HC Deb 29 January 1996 vol 270 cc647-750

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker

Before I call the Secretary of State, I must announce that speeches between 7 pm and 9 pm will have to be limited to 10 minutes.

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

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When we published our housing White Paper last summer, we made clear our continuing commitment to a decent home for every family. We said that we remained committed to meeting that objective in the face of the social and economic changes and the environmental concerns that place new and increasing demands on government.

The Housing Bill extends opportunity. It will mean that more housing association tenants will have the opportunity to buy their own homes, that leaseholders will have stronger and more accessible protection, and that council tenants will have the opportunity to vote for new types of social landlords, who can bring in private money to improve their estates.

Conservative Members have shown that housing issues can be approached with imagination. We have not simply fallen back on the tired old policies of building municipal estates: "Never mind the quality; measure the quantity; count the cost". The Conservative party brought in the right to buy—1.3 million households in England wanted that right, and took the opportunity that was given to them. Each day, 200 households go on wanting that right. The Labour party voted against that opportunity.

We are also the party that brought in private finance alongside public money to improve our council estates. We brought in competition to provide housing, with housing associations competing to provide it at the best price. That means better housing at a cheaper price, and more of it than would otherwise have been the case. We brought in new rights for tenants, and gave them a greater say in how their estates are run.

The Labour party says that it wants those things, but it voted solidly against every one of them. It says one thing and does another.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)

I agree with absolutely everything that my right hon. Friend said about our housing policy, but I should like to press him on one point, which I may have missed. In the housing White Paper, we proposed to legislate to allow profit-making companies and other bodies to compete for the grants available to those in social housing. Will my right hon. Friend explain whether that is in the Bill, or whether we are planning to introduce it later?

Mr. Gummer

We have said that the needs of leaseholders are more important in the immediate term, and we have to deal with them. We are therefore producing a separate Bill that covers that issue, which I hope will soon be introduced. There is no question of dropping it. However, decisions on leasehold problems, particularly in London and the south coast resorts, are so serious that they should be taken immediately. That is therefore covered in the Bill.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer

I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman, because I have one or two things to say to him in particular.

We published our White Paper last summer and have now introduced the Bill. The Opposition, of course, did not publish their own policy document, despite the many promises that they would do so, and that it would be bigger, better and certainly more expensive than ours. They leaked ours in order to pretend that they had one. When they were pressed about it at the Housing Corporation conference in February 1995—I stress that date—the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) said: A new approach is called for and over the next few months Frank Dobson and I will be working up detailed housing policy proposals which the Labour party will be publishing later this"— that is, last— year. We are less than three weeks away from the anniversary of that statement. When will we get Labour's housing policy? Why has it taken so long? Has the hon. Member for Greenwich been unable to get the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) to understand it? Has the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras—having taken some time to understand the policy—not been able to get his Treasury team to agree to it?

Or is it merely that Labour does not have a clue as to what it would do if anybody was ever silly enough to ask it to take charge? Does Labour want to stick with saying and never doing? The hon. Member for Greenwich said that he was going to produce a policy in a few months. That was good enough to allow him to get away with it in front of an audience, but it is not good enough for the people of Britain who want to know what Labour would do.

I have taken some time to look at the one piece of Labour policy that I have discovered so far—that, somehow or other, Labour would release the accumulated receipts so that they could be spent. That is the one thing that Labour has said, but it has not explained until recently what that would mean. It would mean not that a Labour Government would allow councils to spend their receipts, but that some councils would be allowed to spend other councils' receipts.

We have now discovered that, carefully hidden in Labour's policy, is a proposal that the arrangement of phasing would mean that the Labour council in the Wyre, for example, would be asked to spend its receipts in, let us say, Gateshead. So when a council leader says, "We will release the receipts," he thinks that the receipts will be released for the people of the Wyre, Bracknell Forest, Dacorum or any of the other places that are temporarily in Labour control. That is what the councils think, but Labour would actually give permission for those receipts to be spent somewhere else.

Labour's policy has been rumbled. Inside Housing, a newspaper not entirely in favour of the Conservative cause, asked what would happen to the interest that is now going to the local authority that has the receipts when those receipts are spent. The newspaper said that, if there were a Labour Government, councils could refuse to use billions of pounds of capital receipts unless they got an extra subsidy from the Labour Government to pay for the interest they were losing.

Hidden in the only bit of Labour policy that works in the minds of the public is the fact that it would, in absolute truth, hold back receipts from councils to make sure that it could subsidise the spendthrift by nationalising the receipts of those councils which have done their job properly.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept—as he must, since he has no evidence to the contrary—that everything he has said in the past five minutes is absolutely untrue, and that he has made it all up?

Mr. Gummer

No. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that Labour would not allow the leafy suburbs to spend the money, because that would be the only way in which it would he able to provide the extra money for the councils to which it wants to give money. That is precisely what Labour intends to do. The housing press has revealed precisely what Labour did not want to be admitted or publicised. It is no wonder that the hon. Gentleman was so quick on to his feet—he knows that he has been rumbled.

Madam Speaker

Order. I hope that we can get on to the Second Reading of this Bill.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

My question was exactly that, Madam Speaker. Can the Secretary of State answer three simple questions? Will the Bill mean any significant increase in the number of houses for rent; will it mean any significant reduction in the rents of people in housing association properties, as those associations are losing their grant by a greater amount every year; and will it mean any relief for those who have bought their properties from local authorities, particularly in council tower blocks, and who face maintenance, service and capital charges of up to £28,000, which some of them cannot afford?

Mr. Gummer

The first question is dealt with in the Finance Bill, as the hon. Gentleman knows. The second is not part of this Bill, because it is part of others, and the third is one of the issues that we have already taken into account and on which we have taken action.

One of the key arguments about the Bill is that an alternative way exists, which is related centrally to capital receipts. That is why it is crucial for us to deal with that issue at the beginning, and it is why I gave way to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I wanted to have the opportunity to tell the House what his party said about his policy. He has said: Liberal Democrats have no ideological attachment to public or private housing. That means, according to the party's Whips Office, that the Liberal Democrats' weaknesses are as follows, first, we haven't got a particularly strong or new line on housing. Secondly, it states: our intention to phase out MIRAS will cripple mortgage payers and exacerbate negative equity"— the very point that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey had the cheek to question me on a moment ago. So the Liberal Democrats admit that their policy would make the present situation worse.

Lastly, the Liberal Whips state: our policy on helping home owners suffering from negative equity"— which is what the hon. Gentleman asked about— is expensive and ill-thought out". That is what the Liberal party says about its policy, and I must thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the chance to mention it, in case he did not have the opportunity to do so.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer

In one moment.

The Government are facing up to the real issues. We are asking the hard questions, and giving the tough answers that need to be given. We are facing the challenge to set up fair systems that help those who need it most, concentrating our resources effectively, and helping those who can house themselves to do so affordably. We are giving them rights and responsibilities.

To ensure that that will continue, we are introducing a second Bill, which will include measures to improve construction contracts and reform renovation grants. That Bill will be widely welcomed.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)


Mr. Gummer

Before I give way, I want to explain what I want to do in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. We need to ensure that we have a fair way of allocating the housing we have for social purposes. We want not several queues but one waiting list, with people judged according to their need. That is what the system is meant to do.

Some people have temporary needs, and others long-term needs. The allocation of long-term social housing should depend on long-term needs, and not merely on people's short-term needs. People on the waiting lists for council and housing association housing need to know that they are being treated fairly.

At the moment there is a problem. Some people who need housing are in the right category, and others are not but are in greater need. All the Bill does is to ensure that people are judged according to their needs. To each according to his need—or is that another philosophy that the Labour party has thrown out? That is what the Bill is intended to do, as any sane person would recognise.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)


Mr. Gummer

I will give way first to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), as he rose first.

Mr. Mackinlay

When the Secretary of State has finished his swashbuckling fun of knocking the Labour and Liberal parties, will he address the criticism made by the Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales, who have referred to the Bill as "ill-timed", and drawn hon. Members' attention to our Christian obligation to have regard for families and the disadvantaged? The bishops regard the Bill, especially part VII, as repugnant. What does he have to say to those caring people with a pastoral role, who have no political axe to grind, who consider the Bill to be unacceptable and uncaring?

Mr. Gummer

I would point to the guidance notes that were produced last Thursday. They said that the categories to which the Roman Catholic bishops drew attention are the very categories that will be at the top of the list for the measurements of need. We have met every single criticism that the bishops put forward. The only thing that was ill-timed was the fact that they did not wait for the guidance notes so that they could see that what they had feared was untrue. Those who misled the bishops had better explain to them why they did so.

We particularly included a provision that concern should be taken for married couples who have waited to have children because the conditions in which they lived were unsuitable for having them. I am sure that His Eminence and the Roman Catholic archbishops and bishops will be pleased at that attitude which, for the first time, is expressed in our documentation.

The Bill provides for a single waiting list route into social housing, but with the first priority for the most vulnerable.

Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer

I ought to get on a little further, but I shall come back to the hon. Lady because I am always willing to hear from the Liberal party, given what it has said about its own housing policy.

At the same time that we bring up to date the criteria for the allocation of long-term social housing, we are keeping an effective safety net for homeless households. Families and vulnerable people who are unintentionally homeless would be given a minimum of one year's accommodation, with further help where needed. In many areas, one year will be more than enough for a household with real needs to get permanent accommodation allocated through the waiting list, but it is much more sensible to give people immediate help—the help that is available—and then try to assess what the best help is in the circumstances of those people. Any sane person would accept that.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Gummer

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), because she rose first.

Ms Glenda Jackson

How can the Bill, which will create a longer waiting list, deal with the basic need, which is the gross lack of decent, affordable housing? Will the Minister define what an "unreal need" is for a family without a home?

Mr. Gummer

A family without a home gets a greater advantage if its homelessness is statutory and categorisable than does a family with appalling accommodation, which is in a much worse position. The second family would not get a home. The first family gets a home first simply because it is in the right category. I am merely saying that we should judge cases by need.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate says that we have a longer waiting list; that is not true. We have a waiting list based upon the principle of need instead of one based upon those who are lucky enough, if that is the right word, to be in the right category. Such families always beat others, who may be in worse conditions, on local authority housing waiting lists. If she would leave her doctrine aside and look at the facts of need, she would find that what we say is right. She will never oppose the system once it is in operation, because she will see that it works properly.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

At present, a family with priority need, which will often be a family with children, is entitled to rehousing as a homeless family. Such families still have the great trauma of having to move home, and, especially, of their children having to change schools, but will the Secretary of State confirm that, under the new legislation, they would have to move once to temporary accommodation, and, with no choice at all, have to move home for a second time within 12 months? Will he confirm that that will not only cause housing disruption but education, social and every other sort of disruption?

Mr. Gummer

That is not true. If a family was in the circumstances described by the hon. Gentleman, it could be moved directly into permanent accommodation. The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. As always, he has been reading his own propaganda, not the statements of the Government.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that all local authorities should be obliged to provide the temporary accommodation required within their own area? Will he bear in mind problems experienced in places like Southend-on-Sea, where for many years other authorities have had the habit of putting their homeless families into temporary accommodation, making Southend's problems worse?

Mr. Gummer

Under the Bill, local authorities will be able to refer people to their local authority of origin, which is one of the issues that my hon. Friend is concerned about. I hope that he agrees that, if we are to deal with need, we must ensure that people get the accommodation they need.

While some people find that decision difficult. to make right at the beginning, others have acute immediate needs that may not continue for long. Still others have an immediate need for permanent accommodation, which is clear to their local authority. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) would wish, such people can be accorded that permanent accommodation. We must be concerned for homeless people, not for some theory of homelessness put forward by the Opposition.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer

No. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) asked me to give way, and I promised that she would be next. I wish to proceed with a couple more paragraphs of my speech, after which the hon. Gentleman will have plenty of time to intervene.

Our consultation paper on allocations, published last Thursday, shows our intention to have a fair system that encourages local authorities to stand back and ask who really needs long-term housing, who really needs short-term help, and how they can use existing housing to the best advantage. They can therefore meet the requirement of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate. A better use of housing enables more people to be decently housed, which is an important part of what we seek to do.

Mr. Dobson

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Christchurch in a moment, and then come back to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dobson

The Secretary of State misled the House.

Madam Speaker

Order. Did the hon. Gentleman say that the Secretary of State had misled the House? No Minister or Back Bencher misleads the House. Will he withdraw that remark, so that we may proceed with the debate?

Mr. Dobson

I withdraw the remark, Madam Speaker, but it would appear that what the Secretary of State said is at variance with the Bill.

Madam Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that, at some stage, the Secretary of State will allow him to intervene. Am I to understand that the Secretary of State is allowing the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) to intervene?

Mr. Gummer


Mrs. Maddock

Will the Secretary of State explain his thinking on regulations? Like me, many hon. Members object to Ministers having the power to put measures into practice through regulations. We saw what happened in the case of the Child Support Agency. I do not expect an overnight change, but should not the Bill at least show the criteria that the Secretary of State will use?

Why is the consultation paper going out when we are about to discuss the Bill in Committee? We will not have responses on some of the matters that we are supposed to discuss in Committee.

Mr. Gummer

I am concerned that everything should be properly discussed. If the hon. Lady wants better and further particulars on anything, I should be pleased to provide them. That is why I published before Second Reading the proposed criteria in the form of guidance, which we are discussing with local authorities. There is therefore no difference between us on wishing to obtain as much information as possible.

May I say to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that I enjoy having a rough and tough discussion, but I do not wish to mislead the House. Let me therefore go through precisely what I was asked. If a local authority has a homeless family, with no roof over its head and in real difficulty, it can move it into any accommodation available. There is no question of children having to change schools, because it will be perfectly possible for the local authority to find the right accommodation and move the family into it permanently in the shortest possible time.

