HC Deb 29 June 1994 vol 245 cc820-918
Madam Speaker

I must first tell the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. Secondly, because of the interest in the debate, I have had to limit speeches to 10 minutes between 6 pm and 8 pm.

3.54 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I beg to move, That this House condemns the failure of the Government's housing and urban policies for England; notes that they have too frequently been characterised by contradictory objectives and doctrinaire solutions which have resulted in cuts in main programmes more than cancelling out the benefits of specifically targeted funds, the waste of millions of pounds as those in need are forced into the private sector at higher cost and in worse conditions than could have been available in local authority houses, the undermining of voluntary action and community identity, the reinforcement of a dependency culture and of unbalanced communities as rents are forced up and economically active people are trapped on benefit, unacceptable levels of homelessness, houses in disrepair, and mortgage arrears and repossession; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to abandon its ideological blinkers, to develop a new partnership with local authorities, the private sector and community groups, to allow the phased release of capital receipts, and to secure effective co-ordination of all Government main and specific programmes so as to improve England's urban communities, and the affordability and availability of housing across the country. Last week, the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction published a major report on the impact of urban policy. There was no fanfare for its publication, no stage-managed press conference and no glossy summary of the kind so often adopted by Ministers. In their place, there was just a planted parliamentary question which gave no insight into the report's findings or conclusions, but instead sought to claim that the report's recommendations had been addressed by the "major reforms" that the Secretary of State for the Environment had announced to the House in November 1993.

The report does not even have the customary statement of introduction giving such basic details as when the report was commissioned, when it was first delivered to Ministers and how many months it had taken Ministers to decide what to do with it. We know the reasons why. The party of open government received the report more than 18 months ago and since that time, because of the embarrassment of its conclusions, Ministers have been working out what to do with it and how to ensure that it never saw the light of day. When the Minister replies, perhaps he will explain why the report was delayed.

The Minister might explain something else as well—the extraordinary choice, perhaps the Freudian choice, of photographs on the front page. The first photograph shows a waterside development. The other photograph is extraordinary and revealing: it shows the inside of a betting shop. Nothing more symbolises the Government's lottery and casino policy. Of all the pictures to select to characterise and symbolise inner-city policy, the Government chose a picture of the inside of a betting shop.

We should not be surprised by the delay and by Ministers' attempts to suppress the report. Nor should we be surprised by the deliberate and selective leaking of parts of the report, such as the article in The Independent, under the headline £10 billion wasted on failed inner city policy. The leaks were designed to give an impression different from the conclusions of the report.

The report is the single most thorough and comprehensive study of urban policy ever undertaken. Far from telling Ministers and Conservative central office what they wanted to hear, it blows apart the doctrinaire, market-driven ideology of the Conservative party. It exposes the short-term incoherence of much of the Government's approach and it shows the importance of sensible public spending in building the economic and social base of urban areas. It highlights the neglected but vital role that local elected councillors have to play.

The report first addresses the issue of coherence and of whether there has been any consistent strategy which has linked, in some logical way, the myriad programmes, initiatives, gimmicks, wheezes and, yes, pilot projects—which we heard about in Question Time—which have characterised urban policy and Ministers' key public spending decisions in main programmes. The report says: There is widespread evidence that policy has lacked the coherence that could have come through a more strategic approach to regeneration…There has been a shifting target, a shifting set of priorities and a growing and fluctuating set of policies to tackle urban problems. It can say that again.

Perhaps most disturbing of all to the dogmatists of the Conservative party, the report wholly rubbishes the view that spending billions of pounds of public money, such as the £2 billion spent in docklands on putting up vast office blocks like Canary wharf, would lead to benefits trickling down to local people, as bankers had their cars valeted by hoi polloi and bought their fags in the local sweet shop.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall give way in a moment.

The report says: Our work reinforces the view that 'trickle down' has not generally been very effective".

Mr. Riddick

If urban renewal in inner cities is so important, will the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why there is no mention of it in the document "Change and National Renewal"? Perhaps while he is about it, and because he is the campaign manager, could he explain why we have not heard one solitary word spoken in the House of Commons over the past six weeks by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman can always be relied on to ask the most absurd questions. [Interruption.] As soon as the Government bring forward the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill from the wreckage which has been heaped on both of them in the House of Lords, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield will have a great deal to say in this House, as he has outside.

Let me continue to deal with the report's conclusions because I know that the reason why Conservative Members have sought to suppress it and the reason why they are now asking irrelevant questions about it is that they do not want to hear what the report says about their policies.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall give way in moment to the hon. Gentleman.

The report shows that there is no coherence in Government policy—a dogma which has not been delivered. There are, however, some areas of this Administration's record which have, of course, been consistent. First, there has been a consistent belief that public spending almost automatically crowds out other economic activity. Secondly, there has been a profound, coruscating hostility to local government which has got worse as the Conservatives' local government base has shrunk. Both those beliefs are seriously challenged by the report.

The report also shows that, generally, additional public spending has acted positively to bring down unemployment and to improve economic activity and socio-economic conditions.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I want to deal with this section of the report first and then, of course, I shall take interventions from both hon. Gentlemen.

There were, the report says, positive relationships between public spending and employment, economic activity and socio-economic conditions. It says: public resources appear to have made an impact on turning around aspects both of the economic and residential distress in urban areas". However, the authors go on to seek to explain how, in the most deprived areas, especially in conurbation cores and areas of high unemployment, policy has not been able to make significant inroads into socio-economic problems. Why? The answer that the report's authors give is very simple and it confirms what Labour has said for so long: Most local authorities have experienced real or relative reductions in both HIP and RSG finance during the decade.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I have already said that I shall give way to the hon. Members for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) and for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) in a moment.

The report continues: allowing for inflation, RSG and HIP declined by over one third between 1979–80 and 1989–90 in five authorities of Tyne and Wear". The experience of other areas, I may add, has been exactly the same. The report concludes: The recurring complaints of financial 'cuts' by many of the big cities are therefore difficult to refute".

Mr. Richards

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because he is obviously very nervous. Would the—[Interruption.] Would the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is not a sponsor of the motion on which he is speaking? Is it because the hon. Member for Sedgefield does not support the motion, or is it because the hon. Member for Sedgefield does not have a view on this issue, any more than he has a view on any other important issue? Is not it yet another example of more blur from Blair?

Mr. Straw

As a distinguished former chairman of the Conservative party said to me the other day, the quality of researchers in Conservative central office is now very poor and the quality of its mouthpieces in the House is even poorer. We have just had a good example of that. You know, Madam Speaker, as we know, that there are three hon. Members—

Mr. Heald


Mr. Straw

I have given two hon. Members chances and I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman now, unless hon. Members can promise that they will address themselves to the report. Madam Speaker has already made it clear that there is a great deal of interest in the report among hon. Members on both sides—perhaps—of the House who have something serious to say. Three of my hon. Friends wish to make their maiden speeches and I do not want their time wasted by numerous interventions from Conservative Members.

Mr. Heald

The hon. Gentleman is arguing that investment has declined and that that is wrong. Is he making a commitment, on behalf of his party, that there would be higher public spending under Labour? If so, how much? Where is the beef? It is all very well to criticise, but we need to know what he would do.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman makes a good intervention. I commend him for working it out himself, rather than relying on the central office brief. I shall answer his questions during my speech. We are concerned about using resources which are already there and using existing public spending in a different and better way. If the hon. Gentleman stays where he is, all will be revealed.

I said that the report confirmed our view about the role of public spending. It also deals with our belief about the importance of local authorities. Over the past 15 years, more than 144 separate Acts of Parliament have been passed, each one further removing the powers of competence of local authorities. The report records the widespread view of the experts whom its authors interviewed that much of government policy had reduced the capacity of local authorities to be successful partners in a variety of ways". It went on to lament that a major loss of autonomy was in the area of capital controls, in particular the restriction in the use of capital receipts from council house sales". Fifteen years ago, the Conservative party controlled more than half the London boroughs, many of the metropolitan boroughs and by far the largest number of shire districts, including large towns and cities. But as electors have increasingly rejected the Conservatives as a party that could be trusted to run our towns and city halls, Conservative central government has become less and less attached to the realities of urban government and increasingly has had to act like a colonial administration, imposing its will and bypassing those with a local democratic mandate.

It is that which lies at the root of the incoherence of Government urban policy which is so amply spelt out in the report—that and a continuing arrogance that Ministers always know best. What they should have done instead is to listen first, accept advice and then act; and that—partly to answer the question of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North—is exactly what the Labour party is doing. Under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), a full-scale inquiry into urban policy, City 2020, is currently under way. My hon. Friend will speak later in more detail on urban policy.

We have been following much the same approach with regard to housing policy with a major nationwide inquiry, Secure Homes 2000, which is being chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle). In stark contrast to the sham consultation of the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction in his review of homeless policy, our inquiry is listening to what people have to say before reaching conclusions.

I shall revert to the report. To all its criticisms, the Minister says that the recommendations "have been addressed", not least by the introduction of a single regeneration budget and the establishment of single regional government offices. We hope that those new arrangements work. However, we have serious misgivings about the way in which the single regeneration budget may operate. I have four points to make on that.

First, the basic schism between the Department of the Environment and the Department of Trade and Industry has not been resolved; rather, it is bound into the bidding guidance itself. Secondly, there is a lack of clear criteria which has attracted a multiplicity of bids. I understand that there are 75 bids in the north-west alone. How will they be handled? Thirdly, there is no evidence of a change of approach from the Government, so we have the absurd situation where elected local councils must compete in the bidding process with unelected, unaccountable and often self-appointed quangos and agencies.

Lastly, there is the question of cash. The simple truth is that the single regeneration budget masks a reduction in the resources available to urban areas. According to the annual report of the Department of the Environment, the amount of resources will drop by more than £100 million between this year and 1996–97. The new arrangements will not inspire confidence if they are simply a smokescreen for further cuts. Indeed, there is so little free new money that the 75 bids in the north-west are fighting this year for a share of a paltry £13 million to £14 million of new money.

One of the many problems which the authors of the report faced was to discern the real objectives of the Government's urban policy. How people are housed, in what conditions and at what price is central to the health of all communities, urban, suburban, and rural.

Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

Yet the authors would have had a similar difficulty in defining the objectives of Government housing policy, as they did on urban policy overall.

The objective of housing policy for any Government from whatever party should be to ensure that everyone has the choice of a decent home at a reasonable price. There should be a real choice of tenure, and in conditions which encourage labour mobility and avoid benefit dependency at the lowest sensible cost to the public purse. Against those tests, the Government's policies have plainly failed.

Yes, more people are now owner-occupiers than was the case 15 years ago. To the extent that that has occurred as a result of free choice by people, it is to be welcomed. But we all know that, for many, that has not been the case. The organised collapse of local authority housebuilding and the institution of a policy of high rents have meant that many thousands of people have been forced to buy and are now trapped in homes which are worth much less than they paid for them and which they cannot in practice sell. Thousands more face mounting arrears and the prospect of repossession.

Mr. Oppenheim

Does the hon. Gentleman think that local authorities should be able to spend more or all of their capital receipts? If the answer is yes, does he think that that will add to the public sector borrowing requirement, or will it make no difference to public borrowing?

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

What a brilliant chap he is.

Mr. Straw

We now understand why, yet again, the Conservatives got tanked in Amber Valley at the local elections. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, what a brilliant chap the hon. Gentleman is. Our policy on spending capital receipts is exactly the same policy as that of the Government between November 1992 and December 1993, with the same consequences.

In a speech 12 days ago—

Mr. Oppenheim


Mr. Straw

I have just answered. The hon. Gentleman may not like the answer, but I have answered the question.

Mr. Oppenheim

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

No. In a speech 12 days ago—

Mr. Oppenheim

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I repeat the question, as obviously the hon. Gentleman did not hear it? Will it add to the PSBR or not?

Madam Speaker

I am no more responsible for comments from the Opposition Front Bench than I am for comments from the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Straw

I repeat my advice to the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim). Only one hon. Member who has intervened so far has been wise enough to take it. Given the appalling quality of research at central office these days, Members should not even bother to read briefs, let alone ask questions from them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I have answered the question, and I will give many more answers in my speech.

In a speech 12 days ago to the Chartered Institute of Housing notable only for its complacency—[Interruption.] Well, I was saving this for later but I shall raise it now. Our view is that capital receipts should be made available on a phased basis to local authorities to spend. Our belief is that There is simply no excuse for authorities not using those receipts in view of the needs"—[Official Report, 5 July 1983; Vol. 45, c. 234.] That was the view of the then Minister for Housing in July 1983, and it is for the current Minister of Housing to explain now why the Government's policy has changed—particularly because, although the Government's policy has changed, the Minister making that statement has not changed. It is exactly the same Minister who 11 years ago said that capital receipts ought to be spent who is now saying that they should not.

I wish to go on with my speech, and I hope that it will be noted by the Chair, as well as by my hon. Friends, how much time-wasting Government Members have tried to achieve.

In a speech 12 days ago to the Chartered Institute of Housing notable only for its complacency and overpowering self-congratulation, the Minister for Housing claimed that among many other achievements which the Government could be "proud of were the latest data on mortgage arrears suggesting that there had been a sharp decline in the number of repossessions". That only serves to emphasise the extraordinary myopia of the Ministers. The "Roof" report, on which the Minister relied for his assertion of pride, spelled out that, despite a recent fall in total numbers, that still left well over half a million households unable to pay all of their mortgages"; and the report stated that repossessions were still at record levels compared to previous housing recoveries". Indeed, arrears are running at five times the level of 1984, and repossessions at four times the level.

It is this Minister, apparently so proud of his record, who is still presiding over the human tragedy of 800 families every week losing their homes because they cannot afford to pay their mortgages—in almost all cases through no fault of their own. That is a matter not for pride but for shame.

The Minister has evidently not read his own Department's housing research summary, which showed that one fifth of mortgage holders were experiencing problems with loan repayments. Aside from the Government's appalling record on arrears and repossessions, the Minister's speech to the Institute of Housing was remarkable for something else—his failure at any stage in his half-hour address to devote even a single sentence to the single most important, most damaging and most wasteful aspect of the Government's housing policy. He did not mention their policy of deliberately forcing up rents of local authority and housing association tenants at a rate many times that of inflation, while providing a virtually unlimited subsidy from the public purse to landlords of private sector tenants.

The present Administration have never disguised their hostility to council tenants. Throughout the 1980s, they forced councils to raise rents way above the level of inflation. Since the new housing financial regime was introduced in 1990, Ministers have set about securing rent increases that are nothing short of extortionate.

Since 1990, average council rents have risen from £20 a week in 1989 to £33 in 1993. The increase required this year, at 7 per cent., is three times the prevailing level of inflation. Some local authorities, almost all Conservative, have increased their rents even more. In the Minister's borough of Ealing, the average rent is now touching £60 per week—almost twice the average council rent—as a consequence of a deliberate policy. That is one more reason of many why the electors of Ealing so decisively rejected the Conservatives at the polls just eight weeks ago.

I shall return to the social and economic consequences of the Government's policy, which are bad enough, in a moment, but even worse is the increase in rents of housing association tenants. The average rent for such tenants is now £38 per week, but new tenants are being given so-called assured tenancies and they are charged much more. The Minister cited an average rent of £44 a week, but, typically, tenants may be paying £60 or more. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has produced evidence today to show that, in many cases, the assured rents being paid by housing association tenants are greater than the market rent they could pay in the free market.

The private rented sector, where rents have been effectively deregulated since 1989, is a similar story. The average private rent was already running at roughly twice that charged in the social housing sector. Despite that, private rents have risen by more than 44 per cent. in three years. As we heard from the Minister, the average local authority rent stands at £33.70, but the average publicly supported private sector rent, £73, is more than double that.

The high rent policy has had the most appalling consequences, which have undermined the prosperity and cohesion of the very communities in urban areas that the Government claim they wish to help. Council house rents are now so high that the Government are deliberately making a profit out of those 1.4 million tenants who still pay a full rent. By 1996–97, that profit is due to reach a staggering £600 million. Not a penny of it will go back to the tenants in terms of better repairs or in new homes for their sons and daughters and their children. No, that profit is used, in the chilling words of the Department of the Environment's annual report, "to offset" the cost of housing benefit in a new form of double taxation.

We have the outrageous situation in which council tenants in work or on retirement pensions, with incomes above housing benefit level but way below average incomes, will, by 1996–97, be paying on average an extra tax of £10 a week towards the housing benefit of those even less well off than they are. No wonder no one, but no one, any longer believes that the Conservative party is the party of either low or fair taxation. How can an extra tax of £10 a week on council tenants in work be justified? They will be forced to pay what no one else will be paying—an extra £10 towards the social security costs of those who earn just a little less than them.

In housing associations, the excessively high rents paid by tenants are used in a different, but no more acceptable, way to pay for the reduction in grant which the Government have forced on the associations. It has fallen from 87 per cent. in 1988–89 to 62 per cent. this year, and it may be as low as 55 per cent. next year or the year after.

About 1.8 million council and housing association tenants still pay a full rent. They either do not want to or cannot buy a house, or they want to stay where they have always lived, to exercise the choice which the Government say is theirs. Those spiralling rents are increasingly turning the once balanced communities of council and housing association estates into welfare ghettoes, where almost every new tenant is on benefit. As existing tenants become unemployed, the housing benefit system makes it nigh impossible for them ever to escape their dependency on welfare.

On Monday, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made a speech in Spain claiming that in Britain the family was weakened by welfare". What he should have spelt out is how his Government's policy has deliberately increased the number of people trapped on welfare—people with no realistic chance of a job that can provide them with a family income even of the basic level which they get on benefit—and that one of the principal causes of that welfare dependency is the Government's policy of high rents.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

No, because I want to get on and other hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to speak.

The average family must earn £270 a week just to be no worse off than on benefit. A recent estimate suggests that every £10 increase in rent pushes up the edge of the poverty trap by between £25 and £70. Tory Members should deal with those issues if they are concerned about the spiralling cost of housing benefit.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Am I to understand that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) does not intend to give way?

Mr. Straw

Yes, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

In that case, hon. Members must resume their seats and not persist.

Mr. Straw

I have allowed six interventions by Tory Members and only one was worth while.

Those in part-time work on family credit face the ludicrous situation that, for every extra pound that they earn, 80p may typically be clawed back and, at the extreme end, 97p is clawed back, principally through loss of housing benefit. Where is the incentive in that?

Last year, the Select Committee drew attention to that problem. The National Federation of Housing Associations has estimated that, if grant rates are cut to 55 per cent. and rents rise accordingly, 85 per cent. of tenants will be eligible for housing benefit. In the council sector 15 years ago, just 18 per cent. of tenants were on benefit. Now the figure is 64 per cent. and rising inexorably every year.

In the private rented sector, rents are so high that only those eligible for benefit can even contemplate taking on a tenancy. Moreover, those tenants are much more likely to suffer poor physical conditions, or harassment from their landlord. The increase in the size of the private rented sector was another source of "pride" for the Minister in his speech to the Institute of Housing. His figures were wrong for a start.

He claimed, with typical error, that the sector had risen from around 7 per cent. of total housing stock to just under 10 per cent. But his Department's figures show a different and much more modest result—from 9.5 per cent. in 1989 to 10.2 per cent. in December 1993. None of the statisticians in the Library has any idea where the figures come from. I have the Department's figures, which say what I have just said, not what he said. The only explanation that we can come up with is that, typically, the Government have confused the figures for Wales in 1989 with those for England in 1993.

On the issue of the private rented sector, we see the greatest collision between blind dogma on the one hand, and common sense, housing needs and the saving of public money on the other.

We accept the need for a role for the private rented sector, as I made clear in a speech to the Association of Residential Letting Agents earlier this year, but we do not accept the role which the Government have created for it. Any expansion in private renting has come about exclusively off the back of the public purse. The sector may be privately run but it is publicly subsidised. There is certainly no free market. The Government have deregulated rents, ended security and forced local authorities to pay almost any rent which landlords demand.

We are therefore faced with a stunning contradiction: allegedly one of the most free enterprise parts of the economy has become one of the most dependent on the state. Private landlords are now fast overtaking farmers as the recipients of the largest amount of state handouts. If Her Majesty's Government want to do something about people who sponge off the state, it is to private landlords, not to the homeless or the beggars, that they should direct their attention.

As a result of increasing rents, housing benefit costs have rocketed, and nowhere faster than for private sector tenants. However, neither tenants, nor the public purse, nor housing generally has benefited—only private landlords. In cash terms, housing benefit for private tenants has increased 3.5 times in five years, from £1 billion in 1988–89 to £3.8 billion in 1993–94. However, in that period the number of claimants increased by only one third—by 300,000. Yes, the Treasury is right to be worried about that spiralling expenditure, but quite wrong if it believes that a policy of subsidising private landlords in that way makes any social or economic sense.

It is a matter of simple arithmetic to answer the question that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North rightly asked me. For the same money, many, many more people could have been housed in local authority or housing association homes—and they would have been better housed too. This is a crackpot policy which is wasting money and leaving people ill-housed. Do not Ministers ask themselves—

Mr. Bates

Will the hon. Gentleman give way? Please?

Mr. Straw

As the hon. Gentleman said, "please", I give way.

Mr. Bates

I am immensely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I remind him of an interview that he gave to "Roof' magazine, in which he set out his vision for housing in Britain, and said that his No. 1 priority would be to repeal the legislation, which was a provision to allow tenants to purchase their council homes. Does he regret that interview?

Mr. Straw

I remember the interview. I gave it in about December 1980. It was a joint interview with my good and late friend and colleague, Allan Roberts, the then Member for Bootle.

Mr. Bates

Do you agree with it now?

Mr. Straw

Do I agree with it now? Our policy has changed—[Interruption.]—but not quite as frequently as that of the Conservative party has changed. If the hon. Gentleman cares to read the reports of the Standing Committee on the Housing Bill for January, February and March 1980, on which I sat, he will realise that much of our opposition was not to the principle of the sale of council houses—for Conservative Members forget that the previous Labour Government had allowed local authorities to sell council houses at a discount. Our opposition to that—

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

No. I am answering the question.

Our opposition to that was based on our anticipation that councils would not be allowed to use the capital receipts from the sale of houses to restore and renew the housing stock.

The other point of that interview, and of a speech that I gave to Shelter in July 1980, which certainly stands the test of time, was that I predicted—although I do not often get such things right—that, 10 years later, there would be a housing crisis, with many more people homeless and with a great shortage of social housing, precisely because the Government had stopped authorities from using their capital receipts.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Straw

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have now given way seven times. In view of the time, I must press on.

To the extent that Ministers ask themselves the question about the—

Mr. Riddick

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but he had mentioned, before you took the Chair, that he had given way six times and that that was enough. In fact, he has now given way only five times, so, if he intended to give way six times, he has one left.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

That was not a point of order—and I thought that the hon. Gentleman said seven, actually.

Mr. Straw

To the extent, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Ministers ask themselves how that £2.5 billion spent on private sector landlords is being wasted, we know that they never come up with the correct answers.

Housing benefit costs are increasing. Ergo, say Ministers, it is not the cause of that vast increase that is to be tackled—spiralling Government-dictated rents—but the victims of the policy, the tenants, who are now confronted by the prospect of regional caps on housing benefit, or of all tenants being forced to pay something of their rent, however poor they are. Always remember, by the way, the provenance of the policy that tenants should pay something of their rent. It was a key part of Lady Thatcher's poll tax arrangements, and neither the policy nor she survived them.

There is worse. Such is the dogmatic refusal of Ministers to acknowledge the key role that the public sector should play in social housing that, not content with squandering an extra £2.5 billion on private landlords, even more money is to be paid to them as part of the Government's bizarre policy of changing arrangements for the homeless. The Minister spoke about that in his institute speech, saying that he wanted the private rented sector to play a "yet larger role" in solving our housing and homeless problems. But it will not solve them—it will make them worse, and at far greater cost to the taxpayer than would otherwise be the case.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. [Interruption.] Payments by Department of Social Security claimants to private landlords is one way in which private landlords are being subsidised, but it is not the only way. Many private landlords in my constituency, and I am sure other constituencies, are encouraging criminal behaviour in the regions in which they operate to drive down the price of properties, drive out owner-occupiers and knock down prices. They are then moving more Department of Social Security claimants into the properties and receiving more subsidy from the Government. The Government support such crooks.

Mr. Straw

To calm Conservative Members, may I say that I was reserving that intervention to bring the total number up to six. I find it difficult to count when I am talking, although I know that Conservative Members find it much easier.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) is right and raises a serious point. With some exceptions, the serious housing benefit frauds and scams are carried out not by tenants, but by landlords, who are making £3.5 billion out of the public purse. They are the biggest scroungers of the lot.

Ministers must address one last consequence of the high rents policy: its effect on economic activity in raising the level of inflation and increasing unemployment. Oxford Economic Forecasting has estimated that every 10 per cent. increase in public sector rents raises retail prices by 0.3 per cent., reduces gross domestic product by 0.1 per cent., increases unemployment by 25,000 and, overall, increases net Exchequer costs by £100 million. Where is the sense in that?

Just this morning, in complete contrast to and damnation of the Government's amendment, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a major report arguing that, unless action is taken to increase the supply of homes for rent, the housing market will be destabilised and that that "will prove damaging to the UK economy as a whole". The report calls, as we do, for an end to policies that are designed to force up rents—especially in the south—for action on mortgage arrears and repossessions, and for action on the private rented sector. Yes, we want to see a viable private rented sector, but we want landlords who accept public subsidies to accept, in return, social responsibilities, including proper regulation of the rents that they charge.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report blew another hole in the crumbling edifice of Government housing and urban policy. That policy has been dominated by defunct and discredited ideas, and has denied choice and decent housing to hundreds of thousands of our citizens. It has undermined labour mobility and is now wasting billions of pounds of the public's money.

We now need a change to sensible housing policies which, as the local elections show, people are demanding. As Howard Davies, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, recently said, the shift in subsidy from bricks and mortar to individuals has gone far enough. I would add that it must shift back the other way. Local authorities must be given back their role to build homes for rent. There must be a phased release of the £6.2 billion of capital receipts, still locked in the bank, so that councils can start using some of their money to start that new building, house those in need and put back to work some of the half million construction workers who have paid for the Government's failure by months or years on the dole.

The policy of making scapegoats of the homeless must be abandoned. The Government should recognise that homelessness, and its great increase since 1979, is not an accident or a matter of personal choice. It has arisen due to the malfunctioning of both the labour and housing markets. The double taxation of council tenants who are in work or who are retired and live just above benefit levels must end, as must the wasteful and self-defeating policy of extortionate rents in the public sector. New measures of flexible tenure must be introduced and better advice must be given to intending owner-occupiers, so that the dream of a home of one's own never again turns into a repossession nightmare for the families concerned.

Labour's approach has won the popular backing of the electorate. Following this month's Euro-elections, one can now walk from Southend to Swansea, from Dover to Dumfries entirely on Labour territory. The once dominant party of the town and city halls of England, the Conservative party, now controls just four London boroughs, one metropolitan borough and not one major town or city in the shires. Only 11 per cent. of the country's council housing stock is in Conservative hands, because the voters—owner-occupiers and council tenants alike—no longer trust the Tories to sustain their communities.

Instead, they trust us, because the people know that, from Labour, they will get sensible, thought-through policies which once again will ensure that everyone is decently housed—one of the most basic rights of any citizen in any democratic state.

