Milligan, Stephen Streeter, Gary
Mills, Iain Sumberg, David
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Sweeney, Walter
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Sykes, John
Moate, Sir Roger Tapsell, Sir Peter
Monro, Sir Hector Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Moss, Malcolm Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Needham, Richard Temple-Morris, Peter
Nelson, Anthony Thomason, Roy
Neubert, Sir Michael Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nicholls, Patrick Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Thurnham, Peter
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Norris, Steve Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Tracey, Richard
Oppenheim, Phillip Tredinnick, David
Ottaway, Richard Trend, Michael
Page, Richard Trotter, Neville
Paice, James Twinn, Dr Ian
Patnick, Irvine Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Patten, Rt Hon John Viggers, Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Pawsey, James Walden, George
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Pickles, Eric Waller, Gary
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Ward, John
Porter, David (Waveney) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Waterson, Nigel
Powell, William (Corby) Watts, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John Wells, Bowen
Ronton, Rt Hon Tim Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Richards, Rod Whitney, Ray
Riddick, Graham Whittingdale, John
Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm Widdecombe, Ann
Robathan, Andrew Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Wilkinson, John
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Willetts, David
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Wilshire, David
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Wolfson, Mark
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Wood, Timothy
Sackville, Tom Yeo, Tim
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Shaw, David (Dover) Tellers for the Noes:
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 316, Noes 275.