Mr. Dobson

I do not suggest for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to mislead the House, but what he has just said appears to be at variance with clause 161, which says: A local housing authority shall not perform any such duty…by providing accommodation"— for homeless people— other than—

  1. (a) accommodation in a hostel…or
  2. (b) accommodation leased to the authority"—
again, that would be temporary accommodation— for more than two years".

Mr. Gummer

The fact is that we are talking about a particular example of someone who is in desperate need. The hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras tried to suggest that people in desperate need of housing would not receive permanent accommodation, but would be stuck in temporary accommodation.

I say quite clearly that, as soon as that need is discovered, the local authority will provide permanent accommodation if it is available. That is precisely what is occurring. The hon. Gentleman does not understand the situation, and he has not read the legislation properly. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong) may laugh, but the Labour party has no policy with which to respond. Although the hon. Lady is new to the Opposition Front Bench, she must know that the issue is clear: accommodation will be available immediately for people with no roof over their heads, if they are suitable applicants for permanent accommodation and they reach the top of the waiting list in that sense. They will receive accommodation because their need is greater than that of someone else.

The House now sees what Labour's policy would mean: if a family was on top of the waiting list but it was less needy than another family on that list, it would be housed before the family in greater need. We now see what Labour Members believe in: if people are in the correct category, they will receive housing, and people in need will not receive housing.

We believe that families in need should be moved into permanent accommodation as rapidly as possible. That is surely the right way to go. The Labour party is wrong, because it wants to allocate housing according to category and not according to people's needs. It does not care about people's needs; it simply wants people to be in the correct category. The Labour party is not prepared to provide even temporary accommodation to those who are in immediate need, because it wants to stick to categories. That is why the Labour party is wrong.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gummer

I must proceed, but I shall return to my hon. Friend in a moment.

The hon. Member for North-West Durham has got it wrong; she wants to stick to categories—no doubt that is another example of the "stakeholder" concept. The Bill allows us to house people according to their need, which must be the right way to go.

I now turn to the question whether council tenants should have the same landlord, regardless of whether that is what they want. We believe that the Bill should allow council tenants to choose new landlords who can unlock the capital that is tied up in council houses and inject private investment, along with public money, in order to improve housing. The new landlords, such as local housing companies, will be not-for-profit bodies regulated by the Housing Corporation. They will be backed by an estates renewal challenge fund worth some £314 million over the next three years. That money will be used to improve many bad estates, if the council tenants choose to have a new landlord. They will make that choice; it will not be imposed upon them.

I want to know whether the Labour party will support that measure. It seems a very good way of unlocking capital, which would otherwise not be available, in order to improve those estates.

Mr. Pike

Does that not contradict what the Secretary of State said a few moments ago, as it does not necessarily mean that those houses most in need of improvement will receive the money for that work?

Mr. Gummer

That has nothing to do with the allocations. I am talking about bad, rundown council estates which will be able to raise their standards of housing. Is the hon. Member saying that we should not raise the standards of the worst council estates—which are so bad largely because they have been controlled by Labour authorities which have allowed them to run down, year in, year out, for party political purposes in many cases? There is also the question of extending the measure.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer

No: I shall continue my remarks so that the hon. Gentleman may listen and learn about the additional opportunities that the Bill will provide for the public.

The Bill provides a further opportunity to offer people a real choice between renting and ownership. It will give purchase grants to those who live in housing association accommodation, so that they will have the right to buy. It will be a valuable extension of opportunity and people's right to own.

I shall be looking very carefully to see whether the Opposition are in favour of extending the right to buy in that way, or whether they refuse it. That will tell us whether they really believe in the right to buy, or whether they merely accept it as convenient for electoral purposes. So far, they have voted against every extension of the right to buy. They do not want people to own; they want them to be governed by the tenancy clauses of local authority housing.

The only area in which we consider it better for people not to have the right to buy is the small village, where alternative accommodation is difficult to find. People have often given the land and been granted special planning permission. As we want land to be offered, we feel that that is the right course of action.

Mrs. Maddock

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Gummer

No, I have already given way to the hon. Lady.

Some freeholders use their powers in a wholly unacceptable way and abuse their responsibilities. Many Members have material that shows that to be categorical.

I have here a document that I shall certainly place in the Library of the House. It was produced by a management company seeking to frighten leaseholders out of their rights. That is wholly unacceptable, and I do not believe that we should allow it to continue. That is why I have found room in the Bill to address such behaviour, although it meant displacing a matter that my hon. Friend the Minister of State and I look forward to bringing before the House.

Mr. David Ashby (North-West Leicestershire)

Has my right hon. Friend considered also the scam used by freeholders who charge long leaseholders exorbitant insurance premiums and take the commission on those insurances? Will he accept any changes to the Bill to prevent that being taken into account when the value of the freehold is assessed?

Mr. Gummer

It is important that we look carefully at any suggestions on that complicated matter. My hon. Friend will he pleased to know that the arrangements in the Bill will cover the issue he raises, but if he thinks that we can do better, I am certainly prepared to listen to him.

Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The amendments to the Bill that he has promised will be extremely welcome to leaseholders in London, particularly those who are suffering badly from the depredations of rogue landlords. One of their greatest problems is the exorbitant cost of enforcing their rights against their freeholders. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that any amendments to the Bill are easily and cheaply enforceable, and that the present rights of leaseholders under the leasehold reform legislation are also cheaper to uphold?

Mr. Gummer

I thank my hon. Friend for that. I have suggested that we discuss and consult on our proposal that those matters could be taken out of the hands of the courts and brought before the tribunal. It would be cheaper and easier, and would enable the chairman of the tribunal, who is often a professionally qualified valuer, to use his professional ability—which a judge cannot do. That would help considerably, and I hope that consultation will show it to be the generally accepted view.

Most freeholders behave in a perfectly honourable manner. I am concerned about freeholders such as Bebington and Associates, who write threatening letters. I would also mention the solicitors who support them, and the professional people who claim that their behaviour should be allowed. I hope that we shall have an united view at least on this matter. Those people should not be allowed either to damage the leaseholders or to write down the qualities of good freeholders, many of whom do their job as it ought to be done, and who are as angry as anybody else about how certain operators have acted.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

I have been listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman—particularly to his remarks about need. How will he decide the categories? What advice will he give housing allocation officers in respect of people who are living in overcrowded or sub-standard conditions, or who have been on the waiting list a long time? We and the public want the answer.

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased that, last Thursday, we published the proposed guidelines, a copy of which is in the Library. They bring together all the categories in the legislation, so that the needs of each family can be considered at the same time and on the same basis. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will like that arrangement, and will have no difficulty with it. It is not for me to say which category comes before another. It is for me to say the matters that a local authority must take into account. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will find that the guidance is acceptable, and he will not need to worry about that.

One matter that divides us, and I am sorry that it does, is that Labour still wants two categories of allocation for need instead of one. Labour will not, even for the shortest possible moment, allow a homeless family to wait while the best way to provide for its need is decided. Instead of saying that that is reasonable, as most people would say, Labour always makes the sort of argument used by the hon. Member for Attercliffe—that a family of two parents and two children would have to stay in temporary accommodation, change schools and then change again. That is not so, as I told the House.

Mr. Betts

Why not?

Mr. Gummer

Because the time spent in temporary accommodation in circumstances of the extreme kind that the hon. Gentleman cited is bound to be short. If such a family comes to the top of the needs list, it will be accommodated. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the family should be rehoused in advance of people who have more need.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Gummer

No—I want to continue.

I wish to talk about something else in which the hon. Member for Christchurch is very interested—houses in multiple occupation. We are most concerned that standards in some parts of the private rented sector need to be improved. Some of the worst conditions are found in houses in multiple occupancy—the so-called HMOs. They are typically bedsitters or bed-and-breakfast hostels. Local authorities already have powers to require safety and amenity standards to be met, but the Bill goes further. It strengthens local authority powers to register HMOs and to control conditions. If buildings are unsatisfactory, local authorities can close them down.

There are particular concerns in many seaside areas. Former hotels and guest houses have become what are sometimes called benefit hostels. Where they are badly managed or there are too many of them, that can have a serious effect. Considerable nuisance is often caused, and sometimes real danger. Such wholesale changes can alter the character of an area, and damage, for example, the tourist industry on which the area specifically depends.

I propose to bring forward amendments to strengthen the Bill's powers further. I propose to allow local authorities to close down HMOs without compensation if they are being run in a way that causes nuisance or annoyance to the neighbourhood. I propose also to allow authorities to prevent new HMOs from opening if to allow additional HMOs would be detrimental to the area. That means that we will cover the whole range of public concerns about buildings that were not meant for the purpose to which they are now being put.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and to the Prime Minister for the way in which they have listened to representations from those of us who represent seaside resorts. What my right hon. Friend has just announced will go a long way to meeting the requirements.

Will my right hon. Friend clarify one point? Until now, local authorities have sometimes found serving notice on anybody difficult, because the "anybody" is not clearly defined. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that it is clearly possible to identify, and if necessary disbar, the manager of such a property, so that it can be closed down and that person can be prevented from running one again?

Mr. Gummer

It will certainly be possible under the proposals to close down properties immediately without compensation. I hope that, in the discussion of how registration might work, we can cover the other aspects that my hon. Friend suggests. We need a simple and straightforward system, not one that is too complex and bureaucratic, and one that delivers the goods on safety and the other concerns that I have outlined.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that students form the single category that would be most affected by the proposals? There are huge numbers of students in big cities, and Leeds now has more than 10,000. I welcome my right hon. Friend's appreciation of the fact that, for years, many students have lived in unsafe and poorly maintained accommodation—although, of course, some landlords are fine.

There is legitimate concern that landlords might have to re-register only every five years. Can my right hon. Friend use his discretion and require more frequent registration? To cover the cost, a fee could be charged for it, as it is for an MOT licence.

Mr. Gummer

I am happy to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion. I am trying to achieve a balance between too complex a system which would be too unwieldy to operate, and one which is not sufficiently strong. I hope that we have got the right balance, but if my hon. Friend thinks that there are ways in which we can improve it, I shall certainly consider them.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

My right hon. Friend will know how welcome the proposals he has just announced will be in Blackpool and other seaside towns. Will he instruct his officials to monitor carefully the operation of those new powers, not only in the Bill but in the further amendments?

There is concern that, in seaside resorts with Labour or Liberal Democrat or Lib-Lab authorities, councillors are reluctant to operate the powers that are already in existence. There are especial concerns, which have been expressed to me by residents' and hoteliers' associations, about the strong links between Labour councillors and some of the unscrupulous landlords. Will my right hon. Friend ask his officials to investigate?

Mr. Gummer

The Bill will give local authorities the powers to operate sensibly. The reason we have made the changes in the Bill on giving homes according to need is that we want local authorities to make those decisions themselves. It will be the local authority's fault if people in the categories that have been so far trumpeted abroad find themselves in temporary accommodation for a long time. It will be local authorities that will be in a position to carry out that part of the Bill.

We will monitor the situation carefully, but local authorities should be in the driving seat, and local authorities should not be deprived of the powers they now have over their receipts, as the Labour party wishes. I shall be interested to see how the Labour party will explain that.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)


Mr. Raynsford

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer

No, I will give way to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), and then I will come back.

Mr. Soley

The Secretary of State may recall that, during the passage of the Housing Act 1988, the issues he is raising now were raised then as serious matters for concern—not least the activities of Mr. Hoogstraten. The Secretary of State will also recall that we raised the same concerns that he has mentioned today about freeholders and leaseholders. Why has it taken the Government eight years even to begin to think about acting on those matters, when they rejected our amendments at the time of the passage of the 1988 Act?

Mr. Gummer

The amendments were not as the hon. Gentleman put them forward. The Government are meeting present needs clearly and directly. I am pleased that there is agreement on those matters on both sides of the House. I hope that the Opposition parties will help us to get the Bill through fast, so that, first, we will be able to ensure that families in real need get their homes. Secondly, we will be able to ensure that houses in multiple occupation are covered by better legislation than at the moment. Thirdly, we shall be able to ensure that leaseholders have protection, which they do not have now. All these things can be achieved if the Labour party drops its dogmatic opposition to the Bill and supports us in what we are doing. We shall watch the Opposition and press them. We look forward to hearing what the Labour party's policy is in a few moments.

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

May I welcome the changes that my right hon. Friend has mentioned? They will be generally welcomed in Bournemouth.

How do the changes, together with the proposals in the original measure, respond to the problems being experienced by local authorities because of a lack of definition of what is a hotel, a hostel or a house in multiple occupation? Lack of definition effectively prevents local authorities from applying the controls that they already have. In responding to problems concerning HMOs, will there be a clear definition in a schedule to enable local authorities better to respond to the changes that my right hon. Friend has announced?

Mr. Gummer

There will be a clear definition in the Bill. It will probably appear in a schedule. It will make the position as clear as can be. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is not an easy area in which to introduce provisions and definitions. I have no doubt that there will be discussion in Committee.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer

No. I must get on.

The conduct of tenants who are already in place is a matter of considerable concern. We felt that a natural approach would be, first, to ensure that local authorities that so desired would be able to grant a probationary or introductory tenancy of a year to see how the tenant settled down and how others considered that he or she had settled down. It is not an unreasonable idea.

I am sorry that the Labour-controlled Association of District Councils is opposed to that. It is a great mistake. The Labour party is supposed to be in favour of taking action. Unfortunately, is opposes the simple mechanism that we propose. It is opposed by Labour authority after authority. It will be helpful if individuals have the opportunity to see how they settle down in a new tenancy. It will be for local authorities to decide whether that is what they wish to do. I would recommend them to adopt that approach, but the decision is entirely for local authorities. I want to give them the opportunity to make a decision.