4.35 pm
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'commends the Government's achievements in urban and housing policy over the last 15 years, and recognises that Britain now leads the world in imaginative and constructive policy development in these areas; notes with approval the development of the Single Regeneration Budget and the Government Offices for the Regions which build on the widely recognised success of City Challenge and other initiatives; welcomes the formation of English Partnerships to carry forward the drive to improve derelict land; commends the continuing success of Urban Development Corporations in transforming areas of dereliction and disuse; notes that statutory homelessness acceptances are continuing their welcome decline; notes that housing associations are now expected to provide some 179,000 homes with Government funding over the first three years of this Parliament, substantially in excess of the 153,000 promised in 1992; congratulates the Government on the success of the Right to Buy and its tenant management initiatives; notes that the English House Conditions Survey showed an improvement in the fitness of housing in all sectors between 1986 and 1991; applauds the Government's continued efforts to secure maximum value for money from public spending, and to target resources on the areas and individuals most in need; and calls on the Government to continue to place England's urban communities at the heart of its policy, and to draw on the commitment and energy of local people and local bodies in tackling the problems of cities, while maintaining the sound public finances necessary for the sustained economic growth which is an essential component of further improvement not only in urban centres but in the whole country.'. This debate has proceeded along the same lines as a debate that the Labour party initiated three weeks ago, when the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) opened the debate on the environment. He chose the subject matter, and in so doing highlighted the Government's success, revealing a total lack of policies from his own party. Time after time, he was challenged to produce a single proposal or policy, or even to share his general thoughts on what those policies might be. He chose his own ground and was defeated game, set and match. [HON. MEMBERS: "When did you write this?"]

I wrote it before I came here today, for two reasons: first, it concerned a debate held three weeks ago; secondly, I had read the statement by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) in which he introduces the Labour party's housing policy and programme. I very much hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will allow me to quote with considerable freedom from that document. The hon. Member for Blackburn did not do so, for reasons that will soon become obvious.

In the three quarters of an hour that the Opposition spokesman took, not a single practical policy proposal was presented to the House. First, the hon. Gentleman said that he was in favour of the rented sector but that there was no longer a free market in that rented sector, because the controls had been taken away. That did not seem to me to follow.

Then the hon. Gentleman said, that although he was in favour of the private rented sector, he wanted to say a few words about landlords. Would any sensible person, having heard what he proceeded to say about landlords and fearing that Labour might rule in town hall, county hall or Westminster, go into the rented sector? Once again, the hon. Gentleman gave vent to one of the aspects of Labour policy that has been most damaging to our private rented sector—a deep-seated animus against any form of renting that is not controlled by Labour councils.

Today's report from Rowntree is in stark contrast to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. It makes the point that we need more rented accommodation, so as to provide greater flexibility. The hon. Gentleman did not begin to deal with that, for he dare not produce any policies. He was very upset about various figures he gave us in connection with rents, but did anyone in the House hear him commit any possible future Labour Government to reducing rents? Was there any costed commitment to that?

The hon. Member for Blackburn said that there was a surplus of £600 million in the housing revenue account—and he disliked that fact. If he puts an end to that surplus, where will the £600 million come from? We heard not a word about that.

Then we come to the question of the PSBR.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer

No, I really must deal with the PSBR. I shall return to the hon. Gentleman. The PSBR deserves just a little careful consideration.

The hon. Member for Blackburn suggested that one of the things that he would do if he ever came to power was to allow what he called a phased expenditure of £5,000 million from capital receipts. Now, there is already a phased release of capital receipts, and, what is more, there have been periods in which that phasing has been made more generous. But all that has been within the PSBR as stated.

I know that the hon. Gentleman finds it difficult to count while he is talking. He finds it pretty easy to talk, so it must be the counting that is difficult. The hon. Gentleman clearly finds counting extremely difficult, because £5,000 million is rather less over five years than the Government have been spending over three years to meet more than the target for social housing in our manifesto.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

Five years?

Mr. Gummer

Over three years. As a matter of fact, that is better than over five years. As I understood it, the £5,000 million was over five years. I was listening extremely carefully to the hon. Member for Blackburn, although with growing bewilderment, because what the hon. Gentleman would not say was whether, if he released the £5,000 million to the local authorities, that would be in addition to the more than £5,000 million provided at the moment for local housing associations. If it was in addition, how would it be accommodated within the PSBR?

When I have heard the hon. Gentleman before on the subject, he has said a rather curious thing. He says that that sum would not count towards the PSBR. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Why should it?"] Why should it? That is interesting. These are capital receipts, so it is not real money, and if one spends it, one has not really spent it. If it is real money, it must count towards the PSBR, because the PSBR is not some invented figure but a proper comparative figure to see how a nation—

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer

No, I shall finish this. Given how well the hon. Gentleman did with the accounting for the student games, he should listen to a bit of accounting, because it is important in this situation.

The £5 billion can only not count towards the PSBR if £5 billion is deducted from spending on housing somewhere else. If that is the case, not only will the amount of money spent on housing not be increased, but it will be decreased, because the money that is given to the housing associations levers in another 40 per cent. on top of the money that is being spent.

Mr. Straw

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer

No, I shall finish talking about the PSBR before I give way. I shall be happy to give way, but I must finish this little bit first.

I ask the hon. Gentleman a direct question. Is the £5,000 million in addition, and if so, what will be cut from the PSBR in order to accommodate it? If it is not housing that will be cut, what other sections of the welfare state would be reduced if the Labour party came to power and took that numerically ignorant view of the PSBR?

Hon. Members


Mr. Straw

The answer is that, when the Labour party comes to power it will not be running public finances in the most appalling way that this Government are—doubling the PSBR, wasting billions of pounds of public money in public borrowing on unemployment and keeping people out of work. We will use the money to put people back to work.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer answered the Secretary of State's question himself in his November 1992 statement. He did not raise that problem about the PSBR. He saw that there was a need, yes, to provide additional resources from capital receipts and, suddenly, all the objections about the PSBR disappeared like snow in the sunshine, while restrictions on capital receipts were lifted.

In July 1983, talking about accumulated capital receipts, the then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, now the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction, said: There simply is no excuse for authorities not using those receipts in view of the needs that the hon. Gentleman mentioned."—[Official Report, 5 July 1983; Vol. 45, c. 234.] Why did the Minister not at that stage raise the spurious point about the size of the PSBR? Why has the Government's policy on that changed, not ours?

Mr. Gummer

First, I should like to return to the question that I asked the hon. Gentleman, to which we did not receive a good answer. What the hon. Gentleman must have meant was that such spending would be in addition, and if so, he really has to go to his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), who specifically said that no such promises might be made by anybody on behalf of the Labour party without his permission.

Does the hon. Gentleman have that permission? [HON. MEMBERS: "Boring."] It is no good Labour Members being bored. It was the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East who said that, not me. The hon. Member for Blackburn does not like the fact that, if he released that sum outside the PSBR, he would have to cut spending somewhere else.

As for the comments of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction and others, their figures are within the PSBR as stated, and that must be right. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that, it shows that he has not yet gathered why it is that unemployment is falling in Britain and rising elsewhere.

He is saying that he would in some way get people back to work, when the policies that he is putting forward are precisely the policies that force people out of work and which in other countries mean that there are more people out of work than there are in Britain, where the tendency is for unemployment to fall all the time.

Mr. Betts

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer

I must go on a little; then I shall return to the hon. Gentleman, because I am looking forward to saying something about Sheffield.

I shall not follow the hon. Member for Blackburn in destruction, but will instead try to put forward a series of facts that we should remember. First, in the past 15 years, the proportion of households that are owner-occupied has increased from 56 per cent. to 67 per cent. That means that 3.6 million more families now live in a home that they own than was true in 1979, 1.5 million of them as a result of taking advantage of the right to buy, to which the Labour party was vehemently opposed.

I was surprised when the hon. Member for Blackburn replied to the perfectly innocent and reasonable quotation from a comment that he made in 1980 or 1981, when he said that his first housing priority was to repeal the right-to-buy legislation. He did not say that he would do so because he had another system to put in its place. He did not make some latter-day remark about how it was all to do with the fact that a Labour Government could not spend, or might not be able to spend, the money that came from it. If the legislation was repealed, there would not be any capital receipts. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is true.

Mr. George Howarth

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer

I shall come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, because it is only fair.

The hon. Member for Blackburn failed to notice that last year's English house condition survey showed that housing in all forms of tenure had improved between 1986 and 1991. The housing attitude survey which we published earlier this month showed that nine out of 10 households are satisfied with their housing.

The latest figures for those accepted as homeless by local authorities were down for the eighth quarter in a row, but the hon. Gentleman said that they had risen. He does not understand how to count. He does not understand that, when figures are going down, it means that homelessness is declining, not worsening.

Mr. George Howarth

The Secretary of State urged my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) to give an indication of likely policy on rent levels under a Labour Government. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can help us to formulate that policy by indicating what he considers to be the right level of council and housing association rents for 1996 and 1997.

Mr. Gummer

During Question Time today, for which the hon. Gentleman was present, my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction made clear our view that rents ought properly to reflect conditions in the wider market, and that they will rise and continue to do so. The hon. Member for Blackburn spent a great deal of time attacking the concept of rent increases, but still did not say whether he would stop them were he, in some unlikely cataclysmic event, to come to power. The hon. Gentleman cannot complain unless he says what he would do.

I remind the House of the hon. Gentleman's policies. He was in favour of new flexible measures of tenure". He did not say which sort, how flexible they would be, where he would find them and how that flexibility would differ from what we already have.

The hon. Gentleman had a second policy. I am sorry that I failed to mention both policies when I said that the hon. Gentleman had not produced any policies. His second policy was that there should be better advice to home owners. That was the second of the two policies presented after the hon. Gentleman's party political tirade. He does not even understand how the PSBR works, and admitted that he cannot count while he is speaking.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

During Question Time, the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction stated that private rents are expected to rise £73 on average. He indicated that he expects housing association and council rents to reflect that in their rent increases. Does that mean that we should expect rent rises in the housing association and council sectors approximating that figure of £73? If so, will the Secretary of State say what will be the impact on housing benefit?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that because—properly, in my view—we moved the subsidy from bricks and mortar, where it was available to people whether or not they needed it, to people who do need it, it is perfectly true that, if rents rise, those who are in supported housing and unable to afford such rises have their housing benefit increased. That is how the system works. The hon. Gentleman knows that, and the hon. Member for Blackburn was complaining about it.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gummer

No, I must get on. I must be fair. I think that I may return to the subject in which my hon. Friend showed an interest earlier this afternoon.

At the centre of all the remarks of the hon. Member for Blackburn was the importance of local authorities taking greater control of housing. I understand that the hon. Gentleman claims to be keen about Labour local authorities. He made considerable play of his support for them. I am surprised at that, because, in his day job as minder for one of Labour's leadership candidates, the hon. Gentleman visited the constituency of Monklands, East—where we can see what a Labour local authority is like. It spends £57 per head in Airdrie, and £450 in Coatbridge.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House is debating a motion concerning housing and urban policy in England. Is the Secretary of State in order in raising issues outside the motion?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The amendment refers to Britain, so allusions to Britain are entirely in order—but anything substantive would be out of order.

Mr. Gummer

I am alluding to something in Scotland as a terrible example for those of us who live south of the border. I point out to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how touchy Labour becomes if anybody mentions the problems of Monklands, because that is where—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is a question not of the Opposition being touchy, but of the Chair ruling something out of order. The motion is clear, as is the amendment. I repeat that allusions to Britain, which includes Scotland, are entirely in order, but that anything substantive is not.

Mr. Gummer

I am of course happy fully to obey your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Therefore, my allusion will conclude with one further sentence. Vulnerable people living in Airdrie receive £57 and vulnerable people in Coatbridge receive £450, because the council puts its money where it thinks the votes are. I am in quite a strong position to make that point.

That leads me to the rest of Britain, but particularly to England. If we are asked to put the future of all those people who need supported housing in the hands of local authorities and in the hands of Labour, as the hon. Member for Blackburn would like, we should know who they are and how they would operate. We do not have to speculate about something as unlikely as a Labour Government, but we can talk about the reality of Labour local government.

We can see Labour at work in Lambeth, Hackney, Liverpool and Birmingham. No one who takes a close look likes what they see. They see huge numbers of empty houses—management voids empty and ready to be let, but remaining empty through inefficiency. Hackney has 2,000, Manchester has 1,300, and Liverpool has 1,000. All top 10 local councils for voids are socialist-controlled, with a shameful total of 10,000 empty houses to their discredit.

The story is as shameful in respect of other aspects of socialist housing policy. In rent collection, seven out of the top 10 councils for rent arrears are socialist-controlled—including dear old Lambeth, which at one time had a policy of non-collection of rents. The level of rents does not matter if one does not collect them.

The largest local authority debts are held by the famous 10 Labour authorities. In Hackney, 1,100 of the council's 40,000 properties are thought to be illegally occupied. In Haringey, the local ombudsman discovered that 88 per cent. of councillors' letters to the housing department went without reply. That is how Labour wants the housing of our most vulnerable people to be organised.

Having made one or two remarks against Labour local authorities, it is only fair to quote what Labour says about its own authorities. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said about Islington that it was a good, radical, progressive left-wing authority". Labour means by that a council that had £18.6 million rent arrears in March 1993 and which paid a firm to maintain communal television aerials on a block of flats 10 years after they had been demolished.

That is what is meant by a good, radical, progressive, left-wing authority"— one that has rent arrears in a society in which housing benefit provides the means whereby those who cannot afford to pay rent can get it from the state.

Mr. Straw

In case the right hon. Gentleman has not noticed it, there are virtually no Conservative housing authorities left. Therefore, Labour authorities and those with no overall control will be at the top, in the middle and at the bottom of every list—except for one.

I have the returns for every authority, provided by the Department of the Environment, showing the number of homes in each local authority area that are available to let, but are not let. At the very top is a local authority that has only 40 houses in its stock, but 32 per cent. of those are unlet, even though they are available to let. That council is Suffolk Coastal, the Conservative council in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Gummer

Oh, I have been so looking forward to this moment. Suffolk Coastal is a progressive authority that has sold its entire housing stock, bar 40, to a housing association. Those 40 houses are for emergency help for the homeless. They exist for precisely the people about whom the hon. Gentleman should care. The trouble with the Labour party is that it likes making party political comments, but it does not care sufficiently about the homeless to provide space for them when they need it.

What would the Labour party do with those houses? Would it leave them empty for the homeless, or would it simply not provide that accommodation? I know what would happen—it would have a large number of empty houses, but it would not be able to find them when they were needed for the homeless. That is what happens in Hackney and Haringey, where the Labour party keeps control of all its stock.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Gummer

I am giving the Opposition a chance not to put their foot in it again.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman later, because he knows a great deal more about the issue than his party's Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

I want to give one or two examples of what the Labour party says about its own councils. That will help us to decide whether it is reasonable to suggest that, instead of housing being provided effectively by housing associations, we should put it into the hands of Labour authorities. The Labour document on Camden said about itself that there had been chronic overspending on homelessness because of slack management and a reluctance to address the issue of living within the budget. What that really means for decent people needing a home is that they do not get them because of slack management and a reluctance to address the issue of living within the budget. That is precisely what would happen if we returned to the old system of supporting people by means of bricks and mortar, and gave money to Labour authorities like those to which I have referred.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Gummer

I want to quote another example before giving way.

The former Labour leader of Liverpool council, Mr. Keva Coombes, said: We are the worst landlord in Liverpool, probably in the country… It takes genius; voids gone up; rent arrears soared…the breaking of the law on racial equality… Tenants get an appalling service… 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. That is the problem. That is what Labour councils always do. They are the representatives not of the electorate, not of the tenants, not of the people, but of the General and Municipal Workers Union, which pays the piper and calls the tune.

Mr. Raynsford


Mr. Gummer

I shall give way in a moment. I have a point to make about the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Raynsford

I can hardly wait.

Mr. Gummer

I hope the hon. Gentleman can wait, because I am going to ask him a question about it. Keva Coombes's point about the interests of the providers coming first might strike a chord with the millions of commuters who still wait for any candidate for the Labour leadership to condemn the RMT for striking to get 11 per cent. without strings. Not one of them has done so. There would not be any money at all for housing under a Labour Government. The Labour party is committed to handing out money to anyone, from any union and however ridiculous the claim, who threatens it with a strike.

The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) might want to think about how he would answer his constituents if asked whether he supported a strike for 11 per cent. without strings. They would then know whether he would have any money left for housing if the Labour party were in power.

Mr. Raynsford

I will not succumb to the temptation to respond to the right hon. Gentleman, for fear of incurring your wrath, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Will the right hon. Gentleman pay attention to a concept that has all-party agreement? It is that the worst possible way to deal with the problem of homelessness is to put homeless people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I do not think anyone believes that that would be the right thing to do. What is the right hon. Gentleman's view on the record of Wandsworth council, which at the last count had 435 families in bed and breakfast, the highest figure of any council in London, and even the whole country? It is squandering £5 million a year on that inappropriate and unsuitable accommodation. It is wasting public money.

Mr. Gummer

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Wandsworth council has particular problems. In case he missed the figures, I can tell him that the number of homeless people in bed and breakfast has fallen this year by a further 30 per cent. That is the effect of the Government's policies.

I am still hoping that the hon. Gentleman's constituents will have noticed that he has become a candidate for the Labour leadership. All the candidates have refused to answer the simple question about whether or not they support the RMT strike.

The Labour party does not care about tenants or home owners. It is the party that opposed every reform of housing that we have introduced during the past 15 years. It opposed the right to buy; it opposed tenant empowerment; it opposed the rent-to-mortgage scheme; it opposed leasehold enfranchisement; and it opposed compulsory competitive tendering on housing management, which would do so much to improve the standards of management on even the worst estates in Labour authorities. It opposed housing action trusts, and it opposed estate action. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that I heard certain words uttered from a sedentary position.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

I withdraw, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am most grateful.

Mr. Gummer

The Labour party is the party of preserving cosy relations with its friends in the unions and the direct labour organisations. In contrast, we are the party of the tenant; we are the party of the leaseholder; we are the party of the home owner.

The fact is that all the new ideas in housing have come from the Government. During the whole of the debate and in the preceding Environment questions, Labour Members did not put forward a single new idea, other than flexible tenancies and giving more advice. We have introduced the right to buy; tenants' rights; housing action trusts; estate action; the initiative to use flats over shops; the cash incentive and tenants' incentive schemes to enable yet more people to own their own homes; and stock transfers —all the things that lie behind the improvement in people's housing in Britain.

We will go further, because there is more work to be done. There is a deep sense of unfairness that would-be tenants in needy positions find they get entirely different treatment. The definition of homelessness is such that there are those who will never be housed because, however dreadful their conditions, they technically have a roof over their heads. By contrast, there are others living relatively comfortably in the parental home who, because they are technically homeless when their relations threaten to throw them out, are by law enabled to jump the queue.

That is why we have introduced proposals for a single waiting list, where real need and not technicalities will determine those with priority need for a home. The one issue that matters is need. Being genuinely homeless is a searing experience, and we propose that much more should be done by local authorities and others to prevent it. We are absolutely clear that there must continue to be a proper safety net for those who become homeless through no fault of their own.

It seems to me irrefutable that, having helped homeless people through their immediate crisis, a local authority should then be able to take a considered view about the proper allocation of one of its most valuable resources and assets. We hope to tell the House our conclusions on the consultation exercise before the summer recess.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer

No, I really must get on. I may come back to the hon. Gentleman if I have a chance to do so.

I have already thanked the hon. Member for Blackburn for giving me the opportunity to explain the success of the Government's housing policy so clearly. I must also thank him for allowing me a second bite at the cherry—for he went on to offer us a chance to illustrate, yet again, the true success of our inner-city policies.

It was in September 1987 that my right hon. and noble Friend the then Member of Parliament for Finchley stood in the middle of a huge area of urban dereliction in Teesside and vowed that "we must change all this". The initiatives of successive Secretaries of State for the Environment have indeed changed all that. I salute their achievements for the inner cities, and am personally determined to continue to take that revolution forward.

The hon. Member for Blackburn decided to make much of the Robson report. I looked carefully at his copy; it contains a number of pieces of paper, suggesting that he has read at least part of it. It is a long report and there is a great deal in it, but some—including the report's authors —might suggest that the hon. Gentleman's selection of quotations was, at best, partial. It would be better to say that, rather than relying on the report itself, the hon. Gentleman relied on press coverage of it. His speech provided no evidence that he had read it with the detail that I would expect from him.

Mr. Straw

I have read it all.

Mr. Gummer

I did not say that the hon. Gentleman had not read the report; I said that his speech contained no evidence that he had read it. Otherwise I might have to accuse him of partiality—and that, of course, I would never do.

The fact is that the report's authors were driven to say of the press coverage: the headlines misrepresent the conclusions at which we arrived". In fact, the report makes it clear that, overall, there was an improvement in the fortunes of urban priority areas because of the action taken by the Government. There were new jobs, new homes and new hope.

If the hon. Member for Blackburn wants to see a specific example, I hope that he will read again the issue of the Independent on Sunday to which he rightly referred —I think he mentioned a leak, although I am not sure where it came from—and which has so coloured his thinking. He should read the report headed "Broadwater Farm Reaps Fruit of Reinvention". The article reports that Broadwater Farm now looks like one of the better European apartment blocks", that much has changed since [the riot] in October, 1985", and: Much of the Farm's bad reputation is now undeserved and crime on the Estate is below the average". That revolution in Broadwater Farm has come about as a result of estate action funding—a Government success story. How that factual report contrasts with the tendentious nonsense that the hon. Gentleman spoke about the report.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

I trust that my right hon. Friend noticed that the authors of the report themselves say that they had to include many caveats. For instance, they cannot analyse what would have happened if we had not introduced all the various schemes for inner-city development.

I remind my right hon. Friend that, in the mid-1970s, 63 per cent. of the amount that the then Labour Government were putting into the rate support grant was public money. The whole focus of their urban redevelopment programme was the public sector and public money—and we got no results. For 15 years, we had nothing in docklands from the joint development board; we had nothing in the centres of Liverpool and Leeds, and nothing on Teesside.

Mr. Gummer

This document clearly shows, however, that the Government's major initiatives have achieved significant success. It also suggests that their effect would be better if we had a policy that drew them together on a regional basis—which is precisely what we have done through the single regeneration budget, and by establishing a single Government office to cover the four departments which are most directly affected, and which had regional representation before. We have done the very thing that the authors thought would most commit us to those regional arrangements.

The report makes an interesting statement about local government, referring to Local authorities—in their newly emergent roles as enables and facilitators". Who made local authorities enablers and facilitators? The present Government, with their legislation. Who opposed every step down the line? That party, and above all that spokesman. Whenever he spoke on education—as when he speaks on inner cities—he objected to any concept of enabling and facilitating. What he wanted was owning, controlling, insisting and running. That is the kind of local authority that the hon. Gentleman wants, but it is not the kind with which this document suggests we establish a partnership.

Mr. Straw

Would the Secretary of State care to read the rest of the sentence that he quoted? The sentence reads: Local authorities—in their newly emergent roles as enablers and facilitators"— there is plenty more about local authorities, and how they have been denied a role— need to be given greater opportunities to play a significant part in such coalitions"— that is, between public and private sectors. Would the Secretary of State like to tell us what greater chance authorities will be given to do that?

Mr. Gummer

What does the hon. Gentleman think the single regeneration budget is about, if it is not about making that partnership proper? He knows that; he knows that that is the opportunity. But, of course, authorities will not get the money unless they show that they are enablers and facilitators. They will not be given it if they are merely controllers and holders.

Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer

No. Time is moving on.

Let me remind the Labour party of the enormous success of the urban development that has resulted from the work of the urban development corporations. In Newcastle, the former Vickers Armstrong engineering works had become a derelict eyesore. The Tyne and Wear development corporation has transformed the site into the Newcastle business park—60 acres of award-winning landscaped development, providing 670,000 sq ft of office space, which was quickly let to major companies such as British Airways, Allied Dunbar and IBM, and providing the very employment that we care about in the inner cities. Labour Governments never managed to deal with that when they were constantly directing public funds into local authorities.

In Sheffield, the development corporation has reclaimed nearly 500 acres of derelict and contaminated land, attracted more than £500 million in private investment, secured the development of 300,000 sq m of office, commercial and warehouse space, and created or safeguarded some 10,000 jobs.

Mr. Betts

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer

Just a moment. I want to contrast that success with the debacle of the world student games in which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) played such a prominent role. We need only compare what the urban development corporation has done in Sheffield with the failure of Sheffield's city corporation to produce the answers to its own unemployment problem to understand why our systems work, and why the Labour party is always at a loss for an answer.

Mr. Betts

That is a very unfair comparison. We should not compare the regeneration brought about by the city council, with its limited resources, with what has happened to land for which the urban development corporation is responsible.

I am sure that the Secretary of State does not wish to mislead the House. He mentioned 10,000 jobs and £500 million in private investment; much of that is connected with the Meadowhall shopping centre, which accounts for more than 6,000 of those jobs. Sheffield city council gave planning permission, working alongside private developers, before the establishment of the development corporation. Will the Secretary of State now correct the information that he gave the House?

Mr. Gummer

I am happy to congratulate Sheffield city council on giving planning permission that it was its duty to give. It would only give planning permission if it was right to do so; I am sure that it would not do so in an improper way. It could claim credit only if it had granted planning permission when others would not have done so. I believe that planning permission is open to everyone. Since when has the system been operated only by the Labour party in Sheffield?

On Teesside, developments in the Teesdale project in Stockton include the Tees barrage, a new bridge providing better access, a university college, housing and other commercial building. Those developments are helping to transform what was derelict and polluted industrial wasteland into a site of major commercial significance.

Of course, we can compare what has happened under our system with what happened when the Labour party ran such systems. The results are there for all to see. The systems that we have used have brought in great sums from the private sector, whereas those that the Labour party produced were merely a drain on the public sector. People from the United States are now beating a path to our door to learn what we are doing, whereas previously we had to go there to learn what they were doing.

We shall see more, through English Partnerships and the rest, such as the £102 million programme of environmental projects. More than 100 projects across all parts of England will reclaim derelict, vacant and contaminated land—

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer

I have given way more often than the Opposition spokesman did, and now I must come to the end of what I have to say.

Mr. Madden


Mr. Gummer

No, I must come to the end of my speech, and I want to return to the hon. Member for Blackburn.

What the country really wants to know—indeed, what the grass roots of the Labour party really want to know—is what the Labour party really stands for, not only on housing and inner cities, but on everything. If we listen carefully, we hear a good deal of talk about vision and the far prospects, and much use of words that could happily be used in advertisements for lavatory tissue—soft, sensitive words—but no words saying what Labour would actually do.

I therefore thought that I ought to read what the hon. Member for Blackburn had written in his press release explaining the Labour party's document, "City 2020", in which it is difficult indeed to discover what Labour's powerful propositions, its determined agenda and its specific proposals are. Page 1 of the press release does not refer to housing at all. Page 2 is full of concrete proposals such as the following: Our strategy should start by being unashamedly proud of the diversity and vibrancy of urban life. Some of the finest aspects of our common culture are represented in our cities. What a revelation. What an enchanting prospect. No one has ever heard of that before. In 2,000 years of urban living, nobody thought of that—and it must be the highlight of the document, for it appears in a press release, containing only the short bits.

The hon. Gentleman did not finish there; he had more to tell us: Local people must be seen as part of the answer not part of the problem. What a remarkable insight. It did not come from the Liberal Democratic party, although it might well have done. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) knows that that phrase could well have come from one of his "Focus" leaflets. We have read that sentence before.

The hon. Member for Blackburn then continued; I suppose that he wanted to define more clearly what he meant: Such a people-led urban policy must by definition also he flexible". Flexible—there is a word for the new Labour party. Labour is so flexible that it has no policies to be flexible about. If one has no policies, flexibility is one's only claim.

The press release continues: Policies which try to straitjacket local initiatives only lead to waste and inefficiency as well as resentment and alienation. Next, the document says: The final plank of the strategy"— those are the words of the hon. Member for Blackburn; we have heard the rest of it and now we come to the final plank— is in some ways the most important and that is to foster a proper debate in this country— not a debate about housing or urban renewal, but a proper debate…about public space. The most public of spaces in the debate has been the public space that has not been filled by the Labour party's policy. After 15 years of pregnancy, all that has come forth from the Labour party is a load of wind. The fact is that Labour has no urban policy and no housing policy, yet it has dared to waste the time of the House debating a presentation in which it has presented nothing more than a promise to be flexible and a promise to talk about space.