Division No. 93] [10.17 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Dover, Den
Aitken, Jonathan Duncan, Alan
Alexander, Richard Duncan-Smith, Iain
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Dunn, Bob
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Durant, Sir Anthony
Amess, David Eggar, Tim
Ancram, Michael Elletson, Harold
Arbuthnot, James Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Ashby, David Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Aspinwall, Jack Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Atkins, Robert Evennett, David
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Faber, David
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Fabricant, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Baldry, Tony Fenner, Dame Peggy
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bates, Michael Fishburn, Dudley
Batiste, Spencer Forman, Nigel
Bellingham, Henry Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bendall, Vivian Forth, Eric
Beresford, Sir Paul Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Body, Sir Richard Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas French, Douglas
Booth, Hartley Fry, Sir Peter
Boswell, Tim Gale, Roger
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Gallie, Phil
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Gardiner, Sir George
Bowden, Andrew Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Bowis, John Garnier, Edward
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Gill, Christopher
Brandreth, Gyles Gillan, Cheryl
Brazier, Julian Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Bright, Graham Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Gorst, John
Browning, Mrs. Angela Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Burns, Simon Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Burt, Alistair Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Butcher, John Grylls, Sir Michael
Butler, Peter Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Butterfill, John Hague, William
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carrington, Matthew Hampson, Dr Keith
Carttiss, Michael Hanley, Jeremy
Cash, William Hannam, Sir John
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hargreaves, Andrew
Churchill, Mr Harris, David
Clappison, James Haselhurst, Alan
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hawkins, Nick
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Hawksley, Warren
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hayes, Jerry
Coe, Sebastian Heald, Oliver
Colvin, Michael Heathcoat-Amory, David
Congdon, David Hendry, Charles
Conway, Derek Hicks, Robert
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Cormack, Patrick Horam, John
Couchman, James Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cran, James Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Day, Stephen Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Hunter, Andrew
Devlin, Tim Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Dicks, Terry Jack, Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jenkin, Bernard
Jessel, Toby Richards, Rod
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Riddick, Graham
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Robathan, Andrew
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Key, Robert Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Kilfedder, Sir James Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
King, Rt Hon Tom Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Kirkhope, Timothy Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Knapman, Roger Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Sackville, Tom
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Knox, Sir David Shaw, David (Dover)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Shersby, Michael
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Sims, Roger
Legg, Barry Skeet, Sir Trevor
Leigh, Edward Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Soames, Nicholas
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Speed, Sir Keith
Lidington, David Spencer, Sir Derek
Lightbown, David Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham) Spink, Dr Robert
Luff, Peter Spring, Richard
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Sproat, Iain
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
MacKay, Andrew Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Maclean, David Steen, Anthony
McLoughlin, Patrick Stephen, Michael
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Stern, Michael
Madel, Sir David Stewart, Allan
Maitland, Lady Olga Streeter, Gary
Malone, Gerald Sumberg, David
Mans, Keith Sweeney, Walter
Marlow, Tony Sykes, John
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Mates, Michael Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Temple-Morris, Peter
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Thomason, Roy
Mellor, Rt Hon David Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Merchant, Piers Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Milligan, Stephen Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Mills, Iain Thurnham, Peter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Moate, Sir Roger Tracey, Richard
Monro, Sir Hector Tredinnick, David
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Trend, Michael
Moss, Malcolm Trotter, Neville
Needham, Richard Twinn, Dr Ian
Nelson, Anthony Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Neubert, Sir Michael Viggers, Peter
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Nicholls, Patrick Walden, George
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Waller, Gary
Norris, Steve Ward, John
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Oppenheim, Phillip Waterson, Nigel
Ottaway, Richard Watts, John
Page, Richard Wells, Bowen
Paice, James Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Patten, Rt Hon John Whitney, Ray
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Whittingdale, John
Pawsey, James Widdecombe, Ann
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Pickles, Eric Wilkinson, John
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Willetts, David
Porter, David (Waveney) Wilshire, David
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Powell, William (Corby) Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Redwood, Rt Hon John Wolfson, Mark
Ronton, Rt Hon Tim Wood, Timothy
Yeo, Tim Tellers for the Ayes:
Young, Rt Hon Sir George Mr. Sydney Chapman and Mr. Irvine Patnick.
Abbott, Ms Diane Eastham, Ken
Adams, Mrs Irene Enright, Derek
Ainger, Nick Etherington, Bill
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Evans, John (St Helens N)
Allen, Graham Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Fatchett, Derek
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Faulds, Andrew
Armstrong, Hilary Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Flynn, Paul
Ashton, Joe Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Austin-Walker, John Foster, Don (Bath)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Foulkes, George
Barnes, Harry Fraser, John
Barron, Kevin Fyfe, Maria
Battle, John Galloway, George
Bayley, Hugh Gapes, Mike
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Garrett, John
Bell, Stuart George, Bruce
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Gerrard, Neil
Bennett, Andrew F. Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Benton, Joe Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bermingham, Gerald Godsiff, Roger
Berry, Dr. Roger Golding, Mrs Llin
Betts, Clive Gordon, Mildred
Blair, Tony Graham, Thomas
Blunkett, David Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Boateng, Paul Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bradley, Keith Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Grocott, Bruce
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Gunnell, John
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Hain, Peter
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hall, Mike
Burden, Richard Hanson, David
Byers, Stephen Hardy, Peter
Caborn, Richard Harman, Ms Harriet
Callaghan, Jim Harvey, Nick
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Henderson, Doug
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Heppell, John
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Canavan, Dennis Hinchliffe, David
Cann, Jamie Hoey, Kate
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Chisholm, Malcolm Home Robertson, John
Clapham, Michael Hood, Jimmy
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hoon, Geoffrey
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Coffey, Ann Hoyle, Doug
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Connarty, Michael Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hume, John
Cousins, Jim Hutton, John
Cryer, Bob Ingram, Adam
Cummings, John Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Jamieson, David
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Janner, Greville
Dafis, Cynog Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Denham, John Jowell, Tessa
Dewar, Donald Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Dixon, Don Keen, Alan
Dobson, Frank Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Donohoe, Brian H. Khabra, Piara S.
Dowd, Jim Kilfoyle, Peter
Dunnachie, Jimmy Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kirkwood, Archy
Eagle, Ms Angela Leighton, Ron
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Mowlam, Marjorie
Lewis, Terry Mudie, George
Litherland, Robert Mullin, Chris
Livingstone, Ken Murphy, Paul
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Loyden, Eddie O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Lynne, Ms Liz O'Brien, William (Normanton)
McAllion, John Olner, William
McAvoy, Thomas O'Neill, Martin
McCartney, Ian Parry, Robert
McCrea, Rev William Patchett, Terry
Macdonald, Calum Pendry, Tom
McFall, John Pickthall, Colin
McKelvey, William Pike, Peter L.
Mackinlay, Andrew Pope, Greg
McLeish, Henry Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Maclennan, Robert Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
McMaster, Gordon Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
McNamara, Kevin Prescott, John
McWilliam, John Primarolo, Dawn
Madden, Max Purchase, Ken
Maddock, Mrs Diana Quin, Ms Joyce
Mahon, Alice Radice, Giles
Mandelson, Peter Randall, Stuart
Marek, Dr John Raynsford, Nick
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Redmond, Martin
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Reid, Dr John
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn Rendel, David
Martlew, Eric Richardson, Jo
Maxton, John Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Meacher, Michael Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Meale, Alan Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Michael, Alun Rogers, Allan
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Rooker, Jeff
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Rooney, Terry
Milburn, Alan Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Miller, Andrew Rowlands, Ted
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Ruddock, Joan
Moonie, Dr Lewis Sedgemore, Brian
Morgan, Rhodri Sheerman, Barry
Morley, Elliot Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Short, Clare
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Dennis Vaz, Keith
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury) Wallace, James
Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E) Walley, Joan
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Snape, Peter Wareing, Robert N
Soley, Clive Watson, Mike
Spearing, Nigel Wicks, Malcolm
Spellar, John Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David Wilson, Brian
Steinberg, Gerry Winnick, David
Stevenson, George Wise, Audrey
Stott, Roger Worthington, Tony
Strang, Dr. Gavin Wray, Jimmy
Straw, Jack Young, David (Bolton SE)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Tellers for the Noes:
Tipping, Paddy Mr. Jack Thompson and Mr. Eric Illsley.
Turner, Dennis
Tyler, Paul

Question accordingly agreed to.

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

Resolved, That this House welcomes the fact that the Government is set to surpass its manifesto commitment to produce 153,000 homes in the first three years of this Parliament by 25,000; notes with approval the reduction in the number of families accepted as statutory homeless and temporarily housed in bed and breakfast accommodation; notes that the size of the nation's housing stock has grown faster than population growth over the last 15 years and its quality has improved and that the mortgage rate is now at its lowest since the 1960s as a result of the Government's economic policies; commends the Government's policies to secure decent housing for those in need, to provide a safety net for vulnerable people faced with losing their home and to provide more opportunities for home ownership; and calls on Her Majesty's Opposition to condemn the actions of those Labour-controlled councils who wasted taxpayers' money through mismanagement of their housing stock, failure to collect rents and the imposition of high council taxes.