Neighbour nuisance damages many people's lives. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are aware of that from surgery experience. We are giving landlords effective powers against a minority who do not accept responsibility. We need especially to protect social tenants, who may have little choice when it comes to their neighbours. It is a real issue, especially for our older constituents.

Our proposals have been developed in consultation with local authorities. We have taken account especially of recommendations contained in the ADC's report. We have also taken on board recommendations from elsewhere. We have tried to arrive at as common a view as possible. I am sorry that a measure which I think would be important has not gained the support of the ADC.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, even in an area such as Taunton, there are noise problems affecting tenants and owner-occupiers. Those problems are greatly increased in many inner cities. Those suffering from noise abuse are often afraid to complain. I know of instances in which there have been reprisals against those who have complained. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that measures are taken to preserve the secrecy or confidentiality of those who complain, so that the proposed measures may be successfully implemented?

Mr. Gummer

That will be, I am sure, the concern of local authorities that wish to implement the proposals. I shall give them every encouragement to take the matter on board. If my hon. Friend has any ideas on how we might extend the proposals, I should very much like to be informed of them.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer

No. I must bring my remarks to an end.

The Bill is designed to extend opportunity. It is designed also to ensure that the resources available to help those in need are applied to those most in need. I say again to the Labour party that, if we are to accept—this has been the position under all Governments—that there are never enough resources to meet every need, we must decide which comes first. That has been the most contentious issue.

We have at the moment a system in which some people get to the top of the list by category, thereby overtaking those who by need should be at the top of the list. The way to overcome that is to ensure the most rapid transition for those in real need from not having a home to having a permanent home, and not to have a system whose automaticity means that one shoves down the list those who most deserve and need accommodation.

The Labour party should answer a simple question. Is it prepared to continue to allow people in lesser need to get permanent accommodation, and thereby push those in real need further down the list? That is what the Labour party proposes. That situation is wholly contrary to any proper assessment of the use of resources and to compassion for those who really need our help.

When the Labour party looks at the arrangements in the Bill and sees the powers of local authorities in association with them, it will discover that the fears that it has raised are unfounded, and that this is a sensible way forward. It is also a question of ensuring that people who can buy their homes are allowed to do so, particularly in future housing association building.

The Bill gives people the opportunity to protect themselves against a freeholder who abuses the system. We want to protect people in houses in multiple occupation much more effectively than we have until now, and we want to ensure that HMOs can no longer be concentrated in a way that does damage to everyone concerned. Lastly, we are concerned to see that the opportunities, which until now have been much more restricted, are expanded.

This is a proper policy, based on a White Paper that has had a great deal of discussion, argument and consultation. It is noticeable that neither the Labour party nor the Liberal Democrats have a policy with which to counter the Bill. It is for the House to demand that, in their criticisms, they sketch out the policy for which we have waited month after month, since the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras promised that we would have it. Today, we are waiting to hear what it is.

4.26 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

The people of this country are racked with insecurity: people feel insecure in their jobs; people who need a hospital bed or an ambulance are no longer secure in the knowledge that they will get the attention that they need when they need it; old people feel insecure about their pensions; and millions of people of all ages feel insecure on the streets where they live.

The Government are doing nothing to combat the insecurity that they have inflicted on the people. Instead, they revel in it. Cabinet Ministers clearly welcome it. The Government preach insecurity. They are not hypocritical; they practise it. [Laughter.] Nowhere is their policy of making people insecure more obvious than when it comes to people's homes. Insecurity affects every part of the country, including the constituencies of the giggling oafs on Conservative Benches. It affects all sorts of families—owner-occupiers, leaseholders, council tenants, housing association tenants, private tenants. Above all, it affects the homeless, the families who have no place of their own.

Measured against the huge crisis of housing insecurity, the Bill is not just useless, but worse than useless. The proposals in it will make matters worse for many families. It ignores the problems of owner-occupiers. It only tinkers with the problems of leaseholders and of people who live in houses in multiple occupation.

The Government are not just complacent; they are nasty and mean-spirited as well. The Bill weakens the position of private tenants and attacks homeless families. It contributes nothing to the building of more houses for the thousands of families with nowhere decent to live. It is no good the Secretary of State trying to blame other people for all that. He cannot shift the blame for the present housing crisis. It is no use him trying to blame Labour councils for everything. The Government have been in power for 16 years. It is time that they accepted responsibility for what they have done. It is their record at which the public are looking. Labour councils, for instance, are not to blame for the plight of owner-occupiers; nor is it the fault of that other old Tory scapegoat, the previous Labour Government.

Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough)

Why should this Minister, this Government or this party take any lectures from the push-me-pull-you Labour party, which says one thing and does another? Hackney council has 2,000 empty houses even as we. speak.

Mr. Dobson

I shall not defend Hackney council's indefensible housing record. Apparently, however, Conservative Members will defend the indefensible record of Departments whose housing "empties" grotesquely exceed that number. The number of empty Department of Transport houses, for instance, has increased by 16 per cent., and the figures for the Ministry of Defence and the Welsh Office have increased by 15 per cent. and 44 per cent. respectively. Meanwhile, as the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration himself said in a press statement, the number of empty council houses has fallen.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson

I shall return to that issue. Now, however, I want to talk about the Government's record on owner-occupation, and compare it with that of the previous Labour Government. Under the previous Labour Government, housing repossessions were running at 3,000 a year, and falling; under the present Government, 50,000 families a year are losing their homes. There are now 17 repossessions for every one that took place under Labour; the Tory record on repossessions is 17 times worse than Labour's.

Under the previous Labour Government, fewer than 10,000 families were in serious mortgage arrears. Today, the figure is 250,000. There are 25 families in serious arrears for every one under the Labour Government; the Tory record on mortgage arrears is 25 times worse than Labour's.

On top of that, the present Government have inflicted negative equity on the nation. More than 1,100,000 families now live in homes that are worth less than their mortgages. Negative equity is most common in the south-east, where it affects 434,000 families. It affects 185,000 families in London, and 159,000 in the south-west. However, it also affects 27,000 families in Yorkshire, 51,000 in the north-west, 63,000 in the west midlands and 99,000 in the east midlands.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson

Not yet.

I cannot give a comparable figure for negative equity under Labour, because it did not exist under Labour. It did not exist as a fact, and it did not even exist as a phrase.

Mr. Gummer

Does the hon. Gentleman not admit that it would be pretty difficult to bring about negative equity with inflation at 28 per cent.? He is merely saying that, under Labour, inflation was so high that there was never any possibility of such circumstances.

Mr. Dobson

Apparently, the Secretary of State is now claiming credit for negative equity. I never thought that we would get him to do that.

In fact, the Government have had to invent the phrase "negative equity" to describe the circumstances into which they have dragged innumerable families. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. It was necessary to invent the phrase, so the Government invented it. The Tories engineered a property boom in order to win a general election, and when they turned the boom into bust, they left the victims in the lurch. There is nothing in the Bill to help owner-occupiers: they are still left in the lurch.

Mr. Duncan Smith

The hon. Gentleman has talked a good deal about what he calls negative equity. Will he now clearly give his party's position? How much more money would a Labour Government spend to resolve the problem that the hon. Gentleman describes as negative equity?

Mr. Dobson

The main thing that is necessary—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Answer."] At the beginning of my speech, I spoke of the insecurity that racks everyone in the country. It is mainly job insecurity. The Government's economic incompetence has caused negative equity, and all the other problems suffered by owner-occupiers.

The Tory party claims to be the party of owner-occupiers, but it is not: it is the party of repossessions, of mortgage arrears and of negative equity. But it is worse than that because, on housing, as on tax, it is the party of election lies and broken election promises. During the 1992 election, the Prime Minister said: We are going to make life easier for people buying their own home. That added his personal touch to the Tory election manifesto—and Conservative Members were all elected on it—which stated: We will maintain mortgage tax relief. Since then, all these Tories, led by the Prime Minister, have cut mortgage tax relief twice, cut mortgage help to people who lose their jobs in six different ways on four separate occasions—

Mr. Thomason

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson

No, I shall not.

The Tories have also cut mandatory home renovation grants for owner-occupiers. No wonder Mrs. Thatcher said—so it must be true: You can imagine my horror when the Government that succeeded me cut mortgage tax relief. It is not fair on all the young people who bought"— their house— in the knowledge it was there". We could not ask for a clearer statement of the breach of an election promise.

Mr. Thomason


Mr. Dobson

The pre-election campaign contained another of the Prime Minister's flights of fancy. On "Desert Island Discs" in January 1992, presumably dreaming of a Thatcher-free zone, he fantasised: We've stopped, if you recall, the repossessions just before Christmas". Since the Prime Minister said that, more than 200,000 families have had their homes repossessed. The rate is running at 50,000 a year.

Mr. Thomason


Mr. Dobson

One in 10 homeless families are the victims of repossession. I say to Conservative Members: no wonder the boss of the house-building company Persimmon Homes said: Home ownership is no longer the cornerstone of the Conservative Party. They are kicking us in the teeth". I point out to Conservative Members that that was from the boss of a company which, up to now, has donated money to the Tory party.

Mr. Thomason

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for eventually giving way. Is it his party's intention to restore mortgage tax relief to previous levels?

Mr. Dobson

Until we hear from the Government what their intention is, we will not say. I understood that the hon. Gentleman had some experience of the problems of the housing market. Probably, we will not want lectures from him.

The Conservative Government cannot claim to be the party of tenants. It has been the party of enormous rent rises, which have placed a massive burden on the taxpayer. Under the Government, average council rents are six times as high as they were under Labour. In the past five years, they have risen by three times the rate of inflation.

Mr. Sykes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson

Certainly not.

Over the same five years, when the retail prices index rose by 27 per cent., housing association rents rose by 85 per cent. Rent rises in the private sector have been steeper still and, as a result, the cost to the taxpayer of housing benefits has gone up from £4 billion to £10 billion.

So the Tories have done nothing for owner-occupiers and they have driven up rents for tenants. When it comes to homelessness, however, they are even worse—the Tories really are the party of homelessness. Under them, the number of homeless families has doubled.

Mr. Sykes


Mr. Robert G. Hughes


Mr. Dobson

No, I shall not give way to either of the hon. Gentlemen.

Hundreds of thousands of other families have been left in overcrowded and unsatisfactory homes. The Tories claim to be the party of the family—you agree with that, do you? Thank you.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the conventions in the House.

Mr. Dobson

I am sure that you believe in the family, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Under this Government, homeless parents have been forced to try to bring up their families in circumstances that would be unacceptable to every hon. Member, and all that comes after 16 years of the Tory Government and 16 years of Tory housing policy. Last year, more than 120,000 families were officially accepted as homeless. To meet their needs, plus the needs of all the other families who are on council housing waiting lists, to which the Secretary of State referred, last year the Government committed councils to building just 404 council homes. That is one new home for every 301 homeless families. In the last year of the previous Labour Government, councils started to build 54,000 new homes. That means that under Labour they were building 135 new homes for every one that is being built today and that the Tory record on house building for people in need is 135 times worse than that of Labour.

Like repossessions, negative equity and mortgage arrears, homelessness and the lack of new homes are found all over the country. In London, Labour was building 415 new homes for every one that is being built today. We were building 9,128 new homes, while last year the Tories managed 22 in London. That number in a whole year would not provide enough space for the people who will sleep in cardboard boxes in the Strand this very night.

Homeless families are not the only people who are looking for homes. To put the Tories' building record into perspective, against the 22 houses that they built, 28,000 families were accepted as homeless in London last year.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the needs of inner-city families, especially those on housing estates. Does he agree that the Secretary of State is in danger of being labelled as the King Canute of housing, because he will be overwhelmed by the rising tide of crime in such estates, and problem families? He and his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary have done nothing about that, but Labour has produced a policy on those problems, which we have had in Coventry.

Mr. Dobson

I fear that my hon. Friend may be giving the Secretary of State more credit than he deserves. As I understand the story, King Canute attempted to demonstrate to creepy courtiers that he could not turn back the tide. I rather suspect that the Secretary of State thinks that he can.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

We have exceeded our manifesto commitment to build 150,000 houses since being elected. Will the hon. Gentleman say precisely whether he would build more or fewer than that, and by how much he would subsidise public housing?

Mr. Dobson

The Government have not built them. [Interruption.] Under the Government, the combined construction of houses by councils and housing associations—which I think some Conservative Members believe has entirely made up for the cut in council house building—is half what it was in 1979. The Government have halved building and doubled homelessness, and some of us think that there is a connection between the two.

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman has been asked whether he would spend more or less on house building, whether he would provide more or less money to aid those with negative equity and whether he would spend more or less on tax relief for mortgage payments. He has failed to answer any of those questions. If he wishes to criticise the Government, he must tell us whether he would spend more in each of those areas. If he will not, then he must shut up.

Mr. Dobson

When we put our manifesto to the people before the general election, those matters will be spelt out. We do not like making promises that would be broken—unlike Conservative Members who made promises about tax and housing and then threw them away, pretending that they had not been made. I shall give the right hon. Gentleman more detailed figures. In the last five years of the previous Labour Government, the building of what some people call social housing averaged 134,000 houses a year. Under this Government, the total built by housing associations, local authorities and new towns is 34,000. That means that, on average, there are 100,000 a year fewer over a five-year period.

Mr. Ashby

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson

No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have told him that, so he might as well sit down.

Mr. Ashby


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The House is well aware of the convention on giving way.

Mr. Dobson

I have told the hon. Gentleman that I will not give way at the moment. If he behaves himself and is civil, I might give way to him later.

In Yorkshire, under a Labour Government 6,300 new council homes were being built. The latest figure is just 24—not 24,000, just 24 houses. More than 11,000 people are homeless in Yorkshire. In the north-west, Labour was building 8,600 homes, but under the Tories the total is just three houses for the whole of Yorkshire to meet the needs of the massive total of 18,000 homeless people.