5.24 pm
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

I represent an inner-city constituency in which many thousands of people live in poverty. Some 25 per cent. of my constituents—and a far higher percentage of my young constituents—are unemployed, and there is overcrowding, homelessness and deprivation on a large scale. If my constituents had been able to listen for the past 50 minutes to the Secretary of State's bombastic student union speech, which was supposed to be dealing with the most profound urban problems affecting the people of this country, they would be in even greater despair. Some little while ago I described the Secretary of State for the Environment as a political pipsqueak. In the light of the deplorable and sickening performance that we have just heard, I now realise what lavish praise that was.

I made my maiden speech on housing 24 years ago; 24 years later the situation in my constituency is in many ways worse than it was when I entered the House. During the period of the Labour Government from 1974 to 1979, my city and my constituency had an excellent house-building record. The Labour Government of 1974 launched a house-building drive and encouraged local authorities to take over empty privately built properties that developers could not sell.

I was the junior Minister who had responsibility for that programme, and I remember the President of the Board of Trade, when Secretary of State for the Environment accusing me of going around the country stirring up councils to build houses. He regarded that as an extraordinary performance. From the Government Front Bench, I put through the Housing Act 1974, which gave an expanded role to housing associations, and more money, a greater role and greater responsibility to the Housing Corporation. Under the Labour Government from 1974 to 1979, repair and renovation grants were easily available, and the owner-occupiers in my constituency—they are in the majority there—could renovate their homes and make them more habitable.

The slums were being removed; we had massive slum clearance programmes. I shall not say that the situation in the country, in my city of Manchester or in my constituency was anything like paradise. There were extremely serious problems, some of which, such as the building of tower blocks and deck access accommodation, were encouraged by the Conservative Government in which Sir Keith Joseph, as he then was, was the Minister of Housing.

An excrescence in my constituency, which looked like a French foreign legion fort and was described by local people as "Fort Ardwick", had been built by the Conservative party during its three years in control of Manchester city council, from 1968 to 1971. Because that was such an odious development it has now been totally demolished—but the people of the city of Manchester will be paying the loan charges for that Conservative folly for many years to come. Things were not as satisfactory as they might have been, but during that period, things were getting better. We had a good housing budget, we had a good house-building programme, we had good encouragement for private developers and we had relatively low mortgages.

Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman

No. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. Many other hon. Members want to speak, including three of my hon. Friends who wish to make their maiden speeches. I do not, therefore, wish to take up an excessive amount of the House's time.

The situation now in the constituency that I have represented for almost a quarter of a century is worse than at any time during that period. The responsibility lies pretty well entirely with this Conservative Government. They have wiped out the local authority housing programme in my city. In the last year of the Labour Government, 1,070 new starts in local authority housing were made in the city of Manchester. In the last year of that Labour Government, there were 729 completions of local authority dwellings in the city of Manchester. In the past financial year in Manchester, new starts were nil and completions were nil.

Under previous Governments, Conservative and Labour, housing associations were regarded as a useful and important social supplement to local authority housing. That is why I put through the Housing Act in 1974, which gave added resources and responsibilities and a new role to housing associations. The Government have now decided that housing associations, which are not democratically accountable in any way—although they still do useful work—should replace local authorities as providers of public sector rented accommodation. Unfortunately, they are not filling the gap left by the total abolition of local authority housing programmes in Manchester. In the past financial year in my city of Manchester, housing association starts were 544—only half the number of local authority starts under the Labour Government. Completions were 607—well below the number of completions under the Labour Government.

Nor is the private sector filling the gap. In my city in the past financial year, private sector starts were 544 and completions were 269. The exceptionally important role, in a city of great poverty and great housing need, which was filled by the local authority is being filled neither by the housing associations nor by the private sector.

Mr. Thomason

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman

No. I have already told the House—I do not wish to be discourteous—that there is great pressure on time. The 10-minutes rule will come into effect in 28 minutes. Three of my hon. Friends want to make their maiden speeches. With great respect and with no discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman, I say that I hope that he will forgive me for not giving way.

In my city of Manchester, there is a waiting list of 27,136, yet we cannot build a single new house to go towards shortening that waiting list. There is terrible overcrowding and there is dreadful homelessness. The local authority fulfils its responsibilities to the homeless more than most other local authorities do, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) pointed out, by doing so, it is putting incredibly large sums into the hands, pockets and bank accounts of exploitative private landlords. We have far too many such landlords in my constituency. They harass tenants when the local authority imposes a ceiling on the extortionate rents that they require to be paid.

The fact is that the Government do not subsidise tenants any more; they subsidise landlords. They turn landlords into millionaires through homelessness. Instead of putting money into the pockets of private, exploitative landlords who harass people, the Government could do far greater good if they used the money to allow local authorities to build new houses to house my constituents and others who are living in such misery.

Discretionary grants for owner-occupiers have almost dried up. Mandatory grants have to be provided, of course. When I go round my constituency and talk to owner-occupiers whose houses are in great need of repair, they tell me that they need grants. These are the owner-occupiers whose number the Government are proud to say they have increased. Yet my owner-occupiers, living in Victorian and early Edwardian houses, are unable to get the discretionary grants that would make their living conditions and the living conditions of their children better. There is a growing backlog of repairs because of the ring fencing of the housing revenue account. Of all the ghastly things that the Government have done to housing, one of the most ghastly is the way in which the poor are forced to subsidise the poor. Rents have had to be increased substantially.

Government subsidy has fallen in real terms—and I do not mean Government subsidy to landlords, which has multiplied unconscionably. Government subsidy to the city of Manchester has fallen in real terms, as have housing investment programme allocations. In 1979–80, the last year of the Labour Government, the amount was £64.8 million. In 1993–94 money, that is £154.9 million. Yet the housing investment programme allocation for my city in 1993–94 is only £27.6 million. In cash terms, that is less than half what it was under the Labour Government. In real terms, it is less than one fifth of what it was under the Labour Government.

The Government have reduced Manchester's housing spending by 82 per cent. and that reduction has been responsible for the terrible housing problem in my constituency. Most of my advice bureaux are filled with people in terrible housing need. They are homeless people, people who are being persecuted by private landlords, people who are living in box rooms in their parents' homes and people who are separated from their wives because they cannot find a house in which their baby can be born. That is what the Government have done directly; it is their responsibility and no one else's. Yet we heard bombastic rubbish from the Secretary of State for the Environment, who proclaimed the success of the inner-city policy. My inner-city constituents would not have recognised what he was talking about.

My constituency is deprived not only in terms of housing need but in terms of environment and amenity—and here, too, the Government must take most of the blame. They have bled my city of Manchester of finance. During the 1980s, the Government cut the grant to Manchester city council—what was originally the rate support grant and then became the revenue support grant—in cash terms, by more than £500 million. If one extends that cut into the 1994–95 financial year—the current year—and adjusts the figure for inflation, one sees that the Government have taken about £1 billion of grant away from the city of Manchester.

Other particular and specific sources of funding for my city and for my deprived constituents have been wiped out. In 1991–92, we had £1 million in urban programme grant; that has gone completely. Section 11 funding has gone completely. I represent a constituency that has a substantial ethnic minority population. We had section 11 schemes in schools in my constituency, such as Stanley Grove school, which is in an area of intense poverty and deprivation. That section 11 money has gone. Estate action funding has gone, yet our needs grow the whole time.

My constituents are good at self-help. They are proud people, active people, innovative people and enterprising people. They work hard to improve their lives and environment and they do so in every way they can think of. They do so by having events that bring the community together, such as the Abbey Hey carnival, which took place in my constituency last Saturday. My constituency is impoverished. My constituents can generate enthusiasm and they can generate effort and they do both, but they cannot generate cash because they have little cash and because so many of them are out of work in any case.

Our community organisations have faced lean times. The Gorton community centre and the Birch community centre, which both provide services for the deprived, for pensioners and for young people, nearly had to close. The Trinity Baptist church in Gorton, which I have visited, provides facilities for the young, for the old and for the poor, and does so in a derelict building, which, in many ways is uninhabitable. The church provides those facilities because it views it as its role to do so. It has a development plan. We need permission for that development plan and we need money for it. But we are not going to get it from this Government. We may get a few smarmy words about what a good idea it is, but that is as far as it will go.

In an area of huge youth unemployment, the Abbey Hey area—and youth unemployment covers a great deal more of my constituency than that area—we have an excellent amateur football club, the Abbey Hey amateur football club. It needs new dressing rooms. Would it not be better for that football club to be able to enhance its role to keep young people off the streets? Apparently not, because we do not get a penny from the Government for any of it. During the past three or four years, and after 24 years in the House of Commons, I have had to take up writing begging letters to try to scrounge money for causes in my constituency, which help the unemployed and the poor and which try to reduce crime but which the Government will not help in any way.

One estate in my constituency, the Anson estate, has dreadful crime problems. It also has dreadful unemployment problems. We have been campaigning and trying to get some kind of finance to establish a youth facility on that estate. It would create an enormous impression on the people there and would assist in dealing with severe social problems. We have not received a penny from the Government—and the council, because of what the Government have done to it, cannot provide the money either.

While local endeavour is hamstrung because of what the Government have done, bodies which used to be accountable to the public are exacerbating the problems in my constituency. North West Water is behaving like a corporate vandal in my constituency. Debdale lane, a statutory bridleway, is now infested with vehicular traffic—against the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981—because North West Water is impervious to the requests of the people. So one little area of my constituency where people could safely take their children is being taken away.

Railtrack, the body now responsible, is failing totally to respond to requests from my constituency to remove a substation on Vine street, near which one child has already been electrocuted and where other children are in danger of electrocution. Railtrack does not respond to my constituents or to me when I write to it. Railtrack is failing to provide fencing next to the Abbey Hey football club and, although the body has accepted that there are safety implications, it has left it to the football club to spend £1,600 which the club cannot afford and for which it has received no recompense.

Youths congregate around two telephone boxes in one area of my constituency, and guns have been sighted there on occasions. The police have written to British Telecom asking it to remove those two telephone boxes. A superintendent of Greater Manchester police has written to BT and I have written to it, but it will do nothing whatever.

We are ignored by the Government. We are ignored when we ask for anything and we are ignored when we ask to be enabled to do things for ourselves. We have poverty, we have unemployment, we have homelessness, we have overcrowding and we have environmental deterioration. Yet the Government and the Secretary of State stand there and say that inner-city policy is a success.

We who live in the inner city see no such success. We who live in the inner city deplore the way in which the Government make silly declarations that have no relevance to our constituents' lives. That is why we cannot wait for the day when we get a Labour Government—a Government who will concern themselves with the real needs of the inner city and do something to remedy those needs.

5.45 pm
Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

I will not follow directly the line taken by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on the subject of housing, but I shall remark on what he said. He is a fine, partisan politician and he has made an appropriate case about some serious problems in a constituency which, we all accept, has great social difficulties. However, the right hon. Gentleman has been around as long as I have and I remember the days when we had a Labour Government.

I remember the days when we all put exactly those sort of constituency issues to Ministers like him, when he was the Minister with responsibility for housing. I remember the days when a Labour Secretary of State said that the party was over and local authorities received the biggest squeeze ever in a single year. All the personal constituency complaints that he has raised today were raised then.

The right hon. Gentleman ought to have acknowledged that there has been much improvement. Many schemes help housing problems. He did not give any gracious thought at all to the whole housing association movement—not a mention. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did".] Well, he passed it by. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] He did not acknowledge that it was a Conservative achievement and a Conservative concept. It has transformed public housing in this country. In contrast, there has been no evidence whatever of municipal or council housing doing anything in the way of good estates and involvement—[HON. MEMBERS: "He set up the housing associating movement."]—or anything like the quality of the work of the Housing Corporation or housing associations.

Mr. Kaufman

I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman can say what he has just said. Not only did I refer at length to housing associations, I also pointed out—clearly, he was not listening—that I was the Minister responsible for steering through the House the Housing Act 1974, which gave added funding, added responsibilities and an added role to the housing associations and to the Housing Corporation. Either the hon. Gentleman was not listening or he has decided not to pay attention to the achievements of the Labour Government.

Dr. Hampson

The House will notice that the right hon. Gentleman said "added". The concept was the Conservative Government's creation. The concept of the whole thing certainly did not come from Labour. Labour would have gone on with municipal and council housing ad nauseam. Furthermore, the great triumph—the period of maximum expansion, at an unprecedented rate, in Housing Corporation funds—was under this Conservative Government and certainly not under a Labour Government. I am not going to debate that aspect of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but it is only fair that we put the matter into perspective. The right hon. Gentleman totally and deliberately ignored the context and, of course, made no mention of what it used to be like.

The idea that we can cure the long-standing problems of decline in inner cities in a decade is absurd. There have been huge demographic changes and a movement out of city centres of the core investment in manufacturing industry, which was there for 100 years but which no longer exists in any country in the modern world. That drift of basic manufacturing out of the city centres has caused the dilemma that we face, because with it have gone jobs in the inner cities and naturally, with that, housing. People living in the inner cities want to own their houses and do not want to rent places in vast, sprawling, totally unattractive council estates. In many cities—in the right hon. Gentleman's city and in mine—such estates have been knocked down in the past few decades. All that wonderful council housing of which the right hon. Gentleman is so proud has gone.

People have left the inner cities to move into areas where they can buy a decent house. Of course, there has also been a collapse of family life. We are all desperately struggling to curb crime in the inner cities.

The idea that all this is somehow the responsibility of Government is nonsense. I do not know about the council budget in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency. It is probably similar to that in Leeds. Leeds council has £1,000 million a year to spend. That is a huge amount of money by any stretch of the imagination. The Government, in the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980, freed councils, allowing them to determine their priorities much more and to move their moneys around without detailed control from the centre.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to check crime in his estates, if he wants youth centres or video cameras and surveillance, they can be paid for by his local council determining that they are the priorities, not some of its other stupid priorities. The hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) knows that Leeds has paid for some of those schemes out of its own funds.

I shall move on to the central issue that I want to raise. I want to say something about the Robson report and, directly in that context, about the north-east where I was raised and the city of Leeds, which I represent. It is worth pointing out that, throughout that huge report, stress is placed on the caveats, and reference is made to a wide range of policy instruments, which are applied at different times from different starting points with inherently different strengths and weaknesses. It says that there is a whole series of permutations and combinations of relationships". It is hard to come to any positive and clear conclusions. The report says that the measurements used are relatively limited. The outputs that are measured are unemployment, job growth, the creation of small businesses and fluctuating house prices. That is not only what it should be about.

One of the themes that I want to develop is this: the Government set the task, usually through urban development corporations, of physically transforming inner cities, not only because of the jobs that might be created in a particular area but because of the rejuvenation of the whole city. In Leeds, the LDC's developments gave hope to the whole community. It allowed Leeds to develop and use its potential to become the capital of the north and one of the leading cities in Europe, which is the aim of the Labour city council.

We have sought to use the catalyst of physical recreation in the inner city to create opportunities in the city as a whole. The knock-on effect of developments in one part of the city is stupendous for other areas. I shall give some examples from Leeds. The south side of Boar lane, the main road coming out of the station, has been a disgrace for decades. When I was there 20 years ago, there were squalid little shops. It was under blight for 25 years.

The Urban Development Corporation totally transformed the south side. It is now full of fine attractive businesses. I give credit to the Labour council because its site—the south side—has now undergone a facelift. Improvements on the riverside frontage and along the canal are only just beginning. The scale of those improvements will be beyond belief. The royal armouries have been attracted from the Tower of London to the canal zone of the Leeds docks by the Urban Development Corporation. That will in turn attract more than 500,000 tourists a year—tourists in Leeds!—which will have a knock-on effect for restaurants, for bistros and for job creation in the area.

For the first time in the history of Leeds, the city centre, where people go for leisure activities and people live and enjoy life, will move south of the railway tracks. The transformation is only just beginning. As a result of the development, Tetley has built a museum of the pub—another tourist centre. People must be lunatics not to see that the development corporation has transformed the area. The same can be said about the Albert dock in Liverpool and the dock area in Hartlepool. When I was a child, we would not dream of going anywhere near Hartlepool. We would go to Sunderland or Newcastle, hardly ever Middlesbrough and certainly not Hartlepool to shop. There has now been a physical change in Hartlepool.

The hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South knows that the improvements around Hunslet Green and the development of a business centre by the Urban Development Corporation have produced investment by First Direct on the Waddington site next door.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)


Dr. Hampson

The hon. Gentleman should let me finish my point. I am sure that he will agree there have been substantial improvements in the Hunslet and Holbeck areas, which have resulted from the work, the stimulus and the catalytic effect of the Leeds development corporation, which has brought together a partnership of the city council and private enterprise. At the heart of the Robson report is a recommendation about partnerships.

Mr. Gunnell


Dr. Hampson

I shall give way in a moment. Obviously, I cannot accept too many interventions, but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

At the heart of the recommendations is not only the proposal that there should be a pulling together of Government departmental activities, which the Government have already done, but that local authorities should be a significant part of the coalitions that are involved—the activators. That is what we have been trying to do. There has been an attempt to create a real partnership of all the active participants.

In the old days before the Tories came to power, there were no coalitions—there was no active participation by the private sector; it was all done through the public sector. The new coalitions are physically transforming those areas and the knock-on effect for surrounding areas has been huge. The private sector has also put resources into the surrounding areas because the transformation has had a stimulating and catalytic effect.

In Leeds, for every £1 of public money, £6 of private money has been put in. Of course, not all local councils have the same leverage ability. In Manchester, it is much less, but on average, £1 of public money pulls in £4 of private money. Partnership coalitions have worked, as against the non-coalitions of the Labour years, which rarely produced results in Holbeck, Hunslet, cental Leeds, Teesside, Tyneside or docklands

Mr. Gunnell

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the city council has played a major role in the developments to which he referred? Before the Urban Development Corporation was created, the city council started what was happening on Boar lane as a result of its renovations of the corn exchange. The hon. Gentleman said that the royal armouries were won by the Urban Development Corporation. However, he should know that they were won by a joint presentation from the city council and the Urban Development Corporation.

The hon. Gentleman knows that I was a member of the Urban Development Corporation. I was placed on the Urban Development Corporation as a member of the city council to ensure that partnership took place. He should acknowledge that progress in Leeds has been the result of partnership, not the result of—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Traditionally, interventions are short, especially when we have a 10-minute restriction on speeches.

Dr. Hampson

I thought that I had made it clear that I was talking about partnerships. I acknowledge that partnerships have come together, but the catalyst was the Urban Development Corporation. There has been much more transformation in Leeds since the creation of the Urban Development Corporation because it has attracted private capital. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the city council played no initiating role in attracting the royal armouries; the chief executive of the Urban Development Corporation took the initiative. I say that simply to put the record straight, although the partnership made it successful.

I conclude by referring to some of the overall success stories. We have 17 new restaurants and two new hotels. The canal system has attracted some wonderful places for people to enjoy themselves. There are about 400 to 500 new housing units in various parts of the inner city. There has been more than 3,800,000 sq ft of non-housing commercial and industrial development. About 144 acres of derelict, underused, polluted land have been transformed, as is the case in London's docklands and Liverpool's. Who was responsible for that?

For 15 years, we had local government report after report and discussion after discussion, but nothing happened in docklands. I can remember flying, with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, over the London docklands in a helicopter, and seeing the devastation. We realised that we had to pull the whole thing together and have something that would be the co-ordinating force to cut through the planning red tape and, above all, draw in private money.

In Leeds, we now have had Government grants of £51.5 million, and we are drawing in another £317 million of private money. I could go on about other areas as well. Regardless of what the Robson report says, the managing director of Nissan said: The achievements of TWDC"— the Tyne and Wear development corporation— in such a short space of time are nothing short of phenomenal. It has done a power of good for the image and the credibility of the region"— not only the particular site but the region— in attracting 'blue chip' companies of real quality to Tyne and Wear. This not only enhances the stature of the area but it bodes well for its future prosperity. Even our former colleague, now Sir Ian Wrigglesworth —I do not know whether he was speaking for the Liberal Democrats or as a business man—said: I am convinced that a considerable contribution to resisting the recession has been made by the work of the Tyne and Wear and Teesside UDCs and I think we can draw lessons on how to manage urban development from them… The corporations have made a dramatic impact on the areas they cover. They have been an enormous success. Anybody who goes there can see that success.

The Government have offered hope to no-hope areas, created opportunities to tap the potential that is there and —above all—stopped the slide of decline and the insidious deterioration that had been going on year after year, decade after decade. We have produced partnerships of mutual benefit, involving city councils, the private sector, universities and voluntary bodies. That to me is a great achievement.

The tragedy is that Opposition Members, such as the right hon. Member for Gorton, have never acknowledged that there has been any achievement. They want to go back and perpetuate a system that was failing the inner cities of this country. The Government have more to boast about.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are just about to enter the ten-minute rule period. May I say to new hon. Members who are seeking to catch my eye that the digital clock will flash when they have 30 seconds to go?

6 pm

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

I welcome the Labour party motion, and I shall be advising my colleagues to vote in favour of it tonight. It is true that the motion does not go much farther than reiterating points that have been made several times in the past, but then as long as the Government fail to recognise the importance of the points, it is up to us those of us on the Opposition Benches to reiterate them until the Government are forced to change their policies.

Let there be no doubt that the Government's urban and housing policies have failed, and are still failing. The Government's recent study makes it clear that urban deprivation and decay in the core of our inner cities has worsened throughout the 1980s despite all of the resources that the Government have tried to pour into them. That has happened because of the Government's pathological hatred of local government and their ability to ignore local authorities and communities, instead of working in partnership with them.

Inner cities face many problems—crime, vandalism, low standards of health and education, high levels of unemployment and many more—but if one aspect of our society lies at the root of all of the problems, it must be housing. Let us consider for a moment the effects of housing on health standards. Inadequate and poorly designed housing can often be both damp and cold. There may be problems caused by asbestos, insect infestation, radon gas, poor sanitation, poor lighting, the use of shared amenities and overcrowding. On the other hand, problems may be caused by living alone without normal social contacts.

We must consider other effects besides the health effects of poor housing. Residents in HMOs—houses in multiple occupation—are 10 times more likely to die in a fire than the average resident. More than half of the walls in newly completed houses fail to meet the Building Research Establishment's recommended standards for noise transmission between buildings.

Meanwhile, 72 per cent. of families in bed and breakfast accommodation in London have no access to safe play areas for their children. Is it any surprise that some children grow up alienated from society, and feeling that they have been given none of the opportunities open to their contemporaries to make the most of their own lives?

What is the Government's answer? Since 1989–90, there has been a 42 per cent. decrease in funding for new special needs housing. Investment in social housing is set to fall by £1 billion in the next few years. The level of grants to housing associations has fallen and is still falling. Far from providing more affordable rented homes, the Government have done their best to reduce the number by their rent-to-mortgage scheme. The scheme can only be described as a farcical failure. It is reported today by the Association of London Authorities that just seven out of 650,000 council homes in the capital had been purchased under the scheme—precisely 0.001 per cent.

What of the Minister's other great initiative, the White Paper on homelessness? It has now been almost universally rejected, particularly those aspects which deal with the reform of homelessness legislation. On several occasions, the Minister has assured us that the responses to his consultation paper have been varied and have covered a wide spectrum. I wonder whether he will answer today one specific question. How many of the responses have supported the proposals in the paper which cover the reform of the homelessness legislation, as opposed to those proposals which cover necessary improvements in the advice network?

What can and should be done in place of the failing efforts of the Government? The Liberal Democrats believe that our country needs 100,000 new units of social housing each year for the next five years. Interestingly, a recent briefing paper from Shelter produced precisely the same figure.

How are we to achieve that? Part of the answer, at least, has to be to tackle the problem of empty homes, and I want that to take up a large part of my limited time tonight. I feel that it is a very important subject which has not so far been tackled by either of the larger parties properly. I am talking not just about the widely recognised scandal of empty Government-owned properties—appalling though that is —but of empty properties in all sectors.

In the context of empty Government-owned properties, it may be of interest to the House that I recently discovered why those properties are being left empty. Apparently, a senior officer was asked recently whether he would be prepared to accept young couples into some of the married accommodation in some of his empty sites. He answered that that would be impossible while any soldiers were housed there because some of the young couples who moved in might later split up and divorce, and that would be a bad example for our "young lads". So that is it. The Government waste millions of pounds a year keeping Ministry of Defence properties empty to save our poor innocent soldiers from being contaminated by the knowledge that couples sometimes split up and get divorced. What world do those people live in?

It is not just Government-owned properties which are empty. Since 1990, there has been a sudden jump in the previously gradual upward trend in the number of empty properties in England. Each year since then, the number has risen by an extra 50,000 empty homes and that is a tragic waste. There are now also huge numbers of empty commercial properties, many of which will never again be put to commercial use. Here I come to a proposal for the Minister which I hope he will get his civil servants to work on seriously. It could, I believe, lead to tens—if not hundreds—of thousands of new affordable properties being made available.

I have in the past praised the "flats over shops" initiative, and I believe that it is still worth while, at least in principle. However, it has no doubt hit a serious problem, in that many landlords believe that it is better to hang on to an empty property that has planning permission for commercial use than to allow it to lose that permission by being converted into residential accommodation. That is done in the hope that, at some point in the future, an upturn in the economy will give the property back the commercial value it once had.

The Minister should investigate the possibility of overcoming that reluctance on the part of landlords by allowing some sort of retained commercial-use permission. One might call it a "return ticket" type of conversion to residential accommodation. It is, of course, only a part of the answer that the Liberal Democrats would propose to the problems of housing and urban areas. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House will agree that it is better to use the short time available to me to try to take policy one step further than simply to repeat the points that I and others have had to make all too often in the past, or to go in for the sort of rant that we heard from both Front-Bench spokesmen earlier.

I offer the Minister a free suggestion. Be brave, take the flats over shops initiative forward and allow some sort of dual use permission. Who knows? The Minister may go down in history as someone who succeeded in helping, rather than harming, the homeless.

6.8 pm

Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)

The terms of the Opposition motion best describe what the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) would otherwise have said with his usual venom.

The first line of the Opposition motion states that the Government's urban policies have failed. That line demonstrates that the Opposition have no conception of what urban regeneration is all about, because one cannot judge the success or failure of such regeneration inside 30 years. Examples from all over the world confirm that it takes decades to assess the success of regeneration. The Opposition, however, know better than anyone else and they have concluded that our policy has failed.

The Opposition motion refers to our "doctrinaire solutions"—what gall, what spleen from the Labour party. That party got me into politics because I was so furious at the way in which it used its doctrinaire policies to destroy jobs in Hackney, where I worked as a volunteer lawyer. A local factory was closed and 18 delightful Bangladeshi people lost their jobs because it was considered that their boss, a member of their family, was paying them a few pennies too little. Those people told me, with tears in their eyes, that they had been paid 500 per cent. more than they were paid in Bangladesh. They were delighted with such money, but they lost their jobs because of Labour party inflexibility.

The Opposition motion also claims that our policies have resulted in cuts in urban and housing programmes. If we cut our regeneration budget by even 500 per cent., it would still beat by a mile what the Labour party spent on urban regeneration during the 1970s. Then, it spent £25 million a year; last year, the Conservative Government spent £4 billion. If that amount is added to all the money spent on inner cities, the aggregate sum increases to £10 billion. So much for the Conservative Government cutting budgets.

Mr. Straw

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Booth

My speech is subject to the 10-minute limit, so I cannot give way.

If the Opposition are seriously suggesting that we have wasted money, what about the £3 billion we have devoted to attracting urban investment, which is part of the geared £13 billion extra commercial investment in our cities? According to the Opposition motion, the Government have also undermined voluntary action towards urban regeneration, but we are the party of voluntary action. I used to chair the British Urban Regeneration Association. It has 500 members, many of them voluntary organisations that were established in the 1980s and which continue to thrive.

According to the Opposition motion we have reinforced a dependency culture. That is rich from the Labour party, which created that culture in the first place. The motion also calls for the phased release of capital receipts". We have heard a lot about that from Opposition Members today. Those receipts are already released, so that is another nonsense in the Opposition motion.

The Government's amendment, in contrast, is sensible and factual. It deserves the support of the House. Although the Conservative Government are not doctrinaire, we do adhere to one doctrine, because the Conservative party helps all our people, regardless of background. That is clear from the urban regeneration of Albert docks in Liverpool, which has already been mentioned, Swansea docks, housing in Kirklees and the Ivory house development in docklands. All those regeneration schemes were undertaken in Labour authorities. Time after time, the Conservative Government's urban policies have helped various Labour authority areas with demonstrable fairness.

Housing policy is a matrix of many policies, although we have not heard much about the environment, jobs, health or education, let alone about crime or culture. We have heard a lot, however, about local government and housing.

I want to give the picture from around Britain. I want health promotion and education to be part of urban regeneration policy. Recently I visited Battersea technology college. When the school numbers fell as a result of a crisis from 1,500 to just 350, what did we do? Did we close it and forget about that sad school? Not at all. We injected £2.4 million and, thank goodness, it is now pulling out of its crisis.

The burglary rate has fallen by 16 per cent. in the past year, thanks to excellent law enforcement in the inner cities. The cultural aspects of urban regeneration in inner cities was recognised recently with certain appointments to the Department of the Environment. I commend the recent quality of life initiative.

We need no lectures on local government. In Wandsworth, for example, £4 per head is spent on cleaning the streets, which are cleaner than those across the border in Lambeth. In Lambeth, it costs £28 per head to keep the streets a lot dirtier than they are in Wandsworth.

The Labour party calls for more responsibilities to be given to local authorities, but does it want those responsibilities to be given to authorities such as Lambeth or to those such as Wandsworth?

We do not need to rehearse all the excellent statistics that prove how we achieved great things in the 1980s, especially as they were rehearsed in the debate on 25 March. It would be excellent if more could be done to extend the success of our efforts to motivate people. We have sought to increase motivation in schools through the school truancy initiative. I hope that we will not hurt adult education through our job seeker's allowance.

We have attracted much investment to the inner cities, but we need to do more. Hon. Members have talked about the benefit-poverty trap. There are 10,000 people in that trap at the moment, which is far too many, but the figure does not warrant the casual criticisms that we have heard today from Opposition Members. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ten thousand?"] That figure was quoted in a letter that I received this morning from the Department of Social Security.

Mr. Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West)

It is the page number.

Mr. Booth

I will show that letter to anyone who wants to see it.

We must tackle the problems created by the black economy, because people who do not pay tax do not pay towards their civic responsibilities. Thank goodness, our policy of low taxation in the corporate sector has tackled that problem. It has brought people out of the woodwork because it is not too sensible to risk prison when taxation is so low.

We need to provide more money for housing swaps and renovations. On my shopping list, motivation should be at the top of our policy agenda. A strategy on health should also be incorporated in the urban regeneration policy adopted by Ministers. Crime prevention should be considered in a new way and—[Interruption.] If I can just make myself heard above the chattering from the Opposition—[HON. MEMBERS: "Time's up."] We need new firearms legislation. We also need to amend our transport policy to allow heavy lorries to travel at staggered times during the day.

We need to allow and empower people to renovate voids and we need more of the same successful policies for all our people—successful policy bricks made without straw.

Mr. Deputy Speaker


6.18 pm
Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to make my maiden speech on such an important issue.

First, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Jo Richardson. Jo was greatly admired and warmly loved. She is sorely missed by many people, both in the House and in Barking. Thousands of people in Barking knew, respected and loved Jo and felt that the quality of their lives had been enhanced by her, through either her friendship or her actions on their behalf.

Jo's interests were wide-ranging, but she will probably be best remembered for her commitment to women's rights. Working with women in Barking, she helped to create a well woman's clinic and a women's refuge. In the House, she piloted legislation protecting women against domestic violence and consistently led the campaign to defend the Abortion Act 1967. But, in Jo's words, All issues are women's issues. There is no such thing as a woman's issue. I believe that women should have a voice in everything. That is not only just, but our country will be the better for it. The subject of today's debate—housing—is vital in Barking. Barking's housing is a lasting tribute and legacy to Labour's successful public housing policies—good council homes, mostly in cottage estates, at affordable rents, built as homes for heroes after the first world war. Later, as Ford expanded into the biggest urban industrial complex, employing more than 30,000 people at its height, the London county council and the Greater London council built decent homes for those who worked in the Ford factories. It was an effective public-private partnership that worked and delivered many years ago.

When Barking and Dagenham council took over the GLC stock, it achieved important social objectives by inheriting such a large stock. Young people grew up, married, and were allocated a flat in one of the few high-rise blocks. They stayed there for three to five years and were then transferred to a home with a garden, which was appropriate for families with young children. The flexibility of a large stock meant that Barking had stable, strong and mixed communities, with great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and children living close by and supporting each other in decent homes at a price which they could afford. That is a culture not of dependency but of opportunity. It is not a weak community; it is a strong community.

During the 1980s, a third of the council's homes were bought by tenants, but, at the same time, council house building virtually stopped because of Government restrictions. So young couples can no longer look forward to a house with a garden; the stability of the community is threatened; opportunity for individuals is constrained; homelessness, even there, has doubled; vandalism and crime have spread as children cope with living in high-rise blocks; and racism is on the increase as white families look for a scapegoat to blame for the lack of a decent home.

The Government's dogmatic and ideological loathing of council housing has created a social and economic disaster for our urban communities. New council house building has virtually stopped. Spending has fallen by a staggering 95 per cent. since 1979. In London, only 63 new council homes are being built this year. So of course homelessness has grown. It has caused misery and locked families into a downward spiral of dependency, and made it more difficult for localities to compete for inward investment.

The Government have also forced up social housing rents, with the result that the number of people on housing benefit has almost tripled in 15 years, despite 49 separate changes to the housing benefit system, mainly aimed at cutting the benefits bill. Far from freeing people from dependency, the Government have forced them into dependency. Far from increasing individual choice, families cannot take opportunities to work because, with low-paid jobs, they cannot afford the rent. Far from creating social cohesion, the Government are allowing ghettos to develop in both council and housing association housing. Far from reducing public spending, there has been a staggering growth in the housing benefit budget. Far from helping in the fight against inflation, the Government have fuelled inflation with high rent increases. The economics of their policy isYet the economics of the madhouse. They have switched spending from subsidising the building of homes to subsidising rents—from investment to consumption.

The link between housing and urban regeneration in that regard is ironic. In housing, we should invest more in bricks and mortar, yet the Government do not. In urban regeneration, we should invest more in people, yet the Government do not. The gap between the rich and the poor is wider today than it has been for more than 100 years. Joblessness, homelessness, poverty, crime, decay and dereliction in our cities are there for all to see. Those are not the signs of a society at peace with itself.

What has gone wrong? The regeneration of our urban areas is a difficult and complex part of public policy. Yet it, more than most, has been subject to ministerial whim, short-termism and political gimmickry. The Government have had CATs, HATs, UDCs, enterprise zones, garden festivals and task forces. They have been through city grant, city challenge and now the single regeneration budget. The constant change in an area of public policy where consistency is vital shows that political vanity has triumphed over public interest.

Urban regeneration is a long-term project and is vital for a healthy society, yet, for the sake of 20 seconds of prime television time for a here today, gone tomorrow, Tory politician, the Government are prepared to let urban deprivation and social division become institutionalised.

Furthermore, urban regeneration will never work if the Government give with one hand and then take back much more with the other. Their review of urban programmes documents the success of a wide range of urban programme projects. But if local authority spending is cut, housing investment is slashed or section 11 funding destroyed, the impact of urban regeneration spending will inevitably be lost in bigger cuts elsewhere. It is obvious.

Even in their own terms, trickle-down policies do not work. Canary wharf provides a potent visual reminder of that. We shall regenerate our urban areas only if we build from the bottom up. We need partnerships, not patronage—partnerships with people who live in the areas as well as with businesses that work in the areas. That depends on recreating strong, independent local government and really decentralising power, resources and decision-making to localities. They should not be run from Whitehall.

If localities are to be successful, they need civic leadership to promote the locality, argue for resources, seek inward investment, and foster civic pride and identity. Yet 15 years' worth of legislation has undermined that civic leadership. In London, civic leadership has been abolished. Without it, we shall be unable to create the partnerships that are essential to regenerate our urban areas. It means less power to Ministers; allowing diversity and experiments; and tolerating, not destroying, opposition. In London, it means creating a strategic and democratic voice for the capital.

In Barking, we have the people—nearly one in six are out of work. We have the land, with 800 acres on the east Thames corridor. What we lack is the freedom and opportunity to act and facilitate change.

When Jo Richardson made her maiden speech 20 years ago, she talked about exactly the same issues that I have raised today. What an indictment. We cannot afford to throw away the future for our children. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past 15 years.

6.28 pm
Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate. I declare an interest as the chairman of a small private sector housing company.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) on the speech that she has just delivered to the House. She arrives in the House with a reputation as a formidable, determined and hard-working lady with passionate, sincerely held views. In that respect, she is identical to her predecessor. The whole House has been impressed by the way in which she commanded its attention, and we look forward to hearing from her on many occasions in the future. We wish her very many happy and successful years in the House.

The speech of the hon. Lady was in sharp contrast to that of her hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), which was depressingly familiar. There was an unfortunate slur in the way in which he sought to denigrate the whole of the Government's inner-city industry programme. It was not simply a slur on the Government, as we would expect from the hon. Gentleman; more importantly, it was a slur on the many people in the voluntary organisations, the local authorities and the businesses trying to get started and to build up the inner-city areas who have put in so much time and effort to regenerate their areas. The way in which the hon. Gentleman treated them was a gratuitous insult.

Perhaps we should not have expected more, because we know that the hon. Member for Blackburn has been closely associated with the preparation of the leadership document for the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), and it is astonishing that in 20 points for revival—set out, not just as 20 of many, but as the 20 points for revival—urban regeneration and housing are not mentioned once. The only time that housing is mentioned is on page 15 of a 20-page document, where it merits one line of comment. Homelessness merits half a line of comment. That is a pretty sad indictment of the way in which the Labour party views that issue.

If we are considering a motion which seeks to criticise the Government, we need to establish in what way the Government are being criticised. They certainly cannot be criticised for a decline in the number of houses in this country by comparison with 15 years ago—there are nearly 2.5 million more houses in this country than there were then. They also cannot be criticised for a worsening in the quality of that housing, because we know from the housing conditions survey that the quality of housing is higher than it has been in the country's history.

A report said that one in 13 houses were sub-standard, but we know that economic revival would return many to good condition. People have put off making repairs. People are buying houses again and, as the market becomes more vibrant, many repairs will be carried out.

In the brief moments allowed to me, I shall concentrate on the future. We need to do more about rehabilitation. Figures are bandied about to the effect that 100,000,150,000 or even 200,000 houses need to be built in this country each year, but we need to do more to bring back into use the 850,000 houses which are standing empty, and to rehabilite those houses which are occupied but which are not of the standard we want. Progress is being made in that respect already.

The Government must take the lead, and they have done so by cracking down on those Departments, such as the Ministry of Defence, that have not made good enough use of their property. Further action needs to be taken in many areas, for example, by local authorities. I make a specific case in relation to empty police houses. If one's name is on a waiting list, there is nothing more galling than to find that two police houses in one's village or community are boarded up, overgrown and gradually falling into dereliction, as is happening in too many regions.

Derbyshire, the area in which my constituency lies, has the worst record in the country in this respect. Gradually, after much pressure from the Labour housing chairman of High Peak borough council and myself, action has begun to try to put that issue right, helped a great deal by the task force set up in the Department of the Environment.

Labour local authorities which allow their houses to stand empty must be forced to bring them back into use. They would be better advised not to speak about being allowed to spend their capital receipts, but to do more to collect the rents that are already due and are waiting to be collected.

The bulk of the problem of empty houses lies, not in the public sector, but in the private sector. There have been many welcome initiatives, such as the use of housing associations as managing agents, and the "flats above shops" initiative, but we need to go further.

I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) speak about bringing office space into use. That is not a new Liberal party policy; it is a well-established Hendry policy, which has been an-nounced in press releases in the House, and on which my right hon. Friend the Minister has been lobbied endlessly at briefing meetings, dinners and so on.

If the Minister looks, he will see that in almost every speech on housing that I have made in the House in the past two years I have spoken about trying to make better use of empty commercial space. I am delighted that the Liberals have converted to that policy, and I hope that they will support it.

Mr. Rendel


Mr. Hendry

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way, but I am more than happy to discuss the matter with him later.

We need to do more to bring empty private housing stock back into use. For example, if one has an empty flat above a shop, it is wrong that one should obtain a council tax rebate on that property. We should send out a clear message that that is socially undesirable and therefore, not only should one not obtain a rebate, but one should perhaps be surcharged. If a flat is owned by a family who are trying to sell it after someone has died, that may be different, but, especially if the flat is commercially owned, owners should be penalised if they are doing a disservice to the community in which they operate and work.

We also need to consider new build. In terms of public sector new build, we are on target for the commitment that we made two years ago—indeed, we are well beyond it. In the election manifesto we promised 153,000 new housing association houses, and I believe that we shall exceed 171,000 over a three-year period.

We should look to housing associations to be more imaginative. For example, we should consider making housing association grant available to private developers. We should take a portion of a housing association's grant and ask private sector developers to bid for that grant, and find out how many houses they can build in competition with a housing association. That would make them operate more competitively and cost-effectively.

In considering grant levels, we also need to put pressure on the banks and to ask why they are willing to lend to all of us in the House at a mortgage rate that is lower than the rate at which they are willing to lend money to a housing association to build houses as a corporate organisation. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will find it possible to put pressure on the banks to show more flexibility in that respect.

We also need to encourage the housing associations to go further along the lines of the right to buy. That is one way in which they can generate more resources from their existing capital base, which can be ploughed back into housing and into building new capital support.

I strongly welcome the homelessness review that has been announced and carried out by the Department of the Environment. It goes to the core of a problem which we find in our constituencies, and which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State described so clearly. People in my constituency are fed up with waiting patiently on the housing list and being told that they are 20th or 30th this year and next year they may be 18th or 28th and will make the most fractional progress up the waiting list when people who they know are taking advantage of the rules are jumping straight to the head of the queue. That is an abuse which needs to be eradicated. I know from my constituency that 55 per cent. of the houses allocated by the local authority went to people who were not previously on the waiting list. That demonstrates the magnitude of the problem.

To my mind, housing is at the core of the issue of urban regeneration. We shall not solve the problems of urban regeneration until we have kicked out the Labour authorities that have ruined many of our city areas. [Interruption.] I say that because many of the people who have moved out of the cities, many of people who have moved their businesses out of the cities and many of the teachers who have moved out of the cities have left because they did not like the Labour rating policy or could not afford it, and did not like the policies, which were hostile to business, to individuals, to enterprise and to wealth creation. Until we have reversed that situation, we shall not get the policy straight.

At the same time, Conservative Members are right to pursue a policy of co-operation with those local authorities that wish to work constructively with the Government. That is what the Minister's policy is doing, and I wholly support the Government's amendment to the motion.

6.38 pm
Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am always delighted to see you take the Chair, because I always feel that I shall be called to speak when I see you come in.

The Government have created an appalling housing crisis—there can be no doubt about that. Government spending on housing was slashed by 53 per cent. between 1979 and 1992. In real terms, using 1992 prices, spending has decreased from £13 billion in 1979 to less than £6 billion in 1992. The Government this year are continuing to slash investment in rented housing, at a time when demand has never been as great. For example, local authority waiting lists in my constituency consisted of about 1,000 names in 1979. They now consist of more than 4,000.

The Three Rivers housing association in my constituency receives about 1,300 applications for help every year, but it can help only about 10 per cent. of applicants. Housing needs remain high, but the local authority is unable to respond satisfactorily as, in its enabling role, it cannot replace the loss of more than 4,000 properties in the past 12 years.

My local authority has demonstrated its enabling role by the provision of free land, its commitment to stop disposal as part of estate action, and its willingness to promote home improvement grants in the private sector. It will continue to adopt a positive approach to its enabling role, but that in itself will not meet the growing gap between housing need and provision. Durham city council's stock continues to deteriorate due to inadequate funding. Its on-going stock survey highlights the massive cost of repair, which was estimated to be about £66 million way back in 1985.

Only yesterday, I received a letter from a Mr. Weir, who does not live in my constituency. He is national chairman of the smaller builders group, which is attached to the Building Employers Confederation. The letter states: You will recall that some months ago I sent you a report 'English Homes—A National Asset?'…At the same time I wrote to the Prime Minister forwarding to him a copy of the same report…I am enclosing a letter which I have recently received from the Prime Minister setting down his comments and observations on the contents of the report and the Governmental (in)action. The letter from the Prime Minister's office states: The Government realises the potential of the housing renewal/refurbishment sector and appreciates its worth in stimulating the construction industry generally. It feels that the best way to enhance the housing stock is to improve the conditions under which those who are unable to help themselves are able to do so, and to ensure that those who are in a position to better their properties, appreciate the benefits of doing so. The Government regularly reviews its policy in this respect and has taken note of the points raised by the report. I read that time and time again to look for some clue that the Government would help the building industry. The letter, however, was a load of gobbledegook and meant nothing except that no help would be forthcoming.

In response to my local council's housing investment programme bid, the Government allocated £1.45 million to the council as an annual capital guideline. When capital receipts were taken into account, however, the allocation was reduced to £904,000. The Government give the impression that they allow local authorities to use capital receipts as extra spending for housing programmes, but that is false. Certain capital receipts are used and allowed to be spent, but an equivalent amount is deducted by the Government in the HIP settlement, which is the limit to which the council can borrow. Any other finances that are available for a meaningful capital programme must be financed by the council.

This year, the council eventually put together a programme of about £6.6 million, but had to contribute nearly £4 million from its own revenue, which it raised by average increases in rent of £3 a week last year and this year. Consequently, more and more tenants, both of local authorities and housing associations, are becoming totally dependent on housing benefit. Tenants who pay full rent end up subsidising those on benefit. Council tenants are paying the housing benefit of other tenants. That is immoral.

The position is much worse in housing association assured tenancies as, due to the cut in grant rates, nearly 50 per cent. of a development must be financed through the private market. That has led to outturn rents of about £60 to £70 for a three-bedroom house in the region. The only tenants who can afford to live in such accommodation are those on full housing benefit. Once they take a job and come off benefit, however, they cannot afford to pay the rent, so they cannot take a job. That is one of the reasons why Durham city council insists on housing associations building only flats and bungalows in an effort to keep outturn rents affordable.

If we bear in mind the fact that 60 to 70 per cent. of Durham's tenants receive benefits, it becomes clear that it is a major problem and worry, especially as there are rumours that the Government intend to review the housing benefit system. Many tenants are in the poverty trap and cannot take a job because they will not be able to afford the rent. That is a scandal.

According to the Department of the Environment's English house conditions survey, which was published in 1993, nearly 1.5 million homes are officially unfit to live in. Housing starts fell from about 272,000 in 1978 to 163,000 in 1992. Local authority new starts fell from about 79,500 to about 2,800. In the same period, housing association starts only rose from about 21,000 to 34,000. Those figures show the huge number of houses that have not been built in the past few years.

Local authorities hold about £6 billion in accumulated capital receipts, yet the Government will not allow them to build houses with the money. If local authorities used the money to build houses, that would help to revive the building industry, which shows little sign of upturn. In the past few years, about half a million building jobs have been lost. It is a scandal. Money is available to build houses and building workers are available to carry out the work, yet the Government, because of their dogmatic policies and hatred of local government, prevent houses from being built. They are prepared to see people without homes as homelessness increases day by day.

For misguided political reasons, the Government continue to be obsessed about promoting owner-occupation. The Housing Corporation is top-slicing more and more of its programme into initiatives to promote owner-occupation. The favourite schemes are the tenants incentive scheme and do-it-yourself shared ownership, where tenants are paid cash incentives to give up their tenancy and buy a property on the open market. The Government hope that those incentives—or bribes—will free properties for the poor and unemployed, but they will result in what I can only call "welfarisation". Tenants in work will move out, leaving behind welfare ghettoes of tenants who are unemployed and entirely dependent on benefits, which will damage the social fabric of local communities. Let us make no mistake—that is happening in my constituency, and I suspect in every other constituency.

There is a clear demand and need for affordable rented accommodation, but due to political dogma the Government will not accept that local authorities are the best vehicle to provide that much-needed commodity. The level of homelessness is one result of appalling Government policies. The Government seek to add ridiculous proposals to homeless legislation. Those proposals are nailed on the back of political dogma about single parents and families abusing homeless legislation. The sinister part of the proposal involves the suggestion that there should be central control of council waiting lists. That will take away any local control of council housing, and is the Government's ultimate aim.

There has never been a time when the need has been so great for major investment to be channelled towards the public sector. The housing stock that is left to my local authority is in need of substantial investment. The best properties on the best estates have been sold. The Government expect the private rented sector to come to the rescue, but that will never happen, especially in Durham because all private property is rented by students due to the expansion of the university.

The rents being charged in Durham in the private sector are said to be higher than those in the capital, London. The Government's ridiculous—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I am sorry, but I have to stem the hon. Gentleman's flow.

6.48 pm
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

This is a broad subject with many interlinked themes, but the Opposition have chosen, at least so far, a narrow approach that is clearly driven more by party political expediency than a long-term housing vision. I propose, therefore, to concentrate on three issues that have not been properly covered.

The first involves the position of private leaseholders, an area of housing provision that is extremely important, especially in outer London, and which deserves attention. I will refer secondly to some problems to do with housing associations, and thirdly to the future of social housing. Although all three subjects are of considerable relevance to my constituency in outer London, they are relevant to many other areas too—housing problems are to be found across the nation.

The position of private leaseholders was immeasurably improved by the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. The right to enfranchisement corrected an archaic and contradictory element of the law. Previously, householders were seen to be owners, yet somehow less than owners. They paid the full price and regarded themselves as owners, but their ownership was limited because of their lack of control over much of the area in which their flats were located.

The 1993 Act was thus an excellent reform. It has gone down extremely well in many areas; it has improved the status of leaseholders; and it fulfilled a manifesto pledge. It will produce long-term benefits in urban housing provision.

Some unnecessary hurdles remain, notably in respect of tenure and the process of purchase. They give rise to the need for the early introduction of commonhold, specifically designed for this sort of housing. The Government are pledged to introducing it, and I say : the sooner the better. The further reform of housing law that it will bring about will help to extend ownership in practice and will aid transfer.

The right to enfranchisement still leaves many leaseholders outside, for a variety of reasons that I well understand. I am worried, however, about the development of two tiers of leaseholders. Most leaseholders who are not enfranchised enjoy good relations with their freeholders and with the management companies, but there are some worrying trends, and the worst examples clearly involve malpractice.

There is a tendency, too, for some companies to buy up freeholds purely as a means of gaining control of management companies and then using the latter as milch cows, sometimes even linked with insurance agencies and housing repair companies. That is because the freeholder has monopoly control over the provision of management company services and the choice of management company. Thus, despite some safeguards built into the law and governing service charges, leaseholders are not yet fully protected. There can be an uneven battle between the smooth management company operator and ordinary people, many of them elderly and at the lower end of home ownership.

Some management companies even disregard the law. I know of a number of such examples in my constituency. One company calls itself Manage, Administer and Supervise Ltd., and operates from a PO box in Southend. It has refused to answer perfectly valid inquiries about service charges and insurance submitted by constituents of mine.

When I took up the issue, the company's excuse was that it could not answer inquiries about service charges because the files were with its solicitor—an excuse which I suspect would not stand up well in a court of law, and which certainly goes against the intentions of Parliament as expressed in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1885. That Act obliges management companies to reveal simple facts when prompted by inquiries of this nature from leaseholders. This problem clearly needs dealing with.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the greatest culprits when it comes to service charges, the cost of lifts in flats and so on are socialist councils that refuse to accept their responsibility for people who have bought council houses?

Mr. Merchant

That is an interesting point, but my hon. Friend anticipates me—I was coming to it. Before I do, I should add that I believe that one answer to these problems of management companies is to consider legislating to give leaseholders some influence over which management company they end up with; perhaps some form of limited joint—to use a popular word—veto with freeholders when it comes to choosing a management company.

Moving now to my hon. Friend's point, I should like to discuss the problem for leaseholders whose freeholder is not a private organisation but a local authority. The leaseholders have probably exercised their right to buy, and in theory should thereafter enjoy the same sort of relationship with the local authority as they would have had with the private sector.

There are two problems in this connection: the first is the sheer size and power of the freeholder in this case; the second, the nature and size—again it is the operative factor —of the housing provided. With a private company, a leaseholder has in fact, if not in law, considerable bargaining power in the matter of high service charges and repairs, because the freeholder knows that he cannot press too hard on the leaseholder without upsetting the relationship and making it difficult to recover any money that the management company might spend on repairs. A local authority is in a much stronger position, and does not feel similarly restrained—that is the difference in fact, if not in law.

The problem in my constituency is even more complex. In the Bromley area, about one in four flats—2,000 altogether—previously owned by the local authority have been taken over by leaseholders who have exercised the right to buy. They are no longer local authority leaseholders, however, because the local authority has sold its entire housing stock to a housing association.

I strongly support both the right to buy and the transfer to housing associations, but they have created something of an anomaly. The housing association concerned, Broomleigh, is moving to levy severe service charges because of repairs, some of which the leaseholders argue are unnecessary. No leaseholder denies the duty that he has to pay service charges, but when leaseholders receive bills for more than £25,000—considerably more than the cost of buying their properties in the first place—something is obviously going wrong.

The practicalities of the matter have been handled rather badly by the housing association in question. There seems to have been a lack of judgment and sensitivity, not to mention some provocation. This problem needs dealing with; leaseholders need to be given some protection and some help—perhaps repurchase of their flats, if that is what they want, or perhaps the provision of grant money, not by increasing existing funds but taken from them. These people did, after all, go into purchase with their eyes open, but few of them were aware that such extreme service charges would be levied on them. I certainly hope that some means can be found to help them.

In my last few seconds, I should like to discuss social housing. I believe that the Opposition approach it from entirely the wrong angle. They look at it as something to be built on and expanded for its own sake, but surely we need to have a vision of a world in which social housing is no longer necessary because people have been provided with the means to acquire their own homes.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)


6.58 pm
Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this debate.

The by-election in Bradford, South was caused by the tragic death of Bob Cryer, to whom many tributes have already been paid. Tonight, I should like to add my own. Bob became a national figure here and was respected as a good constituency Member, fighting for the people of Bradford, South and brilliantly using his knowledge of parliamentary procedure. His outside interests were as numerous as they were varied, ranging from the love of old cars to the formation of the Keighley-Worth valley railway. Bob was loved by his constituency party workers, and will be a sad loss not only to those of us in the Labour and trade union movement, but to all who cherish parliamentary democracy.

Bob Cryer and John Smith were two different types of people, but both were committed, as we all are on the Opposition Benches, to making a reality of our vision of a decent, fair society in which every individual has the opportunity to develop his or her potential to the maximum, within the framework of the communities that make up our society. The tributes to John Smith after his sad death show that the country respects principle and honour, but rejects arrogance and sleaze.

Bradford is the fourth largest metropolitan district, with a population of more than 490,000. The diversity of the district in geographical terms is as complex as the make-up of its population. Those of us who have lived and worked in Bradford all our lives would like to live nowhere else.