Mr. Ashby

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson

No. I have explained to the hon. Gentleman that if he behaves in a civil manner, he might get a look in.

Mr. Ashby


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows the rules and he must abide by them.

Mr. Dobson

In the south-east outside London, 11,000 homes were being built under Labour. Last year, the Tories managed just 47. There are 18,000 homeless families in the south-east.

Dr. Lynne Jones

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked about subsidies for social rented housing. Housing revenue accounts are ring-fenced, and by and large the only subsidy for council housing is housing benefit. The average council rent is £36 a week and the total housing benefit bill for tenants, who make up 30 per cent. of the population, is £5.3 billion. By contrast, the Government are spending £3.6 billion, paying an average of £69 a week to the private rented sector—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Lady will not catch my eye if she refuses to accept that when I stand, she must sit down. Her conduct is not good enough.

Dr. Jones

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Dobson

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. As I have said, under this regime, shall we say, over a five-year period, the cost to the taxpayer of housing benefit has gone up from £4 billion to £10 billion. That is the wrong way to go about it. Faced with record numbers of homeless families and other families who want to rent somewhere decent to live, a Government with any common sense would build some houses for them. That would be good for people who would be able to move in and good for building workers and the people who supply the building industry. For instance, it would be good for people who make bricks in Bedfordshire, and for those who make carpets in Kidderminster, central heating boilers in Belper and electrical fittings in Basildon. But we cannot really expect common sense from the Government and instead there is in the Bill Tory mean-mindedness and a lurch to the right.

Instead of helping the victims of their policies, the Government are blaming them. Faced with enormous queues for council and housing association homes, the Government are not trying to shorten the queues by building more homes. Instead they propose just to rearrange the queues and hope that, by that process, the people who are affected will start blaming one another and that attention might also be distracted from the Tory record.

Mr. Ashby

The hon. Gentleman keeps on quoting the new houses built under Labour in 1979. I was one of the chairmen of housing on the Greater London council. May I give the hon. Gentleman an example of the new housing that he is talking about? There were 300 perfectly good houses knocked down and 303 houses built—an extra three houses, not 303 houses. His figures are completely and utterly wrong. We saw social manipulation, not extra houses.

Mr. Dobson

If that was the quality of thought brought to the Tory side of housing on the GLC, no wonder the Tories were slung out.

Instead of finding families somewhere decent to live, the Government propose to force them to live in perpetual insecurity; to live for ever in sub-standard temporary homes, badgered and bullied by bureaucrats and landlords. That is what the so-called party of the family intends for thousands of families. What will that do for the health of families, for the job prospects of the parents, for the relationships between the parents and between the parents and their children, and for the education prospects of the children?

Ministers claim that their housing policies have worked and that their benefit policies have worked, but it is not true; it is not like that. If one wants to find something that epitomises all that is worst about the Government, one need go no further than Westminster. I should make it clear that the Tories must take the blame for whatever happens in Westminster. Like the rest of the country, Westminster has a Tory Government, with Tory housing policies and Tory benefit policies, but unlike almost all of the rest of the country, it has a Tory council, with a Tory housing policy and a Tory environmental health policy.

What do we find in that demi-paradise? We find the Clarendon Court hotel, which used to be a luxury hotel. Now it is rotten, rundown, insanitary, and a bed-and-breakfast hotel for homeless families. It is occupied by 158 households, and they are living in squalor. The landlords will not be living in squalor. They are being paid £750,000—£14,000 of taxpayers' money a week—in Tory Government housing benefit by Tory Westminster council. The company that owns the hotel cannot be traced. It is believed to be a foreign company, so for all I know, it might be one of those foreign companies that make secret donations to the Tory party.

Living in that insecure and insanitary dump are 158 households. They each live in a bedsitting room and share kitchen facilities. A professional report says that a typical bedsitter in the place is infested with cockroaches and the windows are dangerous. The occupants have to use an electric plug at floor level for the kettle. They share the use of a communal kitchen 40 yd away from their bedsitter, and they share it with the occupants of 47 other bedsitters. The 48 have access to just three electric cookers, with a total of 12 electric rings. Only six of the rings are working—six rings for cooking, for the residents of 48 rooms. The kitchen, like the bedsitter, is infested with cockroaches. The surfaces are worn, damaged, chipped and insanitary.

That is the place—what about the people? I shall briefly describe just one family who have been forced by the Tory Government and the Tory council to live in such squalor. The family consists of a father, a mother, a son aged four and a daughter aged three. Those of us who have children should remember the circumstances in which we were living when our children were toddlers of four and three years old. The father has had a serious operation on his head—[Laughter.] What a funny chap he is to some Conservative Members. Doctors say that the father needs a clean atmosphere, free from dust and dirt. He will never get that at the Clarendon Court hotel.

It is not hard for Labour Members—even some Conservative Members—to imagine the effects of such squalor on the people who live in that hotel. In case some people find it difficult to understand, however—it is clear that one or two hon. Members do—I shall read from two medical reports that describe what it is like to live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The first report says: Even if hotel accommodation is in good order"— clearly, the Clarendon Court hotel is not— it is rarely appropriate for the needs of young children. It is difficult to maintain hygiene while washing, eating and sleeping in one overcrowded room. High levels of gastroenteritis, skin disorders and chest infections have been reported. Kitchen facilities are often absent or inadequate, so people are forced to rely on food from cafés and take-aways which is expensive and may be nutritionally unsatisfactory. The stress of hotel life undermines parents' relationships with each other and their children. Normal child development is impaired through lack of space for safe play and exploration. High rates of accidents to children have been reported, probably due to a combination of lack of space and hazards such as kettles at floor level. A further medical report spelled out the consequences of such squalor. It said: Risk to health in bed and breakfast…is well above that of the domiciled population. These risks stem from shared, or lack of, amenities, overcrowding and unsafe properties. Infection, accidents, malnutrition, sleep disturbances, low birth weight babies, eating problems, behavioural problems, depression and even death can result". Those reports refer to circumstances about two and a half miles away from the House. It is shameful.

Faced with the likely consequences of the squalor of the Clarendon Court hotel, Westminster council has done next to nothing to help—except hand over housing benefit to the tune of £14,000 a week. It is not the fault of the Labour party, the trade unions or anybody else; it is the responsibility of a Tory Government, a Tory council, and in all probability a Tory landlord.

The Housing Bill does not propose to do anything to improve the living conditions of those families. Nor does it propose anything to help them get somewhere better to live—quite the reverse. The Bill is likely to force them to stay there longer. That is because the Government are lurching to the right.

Mr. Sykes


Mr. Dobson

One of the lurchers is standing up now.

It is no good Ministers trying to deny what is happening. The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, which the Government want to update, was a private Member's Bill supported by both the then Labour Government and Mr. Peter Walker, a former Environment Secretary and subsequently a Cabinet Minister under Mrs. Thatcher. The Bill was opposed only by right-wing Tories, who have lobbied against it ever since.

As a result of that lobbying, the law was reviewed in the early 1980s by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), now the Deputy Prime Minister. It was reviewed again in the late 1980s by the late Nicholas Ridley, while Mrs. Thatcher was still Prime Minister. On each occasion, it was decided to leave the law alone. That is not for this Government—they want to toughen up a law for the homeless that even Mrs. Thatcher thought was harsh enough.

The Tory lurch to the right is also the reason why the Government are changing the law to put private tenants at a disadvantage—both when they are looking for somewhere to live and if they get into arrears with their rent. From now on, the law will assume that every tenancy is a shorthold tenancy, and landlords will be able to evict tenants who get just two months behind with the rent. There is not much hope of extra security there.

Then there is the case of leaseholders. The Government claimed when they introduced the previous housing Bill that they had protected leaseholders, but they had not. Dishonest, unscrupulous landowners, managing agents, lawyers and a whole host of shark-like, so-called professionals have continued to exploit leaseholders. Now the Government are proposing further changes. As usual, they are a bit too late and certainly too little. They do not go far enough; they do not give leaseholders the right to manage, which is what is really needed and what the leaseholders are looking for.

We have further evidence of the Government's wish to centralise all power into their own hands. They propose to decide on the housing allocation policies of all local authorities. So housing allocation priorities in Wakefield, Wigan and Warrington will be laid down by the Secretary of State, who represents Suffolk, Coastal, instead of by local councillors who know their area and have to answer to the electors for their decisions.

The Government have decided that they know best, so the next question is: what housing allocation policies will they pursue? Will they be those pursued by Tory Westminster city council, whose Tory councillors allocate homeless families to asbestos-ridden blocks, and who, according to the district auditor—not me—have unlawfully squandered £29 million of public money allocating houses for party political advantage? Is that what the Secretary of State has in mind for when he takes his new powers? To the best of my knowledge, he has never criticised Westminster council's allocation or priorities. We can therefore reasonably assume that they are the sort of priorities that he wants to introduce in every other part of the country.

The Government claim to be the party of law and order. They are nothing of the sort. All over the country, Labour councils have been taking action, and trying to take action, to combat and reduce anti-social behaviour, not only on council estates but everywhere, but have received precious little help from the Government.

When the Labour party introduced proposals, some of which are incorporated in the Bill, the Prime Minister said: we have taken action on that problem. Nothing in the proposals from the Labour party adds to that action; they are merely window dressing on Labour's part. On the same day, the Home Secretary said to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw): the hon. Gentleman knows full well that the proposals that he announced this week add nothing to those measures which are already part of our law and those which we have announced already. If we take the two together, all that we have is a bit of pretence of precisely the kind that we have come to expect from the Labour party on this and on other matters."—[Official Report, 22 June 1995; Vol. 262, c. 469–72.] The Secretary of State says that he is now introducing in the Bill some of the very measures that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn was proposing and which the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister denounced in their usual knee-jerk manner.

The Government have given precious little help to councils that have been pushing to improve matters and to combat anti-social behaviour. The Labour party has been pressing for changes in the law, and the Bill includes some of those changes. However, it is typical of the Government that they are not introducing all the necessary changes. None of the changes relates to witness protection, rules of evidence or court delays, and the Government are not prepared to extend the scope of injunctions to cover visitors to council estates as well as the tenants.

Of course, the Government have a long history of making exaggerated claims for all sorts of housing schemes that turn out not to work. No one has mentioned it, and it has not been in any press releases, but the Government have quietly dropped an idea thought up by the late Nicholas Ridley and the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

I must say that I always had doubts about a scheme affecting council tenants that had been devised by the son of Viscount Ridley and the son of Earl Waldegrave—how right I was. It was the tenants choice scheme, which was designed to bring about the wholesale privatisation of council housing. Tenants were to be asked to vote on whether to get a private landlord. The voting system was rigged, so that those who did not vote and empty flats counted as a yes vote.

Despite those strange electoral arrangements, eight years later, fewer than 1,000 tenants have opted for a private landlord, and more than 900 of them were tenants of Westminster city council who were desperate to escape its clutches. In the whole of the rest of the country, fewer than 100 tenants availed themselves of the Ridley-Waldegrave choice. That scheme has, however, been costing between £500,000 and £1 million a year to advertise and administer—for the sake of argument, let us say £6 million over the past eight years. It is a further Tory waste of taxpayers' money.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) and other colleagues will be dealing with other aspects of the Housing Bill. They will work hard to improve it in Committee, but they will have a hard task, because the Bill ignores the realities that face tens of thousands of British families. Above all, instead of reducing insecurity, the Bill adds to it. That is why we shall vote against it tonight.

Our approach to housing is based on the belief that every family should have somewhere decent to live and should be able to afford to live there. A decent, secure home is vital to family life. Without it, a family's health suffers; without it, grown-ups find it hard to hold down a job; without it, children find it hard to do well at school; without it, family relationships are soured and family breakdown becomes more likely.

Everyone recognises that it will take a long time and a lot of hard work to ensure that everyone in Britain has somewhere decent to live. The people know that this Government will not do what is necessary. They also know that they need a Labour Government, even to make a start.

5.3 pm

Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and I share, pleasurably, parliamentary responsibility for Covent Garden, which spans our constituency boundaries. In the past, we have shared the different experience, although not simultaneously, of being councillors for the London borough of Camden where, indeed, in its previous Hampstead embodiment, my noble mother—to coin a phrase—was for many years the chairman of housing.

The fact that Camden and Westminster have different housing policies may explain why I did not agree wholly and precisely with everything that the hon. Gentleman said in what I would describe as a characteristically provocative speech. There are moments when I am relieved that there are china shops left standing in his constituency.

The hon. Gentleman's attack on Westminster council contained a long passage about Clarendon Court hotel. What he said would have caused any hon. Member to make inquiries, within the proper constituency conventions, even if, as in my case, the matter had not previously been brought to my attention, for reasons which I am sure he will understand. He did his case less good and made it less convincing with his charge that councillors in Westminster had been putting homeless people in asbestos-ridden property when he knows that the words he used would be potentially actionable outside the House.

Mr. Dobson

I would repeat them outside the. House.

Mr. Brooke

That is something to which Westminster councillors will no doubt look forward.

Six days ago, Madam Deputy Speaker, you were very kind to call me as one of the few Back Benchers to speak on the benefit regulations for asylum seekers. Given that I was called such a short time ago, I am particularly conscious that I must not trample on the time of other hon. Members in this debate, not least because of the rationing that will occur later.

My interest is a constituency one. I have not sought to verify whether each and every clause in the Bill—a description of which, incidentally, would owe more to a pantechnicon than to a portmanteau—relates to my constituency precisely, but it would not surprise me. I shall, however, concentrate on a limited number of issues.

First, although I have absorbed a great deal of briefing from interested parties hostile to the amendments to existing homelessness provisions, I am not convinced that, in an environment such as Westminster's, amendment was inappropriate. The number of homeless people who have been permanently rehoused in Westminster has steadily climbed from just under 900 in 1990–91 to nearly 1,250 in 1994–95, with one blip in the middle when it went up to nearly 1,300.

During the same period, the number of category A cases that required rehousing and were rehoused fell from just under 200 in 1990–91 to 119 at its lowest, although I acknowledge that, last year, the number went back up to 138. With those trends, in terms of absolute numbers and their respective directions, it is not surprising that, in the most recent month of relevant statistics, the average wait for a category A rehousing case in Westminster was more than three times that of the homeless wait for permanent housing. The Westminster figures afford a poor climate for the case for the homeless to be accepted by those with much deeper roots in the community.

Briefing that I received from various lobbies implied that one quarter to one third of accommodation was going to homeless families. In Westminster, in the five years that I was citing, the figure has always been in excess of 50 per cent. and, in two years, it was more than 60 per cent. Incidentally, some of those homeless, whose handling will be changed by the Bill, will appear on the waiting list—a waiting list on which the prospects have been improved.

The second matter to which I should like to allude is the major role that has been played in Westminster by the Peabody Trust and similar bodies. A great city requires a significant amount of low-income housing near its centre in order to provide homes for those who will run many of its city services on comparatively low incomes.

I have historically been critical of the Peabody Trust in private for changing its priorities to the disadvantage of those reared on Peabody estates and who, in my view, conferred genuine and helpful stability in an inner-city community. However, I can now pay public tribute to at least a partial change in emphasis on its part. I am genuinely concerned that the Government should listen in Committee to the practical problems of those who manage social estates in central London, including those which have been admirably created in the past quarter of a century by organisations such as the Soho Housing Association.

Everyone thinks that, in my constituency, it is the City of London that has businesses but no residents, yet in the WI postal district alone, the number of businesses equals the number of households. That confers special problems on medium-sized organisations with dispersed properties that have a critical role to play in inner-city housing provision. I am particularly concerned that the extra legal and administrative costs associated with leaseholders should not adversely affect rents for tenants.

The very nature of Westminster brings me back to the homeless. Clause 155 offers real potential for assistance, provided the word "district" in line 9—which is noticeably spelt with a lowercase "d"—genuinely offers some flexibility and does not limit an authority to its own boundaries. Westminster in particular is an authority whose nature of housing would make that specifically unhelpful, but I recognise that the matter will be examined again in Committee. Likewise, while introductory tenancies may not be welcomed everywhere, they would be helpful in Westminster as an extra weapon in the armoury.

On a different subject, I am glad, in the interests of effective legislation, that the Government have revisited the issue of leasehold reform. I too have had constituency cases like those that have animated my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington).

I am conscious that the majority role that owner-occupiers now play in the housing market—which I welcome—potentially reduces the attention that is paid to the rest of the community. This can have untoward effects, and I do not blame the lobbies for trying to redress the balance—or for the vehemence with which they argue the case. Whether that is the best way in which to achieve their several objectives is for them.

While I support the main thrust of the Bill, I hope that the House and the Government will listen carefully to the case that is put for the homeless, who are also my constituents, as we study its detail and small print. The Bill will warrant close study in Committee, and it would be a particular service to those affected by it if sensible and strategic approaches to the relevance and importance of different parts of the Bill were to take precedence over more familiar tactical enthusiasms.

5.11 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I want to do two things that have not been done so far in the debate. First, I want to make it clear that we can solve housing problems only by spending more money. We can alter systems and arrangements between tenancies and owner-occupation, but unless we are prepared to spend more money we will not solve the problems.

Mr. Sykes

How much more?

Mr. Bennett

I hear the hon. Gentleman's comment—all I would say at this stage is that it needs to be a substantial amount. It is no good shouting across the Chamber. The question that should be exercising the House is, "How can we find that money and persuade people to spend it on housing?" Unless that is done, there will be difficulties.

Secondly, I want to praise the Government. I was delighted that, nine months ago, they published figures showing how many houses they believe are needed. Such figures were last published in 1977. It is regrettable that Ministers refused to update them for a long time. I believe that, if we are to persuade people to spend more money, we must have a clear estimate of housing need.

I warmly welcome the fact that the Government have published the figures. Some hon. Members will be aware that the Environment Committee is now examining them. There can he many arguments about such figures. As the Committee has not published a report, I shall say simply that the majority of the evidence suggests that the Government have underestimated the need, but whether we accept the Government's figures or other—slightly higher—ones, the real challenge is how to achieve the totals in the next few years. Finding 1.7 million new homes in the next 10 years and—on the Government's own estimate—an average of 60,000 new social houses a year will be a substantial challenge. I praise the Government for publicising the figures, but we must think carefully about how we will find the money to meet the targets.

We must ensure that we look after the existing housing stock, and do not allow any existing houses to deteriorate. When I look around my constituency, I see clear examples of what first a Labour Government, and then a Conservative Government, did to turn houses that were built at the turn of the century and in the early part of this century into little palaces in which people could live. Reddish has benefited from being a housing action area. It now has first-class accommodation, and people are proud to live in their houses.

What worries me is that all that has been done in that part of Reddish could have been repeated in three or four other areas of my constituency; unless we are prepared to put more money into urban renewal, we will run the risk of allowing many areas of attractive old housing to continue to deteriorate. The country cannot afford that, and I deeply regret that the Bill does not propose to improve urban renewal.

Mr. David Nicholson

The hon. Gentleman has made much of resources, and he could refer, as did the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), to the vast number of houses that were built in the 1960s and 1970s but, over 15 to 20 years, did not many of those houses become unsuitable and unfit to live in? Did not they require vast repairs at vast expense?

Mr. Bennett

Of course, but I am trying to illustrate that the lessons were learnt—certainly in my constituency—not just by a Conservative Government, but by a Labour Government. They appreciated that good urban renewal meant that, instead of continuing a clearance programme, it was possible to rehabilitate houses. That has been done successfully during the past 20 years, and it has been a real success story in a pocket of my constituency. My complaint is that it has not happened in many other areas.

I want now to mention what are, allegedly, unpopular estates. In my view, many estates are unpopular because there is a lack of resources for good housing management, not because they are inherently bad. The failure to accept that money has to be spent on the management and on the maintenance of communal areas has often led to deterioration.

I want also to refer to problem tenants. I welcome the fact that the Government are suggesting that there might be ways of dealing with the issue, but the House must consider the matter carefully. Evicting a tenant—or not renewing a short lease—is one thing, but we must ask what happens to those tenants, particularly if they have children. One solution that was adopted recently was slowly to push the problem tenant around until he ended up on what was called a sink estate.

If we are trying—rightly—to get rid of sink estates, we must ask where such tenants are to go. Furthermore, what will happen to their children? There are measures to remove next door neighbours who are causing a nuisance, but unless we decide what should happen to them, we shall simply create problems. We might not even be able to allow the evictions to take place.

The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) said that certain properties that were built in the 1960s are now unsuitable. The ones that particularly concern me are bedsits. There was an assumption that elderly people would be happy with a bedsit. Many of them were in the 1960s, but that is no longer the case. Unless we have a positive policy for converting bedsits, a problem that has developed in parts of my constituency will become widespread.

If there is a vacancy in a bedsit and no elderly person wants to take it, as the Government rightly put pressure on the local authority to ensure that vacancies are filled, the authority puts someone in—very often someone who has come out of a long-stay hospital or who has psychiatric or alcohol problems. We would find it difficult enough to have such a person living next door and we might attempt vigorously to stop them making life hell, but it would be intolerable for an elderly person. We must spend money on dealing with some of those bedsits.

Another problem that I find alarming, and which came to the attention of the Select Committee on the Environment during its inquiry, concerns tenants who have bought council properties. I understand why the Government pushed the right to buy and encouraged many tenants to buy their properties. What I find unacceptable is the fact that building societies, which were originally keen to lend such tenants money to buy their properties and, in some cases, were happy to lend to a second buyer when the tenant sold the property on, are making it difficult for the prospective third owner to get a mortgage.

Building societies cannot afford to red-line former council estates and say that mortgages are not available. I would not mind if they had been honest and said that they never wanted that type of business, but having rushed in and encouraged people to become owner-occupiers in such areas, it is unacceptable for them to say no now. We need some quick action from the building societies, which ought to spend more time looking to their original principles and encouraging people to buy homes, rather than turning themselves into banks.

Finally—to keep my remarks brief—the Government are promising to deal with the problem of bed-and-breakfast accommodation. They say that local authorities will have the right to close down such establishments quickly. Authorities often have powers now, but they have to pick up the cost of using them. If an establishment is closed, and 20 families are immediately put out on the street, the authority has to find them somewhere else to go. When the medical officers had strong powers in local authorities, they could say, "Get on and do it", and pick up the consequences. Now, no one is strong enough to tell local authorities, "You've got to do this. It's your statutory duty." As a result, councils will waver and worry whether they can afford to do something.

To my Front-Bench spokesmen I simply say that it is all right to complain about some of the measures in the Bill, but I want to know—soon—how we will persuade people that we have to spend more money on housing. It will be one of the crucial issues at the next election. It is no good merely listing the problems. We have to be clear that we are going to find the money and we must not raise people's expectations and then leave them disillusioned.

5.22 pm
Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

I welcome the Bill. It makes a substantial contribution to housing welfare and the sooner it is implemented, the better.

In the spirit of Nolan, I must declare two interests before I go any further. I am a consultant to a building society and to a firm of solicitors and parliamentary agents. My remarks do not relate to matters that, so far as I am aware, impinge on the activities of either of those organisations. I have not been asked by the clients of that firm or by either of those organisations to make any representations during the passage of the Bill.

In building confidence in the lettings sector and in generating new partnerships, the Bill creates opportunities in housing on which we can build in the spirit that we have been building for the past 15 years. I want to focus my remarks on parts V, VI and VII. We have all had many people come to our surgeries to tell us about their difficulties with neighbours. Life being what it is, neighbours often find it difficult to get on with each other. Sometimes, however, people who live on council estates are asked to bear wholly unreasonable and untenable difficulties. Part V allows local authorities to deal with such difficulties and we should welcome and support it.

The Bill goes beyond that and helps people who have suffered domestic violence inflicted by a spouse, who has remained in occupation of the former matrimonial home while the family has been driven out. It seems wholly unreasonable that the accommodation should be left under-occupied and used by the perpetrator of such violence while the family is homeless. The Bill will allow the new ground to be used to remove the perpetrator of domestic violence from the accommodation that the family formerly occupied.

Dr. Lynne Jones

While I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the welcome provisions in the Bill, is he not concerned that owner-occupiers and the tenants of private landlords living in sold council houses are increasingly causing problems on some of our estates? Would not the Bill be improved if such people were included, and should not the local authority take action to deal with the behaviour of such a category of person?

Mr. Thomason

Owner-occupation is a totally different question. Turning people out of the house that they own on the basis that they are perpetrating a nuisance must be a different area of law. It is a tortious liability and must be treated in the courts as such, rather than as a contractual breach of obligation between landlord and tenant, which can properly be dealt with in a housing Bill. The hon. Lady is widening the Bill outside the scope of its long title. Technically, that issue is not before us today, and it could not be dealt with in the manner that she suggested.

Increasingly, on many council estates and former council estates and in many housing association areas, one part or sometimes the whole estate gains a bad reputation for tenants who are frequently a nuisance. They drive out the better tenants. Sometimes, credit is not advanced because of the address, and yet the majority of the estates' tenants are respectable, reasonable and proper people who are afforded difficulties because of a few neighbours, who gradually concentrate in an area as the better tenants move elsewhere. The Bill will give us an opportunity to avoid that sink estate or bad road labelling, which so often affects parts of our towns and cities.

We also ought to welcome the introduction of a probationary tenancy, which will give people an opportunity to take on, responsibly, the obligation of tenancy with their local authority or social housing association landlord. Tenants will understand that a tenancy contains obligations and is not given for them to despoil, but contains rights and responsibilities and must be treated as such.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) asked what would happen to the people who were removed from accommodation because of the grounds of possession given in part V. Clearly, if such people fall within the appropriate needs groups, they must be given alternative temporary accommodation. It will probably be very different from the property that they occupied. Some Opposition Members suggest that they will be treated in the same way as homeless people, a matter with which parts VI and VII deal. The housing stock is inevitably finite, whether one takes the view of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish that 1,700,000 houses or social units should be built in the next 10 years or accepts a figure of perhaps a quarter of that, which might be regarded as the other end of the spectrum.

Mr. Bennett

I talked about 1.7 million extra homes, not social housing units. I accept that the figure for social housing units should be between 60,000 and 100,000 per year, which is nothing like the figure that the hon. Gentleman gave.

Mr. Thomason

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification of his position, but it makes no difference to my point. Whatever one accepts as being the parameters of the argument about the need for the development of social housing, whether it be 40,000 or 100,000 units a year, the fact is that the stock is finite. There will always be considerable demand on it and no Government will ever be able to ensure the construction of enough units to meet all the demand.

Mr. Sykes

I greatly enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). Does my hon. Friend agree with the hon. Gentleman's concluding remarks that the Labour party Front-Bench spokesmen have no policy on the subject?

Mr. Thomason

That was clear from the inability of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who is no longer in his place, to answer any of the key interventions from Conservative Members. It is clear that the Labour party mouths arguments and criticisms against policies but rarely advances constructive comments. Finding a policy in the modern Labour party is like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack: there is a lot of straw, but few constructive points to help us to know where it stands.

As the housing stock is finite, it is essential that it should be put to its best use. That is the aim of the Bill, in conjunction with the guidelines on assisting local authorities in allocating accommodation issued last Thursday. I had the deepest suspicion, when I heard his remarks, that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras had not read those guidelines.

I remind the House of the arguments that were circulating at the time of the introduction of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977. I was involved in local government then and I remember the deep resentment that was felt about Parliament telling local government how it should go about its business in allocating housing accommodation.