The proud heritage of the wool capital of the world has brought an international presence in our architecture—the magnificant Alhambra theatre, the area of Little Germany and the many imposing mills, such as Salts, Listers and Fosters, whose names mark the industrial heart of Bradford and which crafted a work force not frightened of a hard day's work, but always determined to receive a fair day's pay.

Last year in Bradford, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Independent Labour party, formed in Bradford as a result of the Manningham mill dispute. Its motto then could apply equally today—"The Liberals are the party that can't. The Tories are the party that won't. Labour is the party that will."

Within 15 minutes of leaving the city centre, one can be on the brooding moors of Haworth or without one's hat on Ilkley moor. In that heritage,I have a great pride, but I also have a great responsibility in representing the people of Bradford, South.

The people of Bradford want a decent caring Government to create an environment so that, when they are ill, they are treated at the point of need regardless of age or ability to pay. When they are old, they want to receive a pension that allows them a quality of life in keeping with the sacrifices that they have made over the years that they have contributed to Britain's well-being.

When they need housing, they want a choice of tenure. Home ownership is not the only option. In Bradford, 9,000 people require housing, and local authorities must be allowed to use their capital receipts to build affordable homes. When their children need educating, they want them to be educated in schools, colleges and universities that are well equipped, with motivated staff.

But most important of all, the people of Bradford want a Government who will sustain an economy that will develop and provide the opportunity for the dignity of work for all, so that people can make real choices in their lives. Bradford has to create 1,000 jobs a year just to stand still. Youth unemployment on our estates and in our ethnic minority communities is alarmingly high. Our manufacturing industry has been dramatically reduced, but in Bradford there is a great spirit of partnership, with all sectors fighting to protect and promote the district.

It is not uncommon—indeed, it is the norm—to see the trade unions and the chamber of commerce discussing economic and industrial objectives, or the university and religious groups campaigning together to ensure that Bradford retains its section 11 funding, which is so desperately needed. Will Departments and Ministers stop passing the buck for section 11 funding, and meet the need for jobs in Bradford and the schemes that require support? The council and the police work together to promote a safer city through a community safety board, and also combine to rid the city of drugs.

The resilience and strength of that partnership, however, has received some blows from the Government. There has been the loss of assisted area status with the decision that Folkestone is more deserving than Bradford, the loss of the urban programme and the cutting of Bradford's standard spending assessment, which resulted in a cut of £18.3 million and affected every family in the district because less could be spent on essential services. Yes, there has been city challenge and estate action, but those have had limited impact when measured against Bradford's needs.

A successful housing urban policy is easily achieved if one lets the democratically accountable local authorities work in partnership with other local agencies, deciding their own criteria for developing their district's future. The electorate of Bradford, South have put their trust in me and the Labour party. The British people should have their chance to put their trust in a Labour Government as soon as possible.

7.3 pm

Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) on his excellent maiden speech and his tribute to his predecessor. The hon. Gentleman has clearly described to the House the advantages and heritage of his native city as well as its problems. I am sure that he will be a formidable fighter for Bradford and I wish him well. I am sure that he will be with us for many years.

I regret that I cannot be quite so complimentary about the speech made by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), which was long on words but short on content. His only policy was that, if one waves a magic wand and liberally sprinkles someone else's money, all urban problems will be resolved instantly and overnight. [Interruption.]

Coming as I do from one of the great northern cities of this land, I have to say that urban problems have taken a long time to develop—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but a number of private conversations seem to be going on—something which I have noticed previously. If hon. Members wish to engage in private conversations, there are plenty of places to do so outside the Chamber.

Mrs. Knight

Urban problems have developed over a considerable time. There are two main causes. First, housing has moved out of the centre of the cities to the large, formless municipal housing estates which have built up on the edge of those cities. That has been instrumental in breaking up old and traditional communities and new communities have not formed in those estates—estates which have also then been neglected by many of the local authorities.

The second cause is the second industrial revolution, which has resulted in companies and industries which previously occupied large tracts of land and employed a large number of people investing in machinery, technology, innovation and computerisation which in turn has resulted in far fewer people being required to produce the products of that company or that industry. Couple that with the inclination and tendency of many companies to move to green-field sites and the consequence has been the urban problems that we now see.

Those problems must be studied and addressed in a number of ways. It is sad how local authorities have tended to stand by and watch rather than do something. In an earlier intervention, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) said that Sheffield council had done a lot, because it had given planning permission for the Meadowhall shopping complex. But that was the only thing it did for the acres of industrial derelict land in the city. The one and only thing it did was to pass planning permission for a shopping complex. It sat back and watched. It was the introduction of an urban development corporation into that city that resulted in land being developed, the dereliction being cleared, roads being built, new companies moving into new buildings and jobs being created.

However, many inner-city residents have been loyal to their inner-city neighbourhoods. They like them and they have received real benefits from the targeted programmes such as renovation grants for private housing and estate action for municipal housing.

The Robson report, to which Opposition Members have frequently referred, in its assessment of the impact of urban policies, said that those policies have positively addressed the problems of inner-city housing. It also said that programmes such as derelict land grants, enterprise zones and urban development corporations have been real attractions for industry to come back into urban areas and so resolve some of the urban problems that we have, bringing jobs to the citizens who live there.

The hon. Member for Blackburn was extraordinarily selective in his quotations from the Robson report. He neglected to say that the report showed that we had improved employment prospects for residents of urban areas by our urban policies. He neglected to say that the capital base schemes, the infrastructure projects, were praised in that report. He neglected to mention the Robson report's praise for city challenge and he neglected to say that the criticism of so many employers in the urban areas is that local authorities have done nothing about urban regeneration. They do not see local authorities as being important in that process. Those were as much the report's conclusions as the negative slant that the hon. Member for Blackburn chose to give it.

The next step forward in urban regeneration must be developing partnerships. City challenge has been a tremendous catalyst for bringing local businesses and organisations together and has resulted in imaginative developments of large areas. My constituency lies between two main cities—Nottingham and Derby. Both won city challenge with their imaginative bids. Being sandwiched between those two cities does not mean that Erewash is without urban problems, so we put together our own partnership—the Erewash partnership. The "we" in that is the local council, TEC, chambers of trade, business community and other major players in the area.

The partnership's strategic aim is to attract business and employment to Erewash. It may not be a city, but with two principal towns, it certainly has some of the urban problems mentioned today.

The partnership is looking to the single regeneration budget. The key to successful urban policy is creating and continuing an effective partnership between local people, the private sector, voluntary agencies, local authorities and central Government. The single regeneration budget has brought together a considerable number of programmes under one comprehensive and understandable heading.

I was concerned when Opposition Members mocked the amount of money in that budget. A sum of £1.4 billion is available for 1994–95, which is a considerable amount to spend on urban regeneration, and significant evidence of how seriously the Government pursue such policies. I hope that budget, coupled with the Urban Regeneration Agency, will result in 200 hectares of derelict land in Erewash being redeveloped soon.

There must be a leader in any partnership. I am a strong believer in a leading role for local businesses. Local authorities have a tendency to pepperpot too much on a plethora of small community initiatives—an advice shop here, a small project there. Although they may be commendable in their own right, that approach tends to overlook the overall objective of attracting businesses and companies to an area so that jobs are created. However important may be the social aspects, we must concentrate on job creation. A small social project might provide temporary comfort but it will not resolve the principal problem.

One aspect of urban policy not touched on yet is education. Just as industries and their requirements have changed, so have the skills needed in the new jobs that they provide. For too long, urban schools have not ensured that their pupils learn as much as they could. Leafy suburban schools have often done a much better jobs for their leafy suburban pupils than an inner-city school has done for its inner-city pupils.

For many years, I was an education committee member and often heard the statutory appeal of last resort from parents who wanted their children to attend a school other than that which the local authority had nominated. Invariably, those parents were from inner-city areas. They clearly knew why one school was preferable to another. They asked, "Why not publish the problems of one school and the benefits of another? That information should be made public." It is now.

Those urban problems are seriously addressed by Government policies and are benefiting the people who live in urban areas. Jobs are being created to provide local employment. That wins praise from the people who live there, and it should be praised also by the House.

7.14 pm
Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)

Birmingham has taken more initiatives than most authorities to secure its own economic prosperity. Its skill in securing European Community resources and its practice of working together with local industries means that, over the past 10 years, Birmingham has secured 20,000 jobs that would not otherwise exist. Despite that, the country's second-largest city still has more overcrowded housing, more children living in unsuitable accommodation and more people on income support than almost any other city in the country.

The Department of the Environment's recently published "Index of Local Conditions" shows that Birmingham is now the most deprived area outside London and the fifth most deprived area in the country. Against that background the Government, amazingly, have steadily reduced the resources available to the city. Despite the fact that only four other local authorities have worse overcrowding than Birmingham, its housing investment programme allocation dropped from £67 million to £62 million, then to £55 million and last year to £49 million —a fall of almost 27 per cent. over the past four years.

Although Birmingham is the fifth most deprived area in Britain, its revenue support grant settlement has decreased by almost 5 per cent. in real terms over the past two years. It is appalling enough that the Government have failed to secure for the people of this country the most basic necessities—a decent home, safe environment and secure and fulfilling employment. Worse still, they have failed to allocate resources fairly. When the Government's own figures show Birmingham to be the country's fifth most deprived area, why does the city rank only 21st in the amount of standard spending assessment per head? Will the Government reflect the conditions revealed by the local conditions index in the next revenue support grant settlement? I look forward to hearing the Minister's answer when he winds up.

Birmingham, like other authorities throughout the country, has been compelled to play the competition game to secure sufficient resources—and it has done so successfully. Under the single regeneration budget, the competitive approach to resource allocation will reach unbelievable heights. Areas of expenditure never previously subjected to competition will be included. Section 11 funding—the money available to help school children whose first language is not English—will be subject to competition. The Government have given no guarantee that all local authorities will receive money. It is likely that some currently in receipt of section 11 funds will get nothing and that children who are well served by that support will see their life chances diminish.

What kind of moral base is there to a Government who make children who need help with learning compete for funds against families who are inadequately housed? What economic sense does it make to compel small businesses to compete against training organisations? Why should the needy compete against the even more needy? If urban areas are to be economically vibrant and inner city communities are to be strong and secure, none of those people can afford to be losers—yet some of them will be. Statistics from the Library estimate that the total SRB budget will show a £150 million cut compared with urban spending seven years ago.

The Government talk a lot about partnership. Birmingham city council has played its part in regenerating our city, and local industry has played its part in trying to secure a sound economic base and employment future. Everyone in the city has been badly let down by a Government who have failed to play their part. Central Government cannot abdicate responsibility for adequately resourcing the needs of people who live in cities. The notion that the private sector can and will fill that gap proved to be wrong wherever it was tried.

Another aspect that I have mentioned in previous debates is the danger of the current over-emphasis on competing for resources. To compete successfully and to make the most of diminishing resources, cities concentrate the resources they win in the areas of greatest need, which are usually the inner cities. The result is that areas of our cities—usually the outer-ring areas such as the one that I represent—consistently lose out in the resource bid game.

City challenge, estate action and inner-city partnerships all concentrate resources in one area. However, there is a need outside that area. In the outer ring there is inadequately built post-war housing. There are children doomed to spend their childhoods at the top of a multi-storey block of flats. There are constituencies like mine, which has one of the largest proportions of pensioners but the lowest proportion of houses with central heating.

Outer-ring areas are all too often the areas with the least social cohesion. They do not have the history and background of a community living and sharing together. It is in those outer-ring areas that there is now the greatest increase in the levels of crime and unemployment. Yet those are the areas that will lose out in competitive bidding. As more resources are brought into the competitive bidding strategy under the SRB budget, those areas will lose out even more.

Apart from the self-evident fact that it is wrong to ignore the needs of the people in those areas, there are social consequences. People living in those areas of need, which lose out in the bidding process, look to the slightly more needy in the inner city and resentment grows. The Government's housing and urban policies pit the disadvantaged against the even more disadvantaged and people in need against those who are in even greater need. Our cities are crying out for policies that assess need and meet need and for a Government who are prepared to take their share of responsibility for ensuring that that happens. It is of great sadness to the people in the city of Birmingham that, under this Government, neither of those things is likely to happen.

7.21 pm
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

If there is one thing that this debate has shown, it is that the Labour party does not know how to make it, but does know how to spend it. It is certainly a great deal more enthusiastic about spending it than about making it.

We had two important debates earlier this month. In the one on competitiveness on 17 June, just one Labour Member made a contribution of any significance. It was a whole day's debate. In a debate on 23 June on the opportunities for United Kingdom exporters, just two Labour Members contributed—the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell). Those were crucial debates about the wealth-creating base of the economy which enables us to afford a decent housing policy. I should have liked to have seen as much enthusiasm for those debates as Labour Members are showing for this debate.

Having said that, I welcome the debate—although I welcome the Government's reasoned amendment rather more than the hysterical tone of the Opposition's motion. Housing does not always command the political priority that it deserves. I believe that poor housing is a cause of poverty and is caused by poverty. Preventive health, good education and effective policies on law and order depend crucially on the foundation of adequate housing.

I welcome the opportunity to debate those issues today, just as I welcome the opportunity to debate the Government's policies on urban regeneration. They have many spectacular successes to their credit. I think in particular of the town of Corby, which I had the privilege of visiting. I saw what the Government's policy, working in partnership, had achieved for a community that had been decimated by the closure of its steel works some years ago.

A policy of urban regeneration requires active intervention by the Government, who have not been short on that. They have appointed as chairman of English Partnerships, the urban regeneration agency, my predecessor Lord Walker of Worcester—and they do not come more active than him. I am aware of the success that he intends to make of that organisation.

I want to highlight three aspects of Government policy and their impact on my constituency. The Government's amendment rightly stresses the role of the single regeneration budget—£1.4 billion in 1994–95, which is a not inconsiderable sum. That will have a vital role to play in urban areas throughout the country by better focusing 20 different Government programmes.

I make a special plea for my constituency. Worcester is a much misunderstood city. It is true that it enjoys a close relationship with its rural hinterland and it is proud of its links with the agricultural community in the rest of the county. However, Worcester is essentially urban with many typical inner-city problems. I am glad to say that the Government have recognised that on a number of occasions. They provided limited funding for the living-over-the-shop initiative, they provided generous sums for estate action grants, and recently they have provided money through the capital partnership system for energy efficiency and environmental projects on a large council estate at Dines Green. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister visited the estate last year and planted a tree.

There is still much more to do. Worcester has had a good unemployment record over the last year with a spectacular fall of 20 per cent. in the rate. However, the fact remains that in many areas of the city there are heavy concentrations of unemployment, especially in Tolladine, where almost half the unemployed of Worcester city reside. That is why the city council and others are joining together in a bid for funding under the single regeneration budget. They will make a presentation to the regional office for the west midlands on Friday.

It is a crucial project and I hope that it will attract the fullest support of the Department of the Environment. The partners are Worcester city council; the land owner, the British Rail Property Board; the training and enterprise council, HAWTEC; Hereford and Worcester county council and Worcester college of technology. The city council is engaged in an active search for a private sector developer to take forward the project.

The proposal is for the regeneration of the Tolladine goods yard for employment, training and community purposes. It is a 20-acre site that has not been developed so far because it requires new road access, a new foul sewer, clearance of dereliction and some decontamination. Overcoming those problems will unlock a site with both road and rail access—and I am especially glad about the rail access—capable of generating some 600 jobs in the office, industrial, warehousing and service sectors of the economy of my city.

The site is adjacent to the Tolladine housing estate, which has a lack of social facilities and high unemployment levels. The refurbishment of a Victorian railway building on the site as the "Tolladine Centre" would provide a social centre for young people and a facility to help local residents to gain job skills to match the needs of the new employers whom we are confident will be attracted to the site. The regeneration of the goods yard would also significantly improve the residents' physical environment.

That regeneration—and this is a point to which I think the Government will attach importance—will complement the work of the multi-agency Tolladine estate project, which already involves the local community in many different ways. It was set up to deal with the needs of the younger residents of the area for social facilities and job training. This initiative should attract my right hon. Friend's fullest support, which I hope will be forthcoming in due course.

I shall comment on the rough sleepers initiative. The majority of rough sleepers—although, heaven knows, not all of them—live that way through no fault of their own. The Government have recognised the need to assist them through the initiative. A minority of rough sleepers behave in an intimidating way or irresponsibly, but the majority demand our support. That has been forthcoming. Some £96 million of public funds was provided in the first phase of the initiative, providing 3,500 beds in London. In the second phase, running through to 1996, a further £86 million is being provided. A report by the director of Homeless Network to the all-party parliamentary group on homelessness and housing need said: The Rough Sleepers Initiative has provided a route off the streets for literally thousands of people in Central London. However, it has not solved the problem. The RSI is not a preventative programme, and the number of people becoming street homeless continues unabated…The work will need to be taken forward and extended in Central London beyond 1996. There is no reason why the model could not be adapted elsewhere where there are sufficient concentrations of people sleeping rough and where the local voluntary sector infrastructure exists or could be built up. I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Minister can guess what is coming next. I believe that Worcester is just one of those places. We have two admirable facilities for the homeless, the Maggs day centre and St. Paul's—a residential hostel—but they have to live from hand to mouth. Worcester is a compact city, but proportionally its problems are as great as those of the metropolis. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not only carry forward the initiative in central London, but extend it to other areas such as Worcester.

There has been a dramatic fall in the number of families living in temporary accommodation in Worcester city. We now have only 12 in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and 64 in temporary accommodation in total: the number has fallen from a peak of 189 about a year ago. That reduction is due to a combination of good management on the part of the Labour-controlled authority—I say that in all fairness: its housing stock void level is only 0.4 per cent., which compares very favourably with some London Labour-controlled authorities which have rates of over 9 per cent.—and Government policy, to which it is a tribute.

The policy of providing assured tenancies enabled better facilities to be found in temporary accommodation for the homeless, and the bringing forward of Housing Corporation funds created some 40 new tenancies in Worcester from a new housing association which made its own dramatic contribution to the reduction in the number of people living in temporary accommodation and registered homeless in my city.

I am glad to say, however, that Conservative-controlled Wychavon district council has gone a stage further and implemented a large-scale voluntary transfer of its stock to two brand-new housing associations, Droitwich Spa and Rural and Evesham and Pershore. Their exit from direct provision will—through effective privatisation of the stock and the debt that goes with it—enable them to repair and maintain that stock, and to provide 1,000 new units of social housing over the next 10 years. I attach particular importance to that. I urge my right hon. Friend to do all that he can to create more large-scale voluntary transfer schemes; I also urge Worcester city council to re-examine the possibility of doing the same in its area.

Three Government policies—the single regeneration budget, the rough sleepers initiative and the large-scale voluntary transfer programme—are correctly focused and are capable of bringing enormous benefits to my constituents. I commend the Government amendment to the House.

7.31 pm
Mr. Stephen Timms (Newham, North-East)

Thank you for the opportunity to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker.

My predecessor, Ron Leighton, who tragically died in February, was held in high regard by hon. Members on both sides of the House—as many have taken the trouble to tell me over the past three weeks—and also in the constituency. I worked with him first as a Labour party ward official, then as secretary of his constituency party and then during my 10 years as a member of Newham council. For the last four years I was leader of the council and saw at first hand the enormous volume of work that Ron took through, and the depth of his commitment to Newham: he was a tireless and determined advocate for the borough.

Ron took a particular interest in employment matters, and was deeply concerned about youth unemployment. He chaired the Select Committee on Employment for some years, and was responsible for a number of key reports. I particularly remember the Committee's investigation of the employment effects of urban development corporations. The report concluded that there had been a wholly inadequate impact on local unemployment in UDC areas. It was a landmark, responsible—in docklands, at any rate —for a much more constructive approach on the part of the London Docklands development corporation, from which Newham has continued to benefit.

Ron was the first chair of the Newham needs campaign, which was set up to draw attention to the inadequacy of the revenue support grant settlement for Newham and to the fact that the council had £20 million less to spend on services than the Government's own calculations suggested was necessary to provide a standard level of service in the borough. Ron was determined to draw attention nationally to that anomaly, and he therefore persuaded the campaign to organise a rally in Trafalgar square on a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon last November. Most of us expected very few people to turn up, but it was a great tribute to Ron's energy and the esteem in which he was held in Newham that several hundred braved the cold to ensure that the borough's voice was heard, and a very effective demonstration was achieved.

Newham combines, to a unique extent, deprivation on one hand and the potential for regeneration on the other. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) pointed out, the Department of the Environment recently released its index of local conditions. Drawing on the 1991 census, it puts Newham in the No. 1 spot as the most deprived local authority area in the country. There is a massive need for regeneration, but there are also great grounds for optimism about the future.

We have energy and vitality, and, despite the problems—perhaps partly because of them—we have a community that works. I am among those who want Government policies that will nurture and support our communities instead of tearing them apart, as has happened so often in the past 15 years. We have large numbers of bright and energetic young people, many from families who arrived in this country from other parts of the world, now determined to build a better future for themselves and their families.

We also have vast areas of land close to central London, benefiting from excellent public transport links that are set to improve with the completion of the Jubilee line and—I hope—Crossrail and the channel tunnel high-speed link. Those vast areas—the docks, the gas works, the railway yards—are places where thousands of people used to make their livelihoods, and where we hope they will one day do so again.

As much as any area in the country, Newham needs successful urban regeneration, with investment in our housing and schools. But one key Government decision, which I understand is imminent, is critical to the regeneration of our area—the decision whether to allow the international passenger station at Stratford, on the route of the high-speed rail link to the channel tunnel, to go ahead.

In 1987, when I was chair of Newham council's planning committee, British Rail announced that it was considering Stratford as a station on the channel tunnel link. Since then, we have supported Stratford International. I find it extraordinary—given the Government's policy of using the high-speed link to promote development in east London—that, seven years on, there is still uncertainty about whether the station will receive the Government's support. The locations of the intermediate stations on the link are to be determined on the basis of regeneration, transport, environmental and commercial considerations. Stratford succeeds handsomely on all those criteria, but I wish to concentrate on the urban regeneration issues.

Within five miles of the Stratford site are 125,000 people without work—a quarter of all the unemployed people in London. Our ambition is for Stratford and the nearby Royal docks to be transformed into a major commercial centre providing employment for many of those people, and the direct link to Europe will enable that to happen.

When, in 1991, the then Secretary of State for Transport announced that the high-speed link would run through east London, he said that it was to bring economic regeneration to the area. In October 1991, he told the House: It is envisaged that the high-speed train from the channel tunnel to King's Cross will stop at Stratford".—[Official Report, 14 October 1991; Vol.196, c.34 ] Only with a station in east London will the regeneration benefits that were the reason for the choice of the eastern route be achieved. I think that hon. Members will understand why, nearly three years after those annoucements, we in Newham feel frustrated that uncertainty remains about the Stratford station. We hope that the Government will soon end that uncertainty with a firm commitment to Stratford.

The Government have invested heavily in east London, and valuable foundations have been laid. If they decided now that there should only be a station on the M25, that would jeopardise all that investment. The reason is—the point has been made forcefully by the London planning advisory committee, speaking for all the London boroughs and the City—that if there were only such a station, it would suck development out of east London. We have seen that happen in a number of north American cities. Development would leapfrog east London, where it is so urgently needed and where the Government have provided some of the infrastructure for it to happen, and cluster around the M25, leaving inner east London to decline further and throw away the benefits of the investment made so far. There is overwhelming public support for the station in Stratford and throughout Europe.

One of the main conclustions of the report commissioned by the Department of the Environment is the importance of creating effective coalitions of "actors" within localities to achieve regeneration. I believe that Ministers will acknowledge that that has been achieved in Stratford. The Stratford promoter group includes about 15 public and private sector partners, including landowners, developers and construction companies, as well as public agencies such as the council, the university of East London and the London Docklands development corporation. They are all ready to go.

We do not ask for subsidy; we simply want a green light to press ahead with a project that will pay for itself, will give a good commercial return and will ensure that past Government investment in east London is not thrown away. More than that, the project gives us an opportunity of the kind that comes only once in a hundred years, to change the nature of east London for the better, for good. I urge the Government to make a clear and positive decision for Stratford station and, in east London as elsewhere, to allow the local authority to build the coalitions that will create the changes in our cities and the regeneration that we so desperately need.

7.40 pm
Sir Paul Beresford (Croydon, Central)

I am delighted to be able to congratulate the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) on his maiden speech. Making one's maiden speech is a nerve-racking task which on this occasion was especially well done. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his praise of his predecessor, too.

The hon. Gentleman is a little more imaginative and broader in his approach to the task than one or two of his hon. Friends who have spoken. They seem to be running back to the same old difficulty, because their set answer to inner-city problems is for more money from the Government—from taxpayers—to be pumped in through local councils, even though those councils have often proved themselves to be absolute and utter failures.

Many local authorities can be, and have proved to be, catalysts—but in many urban areas, especially in inner London, councils have proved to be parasites on the community and have damaged accommodation as well as education opportunities and the environment. Yet the knee-jerk claim from Labour is always that they need more money to pour into that wastage.

Urban regeneration touches much more than housing; it is concerned with education, for example, and with better local services. It must be achieved at a reduced cost that will represent value for the taxpayer and the council tax payer. The Labour motion refers to "cuts", but successful authorities have often proved that they can manage within their budgets, trimming them in many areas so that they can expand in others.

Unfortunately, I was unable to be here at the beginning of the debate, but I understand that a couple of snide comments were made about Wandsworth; that is the sort of knee-jerk reaction that we would expect. It is time that Labour Members learnt from some of Wandsworth's successes in urban regeneration. In fact, Wandsworth has been so successful that I understand that the Department of the Environment has decided on a 23 per cent. cut in its standard spending assessment. Nevertheless, over the years, the council has managed to deal with the reduction in its grant from central Government relative to grants given to the rest of inner London, especially to inner-London Labour and Liberal-controlled authorities.

Examples can be given using what I would call the real facts—the total tax take. Comparisons between some of the boroughs illustrate the point that I am trying to make. By total tax take for a band D dwelling, I mean the local taxation minus its preceptors plus the total grant from Government. In broad terms, in the case of Wandsworth the figure is about £2,000 per dwelling. In Labour Lambeth, as it was at that stage, the figure was £3,000 per dwelling, and in Southwark the figure was similar. If Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Haringey are counted, the figure is £4,500. Considering what those councils do with the money, those figures represent not cuts but daylight robbery.

To take one example, revenue collection seems simple enough, yet those councils cannot do it competently. Lambeth, Southwark, Islington and Tower Hamlets seem unable to collect rents or council tax, and most of them cannot even collect the rubbish that people want to give away. Let us examine the actual cost per head. In Wandsworth, it is £11.14; in Lambeth, £26.54; and in Tower Hamlets, £28.77—and for a worse job. Some of that money could be spent elsewhere if the job were done efficiently, because revenues would increase as a result.

Let us consider the environment. Moving through Wandsworth towards Lambeth, Southwark and Tower Hamlets, one can see the demarcation point. On the Wandsworth side, the streets are clean, whereas on the Lambeth, Southwark and Tower Hamlets sides they are consistently filthy. The explanation lies not in the amount of other people's money thrown at the job but in the way in which the job is done. In Wandsworth, street sweeping costs £5.36 per head. To the best of my knowledge, Lambeth did not report the figure—perhaps there is no street sweeping in Lambeth. In Southwark, street sweeping costs £17.54 per head; in Tower Hamlets, it costs £15.84.

Refuse collection may seem a simple service, especially in an area such as Southwark, in which 86 per cent. of the properties were originally owned by the council and in which there are many tower blocks, where collection is simple. Yet in Wandsworth, collection costs £9.50 per head; in Lambeth, £26.66; and in Southwark £21.66. In Liberal Tower Hamlets, it costs £25.49. Those sums represent an abuse. The services should be organised using the abilities of the private sector. Wandsworth has brought in a new system, upgrading standards and going out to competitive tender again. It is setting higher standards because of imaginative use of the private sector, and costs have been reduced by a further 41 per cent.

In the housing sector, we hear the request that councils should do the work. One has only to tour places such as Southwark to see a council that had 86 per cent. of the properties in its hands yet made a diabolical and appalling mess until the Government leant on it to use new ideas. Even then, Southwark managed to bungle the job. When it was forced by compulsory competitive tendering to go out to tender for cutting grass and carrying out maintenance on the estates, the district was divided into three areas. One area went to the private sector, and that was leant on to prove that it could meet the standards; the other two areas went in house. The first report, after several months of the new in-house service, told tenants that they were being charged 100 per cent. of the fees while receiving less than 45 per cent. of the service.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

The hon. Gentleman represents Croydon.

Sir Paul Beresford

We are talking about inner cities. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that that council does not have quite the same inner-city problems as many others do, and if we compare like with like there is a lesson to be learnt, if we want to learn it.

The Government offer the opportunity to be imaginative, to have choice, and to bring in the private sector. The private sector has proved that it can work with councils, if councils are co-operative. It has proved that it can make changes and improve the environment without wounding the pockets of those who have to pay.

Inner-city councils have a role, but it should be that of flexible enablers. It has been proved, especially in the inner cities, that Labour and Liberal councils cannot produce the results as providers. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the debate and recognise that, rather than the funds of councils being boosted, the squeeze should be put on them to be more imaginative and to provide the funds to the private sector—perhaps allowing the private sector to be directly involved, as are housing associations, and to bid competitively for housing association grant.

7.48 pm
Mr. Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North)

I place on record my admiration for the excellent speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). In many ways, what he said about inner-city deprivation and housing problems is reflected in Sunderland, North. I have no doubt that I am not alone among Opposition Members in finding that the majority of problems that are brought to my office and surgeries involve housing. Dealing with those problems is becoming quite a major task. Approximately two days a week is spent dealing with those problems by a member of my staff.

I was not quite so pleased to hear the Secretary of State for the Environment bringing up the same old arguments about whether it was desirable to sell council houses. He accused Opposition Members, in effect, of being against people owning their properties. It is interesting to look at the results of the Government's policy on the sale of council houses. There is no problem now for anyone who wants to buy a house privately, whether it is a new dwelling or not. The only problem now for people involved in the business of buying a house is selling their existing premises, because the market has been flat for a long time. It is becoming increasingly obvious that there is a problem for those who, for various reasons, are unable to buy their own premises but who require decent, reasonably priced, rented accommodation.

The Government have stated that they want more private rented accommodation. They are very much in the minority in thinking that, because most people who have had the "privilege" of living in private rented accommodation have been only too pleased to get municipal housing with a decent landlord at the earliest opportunity. The Minister would do well to look at the history of housing policy. Even during periods of Conservative Governments, and especially during the period when the Conservative Government went under the name of the National Government in the 1930s, there were considerable house-building projects. Municipal housing was built because it was recognised that private landlords were not the answer. If they were not the answer in the 1930s, they will not be the answer now.

The Secretary of State cited the figure of 67 per cent. in relation to people who owned their own houses. That is excellent and no one argues against it. It would he nice if everyone who wanted to own their premises could do so. I for one would never be against what was once called the property-owning democracy, but the fact is that that has not come about. If 67 per cent. of the population own their houses, there must be another 33 per cent. who need to find some sort of rented accommodation.

As the councils have been stripped of the power to build houses as they are required, housing is approaching a crisis. I wonder whether Ministers are aware that many organisations have warned that we are approaching a crisis in the condition of much of our housing. I refer not only to rented accommodation but to owner-occupied accommodation. That crisis will occur because not enough resources have been put into housing.

In 1945, when everything was in short supply, a Labour Government took power and instigated a massive house-building programme which, to the credit of the Conservative Government who came to power in 1951, continued apace. That was a period when we made progress in the quality and availability of housing. We have now gone full circle and present Government policies are leading us into a crisis not just of homelessness but in the condition of property. There is also the problem of those who find life difficult because of the price of property. Not everyone is on some form of income support or housing benefit, and people find life difficult. The situation is probably worse now than it has been for the best part of this century.

One of the effects of the Government's policy of selling council houses may not have been foreseen and I have not heard it mentioned this evening. When municipal property is made available for tenants, the stock of housing available for those who require rented property is reduced. Those sales bring about another phenomenon—a brake on new private housing. People who have been living in council premises who want to buy a house and who are offered a house at a good price by the council will not buy new houses or owner-occupied houses. The knock-on effect has been a gradual reduction in the number of houses built and that problem is now coming home to roost.

I shall cite one or two figures from the National Federation of Housing Associations. I declare an interest here: I belong to the management committee of a rather unusual housing association which was set up in 1909 to provide houses for retiring miners—the Durham Aged Miners' Homes Association. When coal miners retired, they had to find accommodation and there was not much about. Usually their home would be a couple of rooms in a grotty private landlord's domain, which was not satisfactory. As time went on and legislation changed, the organisation became a housing association. The association provides housing only for retired people or widows. I am sure that everyone here in the Chamber is aware that by the nature of things, not many people who are around retirement age are willing to buy property. There is not much use in buying a house at the age of 65 when one might not live long enough to pay for it so people do not bother.

According to the Housing Corporation, more pressure is now being put on to housing associations to build more houses for sale; a larger percentage of houses is supposed to be sold. I thought that the Government's policy was to use the housing associations, as they are always crowing, to provide low-cost accommodation for rent—social housing, which is getting harder to come by day by day.

The National Federation of Housing Associations states that, in its opinion, 120,000 homes should be produced each year to meet housing need in the social sector. The present policies seem likely, by 1996–97, to produce 27,000 homes per year. We therefore have a continuous downward spiral and the problem will get worse.

This is not an argument about whether council houses or housing associations are best, or whether it is better for people to be able to buy their own houses. It is an argument about the Government's responsibility to provide decent homes for all their citizens. I believe that that is a fundamental right that anyone who lives in a democracy should expect, but it is not happening. We have heard all the jokes about cardboard boxes and about the Government's initiatives to deal with the homeless, but no progress is being made. There may be a marvellous flagship in London and fantastic progress may have been made in hostel provision, but such progress is not happening anywhere else. It is not happening where I live in the north-east; it has not reached that far yet. There is nothing unusual about that; it is what we have come to expect under the present regime.

What will happen? Will the Government wait until people riot about housing conditions? That has happened before. That is what we mean when we talk about inner-city deprivation. It is all very well for Conservative Members to say that we always ask for more resources. One does not have to be a brilliant financier to know that, if there is a problem of shortages, the only way in which to put that right is to allocate more resources.

Unfortunately, the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction has just left the Chamber. I tried unsuccessfully for 23 minutes this morning to elicit some information from his office. At the end of that Herculean task, I was fortunate enough to get an answerphone so I was at least able to leave a message, which has not yet been answered. If people who had a housing complaint met such a response from a local authority, of whichever colour, they would talk about bringing in the ombudsman. That is the service that a Member of Parliament can expect from a Department under this regime. I find it most objectionable. I am sorry that the Minister concerned has left the Chamber, but I am sure that he will read my remarks. If he makes investigations, he may find, among the seven different people to whom I talked, someone who can inform him about the true position—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)


7.59 pm
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

I am proud to be able to declare an interest as a director of a house-building company.

I add my voice to those of my hon. Friends who have congratulated the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) on his excellent and thoughtful maiden speech. Obviously, we shall not agree on everything about housing and urban policy, but it is important that he stressed the importance of reviving communities as part of urban policy.

It is important that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East was able to identify in Newham, as I am sure is possible in every other area of the country, urban and otherwise, exactly the kind of revived spirit on which, ultimately, successful urban policies, however financed and however generous in financial terms, depend. I remember that, in my maiden speech some seven years ago, I made precisely the point made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-East. The difference between us is that I believe, as I shall—hopefully—demonstrate, that, in many parts of the country and in many of our inner areas, substantial progress has been made as a result of the Government's housing and urban policies.

I also happen to agree with the Government when they stress choice in housing between ownership, private renting and, of course, social provision, either by councils, or, especially recently, by housing associations. I support that because, by their actions over the past few years, the people of Britain appear to support it too. I do not believe that it is a coincidence that 67 per cent. of people in Britain nowadays are home owners, which is the highest figure in any country in Europe. That has risen significantly since 1979 from about 51 per cent. It is also significant that a large proportion—1.5 million—of households have moved away from state-controlled council housing and, indeed, 0.4 million households are no longer in the housing association sector.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)


Mr. Coombs

Let me finish the sentence and then I promise to give way. They have moved away from the housing association sector to take advantage of home ownership opportunities.

Mr. Winnick

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is no dispute between us on the question of people who want to buy? Obviously, if they wish to buy and become owner-occupiers, they have every right to do so and we would never discourage that in any way. The dispute was, of course, over the way in which council dwellings were to be sold or not. Does he also accept that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) pointed out, the remainder of people unable to buy for obvious reasons is about one third? Their wish is for affordable, rented and secure accommodation, which they are not likely to find in the private sector, where there is no security and where, as I was told at Question Time, the average rent is now well over £70 a week.

Mr. Coombs

I entirely accept that, with about 6 million households still in council accommodation, that may well fall because of the rent-to-mortgage scheme, which will affect 1.5 million people in the next few years, and that there are people in state-owned housing who want to ensure—it is our obligation to ensure—that it is run as efficiently and as properly as possible.

Equally, it is important that councils recognise their role as facilitators—as many are—in providing social housing. They would be in a better position to be able to do that if they concentrated on that kind of housing, rather than spreading themselves too widely and inefficiently, as has been the case up to now. Most local authorities, especially many Labour-controlled local authorities, have recognised that their future lies in being able to facilitate good housing in conjunction with the voluntary sector and the private sector. The Demos research group is a classic example of that, and I hope that the trend continues.

The other reason why I think that people are more likely to want to own their home is that, almost by definition, it gives them more control over the housing stock available than is the case for council house tenants. I find it most demeaning, in a sense, for my constituents—although not Conservative-controlled, the Wyre Forest district council has a relatively good record on housing management policy—to hear them saying "Mr. Coombs, I want a transfer to another part of Kidderminister or to another area, but, unfortunately, I cannot get it and I am stuck in the points system." If they were able to secure a direct stake in their council houses through ownership, or through housing associations by shared ownership, their ability to move would be greatly enhanced and that could only be to their good.

We have also heard of the other reason why people are moving away from council housing. In many areas—again I do not say all areas, not even on a party-political basis—which, generally, are controlled by the Labour party, there is an appalling record on rent arrears and empty houses. The classic example was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford) when he compared the efficiency of Wandsworth with Lambeth and with Tower Hamlets. People want efficiency and, sadly, too often they do not get it.

In Birmingham, in the largest Labour-controlled local authority, which is near my constituency, some 900 houses are empty and unavailable for letting. It is significant that the tenants of the Castle Vale estate, a large 1950s–60s estate in the north-east of Birmingham, recently voted, on a democratic basis, to become a housing action trust, to move their management away from the council, precisely because of the poor management and inefficiency of the council.

It is also significant that, just before the tenants did so—as reported in The Birmingham Post only last year—the residents of a tower block on the Castle Vale estate received a letter from the council saying that it was very sorry but it was withdrawing their caretaker and that it hoped that the tenants, the majority of whom were elderly, would be able to maintain the standards of cleaning in communal areas to which they had been used. If that is an example of sensitive, good, reactive housing management, the people who are regarded as such are living in cloud cuckoo land.

People want to move and to take more control of their own destinies. The housing action trusts and the estate action programmes, which sometimes are a prelude to home ownership, are an extremely important part of housing policy.

An interesting document was recently produced by the National Federation of Housing Associations, which stated that 67 to 70 per cent. home ownership in the country is about our maximum, and it put forward many interesting ideas about how the housing market in the country will develop. When any party considers its housing policy, it ought to take cognisance of that. The NFHA estimates that, up to 2011, the number of households in the country will increase from 19 million to 22 million, that there will be a far larger number of single-parent households and a far larger number of single-adult households and that during that period the number of older men, as single households—45 to 64-year-old men—will increase by no less than 156 per cent. So we shall see a fragmentation of households, far more single households and, therefore, a need for a significantly different kind of more flexible housing stock and more flexible tenures than has been inherent in the past as a result, primarily, of a system of state-provided social housing.

Being in the housing business myself, to a certain extent, I have some first-hand experience of the recent recession in the housing market. Although it has had a number of adverse effects such as negative equity and, sadly, some repossessions, it has also given people a more realistic idea of the future of housing. People are no longer regarding house buying as an automatic investment, whereby one buys a house and the value rises by 20 per cent., for example, over the following two years to cover the transitional costs. I see no reason why, with the current low inflationary climate, with interest rates staying low, and with a gradual decrease in mortgage interest relief at source, we should not see a far more sustained and sustainable recovery in the housing market, which, at the same time, does not take the enormous amount of resources away from the productive economy as occurred in the past boom and, indeed, during the boom and busts under different Governments since 1970 and even before that.

Let me move on to the question of inner-city policy. It is helpful that the Government have rationalised many of the initiatives which have come forward from Government Departments. An enormous amount of money—some £4 billion—will be spent this year on inner-city initiatives. However, many initiatives need to be rationalised, and it is important that that will take place through the single regeneration budget and the Urban Regeneration Agency.

Successful inner-city policy has always been a question of partnership between the voluntary sector, local people, central and local government, and the private sector. One good example that is currently taking place, again in the west midlands, is Birmingham Heartlands. That sort of infrastructure investment needs a significant amount of financial backing, and it is happening in the way that I have just described.

As the hon. Member for Newham, North-East rightly pointed out, we will ultimately have sustainable recovery in inner-city areas only if people are given a direct investment in the future of those areas. That is why it is absolutely crucial that everything is done to promote, through grant-maintained schools, housing action trusts or neighbourhood groups, the sort of direct involvement in local communities which people can have in order to promote the community spirit to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

As an example of that, I shall quote from a magazine that has been issued by the Building a Better Balsall Heath campaign. Balsall Heath is an inner-city area of Birmingham. I can remember going down its main street in 1981. It was riot torn—it was like Detroit a few years earlier. I can remember seeing cars on fire, people throwing stones, and so on. Since then, there has been—and I quote from Respecta blooming miracle. The neighbourhood has been largely rebuilt. The community has become an example of multi-racial harmony to the rest of Britain. We can now expect the rest of the city to respect this achievement". Balsall Heath had an appalling reputation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That was the "before" situation. I know that we are not allowed to show photographs but there it is. The "after" scenes are astonishingly and refreshingly different. The houses have been rebuilt. Parks adorn the area. Mosques and churches grace it. In the 1990s, the area has become strong and resilient. The community is chasing away the old problems and attracting fresh life and hope. People are now beginning to choose to live and invest in it. That is what makes for good inner-city policy.

That example of what has happened in what was an unpromising area of Birmingham shows that if inner-city policy is done with the community, as most of our inner-city policies have been until now, and certainly in Balsall Heath, rather than imposed on it, it can be successful.

I shall briefly talk about housing associations and say why I feel that they have an important role to play in housing development over the next few years. I understand—certainly our amendment indicates this—that housing associations, over the past three years, have out-performed the targets that were set for them in 1992. What is more, they are expected to repeat that performance over the next three years.

First, as the National Federation of Housing Associations said in its excellent report, "Working households, affordable housing and economic needs", housing associations will be increasingly important by providing flexibility in the housing market between ownership and renting, and the interface between them. Do-it-yourself shared ownership schemes will be seen as increasingly important in allowing people to get a step on the home ownership ladder.

Secondly, because housing associations are more local and much smaller, they are, intrinsically, more likely to be more efficient than the potentially bureaucratic council housing departments which they succeed. Indeed, housing associations are able to attract private capital where local authorities cannot—some £6 billion since 1988—and through BS5750, "A Tool for Improvement", which has been recommended to housing associations by the National Federation of Housing Associations, housing associations will continue to improve their efficiency in a way that is bound to be good for their tenants and shared owners.

Housing associations, compared to council housing, depoliticise the housing situation. In other words, because they are more local, they are less party political; and, because they are more practical, they are less easily manipulated by people who would like to make a political argument out of them. As a result, they address the problems of home ownership and reducing homelessness in a more effective way than council housing departments.

I should like to see many more large-scale voluntary transfers than are taking place. As I said, there are 6 million council house properties in this country. So far, only 123,000 of them have been the subject of voluntary transfers to housing associations. There is enormous scope for more transfers of that sort, which would underpin the facilitating role that local authorities should be taking in the future to make the country much more efficient in the way that it provides for its housing needs.

8.16 pm
Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

This debate is about the biggest change to have affected the country in the past 15 years—indeed, in any 15 years in history. The structural change—increasing social inequality—is of such a magnitude that it underlies every political debate, including today's challenge to the Government.

The problem is not peculiar to certain towns and cities in the north. Indeed, the census shows that in some respects the position has been getting worse more quickly in the south than in the north. The facts about the north are reasonably well known; those about the south are only beginning to be fully established. My constituency is a good example. Between 1989 and 1994, unemployment in Bristol, East grew by 96 per cent., compared with 51 per cent. in Britain as a whole. The exact extent of that increase—96 per cent.—ironically applied to places as far apart as Yeovil, Eltham and south-west Norfolk. They are not the most dramatic examples. The biggest increases of all in these five years have been in places like Guildford, Horsham, Newbury and north-west Surrey.

I shall concentrate not on the regional and national divide but on the divide which afflicts every city and town and which is turning our urban landscape into a depopulated inner city surrounded by a scatter of formally designated areas of dereliction, in which there are insecure and low-paid workers, and elderly and unemployed people, beleaguered by affluent fortresses—whether commerce and banking in the city centres, or the increasingly security-minded residential locations of business and professional elites on the periphery. There is what we might call the "Polo" factor—creating cities with holes in the middle.

Bristol city council has just published a report entitled "Poverty in Bristol". This is six years on from a similar report in 1988 and, dare I add, 56 years on from one of those classic surveys of poverty in the inter-war years, carried out by Herbert Tout in Bristol. It showed that, in 1938, there were fewer unemployed, a smaller percentage in poverty and certainly fewer homeless people than in the 1990s. The diet prescribed then for a needy family was, by modern standards, substantial and nutritious.

The Bristol city report deals with changes between the censuses of 1981 and 1991 and it found that poverty in the poorest areas has worsened. The areas are Lawrence Hill in my constituency, which is covered by the Bristol development corporation—one of those development corporations which the Government never boast about—parts of Ashley in the constituency of Bristol, West, Hartcliffe, Withywood and Knowle West in the constituency of Bristol, South and Lawrence Weston, Southmead and Lockleaze in the constituency of Bristol, North-West.

On the 1991 measures of unemployment—free school meals, poll tax rebates, children in households with no earners or only one part-time earner, long-term illness and mortality among those under 65—those areas have the highest rate. In those areas, unemployment grew faster than elsewhere in the city, as did the substitution of part-time for full-time jobs. There were said to be "significant reductions in income"

In Lawrence Hill, 65 per cent. of households did not have a car and the growth of out-of-town shopping facilities increases the difficulty of transport for those populations. Bristol city council and local business people are determined to keep the city shopping centre alive. John Lewis has just announced that it is moving to an out-of-town site. That creates the problem of access to supermarkets and department stores for working people without cars, and that problem will get worse.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

Does the hon. Lady agree that John Lewis's decision was taken mainly because of the policy of the city council, which prevents cars in any number from getting into the city centre to shop in the original store? Is not it also an example of a planning decision, after John Lewis made it clear that it wished to stay in the city centre?

Ms Corston

John Lewis made it clear that it wished to go outside the city because there was a large shopping centre there where people shop with cars, and that was obviously more convenient. The problem is that if there is an inner city area where 65 per cent. of people have no access to a car, those people cannot go to those shops. That is a question for the policy makers which we must address.

In Lawrence Hill, Knowle West, Hartcliffe and Southmead, the number of school children eligible to receive free school meals is more than half or nearly half. In those areas, nearly half of all children were in households with no earners or only one part-time earner, usually a woman. That is a huge fraction of the local community, and poverty and unemployment are on such a scale that they crush the potentiality for local responsiveness.

Too many people have problems of eking out a livelihood. Short-term help from family and neighbours becomes difficult, and long-term support becomes impossible. Better-heeled professionals are becoming less likely to live in and serve those areas, and they also do not know that the areas exist. They are commuters, who drive to work and back along a few principal roads on which there are fewer and fewer facilities to tempt them to stop.

Local populations are becoming less of a mixture of people of every occupational class. For Bristol, the 1991 census shows that vividly, if roughly. There are wards such as Cotham and Clifton with nearly seven times as many non-manual as manual workers. At the other extreme are wards such as Lawrence Hill with only half as many non-manual as manual workers, and Filwood with as little as one fifth as many non-manual as manual workers.

If unemployment, part-time and casual forms of employment and extremely low incomes are becoming concentrated in certain areas, lack of access to affordable housing and other forms of property are following suit. There is a sharp divide between owner-occupiers and tenants, and the Government are penalising those who are paying rent.

Having reduced wages and benefits, the number unable to buy has increased and too little housing is being built to rent. Council housing rents have been forced to rise, and the poorest are being squeezed out of homes.

Earlier this week the National Federation of Housing Associations issued a revealing research report to which reference has been made by other hon. Members. The report makes a powerful case for much more affordable housing. It affirms that home ownership is near its limit and that private sector renting can't meet future needs". The south-west is one of three regions singled out as being likely to experience a 20 per cent. increase in the number of new households during the next 15 years. The case is an economic one, providing a basis for fuller employment. The federation says affordable rents help people back to work". The housing crisis in Bristol takes some of the forms familiar to other parts of the country. A National Housing Forum study, commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, was published today. One in 13 homes is officially unfit for human habitation, while one in six is in need of urgent repairs costing more than £1,000. It was estimated that a comprehensive programme to deal with the backlog would cost £34 billion.

The problem applies to all the areas highlighted in the Bristol city council's report on "Poverty in Bristol". Homelessness is the tip of a poor housing iceberg. In 1985–86 the number of homeless people officially registered was 994. By 1990, the figure had doubled and in 1993–94 it was 2,856. Of those, 1,477, or more than half, were accepted as priority cases by Bristol city council.

Those figures are of applicants to the council. Many more do not apply, and many homeless people do not believe that they are eligible for rehousing or do not believe they would be successful if they did apply. Reputable attempts have been made to estimate the real numbers of homeless, resulting in informed estimates of between 6,000 and 8,500 people.

The Select Committee report on homelessness stated that a key factor affecting homelessness is the availability of sufficient accommodation at affordable rents. In 1978–79, total rented accommodation declined overall by some 1.5 million units—20 per cent.—and the number of new homes built by housing authorities declined from 104,000 to 22,000.

The Government's consultation paper "Access to Local Authority and Housing Association Tenancies" sets out proposals for the reform of homelessness legislation and new powers to prescribe local authority allocation policy. Bristol city council provided just one of 9,000 predominantly critical responses to that Government consultation paper. The council said: The proposals are not concerned with either housing provision or more effective services for homeless people. Rather, they appear to be concerned with redefining homelessness and directing homeless people away from permanent homes towards temporary and more expensive accommodation. A family had to be literally "roofless" before qualifying for assistance, and it seems that assistance could be in some very unsatisfactory forms of temporary accommodation. Old lorries, caravans and tents do not appear to be ruled out. Those are shades of third world shanty towns.

The consultation paper recommends greater use of private lettings. In Bristol, 45 per cent. of that sector of housing is unfit or in serious disrepair. Since public housing is hedged around with restrictions which prevent rebuilding, limit repairs and artificially raise existing rents, more people will be forced into sub-standard accommodation at rents which the National Federation of Housing Associations would undoubtedly describe as unaffordable.

Figures collected by Bristol city council show that average rents in private tenancies range from £87 a week for a two-bedroom flat to £134 a week for a four-bedroom flat, compared with an average weekly rent for a Bristol city tenancy of £35.

What is happening in Bristol applies to many other areas. Council rents have been and are being forced up and, while housing benefit fills the gap for some, the near-poor are faced with increases in the cost of living which are out of all proportion to those elsewhere in the economy. They are dragged down into poverty, which is now shared with the great majority of their neighbours.

Those matters may be attested to by any hon. Member from an inner city constituency. We have seen the consequences of the Government's policies. Children live in high-rise flats, which causes tension, and there is a lack of play space for children.

When one reads about and sees the kind of people who are classified as homeless in Bristol, one begins to evolve an infinitely more human and appealing picture than that evoked by the Prime Minister's black caricature of beggars in Bristol.

The Government's housing policy is more concerned with undermining the work and powers of local authorities than with the housing crisis. None the less, Bristol city council is striving to introduce a housing advice shop providing services to homeless applicants and a related homeless prevention service, a homeless-at-home scheme to enable applicants to be supported by relatives and friends, high-quality temporary accommodation to replace bed and breakfast, establish a Bristol common register to enable housing applicants to get the answers to all their questions in one place, create a Bristol housing partnership, offering joint planning and action with all housing associations in Bristol and other organisations, introduce a private sector leasing scheme for access to good standard private tenancies, set up housing associations as managing agent schemes to access privately owned lettings as alternatives to bed and breakfast and establish a Bristol special needs housing forum.

Within its powers, those are the imaginative things that Bristol city council is trying to do to solve the problem. It has the brains; what it needs is the money.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. About 45 minutes remain before the winding-up speeches. Four hon. Members hope to catch my eye and with a bit of co-operation I hope that all four will be successful.

8.30 pm
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)

It is inevitable that the debate has highlighted contrasting opinions on a number of Government programmes. I want to refer to one of them, the estate action programme. I can speak with experience because the programme is operating in Belle Isle North in my constituency. I also want to consider the programme in the context of my entire constituency and the city of Leeds.

The estate action programme in Belle Isle was extremely fortunate because it built on an earlier experiment to develop tenant participation, which was initiated through the city council. The success of that original tenant participation scheme owed a great deal to the then chairman of the housing committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle). Those early experiments in tenant participation took place when he and I were public representatives for the same area of Hunslet and Belle Isle.

There is no doubt that that participation started well. A few enthusiasts committed themselves, as tenants, to work in Belle Isle. The estate action programme also offered accessibility to finance. The fact that money was available to develop the estate and to make the improvements that tenants wanted undoubtedly contributed to the major improvements made to homes in the area. The estate action programme is currently part way through in Belle Isle. In addition to internal improvements, a number of external improvements have been made. Anyone going through that estate can see the visible changes that have taken place. As well as that, the estate action programme has had a notable effect on the community. There are now far more community participants and they work with a good spirit and in the knowledge that progress will be made.

The scheme has been a considerable success because it is based on a three-way partnership. The Government, through the estate action programme, have invested money and that money is matched by the city council. In addition to that money, the city council has devoted a great deal of officer time and resources to ensure that the programme runs smoothly and that tenants are assisted in carrying out their role. That partnership is not just one between the public agencies, but involves those who live in homes on the estate. That is important. Those people first put themselves up for election to an estate management board, prior to the introduction of the estate action programme. As a result of that programme, those people are actively representing their community. The ethos of the area has changed, because people are committed to working for their community.

The benefits of that successful three-way partnership have rubbed off not only in terms of the physical improvement of homes, but in terms of the establishment of other organisations. The same tenants who were involved in setting up the estate management board have also set up Belle Isle Winter Aid. That organisation provides a lot of community care for hundreds of elderly people not just in the estate management board area, but throughout Belle Isle.

The estate action programme has therefore led to a spillover of participation in wider community work. Much of the work of Belle Isle Winter Aid has been funded by the urban programme and the loss of that programme threatens to undermine some of the things that have developed through the estate action programme. That should be borne in mind.

The estate action programme has downsides as well as upsides. It is important to consider the programme in a balanced manner. It is not sufficient for people to offer either a blanket acceptance or a blanket rejection of programmes, as they so often do in the House. People must consider the effects of those programmes.