We were very angry. We thought, "We know the needs of our areas and the criteria that should apply to those who approach us for housing. We will allocate our housing stock according to the needs, as we perceive them, of our communities. We do not expect people from Westminster, by legislation or order, to tell us how we are to allocate our accommodation. If homeless people arrive in our area and we consider that they have appropriate claims on our resources, we will allocate accommodation as we think it best to do so." Local authorities everywhere devised skilful and carefully thought-out allocation policies.

Mrs. Maddock

Does the hon. Gentleman favour the Minister telling local authorities how they should allocate their properties to homeless families? That will be the result of the Bill. Is he aware that today, whatever happened in 1977, nearly every local authority in the country does not support what the Government propose in the Bill?

Mr. Thomason

We are constantly told that almost all local authorities are under the control of the Labour or Liberal parties. It is interesting that hon. Members who led the criticism of the changes in 1977 and their successors today are suddenly changing their position and opposing the terms of the Bill. It is amazing that they have altered their position from that which they occupied, perfectly correctly, 18 years ago. I remind the hon. Lady that the draft guidance on allocation lays out the skeleton of direction to local government about the way in which accommodation should be allocated. The great advantage of the new regime is that it will allow local authorities, taking those points, to allocate housing according to the needs of the people who apply to them. Clearly, more flexibility is being introduced into allocation policies than has been possible under the 1977 Act.

Mr. Betts

Under the Bill, local authorities will not be able to give permanent and secure accommodation to homeless families. They will be able to give accommodation for no more than two out of three years before a family has to move on. That requirement on local authorities is exactly opposite to what the hon. Gentleman said about local authorities having freedom to operate. Will he confirm that when he had a responsible position in the Association of District Councils, on no occasion when he served on delegations to Housing Ministers did he argue for changes of the sort contained in the Bill?

Mr. Thomason

Although I was not on the council of the ADC in 1977, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I made representations in the early 1980s, when I was on the council of the association, for changes that I thought would be appropriate. I spoke to Ministers about that and these proposals substantially reflect that.

It is clear that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) has not properly read the allocation document. I accept that it is a consultation document and not yet sat in concrete, but it gives the very flexibility to which I have been referring. Homeless families who, under the current definition, are entitled to be housed, could still be housed by a local authority if it considered that the family met the other criteria set out in the paper. As I understand the Bill, there is no automatic referral. No doubt, my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to confirm that.

Successive Opposition speakers are making a great mistake. The Bill does not state that a homeless person must automatically go into temporary accommodation. It says that the local authority must try to ensure that that happens, but it can still allocate that family into permanent accommodation if it wishes to, considers it appropriate and has the stock available. Let me draw hon. Members' attention to paragraph 32 of the draft guidance, which says that where continuity of schooling or care is important it will be desirable to give higher priority to providing settled accommodation for households in such tenancies containing young children or a vulnerable adult. The document itself proposes that, in those circumstances, accommodation should be made available.

Mr. Sykes

Will my hon. Friend ignore the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), who foisted the world student games on the ratepayers of Sheffield and whose authority has one of the worst records in the country on empty council houses?

Mr. Thomason

I am obliged for that helpful intervention.

I have heard cries from Opposition Members that the young and the old do not receive appropriately favourable attention from housing authorities when they have particular problems that should be acknowledged. The allocation policy gives a list of potential items which should be considered in rehousing, which will apply to the young and the old as well as to families. We have that flexibility. I repeat that point because it seems to have escaped many Opposition Members who do not want to take note of it. We have the flexibility to deal with those problems where the local authority considers it appropriate to do so. The council will decide whether family X, which is homeless, should be accommodated or whether someone else should be accommodated using its inevitably limited resources.

Dr. Lynne Jones

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Thomason

I shall give way once more—and only once more.

Dr. Jones

Local authorities are at present free to house homeless families in temporary accommodation—as they often do, especially outside London—when they need to make further inquiries about the circumstances of the family concerned. However, at present, local authorities have the discretion to take into account homelessness as a factor in their housing policies. That discretion will be tempered by the proposals. If so, why do we need these provisions? Should we not leave local authorities to decide their housing allocation policies? We need more homes—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. This is the second time that the hon. Lady has started to make a speech rather than a short intervention.

Mr. Thomason

Local authorities will have that freedom within the broad framework of the allocation policies proposed in the consultation document, and it is up to them to rise to the challenge offered.

May I make a couple of observations to my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration on the consultation paper on allocation? It is important that the accommodation that local authorities seek to make available to homeless families through recommendation rather than direct housing provision is seen to be affordable and of reasonable size and condition for the homeless occupants. Local authorities must not simply hand over a list of names and addresses of property that is available; they must give proper guidance to those who need it and follow up that guidance. They must also ensure that rejections by private sector landlords to whom reference has been made by the housing authority are not simply taken as the end of the story but lead to homeless families being given continuing and further support by the housing authority.

I hope that this initiative will lead to the final disposal of bed-and-breakfast accommodation as a housing alternative. The Government have made great strides in that area, and should be congratulated on what they have done. I hope that we see more moves in that direction as local housing authorities use references within the private sector or other social housing landlords to provide temporary accommodation.

I am conscious that many other hon. Members wish to speak in this debate and it would not be fair for me to say more, except to underline that this thoroughly good Bill needs to be implemented as soon as possible.

5.41 pm
Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch)

Some parts of the Bill are to be welcomed, but the overwhelming view of people involved in housing provision, whether in the local government or voluntary sector, is that the Bill does nothing to tackle the root cause of long waiting lists, rising homelessness and increased insecurity in housing. The root cause is the lack of product to meet the ever-increasing demand, which hon. Members on both sides of the House have discussed. Once again, the Government are abdicating their responsibility. The Secretary of State spent much of his speech discussing everything but what the Government would do about the problem.

Part II of the Bill gives local authorities the power to set up compulsory registration schemes for houses in multiple occupancy. Those are long overdue but none the less welcome. Liberal Democrats would like the Government to go much further and place on councils a legal duty to enforce minimum standards on housing in multiple occupancy. We shall discuss that matter in Committee. Despite the fact that the Government enable councils to charge for setting up such registration schemes, we are, as usual, concerned about how local authorities will find the finance to do that.

The Secretary of State discussed leaseholds. He criticised other parties for not coming forward with their policies. He has proposed a Bill that he will amend and we still do not know what will happen to leasehold properties. We all agree that something must be done because we have been heavily lobbied by people experiencing problems and the Minister discussed those this afternoon.

We are concerned about chapter I of part III, which proposes to reduce the amount of time that private tenants can be in arrears before their landlords can evict them. It is another blow to private tenants, many of whom are already reeling from the Government's housing benefit changes. If we look closer, we see that the Government's proposals do not add up. They encourage private landlords by making it easier for them to evict tenants, yet they cut housing benefit from every direction. Landlords are being sent conflicting messages. Tenants are being hit on every side, and insecurity will be the order of the day. Tenants on housing benefit can easily run up eight weeks' arrears with no delay on their part.

I should be interested to know whether the Minister or anyone else in the Department of the Environment has ever sat through a housing benefit review board case. If they had, they would realise how difficult it will be to make the Government's proposal work. Many housing benefit departments are already struggling to cope with the changes and are way behind with payments. Moreover, tenants trying to obtain housing benefit must often acquire information and pieces of paper from a wide area, including the Benefits Agency and the Department of Social Security. The Bill will make the private rented sector extremely difficult for all tenants, yet the Government are to inflict that measure on homeless families.

I also welcome the requirement for local authorities to advise people about housing and homelessness. I hope that, during the passage of the Bill, we shall receive clearer information on how the Government expect that to happen. Many of us are concerned that people should have independent advice.

I also welcome most of part V. Local authorities need additional powers to deal with anti-social tenants on their estates. Liberal Democrats make three proposals: first, we need better resource, prevention and conciliation measures; secondly, we need tougher tenancy contracts to ensure that tenants are aware of what their contracts mean in practice and how they will be enforced; and, thirdly, the law needs to be changed to make it easier for local authorities to pursue anti-social tenants. The Association of District Councils has been requesting that for some time. I hope that chapters II and III of part V will fit the bill.

Mr. Bennett

What will happen to tenants who are evicted?

Mrs. Maddock

If tenants are being extremely difficult to their neighbours, they must be housed elsewhere and helped to ensure that they keep their tenancy going. 'That will happen only in extreme cases, but people cannot be allowed to get away with making other people's lives a misery.

The Secretary of State presented no evidence that probationary tenancies will work. The pilot projects are still going on. I do not know whether we shall have the evidence from those before the Bill completes its passage. Introductory tenancies will lead to a two-tier system with no real advantages.

I am also concerned about the blanket granting to housing association tenants of the automatic right to buy their homes. Liberal Democrats do not oppose home ownership or allowing people in the social rented sector to buy their homes. Housing associations should allow their tenants to buy their homes if they can afford to do so, if the homes can easily be replaced and if it is in the local community's interest. We are not unsympathetic to the idea of providing them with grants to do so, and most of the councillors with whom I have discussed this matter share my view that the effects of the voluntary purchase grants scheme will benefit many individuals and many areas.

However, I believe that the Government's mania for a right to buy has led them to produce proposals which are badly flawed. We have heard this afternoon about the exemption for communities of fewer than 3,000 people but, like many other provisions, that is not on the face of the Bill. There is great concern that the Government are using criteria that are too crude. I hope that the matter will be considered in Committee and that other criteria will be brought to the fore.

This morning I received a communication from East Dorset district council in my area. It is very concerned that there will be little money left after the house sales. Although the councils may keep the money that is raised from the sales, by the time they have rearranged loans and so on, less than 50 per cent. of the money will be available to them to build replacement properties.

The Bill also introduces new and far-reaching changes for the Housing Corporation and they will need fairly detailed scrutiny in Committee. There is a strong case for reforming the corporation as it will be assuming extra powers. We welcome particularly the appointment of a housing ombudsman because, if housing companies are to be the new landlords—it appears that this time we shall not have landlords who simply want to make a profit—we must have decent regulation.

I turn now to the heart of the Bill: the changes in the allocation of social housing and the consequent changes in local authorities' duties to the homeless in parts VI and VII of the Bill. In the light of my experience as a member of a large housing authority for almost 10 years and as a Member of Parliament for a constituency with two different types of local authorities, I find it difficult to swallow the Minister's attitude that the Government's proposals are perfectly reasonable and perfectly sensible.

I have shared platforms with the Secretary of State and, to hear him speak about the proposals, one would think that they are uncontroversial. Sometimes one would think that there is no need for housing legislation. One gets the impression that all is sweetness and light and that there is nothing wrong in the housing sector that a little fine tuning will not solve. We heard that sentiment expressed again this afternoon.

That view runs completely contrary to the views of everyone who is involved in the housing world—be it professional organisations, the voluntary sector, local authorities or housing associations throughout the land. When the Government were first elected in 1979, they claimed housing to be a top priority. They promised council tenants the right to buy, more choice in the private rented sector and greater mobility through the property-owning democracy.

Some 17 years later, we are witnessing housing problems which affect individuals and communities as never before. No one is immune—as home owners who took out large mortgages in the 1980s and who are now facing employment difficulties will testify. Some 19 years ago, the late Stephen Ross, a Liberal Member of Parliament—for the benefit of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason), I supported Mr. Ross then and I still support his actions at that time—introduced the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, which enjoyed all-party support. Perhaps the trigger for that legislation was the screening of the television documentary "Cathy Come Home", which alerted many people to the scandal of homelessness on our streets and the dreadful problems that people face when they are left without a home.

In introducing the legislation, Stephen Ross explained very eloquently why homeless families need secure tenancies rather than temporary accommodation, which forces people to move continually from place to place. He said: In 1948 it was believed that a short stay in some kind of temporary accommodation would be adequate to tide people over…That may have been so then, but the nature of homelessness today is certainly not like that…The need of most homeless people is a permanent solution to their problem which they have been unable to arrange for themselves."—[Official Report, 18 February 1977; Vol. 926, c. 898] I shall now cite some figures—I make no apologies for doing so, as the Government seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to statistics. In 1977, local authorities in England accepted that more than 31,000 households were homeless. That was regarded as a scandal at the time. For the 12 months to the end of September last year, there were more than 124,000 acceptances. In 1977, slightly more than 4,500 properties were repossessed by mortgage lenders. In the year to June 1995, the comparable figure was almost 50,000.

The problems in housing are deeper now than at any time since the immediate post-war period—there is insecurity, disrepair and homelessness. Yet unlike in the 1940s and 1950s, this Government do not seem to have the political will to tackle the root problem: the simple lack of rented housing which people can afford. Since 1979, Government investment capital in housing has fallen from £6.4 billion to less than £3 billion.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I shall ask the hon. Lady the same question as I asked the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). We have met our manifesto commitment to build more than 150,000 houses since we were elected in 1992, but the hon. Lady criticises the Government's policy. In the unlikely event that the Liberal Democrats were elected to power, how many houses would they build each year and how much would they spend on the social housing sector?

Mrs. Maddock

I supported the Government two years ago when they forecast how many houses they would build and how much money they would spend. However, I would not have reneged on that promise: we would have gone on to build those properties. If the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) is patient, I shall comment later on how we would pay for social housing.

In 1977, more than 162,000 public sector homes were completed across Britain. We will be lucky if the figure reaches 50,000 this year. For the past four years, social housing output has averaged only 60,000—which is at the bottom end of the Government's estimate of need, ranging from 60,000 to 100,000. The situation will be even worse next year. According to the Budget outcome, the Government have halved their expenditure on housing in the past two years. They have estimated that there will be 51,000 new social lettings—which is 9,000 fewer than the Government's lowest estimate of housing need.