One of the downsides of the estate action programme is that the allocation of city council moneys is skewed. Because the estate action money is matched by the city council, it takes up a considerable amount of city council resources. Of the 38 housing management offices in Leeds, only four are involved in the estate action programme. Those four have received considerable capital resources at the expense of the other offices. I represent not only Hunslet and Belle Isle but Middleton and Morley. Considerable resentment is felt there about the fact that people in Belle Isle North can have their walls built for them.

A lady from Middleton came to see me. She still lives in a home where the lavatory is downstairs next door to the kitchen. She has no bathroom upstairs. When she told the housing management office that it was impossible for her in her physical condition to get downstairs at night to go to the toilet, she was told to take a bucket upstairs. In this day and age that is simply unacceptable.

When I spoke to the city council about that matter I was told that it would need about £500 million to put everything right. Its representatives told me that the least they needed was £120 million, which they bid for the last time they were able to make a full bid for the capital programme. Although I applaud some of the work being done in Belle Isle North, I recognise that my constituent in Middleton has less chance of getting basic amenities because of the way in which the allocation of money is skewed. An enormous amount of work needs to be done to the Sissons estate, where that woman lives. I recognise that it will be extremely difficult for that work to be undertaken. Similar problems are experienced on a number of estates in Morley and throughout the city. People resent the fact, quite understandably, that other people get their garden walls built when others are unable to get proper bathrooms and toilets installed.

The estate action programme has extremely good features. The way in which it gets people involved in working for their community is satisfactory, but that should not be achieved at the expense of everyone else. The Government must address that problem.

The housing investment programme allocation to Leeds for 1994–95 was £25.2 million. Given that £120 million is needed by the city to do essential work, that allocation is not satisfactory. When I wrote to the acting chief housing officer to ask why certain improvements had not been undertaken and new homes built, he replied: In 1994/5, for example, we were asked to submit a HIP bid based on 15 per cent. above, equal to, and 15 per cent. below our 1993/4 HIP allocation. We did this; we were informed that as a department we were either 'average' or 'well above average' in the areas of housing management, enabling and tenant involvement; we were cut by 20 per cent.! Had they been below average, by how much would their HIP have gone down? The money simply is not sufficient to do the job.

We should not denigrate the programmes that have been set up, but should be prepared to use them to the benefit of our constituents. One-off programmes, however, and programmes that reach only a small proportion of the city's population are no substitute for on-going maintenance programmes that are necessary in any city and every housing management office. To fund one programme but short-change others is not the consistent relationship that is necessary between partners. Partnership is working in Belle Isle North, but partnership between the Department of the Environment and Leeds city council and other city councils needs to be more broadly based to ensure that problems as significant as those of my constituent in Middleton are dealt with in the near future.

8.40 pm
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words in this important debate.

I shall begin by commenting on some remarks made by the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston). Part of the mythology of how inner cities decline is the belief that commercial firms move out when they see more profitable opportunities on the rim of cities. She probably does not realise that I was associated with John Lewis when it moved into Bristol. I well remember that time because we made considerable efforts to persuade people to shop in the city centre. We were not helped by the then Bristol council, which did not provide opportunities for people to drive into the city centre, thereby making that shopping centre and other shops viable. It is sad that, despite what the hon. Lady said, the city council clearly contributed towards that development being on the edge of the city.

Ms Corston

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the enormous, new multi-storey car park right next door to the Gallery shopping centre, which has recently been completed with the full co-operation of the city council? It provides more car parking facilities than we have ever had.

Mr. Mans

I am well aware of that. I am also aware of the Bristol city council's incredible pricing policy for car parking during the 1980s, which discouraged people from using the spaces that were available.

Even at the late stage to which the hon. Lady referred, John Lewis pointed out at the inquiry into the development outside Bristol that if the development went ahead, there were not sufficient shopping opportunities to have stores of that size in the centre and outside. Clearly, if that development went ahead, it was bound to take priority. So the fact remains that Bristol city council was involved in what happened. The hon. Lady should therefore not blame commercial companies for the decline of Bristol city centre when the local council was clearly very much involved.

Ms Corston


Mr. Mans

I do not wish to dwell on that point now.

Ms Corston

I made no complaint about commercial companies. They take their own commercial decisions and if they decide to relocate to other areas, we must ask what sort of Government are responsible for encouraging such irresponsible development, which destroys our inner cities. That is the question.

Mr. Mans

The hon. Lady has clearly not even bothered to read the latest guidance which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has published on that subject. It is false for the hon. Lady to suggest that the Government have promoted out-of-city developments while the previous Labour Government did nothing, because in the 1960s and 1970s they promoted more out-of-city developments of the sort the hon. Lady was complaining about than have been promoted since.

I shall make a few other remarks and dwell no further on Bristol. It is interesting to draw a distinction with present policies and some of the past policies on improving housing stock and the environment in which people live. During the early 1980s, I was a candidate for Stoke-on-Trent and saw the policies that had been adopted for many years, if not decades, by successive Labour-controlled local administrations. There were huge council housing estates where individuals were not part of what was going on. The estates were inhuman and rundown, and rents were not properly collected. One can see why those policies resulted in many of the problems that exist today.

Let us contrast the position in the early 1980s in Stoke with what is happening in north-west England today, particularly in my part of Lancashire on the Fylde coast. The solutions that are being adopted are not all-embracing but multi-faceted. They are small solutions that take individuals into account. My borough council of Wyre has introduced a number of initiatives that have resulted in a transformation in Fylde in the past few years. Of a population of just over 100,000, well under 100 people are technically homeless and, of those, very few are ever in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Indeed, those people can be counted on the fingers of one hand. That is largely as a result of the local council's policy of trying to find smaller solutions to meet individuals' needs.

For instance, temporary self-contained flat accommodation is provided for people who have, for some reason, become homeless, so that they are not put in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. That approach is a partnership between the local council, the private rented sector and housing associations in the area. Moreover, local people appreciate the fact that they must take part in that process. They cannot simply rely on the local council to provide their housing needs when things go wrong. They are part of the process and are encouraged to find ways of solving their own problems, and assistance is given in that.

The fact that we do not have much council housing stock has, in a sense, helped in finding those solutions. As a result of involving the private sector, private tenants and housing associations, we have few homeless people. Many people from Scotland come to the area during the summer and, at the end of the holiday season, in September and October, they prefer staying in the Fylde area to returning to Glasgow. So the problem is not as small as it might appear at first. None the less, sensible policies rather than universal solutions have made a huge difference to homelessness and housing in my part of Lancashire.

In that respect, I commend the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for housing in the various initiatives that have been put forward over a number of years. My local council has taken advantage of those initiatives, to the great benefit of local people. I wish that more councils, particularly those controlled by the Labour party, would look more carefully at a multi-faceted approach that involves tenants in their own solutions. In Wyre, for instance, most housing stock is run by tenants' associations. The effect on those estates is stunning. As a result of the tenants being involved in managing, the estates are more easily cleaned up and people do not wait for the council to provide the maintenance required. They go out and do things themselves with the initiatives available. Alongside that, we have a strict rent collection policy. I am convinced that that has meant that there has been money in the kitty to spend on the maintenance of those houses, which has meant not only that people want to live in them, but that they feel proud of the houses in which they live.

I have to compare the policies in boroughs such as mine, where rent collection is considered important, with those of other boroughs, especially others in the north-west, such as Liverpool, where there seems to be an equivocal approach to whether people should pay rent at all. As a result, debts arise at borough level, maintenance of council estates does not take place and the whole city gives the impression of being run down. I am pleased to say that in Liverpool there are signs of an improvement. There are signs that even that council is considering several small solutions, rather than one universal solution driven by the ideology of the past, quite often supported by the Labour party.

I should add a few other points about the environment in our housing estates, around where people live. A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to promote a private Member's Bill, which is now the Traffic Calming Act 1992. Although that was designed to slow down traffic, it was also designed to improve the environment around people's homes. Often the streets in our urban areas have become race tracks and people have been pushed away from the common areas of many of our suburbs. That is a silly way to use those common spaces.

As a result of the 1992 Act and of the Government's policy—specifically, those of the Department of the Environment—we are reclaiming those areas, so that the motor-car is no longer dominant and people can live outside their houses, in the streets, without being at risk from motor-cars racing along at huge speeds. In many cities, we have introduced enlightened schemes as regards street furniture, plantings, the use of different road surfaces, more colour, fewer screens to prevent people getting on to the road and, most important of all, slowing down the traffic.

Although my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction has just left the Chamber, I should say that it is noticeable that, in his home constituency of Ealing, enlightened schemes are constantly being introduced, which have had quite an effect on the environment in which people live. That is what it is all about. We are trying to encourage people, with help from central and local government and the voluntary and private sectors, to improve their living environment, both in their houses, by improving the quality and maintenance of the housing and introducing self-help schemes, and around their houses, by ensuring that the car does not dominate the streets.

We are all aware of the mistakes that have been made by many Governments in the past. Policies such as proposing one monolithic solution to a specific problem, bulldozing through communities and building high-rise flats and accommodation that has not been properly thought out have not worked. That is what confronts us, and what has confronted us in the past few years.

I believe that the way forward is through the very different approach that we have now adopted, whereby we understand that there is no one specific solution to the housing problems in this country and that we must involve the tenants and the people themselves and provide initiatives, both at central and local government level, involving the public and the private sector. I commend the Government for following that policy.

8.53 pm
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

I was especially interested by the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). Anyone who represents an inner-city constituency would recognise the problems that he described. Like those of my right hon. Friend and, I suspect, of many other Members with such constituencies, my advice surgeries are filled, week after week, with people asking for help with housing problems, to the point where I almost despair when someone walks in and sits down and it turns out, when he starts talking, that it is a housing problem.

In 20 years of dealing with housing problems in my area, I cannot remember a time when it was so difficult to offer positive help to people—people who are threatened with homelessness, seeking a transfer, or trying to find a private letting when all that is on offer is a six-month shorthold lease that requires the payment of a huge deposit. In that context, the speech of the Secretary of State at the beginning of the debate would not only have filled my constituents with despair, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton suggested, but made them extremely angry about the arrogant and contemptuous way in which the problems that they have to face was being treated.

We are all familiar with the policies that the Government have been following: encourage home ownership at all costs and the right to buy for council tenants, force up rents to encourage people to buy and push council tenants out of the public sector. The reaction of council tenants to the voluntary transfer of their estates has not been very positive. The vast majority of them used to live with private landlords, and the last thing that they want to do is to go back to being the tenant of a private landlord.

Many tenants have moved into owner-occupation. It is often the best property that has been sold—very good for the person who has bought it, but not very much good for anyone else whose name is on the waiting list or who is trying to obtain a transfer. In my local authority area, it is possible to count on the fingers of one hand the number of four-bedroomed properties that become available for letting in a year. That is one of the consequences of the right to buy.

The other thing that happened is that tenants were persuaded into quite unsuitable purchases. Earlier, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) said that people who bought flats and became council leaseholders had done so with their eyes open. Of course, that was not really quite the truth. What happened is that people were persuaded by the Government that they were getting a bargain if they bought a flat, and local authorities that tried to point out the pitfalls were threatened that, if they did so, their sales would be taken over by the Department of the Environment and they would no longer be able to handle their own properties.

The Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction is well aware of the problems that now confront those tenants, or ex-tenants, after they have bought their council flats. A month or two ago, I went to meet him with a delegation of council leaseholders. They are unable to meet rehabilitation costs that are legitimately required by the local authority. They are unable to sell because building societies red-line the areas that they live in. They are completely trapped.

I am aware of the answer that the Minister gave my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) this afternoon. He said that he hopes to lay an order introducing a scheme to help council leaseholders who need to move and that, where leaseholders can buy more suitable homes from their local authority, that scheme will allow the council to take their present flat back in exchange and offset the price paid against the sale price of the exchanged property.

Unfortunately, that solution raises more questions than it answers. Who will decide what is a more suitable home? Will it be another flat? Very few of the people who have bought flats will want to move to another flat and be stuck with exactly the same problem of not being able to move again. Is the council supposed to keep houses available? If so, what consequences will that have for the rest of the programme? What happens to leaseholders who do not want to stay in that region and want to move out? What happens to leaseholders who do not want to move but cannot afford the rehabilitation costs? The Department of the Environment says that only about 2 per cent. of leaseholders face such a problem. That may be the number of people who are trying to sell and cannot, but it is by no means the sum total of people who will be affected.

The Government initiatives on inner-urban areas have been mentioned a number of times in the debate. They include city challenge, housing action trusts, estate action and the single regeneration budget. Clearly, some good schemes have developed through those initiatives, such as partnerships between local authorities and the private sector. I have nothing against partnership schemes with the private sector, and I can think of very few Labour-controlled local authorities that have. Those authorities are at the forefront of setting up economic development units to promote such initiatives.

I am pleased that Priory Court estate, a major estate in my constituency, is to receive estate action money. I cannot think of a single example in my area of a local authority deciding that it could not or would not do the work where estate action money was available. As my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) said, that is not extra money; it is available at the expense of cuts in the mainstream programme, and must be seen in the context of an overall cut.

The Government will no doubt hold up the Waltham Forest housing action trust as a success. It is redeveloping four ex-council estates—the first building work has just begun. The housing action trust is not just about housing. It sets up construction training courses for tenants and employs part-time tenant information workers who must come from the estates. It appoints its own staff to manage estates—there is no question of compulsory competitive tendering. It requires contractors who undertake the building work to use local labour. It offers a scheme whereby tenants with skills are given work as labour-only sub-contractors on their estates.

The housing action trust offers tenants a range of choices in their new homes on door fittings, different styles of doors and windows, kitchen units and wardrobes. It even offers tenants the choice of a cat flap in the back door. I can imagine what the Minister would say if a Labour-controlled local authority built new houses and told prospective tenants that it would meet the costs of installing cat flaps in back doors.

I do not mind tenants being offered such a choice and money being spent to develop decent housing. I hope that the housing action trust carries out the work and the estates are rebuilt. However, I am angry at the way that the work is being done at the expense of everyone else. In any case, the tenants on the estates have waited since 1988 for work to start. In 1988, the local council developed plans to rebuild the estate. Six years later, those plans are being used by the housing action trust. The Government refused to give the local council the money for the project. Eventually, because the Government were embarrassed when Prince Charles gave the council an award for design, they offered the housing action trust. Six years later, the work has started, but it is at the expense of mainstream programmes everywhere else.

Next year, another special programme, the single regeneration budget, will swallow up, among other things, section 11 grants, which have been part of urban policy for many years. The importance of the work that is carried out through section 11 grants has been mentioned already. Will the Minister explain what will happen to existing projects? There will be no ring fencing of the money when we receive the new single regeneration budget. The guidelines that have been issued make no specific reference to educational needs. One of the 10 draft objectives refers to ethnic minority communities. There are signs that the money will simply be pump-priming money. Using the single regeneration budget for pump priming may be sensible and legitimate in an economic development project. However, when there is a continuing need for section 11 grants, it is wrong. It is likely to mean that successful schemes will disappear altogether.

We need a Government who are prepared to take off their blinkers. They must cease their dogmatic housing policies and recognise that investment is needed. Investment in building and construction will not just improve the quantity and quality of supply but create jobs and save revenue. Therefore, it makes good housing and economic sense.

9.4 pm

Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)

I listened to the Secretary of State replying to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and repeating the old allegation, often thrown at my party, that ours is the party of the provider, not the receiver, of services—in this case, housing. One of the main thrusts of Government policy has been to encourage private sector housing and to move subsidies away from bricks and mortar and towards the individual, as well as running down the public sector's involvement. Another—not deliberate this time—consequence of Government policies on home ownership has been the active discouragement of people from becoming home owners, owing to the problems in the housing market of the past few years.

Whether deliberate or accidental, the effects of Government policy are clear. We know that, as a result of Government policies, £3.8 billion is paid out to landlords through the housing benefit scheme. In Coventry, £24 million is paid out in this way to provide housing that is, by and large, substandard compared with that provided by local authorities and housing associations. We can therefore hardly say that Government policy is aimed at the users. The users do not choose to live in substandard housing that costs £80 a week, when local authority housing costs less than £40 a week. People will only live in such housing when the Exchequer is picking up the revenue tab for it. The benefit is not, in effect, a well-targeted subsidy for the people living in private sector housing but a massive, grotesque and unjustified subsidy to landlords. Nevertheless, the Secretary of State had the cheek to try to suggest that my party was the party of the providers, not the party of the receivers, of services. That is certainly not true in respect of housing.

Another main plank of policy in respect of which the Government seek to misrepresent our views is the right to buy. Their policy was sold to people in terms of giving them choice, opportunity and freedom. It was also said that it would be good for social cohesion—home owners would gain a stake in the poorer estates and would then provide some sort of leadership in those communities, thereby enhancing social cohesion.

In Coventry, which is not unlike the rest of the nation in this regard, one third of the houses in the city have been sold, almost without exception on the better estates and in the better areas. Within a generation those estates will effectively be privately owned. No one who can help it will stay in the rented system that the Government have imposed, paying the subsidy, if he lives in a decent house and has the right to buy. So as the old tenants move out and the new tenants move in—particularly those not subsidised by the housing benefit scheme—they will exercise the right to buy, and the better housing estates will become wholly private. And the few people who have exercised the right to buy in the problem estates—the ones who are supposed to provide social cohesion there—will find themselves still living with the worst of the problems of those estates. There are examples of people who are trapped in houses bought under the right-to-buy policy which they cannot sell or release, from which the most appalling consequences flow. Far from providing social cohesion, the right-to-buy policy has divided communities by splitting off the rented sector as completely welfare oriented and all the best housing has been sold off on estates that have effectively become private.

There are many examples of people being ripped off by spiv behaviour which runs from children buying on behalf of their parents in order to become the next generation of private landlords through to companies setting themselves up to target people on problem estates and buy their houses below the price paid under the right-to-buy policy, then profiteer off the back of such purchases by renting them out. Such behaviour is utterly disgraceful and should be investigated. Examples can be found on estates in Coventry which point to that.

In two areas, the Government's stated aims and policies have been completely reversed, and they have achieved the opposite of what they set out to do. People from within the Government have recognised the failures of their own policies. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn referred to the report released last week after an 18-month delay—during which the Government attempted to sit on it—which pointed out that those policies had failed, with the consequences that I have described.

What we need in terms of Government policy is not what is being delivered. The Government's response to the report has effectively been that they are addressing the issues through the setting up of the single regeneration budget into which has gone the housing action fund, section 11 grant and many other funds.

One thing which has not been made clear but which needs to be made clear—and which I hope the Minister will make clear when he replies—is whether estate action will continue within the SRB. The Government have not yet made clear the size of the cut that has been imposed through the SRB.

In evidence to the Select Committee on the Environment, officials from the Department of the Environment admitted that there was a 10 per cent. to 12 per cent. cut in funds as a result of the SRB. But that is on top of cuts that had already been announced but which the Government are now trying to disguise by putting the various budgets together into the SRB. The comparative cuts—had the programmes continued with their original level of funding—are well in excess of 20 per cent. I hope that the Government will at least show some transparency in putting forward figures that show exactly what has happened to all the different programmes that have been put together in the SRB. They are deliberately trying to hide those in answer to parliamentary questions and they have been doing so for some time.

Will housing issues continue to be dealt with once the SRB is introduced? In the west midlands, which is putting bids together now, we have been told that strategic issues that will be considered within the SRB include an automotive component park, science parks, employment land provision, the Birmingham northern relief road, the greening of urban areas, rural regeneration, coal closure issues, regional public transport priorities, higher education institutions and national education and training targets.

All those issues are laudable in themselves, but there is not a single mention of housing among those priorities. As estate action has disappeared completely within the SRB, will it continue in any form and at any level? As has been said, it was top sliced from local authority spending in the first place. My fear is that it will disappear altogether and that estate action funding will be discontinued.

If we want to solve some of the problems created within our cities, power must be returned to local authorities. They should be made accountable to the people who elect them and be given the powers and tax base to get on with the job. For too long, we have gone down the road of deliberate on-going centralisation. No matter which party is in control—and there are people in the Tory party who believe this—and no matter what decision is taken at whichever level, a decision taken in Whitehall and applied 94 miles away in Coventry or 150 miles away in Manchester will not be a good decision.

Let us return to properly financed local government, return the business rate to local authorities, get rid of capping, and have good, strong and accountable local government rebuilding communities in cities, so that they will again be places in which people want to live.

9.15 pm
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

In 1941, McInnes wrote in "Above Suspicion" that it was God who made the country and man who made the town. It is a pity that man did not learn better. After listening to today's debate, I can only add that it may have been God who made the country, but it is a pity that the men and women who run our towns and cities have not had their commitment to urban communities supported by the Government.

Urban policy debates are always tales of two cities—the cities that Conservative Members believe exist and the towns and cities of Britain as experienced by Opposition Members, who know what urban Britain is really like. I am not surprised that the Government ran out of Back-Bench speakers. We have continually made the point that only Opposition Members care for urban Britain—Conservative Members just make noises and pretend to be interested.

We heard excellent contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington), for Bristol, East (Ms Corston), for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell), for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth). I particularly congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Barking (Ms Hodge), for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) on their maiden speeches. All three follow much-respected and much-admired former Members of Parliament. As the former leaders of Islington, Newham and Bradford councils respectively, they spoke with enormous authority and considerable knowledge of local government. They set out passionately the case against the Government. I am sure that they will each make a distinguished contribution to the business of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking is renewing old acquaintances. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) served as her vice-chair of housing in Islington, and when I worked at Islington 15 years ago she was my first boss.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn eloquently explained how the Government have failed to deliver housing policy that meets the needs of the people. In the time available, I will concentrate on urban issues. My task is much easier than that of my hon. Friend. Whereas the Government pretend to have a housing policy of sorts, they have never pretended to have a coherent urban policy.

Coherence was lacking in abundance in the Secretary of State's speech. It is no surprise that he has not bothered to show his face for the conclusion of this debate. We witnessed something historic, because it was the last speech that the right hon. Gentleman will make as Secretary of State—and, judging by his performance, he realises that he is for the chop in the reshuffle.

One of my hon. Friends said that the Secretary of State's extraordinary speech reminded him of the worst of the Cambridge university debating society. I felt a bit cross because I was also a member of that society. I can tell the House that, although I heard some pretty dreadful speeches there, the speech today from the Secretary of State was 1,000 times worse than the worst speech that I ever heard at the union.

As the Government's own evaluation has shown, urban Britain is in a state of crisis. We face increased drug abuse, truancy from schools, fear of crime and rates of family breakdown and communities are being set against communities. That is the legacy of 15 years of Conservative mismanagement of urban policy. It is no wonder that 4 million people leave our cities every five years.

In the summer edition of the magazine BURA published yesterday, the Secretary of State said: Our urban centres matter too much to follow America's horrifying lead into despair and decay. We in Europe can recapture the spirit of the city. We must build for the future." By his own words, the Government can be judged to have failed. It is not that the Government have been short of schemes; there have been plenty of schemes. The problem is that they have lacked direction, cohesion, consistency and purpose. New schemes have been devised and dropped at a great rate in every year since 1979, the difference between them being that they deliver fewer and fewer funds. In fact, the Secretary of State and inner-city policy very much resemble "Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat"—a splattering of a TEC here, a dash of a CAT there, a bit of a UDC somewhere else, mixed with a brightly coloured city challenge scheme embroidered with the jewels of inner-city policy. There was a boxful of those, all of them now faded, from Compacts to enterprise zones and now down to the single regeneration budget. In the words of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, for the Secretary of State, a latter-day Joseph, "Any dream will do", provided that it can be launched in a blaze of glory.

Let us consider city pride, just 240 days old today. That scheme called on Manchester, Birmingham and London to invest tremendous time, effort and resources in producing a plan and a brochure for their cities' future. The winner of that bizarre game show then receives absolutely nothing—not a single, additional penny of resources. Perhaps it is not quite nothing; it could be a visit from the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction wearing a hard hat—an excellent photo-opportunity for the Minister or the Secretary of State.

The Government cannot urge us to embrace city pride while robbing our towns and cities of civic pride. If our cities are to flourish and develop, they need support and funding, allowing them to create communities of opportunity and hope. Our civic leaders need to be allowed the freedom to provide for the people who directly gave them a mandate.

In the debate on inner cities on 25 March, the Under-Secretary dwelt on the importance of the derelict land grant and the need to bring contaminated land back into active use. On Monday, just two days ago, the Government announced that the standards required to be met for reclaimed land were to be dropped. No doubt the grant goes next. That means that the health of the people returning to those areas to work will be seriously compromised. The perennial trick of giving on paper but taking in reality is causing our once great towns and cities to slip into a mass of decay. Unless there is a return to proper strategic and targeted funding for our cities, the social and environmental consequences will be irreparable.

If the total regeneration budget of £1.4 billion were used so that every pound provided at least a full pounds' worth of regeneration, our towns and cities would have no cause for concern. As it is, funds are squandered on consultants and quangos, not on homes, education and crime prevention.

The urban development corporation was quoted at length by the Secretary of State. Bristol UDC spent £6.4 million on consultants. Merseyside UDC spent £24.4 million. The list goes on, a ledger of waste and squandered resources. We need look no further than the Minister's own constituency in Ealing, where the incoming Labour leadership has been left a crippling budget deficit of £15 million by the defeated Conservative leadership. [Laughter.] The Secretary of State may laugh, but it is not a laughing matter for the people of Ealing. It is an example of why more and more people are waking up to the fact that Labour is better.

The single regeneration budget is yet another scheme that has been trumpeted as the saviour of urban Britain. The bidding guidance is as clear as mud; local authorities and others have inundated the integrated regional offices with requests for information and guidance, taking up valuable resources in the process. The Government remain unable to reassure community and voluntary groups that they will be supported in their bids: bids for housing action and section 11 grant are being positively discouraged. Not only must those groups now compete with training and enterprise councils and other large consortia; they are being forced into a dialogue with a level of government with which they have no experience of dealing.

The single regeneration budget provides a total budget of just £100 million of unallocated funds for the whole of Britain, compared with the annual grant of £261 million that was available to 57 urban programme authorities this year. As the House knows, the urban programme was abolished by ministerial letter after being in existence for 20 years. Just £100 million of unallocated funds will be available to the whole country next year! The SRB should be renamed the SNB—simply no budget.

The role of local authorities in putting together bids and co-ordinating the approach has been completely downplayed, and the bidding left open to groups that act without a mandate from local people. At the start, we were promised that each integrated regional office would produce a regeneration statement; a few months on, those statements have been forgotten. I hope that the Minister will tell us when they are due to be published.

In short, the SRB does not provide any guaranteed funds for inner-city areas. This is a purely political omission, condemning the most needy to continued hardship. The Government cannot encourage city pride—as the Secretary of State has done—and then rob the town halls and city centres of their pride. We need to return to a time when trust, confidence and integrity were an essential part of the relationship between local authorities and central Government.

The attitude of the Department of the Environment to our civic leaders is made explicit by the treatment by the Government—and this Minister in particular—of Greenwich council. Greenwich submitted plans to hold centenary celebrations in the borough: what better place could be found in Britain than the place where time itself is measured? The proposals have been on the Minister's desk for more than a year, but there has been no reply. No doubt the council will receive one on 31 December 1999.

We need only look at the recent election results to see that the Conservative party does not understand urban life and—more important—does not represent our urban areas. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn observed, just one major urban area outside London is now controlled by the Conservative party—Trafford.

The House will recall the disgraceful attack on Birmingham city council during the local government elections. This tactic of trying to undermine the effectiveness of one of our nation's greatest cities failed; indeed, the Labour leadership—no doubt because of the attack—was returned with an increased majority. That is further proof, if we needed it, that Labour local government provides the services that people want and need at prices that they can afford.