The Government seem to be alone in estimating housing need at 60,000. Even the former chief housing economist at the Department of the Environment—who until 1994 was the official Government expert on such matters—now thinks that the Government have got it wrong. Is the Minister saying that everyone but the Government has got it wrong? It seems incredible that it is almost 20 years since the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 was enacted, but apparently no lessons have been learnt about tackling the long-term problems of homelessness.

The Government continue to take a short-term approach. They are driven by an obsession with the headline figure of the public sector borrowing requirement to the exclusion of almost any consideration of the long-term benefits of investment in good-quality housing. The Government have hit the safety net for home owners and for private tenants and they now intend to hit the safety net for the homeless.

The review of access to social housing was not, of itself, a bad idea—and under different circumstances I might have welcomed it. However, it was clear from the context in which it was announced that it was less about tackling the housing crisis than about reinforcing Ministers' prejudices. Those prejudices include the belief that local authorities are bad, that home ownership is the only answer, and of course we have all heard about "back to basics". It is time that the Government stopped looking for scapegoats for those problems and started to look for solutions.

It was brought home to me very clearly before Christmas what damage the Government have done by attempting to scapegoat groups of people. A charity in my area, which provides assistance and accommodation for young homeless people, conducted an appeal before Christmas. It found hate mail in its appeal envelopes, reflecting politicians' often repeated claim that all young homeless people are wastrels. It is not so, but that is what happens when one maligns groups of people.

If the Bill succeeds, it will be the final undoing of the 1977 legislation. Last summer's judgment by the other place in the Awua case has not altered the way in which most local authorities deal with homeless families. The Government's proposals most certainly will.

The Bill represents a golden opportunity to move forwards, not backwards, from the 1977 Act, but it appears that that opportunity will be lost. Liberal Democrats will fight tooth and nail to defend the Act that Stephen Ross took through the House with all-party support.

Sir Anthony Grant (South-West Cambridgeshire)

We are waiting with mounting impatience for the hon. Lady to say just what the Liberal Democrats would do about the housing programme. They have already pledged to increase taxation by 1 p to pay for more spending on education. By how much would they increase taxation to spend more money on social housing?

Mrs. Maddock

The provision of housing is not a matter of revenue budgets and taxation.

The Government's proposals to encourage the use of short-term tenancies in the private rented sector for housing homeless people make bad financial sense and would be bad for families. There is no substitute for a stable, affordable home. Instability damages children's education. Using the relatively expensive private rented sector will increase the Government's housing benefit bill and make it harder for homeless people to take work without losing benefit.

The prohibition on a local authority housing a homeless household in its own property for more than two out of three years is quite astonishing. When the Secretary of State was asked about the problem of families having to move, he said that it would not happen, but the Bill will make it inevitable.

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration (Mr. David Curry)

It might be helpful if I clarify the matter before the hon. Lady takes it any further. A local authority can provide temporary accommodation in its own housing for more than two years. If a family present themselves as homeless, they will be given temporary accommodation in a property owned by the local authority or a housing association, or one in the private rented sector. If that family then fulfil the criteria in the allocations policy—I suspect that the hon. Lady has not read our allocations policy, otherwise she would not have made implications about the moral prejudices that informed it—they can then be housed permanently and very rapidly, possibly in the same property.

Mrs. Maddock

We shall have to differ on our interpretation of the Bill. The Bill makes it clear that a tenant could be asked to move after two years in local authority housing.

It is quite amazing that the Government avoid stating anywhere in the Bill or in the consultation paper that homelessness is a factor in housing need. Insanitary housing, unsatisfactory housing conditions and people living in conditions of temporary or insecure tenure are among the proposed criteria for housing registers, yet the most severe and obvious form of housing need—homelessness—is conspicuous by its absence. I have yet to hear a good reason why we shall be debating regulations when we will have almost completed considering the Bill in Committee.

Clauses 145 and 146 are particularly draconian as they exclude a person seeking political asylum in the United Kingdom from any local authority assistance, however temporary. Apparently that includes advice or information on housing. We recently debated the effects of excluding asylum seekers from housing benefit, so the Minister should be in no doubt about my views and those of my colleagues. I remind him that we are talking about those who seek asylum officially—not illegal immigrants or people who fail to be granted asylum, but people who are waiting for the Government to process their appeals. The Government could reduce costs by dealing with those appeals more quickly.

What angers me most is the Government's complete abdication of responsibility for the current shortage of social housing, which has reached crisis level. I am angered by the sight of Ministers, who are responsible for the underfunding of housing and have reneged on promises even since I have been in the House, trying to pin the blame for the waiting lists on homeless families.

The Government are fond of talking about the marketplace. We are discussing a product for which demand greatly outstrips supply. A normal response would be to increase supply, but the Housing Bill will reduce the supply to those in most need.

We have heard much from the Government about the values by which people live in society. The Minister will know as well as I do that that is exactly what prompted the enormous write-in by members of the Methodist Church, who have written to me, to him and to the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford). I know that many of them will be as disappointed as I am by the lost opportunities in the Bill.

The elements of the Bill that I have welcomed should be part of a housing policy that recognises the importance of investment in housing. We spend £1.5 billion on treating people who suffer ill health because they live in cold, damp homes. There is massive unemployment in the construction industry and that represents considerable cost to the nation. More investment in housing would save the money that is being spent on those people. Most people agree that the capital receipts that are sitting in council coffers should be invested in housing, although there may be differences on how to go about it.

First, we need a change in attitude to public accounting that recognises the difference between revenue and capital spending and the value of long-term capital investment in infrastructure, as in the rest of Europe. Secondly, the Government need to recognise the importance of safety nets, whether people are renting or buying, so that fewer people are in severe housing need. We also need a mortgage benefit.

Earlier in the debate, we were asked what we would do about mortgage income tax relief. As we have said for many years, we would do away with it, but we would introduce a mortgage benefit to provide direct assistance to those who need it most.

If the Minister were to incorporate some of those suggestions into the Housing Bill, he would get more bouquets and fewer brickbats. We have the opportunity to improve the Bill in Committee. I mentioned earlier that Members have received communications from the Methodist Church. I am still receiving them and I picked up another bundle on my way to the Chamber. One of them echoes what I have been saying for some time. It says: Homelessness is a scandal. The Government must take responsibility.

6.7 pm

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)

First, I wish to declare an interest as set out in the Register of Members' Interests. I am chairman of Home Rent 16 to 23 plc, which rents out private rented property, although my speech will bear no relation to that sector. I am also a trustee of Big Issue Action, the charitable foundation set up by The Big Issue magazine to help those who are homeless on our streets.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has left the Chamber. Having heard his speech, I felt that he might have benefited from listening to others. I imagine, however, that he has left the Chamber to shave off his beard, having read all those reports in the weekend press that, in order to get advancement in the Labour party these days, one has to shave off one's beard. Having heard his speech today, I regret that, however much he shaves off, it will not make him more credible.

The hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to answer many questions this afternoon, and he chose to ignore them all. He was asked, "How many pounds?"—which I thought was rather rude. My guess would be about 18 stone.

Time and again, the hon. Gentleman ignored questions that he was invited to answer. He was asked how much more money Labour would spend on housing, and whether Labour would make a commitment to bring back MIRAS in the way that it used to operate. The hon. Gentleman was asked how many more houses Labour would build. He did not even make an attempt to answer, but dodged or ignored the issues.

It is clear that Labour's approach is to be tough on policies and tough on the causes of policies—something that even the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) pointed out. It is unfortunate that the only serious part of the hon. Gentleman's speech bore no relation to the Bill. If he had taken the trouble to read the Bill, he would have realised that it directly addresses his concerns about parts of Westminster.

Mr. Sykes

Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) was honest about one question directed at him? He could not defend the fact that Labour-controlled Hackney council has 2,000 empty council houses. Was that not honest of the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Hendry

Of course—as honest as I would expect him to be over such a question—but no doubt he wanted to brush it aside for fear that others of my hon. Friends would ask about the number of empty houses in virtually every Labour metropolitan authority. The hon. Gentleman would have been too embarrassed to deal with such questions, so he decided to leave the Chamber.

Dr. Lynne Jones

How does the hon. Gentleman square his remarks with the situation in Birmingham, which has about 1,800 empty council houses or 1.5 per cent. of the property stock, which is a normal minimum—but 16,800 empty houses in the private sector, which is the result of Government housing policy? How would the hon. Gentleman deal with that problem?

Mr. Hendry

If the hon. Lady had bothered to listen to previous debates, she would know that one of my constant themes is the number of empty houses in the private rented sector. There is a difference when it is a matter of an individual keeping his or her home empty. It may be a second home or have been inherited from a parent. Private sector homes are empty for many reasons.

A local authority has an absolute obligation to use its resources sensibly and constructively. For Birmingham to keep 1,800 houses empty is a scandalous disgrace, and reflects badly on the city council. It has chosen to keep 1,800 people in temporary accommodation when they could have been rehoused in fixed-term council property. The hon. Lady's remarks only draw attention to the shame that is cast on the city of Birmingham.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hendry

I have given way to an intervention about the Birmingham situation once, and I do not want the hon. Gentleman to dig himself into a bigger hole. I notice that the hon. Gentleman has shaved off his moustache, so clearly he is desperately seeking to crawl back

Mr. Burden

I have not.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman giving way?

Mr. Hendry

Having maligned the hon. Gentleman's moustache, I really ought to do so.

Mr. Burden

I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I assure him that my moustache is still there. Is he aware that the former Housing Minister complimented Birmingham city council on its housing policies, not once but several times? As a housing management authority, that city council has been complimented by this Government.

Mr. Hendry

If—as the hon. Lady said—there are 1,800 empty local authority houses in Birmingham, 1,800 families or household units are being denied access to that accommodation. That figure is far too high, and more should be done to bring those homes back into use.

I refer to two of the most important aspects of the Bill. I welcome the extension of the right to buy to housing association tenants, which will enable money that is tied up in association properties to be recycled, to increase the supply of association properties.

I welcome also the Government's decision to re-examine the impact of that policy in rural areas. There would have been concern in my constituency, which is widely rural, if that policy had applied throughout the country, regardless of the size of the rural communities affected. I am pleased that the Government took note of recommendations and decided that the policy should apply only to populations of more than 3,000.

I urge the Government to resist appeals to raise that limit to populations of 5,000 or more. A community of 3,000 people is sizeable and will have a reasonable amount of housing stock that one could expect to be recycled. If that figure were exceeded, people in reasonably sized towns would be denied the right to buy their housing association property. I urge the Government not to go down that road.

I am disappointed that the Bill omits the original proposal to allow private companies to bid for housing association grant. I take on board my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's remark that that provision will return shortly. I seek from my hon. Friend the Minister a reassurance when he winds up that the policy has only been postponed, not cancelled. Many people would be able to build social housing of extremely good quality at a reasonable price. They could take the risk for themselves to build more houses.

The Bill would enable people who are currently homeless or on housing waiting lists to be properly treated. I approach that issue in my capacity as joint chairman for the past three years of the all-party group on homelessness. The group has examined the issue carefully on a number of occasions. Differing views have been expressed, but we have listened to advice. I commend the constructive way in which Shelter, under Chris Holmes, has put its case, and has sought to avoid political discussion and to concentrate on real concerns.

People who express such concerns do not always consider both sides of the argument. Many of my surgery cases and much of my postbag centre on housing issues. I had a surgery case on Friday of a married couple in rented accommodation who are terrified of their neighbours because of their criminal activities. That couple have been No. 1 on two separate housing lists in the borough for more than one year, but every time a house becomes available it has not gone to them, however deeply distressing their circumstances, because others have had an urgent need to be rehoused.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Equally sad are cases of young married couples, when one of them is obliged to live with parents and the other with in-laws. They postpone having a family, because, being responsible, they do not want to start one before getting their own home—yet see other people, probably in far better circumstances, leaping to the head of the queue.

Mr. Hendry

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The debate has often focused on single mothers who benefit, but another surgery case involved a single mother living at her parents' home, with her six-year-old daughter sharing her bedroom. She had lived in those circumstances for five years, and for that time was No. 1 on the village housing waiting list. If that single mother's parents had said to her, "We're kicking you out and making you homeless," she would have been rehoused immediately. As that young woman decided to do what she thought was right, and her parents supported her, she has been penalised. The Bill is designed to assist in such cases.

Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South)

The hon. Gentleman cited a serious problem, but is not the real problem the lack of provision rather than the size or quality of the waiting list? Should not the Bill home in on more social homes for rent?

Mr. Hendry

I will respond to that point, but first I will mention another recent constituency case, in which—as my hon. Friend mentioned—the person wants to move in with his partner. They are both in council accommodation, so if they were allowed to move in together, they would free up one council property, and the availability of the stock would be increased. His ranking on the list is high, but because people jump above him to a suitable house, neither of those people can move out and free that house for somebody else. Surely more attention should be given to those who have patiently waited their turn. Their rights should be looked after as well.

There is also a fundamental point of principle. Many people who are homeless have an urgent, short-term housing need. By allocating them temporary accommodation for 12 months, we could see whether they needed short-term or long-term housing. People may have a short-term housing need for only a few months, but they are allocated a council house which will be there for 20, 30 or 40 years. It is right, as laid down in the Bill, to consider everybody's housing needs together, so that the allocation of houses can be made according to overall need.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with care. Would he care to comment on the fact that, among all the housing organisations, the Government are alone in thinking that the Bill will help? Has he seen the advertisement in The Times this morning, which is signed by, among many other housing organisations, the chairman of the National Housing Forum, Councillor Graham Facks-Martin, who is the last remaining Conservative councillor in the North Cornwall district? I believe the hon. Gentleman met Councillor Facks-Martin on his visit to Cornwall. Why does the hon. Gentleman feel that the Government are the only people who have got the right answer, when the broad alliance of organisations have not?