In October last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn set up an urban policy inquiry, City 2020. The committee—composed of experts, academics and people who live in our towns and cities—has visited more than 33 urban areas in six months to take evidence from councillors, chief executives, community workers, business people and city challenge board members. We have listened to and studied more than 1,000 separate pieces of oral and written evidence. We have been from Greenwich to Glasgow, from Southampton to Sheffield and from Brighton to Burnley. On Saturday, we held our national conference in Reading: it was attended by more than 250 representatives from all walks of urban life.

The feedback from the conference has been overwhelming. There are two overriding themes with which all are concerned—the need for proper funds to be released and the need for local authorities to take the lead, free from central Government interference. We found that, the Government evaluator found that, and the people of our towns and cities know it. When will the Government act? As part of the inquiry, we have seen some excellent examples of co-operation between local authorities, central Government, the private sector and community groups.

Our cities handle budgets bigger than those of some countries. In 1990, inner-city London employed 1 million people and added £4.2 billion in manufacturing; Sheffield employed 204,000 people and added £1 billion; Birmingham employed 366,000 people and added £2.7 billion. For economic reasons alone, we cannot afford to neglect our cities.

Dr. Hampson

We can all find examples of anything that we want to prove, but every urban development corporation initiative has worked by drawing in money undreamt of under the Labour Government; it simply did not happen in those days. As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and I had an exchange on that subject earlier, I offer the following example. Without the urban development corporation, and its Government backing and Government money, a concert hall would not now be being built—indeed, it is about to open—in Manchester.

Mr. Vaz

There are many examples of urban initiatives led by local authorities, and if the hon. Gentleman will wait, I shall tell him precisely what the private sector thinks of Government regeneration schemes.

In March, City 2020 went to the United States to meet some of President Clinton's closest policy advisers. American cities have suffered a tremendous onslaught for the past 12 years of Republican rule, but now inner-city communities finally believe that they can make a difference, and that their cities need not be ghettoised and ruled by guns and mobs. The Clinton Administration, unlike the British Government, have, through their empowerment zones, earmarked real and substantial new funds for urban regeneration. Our main conclusion was that instituting a climate for change and improvement, with long-term support for regeneration schemes, is simple given the political will.

We have heard a lot from the Secretary of State—and he may well look at me with that boyish grin.

Mr. Gummer

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Clinton Administration and people throughout the United States are coming to this country to learn how we do things in our cities? The United States is learning from us. Those people do not come to learn from the Labour party, because they know that the Labour party has nothing to teach them.

Mr. Vaz

I am glad that the Secretary of State has rejoined us. He will know that the Clinton advisers were full of praise for the work done in Labour cities, under Labour control.

We have heard a lot from the Secretary of State about the Robson report. If it supports Government policy, why did the Secretary of State suppress it for 18 months? We welcome that excellent report. It is interesting that the publication title was changed from "Evaluating Government Urban Policy" to "Assessing the Impact of Urban Policy"—a handy change of title at the last moment.

The results of the evaluation support what we have been saying for years. The first conclusion is that money, when it is spent, has an effect, and that it is impossible to bring about regeneration without proper and sufficient funding. The second finding is the need for a coherent strategy across Departments. Thirdly, structures and mechanisms that encourage long-term partnership should be instituted, and local authorities should be allowed to play a significant part in such partnerships, along with local communities.

The evaluation flags up two crucial points—the need to create employment opportunities and the need to make cities more attractive places to live in. We urge the Government to heed the report and its recommendations.

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) talked about private finance, so let me tell him about the private sector. The Government, and the Secretary of State in particular, do not seem to understand that the private sector is not a regenerative agency per se. It is not fair to people in our urban areas or to the private sector to insist that social schemes be undertaken without support from the public sector. We cannot expect long-term solutions to be implemented when the furthest ahead that cities and businesses can plan with committed funds is five years.

If the private sector has been ignored, the voluntary sector has been treated with contempt. Voluntary organisations, through meagre resources, have been able to provide a massive pool of people and expertise.

We need to define a new vision of urban life. We must then develop cities in a sustainable way instead of making them enter absurd competitions for funds against each other. Labour will abolish that competitive process. Our urban areas need help as a right. What we need is a new Magna Carta for our towns and cities and a new constitutional settlement between cities and central Government. There is hope out there. People out there in the voluntary sector—community workers, council leaders and business people—are undertaking innovative schemes to regenerate their cities and they must be supported. This Government ignore their pleas at their great risk.

As long ago as 8 March 1988, the Financial Times warned: The British Government's announcement of a new programme for the inner cities is strong on presentation, but weak on new ideas or money". The dilemma facing our cities is that since then more schemes have been launched, with thicker and thicker prospectuses.

In his speech today, the Secretary of State spoke about the true successes of our inner cities and he said that the Government saluted their achievements. He said that he wanted to continue with the revolution. He could not find a single local authority, one private company, any community group or any urban policy expert to agree with his extraordinary euphoria. Urban life has become intolerable, with a lack of resources, enterprise and cohesion, and now there is the misery of deregulated transport. Our Government should give massive support to our towns and cities to equip them to compete against the best in Europe and the best in the world. Our cities have great and proud histories, but they need the capacity to develop and grow, to attract worldwide investment and to generate international acclaim.

This debate has not been one about a Government searching for or defining an urban policy, but one about urban Britain searching for a Government. The real tragedy of tonight is that urban Britain has searched in vain.

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

We have had a good and wide-ranging debate, highlighted by three first-class maiden speeches, to which I shall come in a moment. I point out to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) that earlier this week a delegation from the United States came to my office. They had spent the week looking at city challenge, development corporations and housing action trusts. They were interested in the innovations that we had introduced. If one compares our cities with some of the cities of the United States, one sees that the Americans have every bit as much to learn from what we are doing as the hon. Gentleman has to learn from what is happening in America.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East also referred to Ealing. He has a nerve to mention inherited debt. When the previous Labour council lost Ealing, it left £100 million of rolled-up debt. It had borrowed the money, but it did not have the courage to make any provision for interest. The Conservative administration had to double rents to pay for the Labour party's mistakes.

I want to reply to the debate and to deal with the serious points made by hon. Members on both sides. I start with the speech by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who had a rather selective memory of what happened between 1974 and 1979. He totally forgot about the intervention by the International Monetary Fund which brought about one of the greatest cuts in capital programmes that the country has seen. He said that the urban programme was being wound down. He did not mention city challenge, which has taken its place. He talked about his city of Manchester, but he did not mention the Trafford Park development corporation or the Central Manchester development corporation. He mentioned the estates that were being demolished and the fact that the excrescences were coming down. A Conservative Government are working with the private sector, with a local authority and with housing associations to demolish some of the monuments to socialism built in the 1960s and 1970s and to provide decent homes for people to live in. We are putting right in Manchester many of the mistakes made in the past. The worrying thing about the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which, I fear, was repeated in other speeches, was that it betrayed a hostility to good quality rented accommodation in the private sector. On the same day as the Rowntree Foundation published its recommendations outlining the role that the private rented sector could play in tackling the country's housing problems, the right hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members betrayed an innate hostility to the role that the private rented sector could play.

Mr. Soley

Will the Minister give way?

Sir George Young

No, I must try to make progress. Many hon. Members have made serious speeches, which deserve a reply.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the people who need good-quality accommodation. I am not sure whether he was present at Question Time. The key statistic for those on the waiting list is how many people are rehoused each year. That is the currency that matters. More people are now being rehoused in new lettings from local authorities and housing associations than when the Government took office. We are making faster progress in moving people off the waiting lists than was the case when we took office. The right hon. Gentleman said that Government grant to Manchester had been cut. It has not. Between 1982–83 and 1993–94, Government grant to Manchester has increased in real terms by 31.2 per cent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) put right the omission in the right hon. Gentleman's—

Mr. Kaufman

Will the Minister give way?

Sir George Young

No, I must try to make progress. The right hon. Gentleman did not give way in his speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] The right hon. Gentleman —[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. It seems that the Minister is not giving way. Is he clear about that?

Sir George Young


Mr. Kaufman

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Sir George Young

The right hon. Gentleman—

Madam Speaker

Order. I must take a point of order from the right hon. Member.

Mr. Kaufman

It is a convention of the House that, when one hon. Member refers to another, that hon. Member gives way for the other hon. Member to respond. If the Minister is not ready to do that, it shows how baseless his arguments are in relation to me.

Madam Speaker

It is up to the hon. Member who has the floor to determine whether he will give way and I understand that the Minister is not prepared to give way.

Dr. Hampson

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. I suspect that it is a point of frustration. We must proceed with the debate.

Sir George Young

Madam Speaker, I am trying to reply to the debate. The right hon. Gentleman made a speech, during which he gave way to no one. He made a number of points with which I am trying to deal. If I had to give way to every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate, I would not make much progress in giving answers to the many points that have been made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West put right the omission in the right hon. Gentleman's speech by paying tribute to the work of the Leeds development corporation, for it has done sensational work in regenerating the inner part of Leeds, especially the Armouries site, which I visited. He was right to point out that the development corporation has promoted a different culture. It is a business-oriented body which is turning round derelict sites in the middle of Leeds, promoting new partnerships, new coalitions, and, as he rightly said, producing the gearing that we need if we are to make faster progress in promoting jobs in our inner cities.

The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) mentioned the condition of the nation's housing stock. Of course, the English house conditions survey published last year showed that between 1986 and 1991 the condition of the stock in all tenures had improved. The hon. Gentleman went on to mention empty homes. Yes, I agree with him. That is why this year I have asked local authorities to produce a strategy for the empty homes in their area so that they can be brought into use.

The hon. Gentleman then tried to claim authorship of a scheme, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), of converting offices into flats. We recently gave consent in Hammersmith for a block that had been built as offices to be converted into flats by housing associations. I am interested in the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak and, of course, we shall do what we can to promote them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) outlined how socialism can destroy jobs—quite right. [Laughter.] He also pointed out that the inner city is about better health, better education, and a safer environment. The introduction of the single regeneration budget and the promotion of city challenge enables one to take that integrated approach.

I pay tribute to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). Her tribute to Jo Richardson struck a chord and she described how the right to buy had been a very successful policy in her constituency. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, she did not."] She did. She said that one third of the council's housing stock is being sold under the right to buy. [Interruption.] I think that the hon. Lady is after the job of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle). I prefer the Government's approach to the rather Stalinist approach that we saw in Islington.

Several hon. Members raised the question of rate support grant to local authorities. Rate support grant is only part of the story; there are other Government grants as well. The total, including RSG, has gone up by 40 per cent. over the past 10 years; within that, the share of the urban authorities programme has gone up from 26 per cent. to 32 per cent., so it is not true to say that we have starved inner-city local authorities of resources.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak rightly made the point that we should do more to rehabilitate properties and make better use of empty properties. I was interested in his suggestion that we should extend housing association grant to private developers—a proposition supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford). We are interested in that proposition; of course, it would need primary legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak rightly made the point that we need a broader base for private funding for housing associations. He suggested that housing associations might do more to promote a voluntary right to buy. I agree entirely with what he said.

The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) seemed to be surprised that we took receipts into account when we allocated housing capital funds. If he reflects on that, he will see that that helps the inner cities because they tend to have less receipts than areas in the shire districts; by taking receipts into account, we are helping the inner cities, rather than hindering them.

The hon. Gentleman went on—his was disappointing —to criticise the tenants incentive scheme and the cash incentive scheme. He may not know this, but those schemes are implemented by Labour-controlled councils as well as Conservative-controlled councils. They are popular with tenants. For the price of one home built by a housing association, one can get three new lets for people on the waiting list by giving cash incentives to existing tenants who want to become home owners. I was disappointed to hear the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the scheme because it was pioneered by a number of Labour councils, as well as Conservative councils. It is popular with local authority tenants. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's constituents will be disappointed to learn that this popular scheme does not have the support of their Member of Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) touched on leasehold reform. He reminded the House that the important reform that went through last year was popular, and has introduced a more stable system.

I want to say something about the question raised by my hon. Friend—it was also raised by the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth)—about leaseholders who bought flats from their local authority under the right-to-buy scheme. A recent survey of council leaseholders undertaken by Bristol university found that 86 per cent. of respondents considered their flats to be good value-for-money purchases, and less than 2 per cent. reported difficulty in selling because lenders would not accept their flats as security. There are real problems for that 2 per cent., especially if they want to move, say, to accommodate a growing family.

I intend to introduce a scheme which will make it easier for local authorities to help. Where they can sell the leaseholder another home more suited to his needs, our scheme will enable the authority to take back the unsuitable flat at the right-to-buy price paid for it. The scheme will be introduced by way of an amendment to the Local Authority (Capital Finance) Regulations 1990, and I hope to lay the order before the House in the next few days.

Naturally, most leaseholders would prefer to sell their flats on the open market. Once again, we plan to help. We have consulted the Council of Mortgage Lenders and local authorities about a review of the arrangements under which authorities can indemnify mortgages. That should create a better market by making it easier for banks and building societies to lend to prospective purchasers.

We are also addressing the question of service charges. Again, there is no need to be alarmist. The Bristol survey found that about 5 per cent. of leaseholders had serious difficulties paying their service charges. Measures to help them will be included in a good practice guide for public sector landlords which we plan to publish in the autumn.

We had an excellent maiden speech from the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who spoke from the seat previously occupied by Bob Cryer, from which he used to torment Ministers at all hours of the day and night. As a former leader of Bradford city council, the hon. Gentleman is aware of the partnership work that is being done with the Government in his city. I had a meeting with the hon. Gentleman a few hours after he became a Member of Parliament on section 11, a subject raised by other Members. We do understand the issue and we will do what we can to find a way through.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight) put the Robson report in perspective, and I was delighted to hear of the voluntary city challenge which she promoted in her constituency. I very much welcome that approach, and it shows that one need not always rely on public money.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) was worried that outer ring estates might be penalised by the Government's policies. That need not be the case, as the Castle Vale housing action trust in Birmingham is an outer city estate. There is no reason at all why out-of-city estates should miss out on the Government's initiatives. She referred to another theme which ran through many speeches in saying that she did not like the notion of competition. We make no apology at all for injecting a note of competition into the allocation of resources.

If there is one thing that has driven up the quality of local authority performance in the past three or four years, it has been the allocation of resources according to the quality of solutions as well as the intensity of problems. A number of Opposition Members wanted to go back to the old system, where the worse your problems, the more money you got. We say—the better the solutions, the more money you are likely to get, and that is the right way ahead.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) made an enlightened speech outlining the case for Government intervention in cities, and gave advance warning of his single regeneration bid in Tolladine. It sounds exactly the sort of scheme which could qualify for help. My hon. Friend was interested in extending the rough sleepers initiative to his city, and I commend that.

My hon. Friend outlined the advantages of large-scale voluntary transfer, a policy which has not so far been implemented by any Labour-controlled council. A key point that my hon. Friend made was that, as a result of the transfer of stock, 1,000 new units of rented accommodation will be made available to people in the areas concerned. I urge Opposition Members to raise their sights and look at alternative forms of tenure and ownership if they are to make faster progress in tackling housing problems.

I turn to the last of the maiden speeches, a first-class speech by the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms). I am only sorry that more Opposition Members were not here to hear what the hon. Gentleman said. I do not want to embarrass him, but the note of optimism which came through in his speech contrasted sharply with the rather defeatist and pessimistic notes that we heard from so many Opposition Members.

The hon. Gentleman said that there were "great grounds for optimism" in Newham. He went on to say that the Government have "invested heavily" in east London, and that "valuable foundations" have been laid. That is a recognition of the work that the Government have put into the inner cities. I do not want to embarrass the hon. Gentleman at the beginning of his political career, but I hope that that realism will stay with him during his stay in the House and that the Whips and the Opposition Front Bench do not get at him to tell him to tone down his remarks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central made the case—if ever one needed to hear it made—for compulsory competitive tendering for local government services. He explained the wide variety of costs for identical services provided in a number of London boroughs, and made the case for housing management CCT, which is opposed by Opposition Members, in a first-class speech.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) made a mistake which was also made by many other Opposition Members. He assumed that property in the private rented sector was by definition bad, while property in the public sector was by definition good. One simply has to walk around the inner cities to see that that is not the case. There are many examples of good quality private rented accommodation, and all too many examples of poor quality public sector accommodation. One simply should not assume that, because ownership is in one sector, the quality of the accommodation is bad.

Mr. Straw

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young

No, I must make progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs)—

Mr. Straw


Mr. Straw

No, I am not giving way. I am trying to deal with points made by Opposition Members during their speeches.

The hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) made a long speech about Bristol. One of the things that we are trying to do through our planning policy is to avoid the polarisation which she described, where local authority tenants are in one part of an area and owner-occupiers are in another. If she reads our planning guidance note, PPG 3, she will see that we are promoting mixed, more stable and better balanced communities through our planning policy.

The hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) paid tribute to the Government's estate action programme and described its good features and the qualities that had been promoted on the estates that he represents. The key thing that he mentioned, on which we are keen, was tenant participation, which is one of the themes running through our housing policy.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) alleged that the single regeneration budget does not mention education. That is not true. It is specifically mentioned in the guidelines to the SRB.

The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) seemed to have some doubts about his party's commitment to the right to buy. As one listened to his speech one doubted whether the Labour party ever really believed in the right to buy. It is only the popularity of the policy outside that has caused it to change its views.

The existing commitments to estate action will be honoured. We have been entirely open and honest about the SRB baseline, which has been clearly stated. As the urban development corporations approach their wind-up, more money will be freed for new bids.

If one wants to see the impact of Government policy, one need do no more than go round Bonamy estate in Southwark or Holly Street estate in Hackney. Those large estates, which were built about 30 years ago, are now being demolished with help from the Government. That work, which is funded by money from the Housing Corporation and the private sector, will result in stable communities being built.

The reality is that we are winning the arguments about the way forward in housing and inner cities. We are now setting the agenda that other people are following. Out there, in the real world, the best local authorities are developing their enabling role. They are talking to the business community, enthusing local people and are coming up with practical, radical solutions. Out there, in the real world, private finance is increasingly being brought in to help tackle the needs of housing and our inner cities. Out there, in the real world, we have brought together the regeneration programmes under a single regeneration budget. We have brought together the regional offices of four Government Departments and we now have one single Government office to tackle all the problems in the round.

We are now devolving power to tenants to manage their own estates. We are driving up housing management standards by introducing CCT. We are promoting alternative forms of ownership of local authority estates. We are promoting new means of tackling the problems of the worst estates through housing action trusts.

The Opposition's solution to the issues with which we have grappled for the past six hours is set out in a letter to The Independent on 21 June from the hon. Member for Leicester, East. He made two assertions which were not true and then a proposition on which the House will have its own views. First, he asserted: City challenge, launched in a blaze of glory, has gone. That would be alarming news to the 31 winners of the city challenge, who will be spending £850 million—

Mr. Vaz


Sir George Young

—between now and—

Mr. Vaz


Madam Speaker


Sir George Young

That news would be particularly alarming to his city of Leicester, where £180 million will be invested in his life time.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East then asserted that the capital receipts holiday failed to raise the amount expected. That is not true. The local authorities' own estimates currently stand at £1.8 billion, as opposed to the Government's estimate of £1.75 billion.

I want hon. Members to hear about the vision that the hon. Member for Leicester, East offered to The Independent. He said: The vision for our cities should be of the European style, similar to the cafe society promoted by The Independent. As the hon. Member sits at his table on the pavement, a Campari and soda in one hand and The Independent crossword in the other, and as he listens to a street musician playing a Strauss waltz, while he prescribes his solution—cocktails in Coventry, cappuccino in Cardiff, Martini in Manchester, bucks fizz in Bradford, Dubonnet in Derby—the Conservatives will be working. They will be working hard in our inner cities to create jobs and wealth, turning around socialist housing estates and building a vibrant and prosperous society.

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

The House divided: Ayes 217, Noes 298.

Division No. 277] [10.00
Abbott, Ms Diane Dixon, Don
Ainger, Nick Dobson, Frank
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Dowd, Jim
Allen, Graham Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Alton, David Eagle, Ms Angela
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Eastham, Ken
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Etherington, Bill
Armstrong, Hilary Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ashton, Joe Fatchett, Derek
Austin-Walker, John Faulds, Andrew
Barnes, Harry Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Barron, Kevin Flynn, Paul
Battle, John Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Bayley, Hugh Foster, Don (Bath)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Fraser, John
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Gapes, Mike
Bell, Stuart Garrett, John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony George, Bruce
Bennett, Andrew F. Gerrard, Neil
Bermingham, Gerald Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Berry, Roger Godman, Dr Norman A.
Betts, Clive Golding, Mrs Llin
Blunkett, David Gordon, Mildred
Boateng, Paul Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Boyes, Roland 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
Burden, Richard Hall, Mike
Caborn, Richard Hanson, David
Callaghan, Jim Harman, Ms Harriet
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Heppell, John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hinchliffe, David
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hodge, Margaret
Canavan, Dennis Hoey, Kate
Cann, Jamie Hoon, Geoffrey
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Chidgey, David Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Chisholm, Malcolm Hoyle, Doug
Clapham, Michael Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Clelland, David Hutton, John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Coffey, Ann Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cohen, Harry Jamieson, David
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Corbett, Robin Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Corbyn, Jeremy Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Corston, Ms Jean Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Cousins, Jim Jowell, Tessa
Cummings, John Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Keen, Alan
Dafis, Cynog Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Darling, Alistair Khabra, Piara S.
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Kilfoyle, Peter
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Kirkwood, Archy
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Lewis, Terry
Denham, John Livingstone, Ken
Loyden, Eddie Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Lynne, Ms Liz Rogers, Allan
McCartney, Ian Rooker, Jeff
Mackinlay, Andrew Rooney, Terry
McNamara, Kevin Rowlands, Ted
MacShane, Denis Ruddock, Joan
McWilliam, John Sedgemore, Brian
Madden, Max Sheerman, Barry
Maddock, Mrs Diana Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mahon, Alice Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Mandelson, Peter Short, Clare
Marek, Dr John Simpson, Alan
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Skinner, Dennis
Meacher, Michael Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Meale, Alan Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Michael, Alun Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Snape, Peter
Milburn, Alan Soley, Clive
Miller, Andrew Spearing, Nigel
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Spellar, John
Morgan, Rhodri Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Morley, Elliot Steinberg, Gerry
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Stevenson, George
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Stott, Roger
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Straw, Jack
Mowlam, Marjorie Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mudie, George Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mullin, Chris Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Timms, Stephen
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Tipping, Paddy
Olner, William Vaz, Keith
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Parry, Robert Wallace, James
Pickthall, Colin Walley, Joan
Pike, Peter L. Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Pope, Greg Wareing, Robert N
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Wicks, Malcolm
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Prescott, John Winnick, David
Primarolo, Dawn Worthington, Tony
Purchase, Ken Wright, Dr Tony
Quin, Ms Joyce Young, David (Bolton SE)
Radice, Giles
Randall, Stuart Tellers for the Ayes:
Raynsford, Nick Mr. Eric Illsley and
Rendel, David Mr. Dennis Turner.
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Bowis, John
Aitken, Jonathan Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Brandreth, Gyles
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Brazier, Julian
Amess, David Bright, Graham
Arbuthnot, James Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Browning, Mrs. Angela
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Ashby, David Budgen, Nicholas
Aspinwall, Jack Burns, Simon
Atkins, Robert Burt, Alistair
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Butcher, John
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Butler, Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Butterfill, John
Baldry, Tony Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Carrington, Matthew
Bates, Michael Carttiss, Michael
Batiste, Spencer Cash, William
Bellingham, Henry Clappison, James
Bendall, Vivian Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Beresford, Sir Paul Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Body, Sir Richard Coe, Sebastian
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Colvin, Michael
Booth, Hartley Congdon, David
Boswell, Tim Conway, Derek
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Cormack, Patrick Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Couchman, James Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Cran, James Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hunter, Andrew
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Jack, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Day, Stephen Jenkin, Bernard
Deva, Nirj Joseph Jessel, Toby
Devlin, Tim Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dickens, Geoffrey Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Dorrell, Stephen Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dover, Den Key, Robert
Duncan, Alan Kilfedder, Sir James
Duncan-Smith, Iain King, Rt Hon Tom
Dunn, Bob Knapman, Roger
Durant, Sir Anthony Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Dykes, Hugh Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Eggar, Tim Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Elletson, Harold Knox, Sir David
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Legg, Barry
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Leigh, Edward
Evennett, David Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Faber, David Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fabricant, Michael Lidington, David
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lightbown, David
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fishburn, Dudley Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)
Forman, Nigel Lord, Michael
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Luff, Peter
Forth, Eric Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) MacKay, Andrew
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Maclean, David
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger McLoughlin, Patrick
French, Douglas McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gale, Roger Madel, Sir David
Gallie, Phil Maitland, Lady Olga
Gardiner, Sir George Major, Rt Hon John
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Malone, Gerald
Garnier, Edward Mans, Keith
Gill, Christopher Marland, Paul
Gillan, Cheryl Marlow, Tony
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gorst, Sir John Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW) Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Merchant, Piers
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Mills, Iain
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Grylls, Sir Michael Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Moate, Sir Roger
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Monro, Sir Hector
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hampson, Dr Keith Moss, Malcolm
Hannam, Sir John Needham, Rt Hon Richard
Hargreaves, Andrew Nelson, Anthony
Harris, David Neubert, Sir Michael
Haselhurst, Alan Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hawkins, Nick Nicholls, Patrick
Hawksley, Warren Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hayes, Jerry Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Heald, Oliver Norris, Steve
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Heathcoat-Amory, David Oppenheim, Phillip
Hendry, Charles Ottaway, Richard
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Page, Richard
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Paice, James
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Patnick, Irvine
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Patten, Rt Hon John
Horam, John Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Pickles, Eric
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Porter, David (Waveney) Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Redwood, Rt Hon John Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Richards, Rod Temple-Morris, Peter
Riddick, Graham Thomason, Roy
Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Robathan, Andrew Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Thurnham, Peter
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Tracey, Richard
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Tredinnick, David
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Trend, Michael
Sackville, Tom Trotter, Neville
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Twinn, Dr Ian
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shaw, David (Dover) Viggers, Peter
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Walden, George
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shersby, Michael Waterson, Nigel
Sims, Roger Watts, John
Skeet, Sir Trevor Wells, Bowen
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Whitney, Ray
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Whittingdale, John
Spink, Dr Robert Widdecombe, Ann
Spring, Richard Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Sproat, Iain Wilkinson, John
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Willetts, David
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wilshire, David
Steen, Anthony Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Stephen, Michael Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Stern, Michael Wolfson, Mark
Stewart, Allan Wood, Timothy
Streeter, Gary Yeo, Tim
Sumberg, David Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Sweeney, Walter
Sykes, John Tellers for the Noes:
Tapsell, Sir Peter Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.

Question accordingly negatived.

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

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

Resolved, That this House commends the Government's achievements in urban and housing policy over the last 15 years, and recognises that Britain now leads the world in imaginative and constructive policy development in these areas; notes with approval the development of the Single Regeneration Budget and the Government Offices for the Regions which build on the widely recognised success of City Challenge and other initiatives; welcomes the formation of English Partnerships to carry forward the drive to improve derelict land; commends the continuing success of Urban Development Corporations in transforming areas of dereliction and disuse; notes that statutory homelessness acceptances are continuing their welcome decline; notes that housing associations are now expected to provide some 179,000 homes with Government funding over the first three years of this Parliament, substantially in excess of the 153,000 promised in 1992; congratulates the Government on the success of the Right to Buy and its tenant management initiatives; notes that the English House Conditions Survey showed an improvement in the fitness of housing in all sectors between 1986 and 1991; applauds the Government's continued efforts to secure maximum value for money from public spending, and to target resources on the areas and individuals most in need; and calls on the Government to continue to place England's urban communities at the heart of its policy, and to draw on the commitment and energy of local people and local bodies in tackling the problems of cities, while maintaining the sound public finances necessary for the sustained economic growth which is an essential component of further improvement not only in urban centres but in the whole country.