Mr. Hendry

The hon. Gentleman has a short memory. Every policy that the Government have put forward in the past 16 years has been opposed tooth and nail by Opposition parties and their outside advisers, but many of our policies have later been adopted—the Labour party has moved on, and the Liberal Democrats have moved in different directions. The Opposition parties have accepted what the Government have done in many areas as the only sensible way forward, although they may have opposed it a few years ago. One of the difficulties of being in government, with which the hon. Gentleman will never have to deal, is that sometimes one has to take difficult decisions, and do what one thinks is right. The constituents about whom I have spoken, who have lost out because of the existing legislation, will welcome the Bill, and many other people feel the same.

Mr. Betts

Will the hon. Gentleman return to the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) asked him? My hon. Friend suggested that the problem was not the allocation of houses, but the fact that there were too few houses to allocate. Does the hon. Gentleman not believe that there should be more houses available to rent in his constituency?

Mr. Hendry

In answer to the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), I said that I would come to that point. I wanted to hear the hon. Gentleman's point, because, for some years, he controlled the city of Sheffield. My constituency is on the outskirts of Sheffield, and one reason why property prices were so high in my constituency is because so many people wanted to move out of Sheffield under his leadership of the council.

There is nothing in the Bill about removing homeless people's right to help. Indeed, I would suggest that many of the Bill's proposals will improve the type of help available. For example, if a single mother is allocated a flat in a high-rise block on the wrong side of town, where she knows nobody, at a stage in her life when she is most vulnerable and most needs support, that is entirely the wrong way to help her and her child. We should be trying to find the most appropriate form of accommodation for her, which may be with other single mothers or staying at home with her parents. The first way to help single mothers should not be to give them flats on their own, because that often results in their being in a more difficult situation, in which they cannot bring up their children as well as they would wish.

I shall now deal with the point that has been made in a couple of interventions. Some people argue that the problems have arisen only because of the lack of homes. In 1979, there were 2 million fewer houses than there are now. We have therefore seen a significant increase in the number of houses available. That increase has been well above the increase in the population in that period.

The biggest change has been in the number of people who are living on their own. In 1971, there were 3 million single-person households, and they made up one fifth of all households. In 1991, that figure had risen to 5 million single people, or one quarter of all households. By 2011, the expectation is that there will be 8 million single-person households, or one third of all households.

We must question whether it is the responsibility of the taxpayer to build more houses every year simply to take account of people's desire to have a different life style from that of their elders. All of us had parents who started life in rented accommodation, and, as they could, bought their own homes so that they could have more space. We must ask ourselves whether it is right that the taxpayer should be funding young people's desire to leave home earlier in their lives rather than stay at home, as many people did in the past.

Mr. William O'Brien

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hendry

I am very close to the end of my speech, and I do not intend to detain the House further.

I hope that, in his response to the debate, the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) will return to a point that his hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras made to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about spending capital receipts.

The Secretary of State was absolutely right when he replied that, under Labour, that would be a way of moving capital receipts and housing money from one part of the country to another. If that will not be the case, I would like an absolute assurance—a 100 per cent. guarantee—that a Labour Government would allow the money that has been raised in High Peak and Derbyshire Dales, which are both prosperous areas, to remain in those areas and be spent there. If not, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras inadvertently said something that he did not mean. I hope that the hon. Member for Greenwich will give that clear guarantee.

There is no doubt that recent homelessness figures have been very worrying, but those figures have peaked and have since been declining. For example, local authority homelessness acceptances peaked in 1991, and the figure has now dropped by some 20 per cent. The number of homeless households in temporary accommodation also peaked in 1991, and has dropped by two thirds for those in bed and breakfast. Of course, progress can still be made.

Mr. Raynsford

The figures are still double what they were in 1979.

Mr. Hendry

There is no point the hon. Gentleman making that contrast between the figures. They are now coming down. He would do more credit to himself and his party by accepting the reality of the situation, rather than the biggest scare story.

We must tackle the problems of today and the future, rather than those of the past. The Bill is clearly part of the solution, and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading tonight.

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

I wish to concentrate on the homelessness provisions in the Bill, which I think are deeply worrying. I am worried because of what I have observed as a member of the council in Newham in east London since 1984, and as a member of the housing committee throughout that time.

After I was elected in June 1984, I was appointed to a sub-committee that was directed to address the problem of homelessness in Newham. At that time, the only temporary housing option for homeless people was bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I remember that we had about 30 families in bed and breakfast in November 1984. We were worried by that large number, and we were determined to ensure that every one of those families would be in a permanent home in time for Christmas.

Twelve years on, it seems amazing that we could even have contemplated that idealism. That sort of caring at Christmas must surely belong to another era, but it was only 12 years ago. We managed it—by Christmas 1984 there was not one homeless family in bed and breakfast in Newham. Well, those days of innocence did not last very long. A couple of years later, we had 600 families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The costs were immense, and the council's budget process became a matter of cutting services in order to fund the mushrooming bed-and-breakfast bill.

Cuts in services were not the only damage caused. I vividly remember visiting, in 1986, a bed-and-breakfast hotel in central London which the council was using. Other hon. Members have described the abject misery of a family living in a single room, perhaps with just a wash basin and a gas ring, and eking out an existence for a year or more.

We found an alternative by leasing homes from their owners for temporary accommodation. The Government introduced restrictions to make that as difficult as possible, but it was a means of providing reasonable accommodation, less costly than bed and breakfast, for families waiting for permanent homes to become available.

Homelessness is a desperate plight for a family to endure. Indeed, it destroys families. Until now, at least there has been the assurance that a secure and permanent home would ultimately be available where a family could put down roots, recover from its ordeal and develop as a family should. Unfortunately, that is what the Bill, if implemented, would abolish.

We know that homelessness is deeply disruptive. Families are moved from one temporary home to another. Over the weekend, I spoke to a social worker about the consequences of that movement. Children are barely settled in one school before they are precipitately moved to another. The ordeal is then repeated. Mothers are shifted from families, friends and support to wherever temporary accommodation happens to be. They are then shifted again.

That is happening to those who are already the most disadvantaged families in our communities. What chance do they have after they have been through that experience a few times? The purpose behind the Bill is to make that shifting, transient way of living not merely a temporary feature of people's lives while homeless but a permanent way of life.

If implemented, the Bill would lead to a class of children who would grow up never knowing what it is to have a secure home. That is a chilling prospect. We understand from recent debates that we all want everyone to have a stake in our society. The Bill would take us in exactly the opposite direction. It would rob people of the dignity of a secure home. I know many council tenants in Newham who still enjoy the dignity of a secure council home. They are able to criticise and make complaints to the local councillor, as they do, when things are not right. Their children will not be so fortunate.

What will happen? Under the proposals set out in the Bill, a local authority will have discharged its obligations to a homeless family if it has placed it in a shorthold tenancy of a minimum of one year. Beyond the year, the family can be evicted at any time with two months' notice. The family can never be certain that it will be able to live in the same place for more than another two months.

If, for example, there is finally an upturn in the housing market and landlords are able to start selling property, a landlord will have to give only two months' notice to a tenant on a shorthold tenancy. The tenant will then have to quit the property and become homeless again. The loss of security for an enormous number of people—taking people's housing stake away from them—is the Bill's major feature.

How can a secure family home be built if at any time that home could be lost at two months' notice? That could happen with a shorthold tenancy.

Which local authority takes responsibility when a family becomes homeless at the end of a 12-month shorthold tenancy in which the family was placed as a result of homelessness? Is it the placing local authority or the authority where the shorthold tenancy is located? That is not clear at present.

Which authority pays the housing benefit? If, as I understand, it is the Government's intention that the placing authority retains responsibility, will that remain the position if the shorthold tenancy lasts for longer than a year, for 15 or 18 months, two years or 10 years? At what point does the receiving authority take on responsibility?

A disturbing by-product of the Bill is the incentive that will be created for unscrupulous local authorities—there are a few—to export their homeless families to other areas, so that those areas, or authorities, pick up the cost of education, social services, and ultimately, at the end of the shorthold tenancy, that of rehousing.

Homelessness re-created by the ending of shorthold tenancies is not merely a remote possibility. By 1992, 5 per cent. of all households accepted for permanent rehousing by local authorities were homeless as a result of a shorthold tenancy ending, according to the statistical bulletin issued by the Department of the Environment. By 1995, the proportion had doubled to 10 per cent. It is the third most significant cause of homelessness.

A third of households had become homeless because parents or others were unable to carry on accommodating them. A further 20 per cent. became homeless because of relationship breakdown with a partner. Of this group, 10 per cent. became homeless because a shorthold tenancy had come to an end.

In the most recent figures, for the third quarter of 1995–96, there was an increase to 12 per cent. The trend is clear: the ending of shorthold tenancies is already a major factor in creating homelessness. It is rapidly becoming more and more significant. If the Bill is enacted, the factor will become much more significant.

We can see the revolving door starting to spin. It is that of temporary accommodation to shorthold tenancy to homelessness. The process continues. How is it possible to keep a family together under such pressure? Where is the Government's support for the family? Who will pay the price of disrupted childhoods, under-achievement at school and family breakdown that the Bill's revolving door to homelessness will create?

I do not object to shorthold tenancies for those who wish to rent accommodation for a limited period. Indeed, a shorthold tenancy is ideal in those circumstances. The damage is done, however, when shorthold tenancies, as proposed in the Bill, become the compulsory and sole housing solution. That is what is wrong.

We should be concentrating all our energies on creating more affordable rented homes where people can enjoy secure tenancies. Since 1979, construction of social housing has halved. It is no coincidence that the number of homeless acceptances has more than doubled in the same period. In 1979, there were more social housing construction starts than homeless acceptances. In 1994, there were nearly four times as many homeless acceptances as social housing construction starts. The problems will worsen while that imbalance remains.

The Bill will divide the pie, which is far too small, in a different and less efficient way. The losers will be those who are already the least well off. That cannot be right.

6.36 pm
Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough)

I welcome the Bill. I welcome the general provisions that will help the private rented sector. I welcome also the provisions that will herald a clampdown on disruptive and noisy tenants. In addition, I welcome the greater powers that will be available to the Housing Corporation. All these proposed measures will be of great benefit to my constituency.

I reserve my greatest welcome to the measures that apply to badly run Department of Social Security hostels. There will be great rejoicing in my constituency following the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. My constituency is well known to hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is a decent family resort, whose future depends upon tourism.

I had not heard much about DSS hostels until February 1993, when my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) asked me whether I had had any problems with them. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) is acknowledging the same experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne first raised the matter by means of an Adjournment debate in February 1993. I told him that I had not heard of any problems in my constituency but, by amazing coincidence, the following Saturday an old lady came into my surgery and told me about her experiences with a former hotel adjacent to her flat that had become a hostel. Her experiences were pretty dreadful.

As spring turned into summer, the trickle of complaints that I had been receiving turned into a torrent. My postbag began to swell. People would stop me in the streets of Scarborough to ask me whether there was anything that I could do to help. Mounting concern was expressed by the borough council, the hoteliers association and the police. I canvassed colleagues in the House and, as a result, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) and I decided to commission a national survey. It was the most comprehensive report that had ever been carried out on English and Welsh tourist resorts and the way in which they have been affected by badly run DSS hostels. We consulted the housing, tourism and environmental departments of nearly every single coastal resort. We spoke with the forces of law and order. We asked national tourist organisations what their experiences had been. We questioned local hoteliers associations. We conferred with the Department of the Environment, the Department of National Heritage and the Department of Social Security. We consulted leisure companies whose interests lay in tourism.

After several months' work, we were able to present the report to the Prime Minister, at the end of January 1994. It makes distressing reading, for in it is a catalogue of drunkenness, assault, drug dealing, drug abuse, muggings, social security fraud, thieving, organised crime, appalling language, fighting, damage to property— [Interruption.] Opposition Members may think that this is funny, but they should come to Scarborough and Blackpool and see for themselves instead of making glib comments. We have not heard one policy from them this afternoon. I shall give way to the hon. Members for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong) or for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) if they want me to.

We also included in the report a request that consideration be given to changing the "use class orders", to oblige hostels to apply for planning permission in future. I acknowledge with grateful thanks the role that my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration played in helping us to secure that objective. In March 1994, we won the backing of the Prime Minister for planning permission regulations.

In addition, the Prime Minister promised to look carefully at the case for the licensing of existing hostels. The case for a licensing scheme was cast into hideous focus by the Richmond fire, which took place in May 1994. I awoke in the early hours of the morning to be told of the grim tragedy that had overwhelmed my constituency, when a tiny baby and a young woman were killed in that terrible fire. I pay particular tribute to the firefighters who, by their efforts, saved many more lives while putting at risk their own. It remains a source of bitter regret to me that in the meantime I have not been able to stop North Yorkshire county council from sacking those same firefighters and throwing them on to the scrap heap.

Twenty long months have passed since then, and the evidence that had been gathered through the eyes and ears of my constituents can now be supplemented by hard facts, which I present to the House tonight for the first time. It was Parliament that decided, in the form of housing benefit, to pay for the accommodation of young people who leave home at 16. It should come as no surprise that some young people decide to drift to Scarborough, Blackpool, Eastbourne and Bournemouth. Indeed, they are encouraged to do so by advertisements. This particular advertisement was for Reynolds Court hotel, in Eastbourne. It reads: D.S.S. welcome. Eastbourne hotel just off seafront. Breakfast, evening meal and weekly linen service provided. TV lounges, pool tables etc. Immediate occupation with no deposit required. In Norfolk, another advertisement appeared in a famous housing magazine, which went as follows: Peace and quiet. Spectacular ocean views. Magnificent countryside. North Norfolk coast. Cromer/Sheringham. Why be homeless in the city? Accommodation now for up to 80 people in lovely furnished single, double or family rooms. Rooms are sited in shared houses on the cliffs or coming soon is a large former hotel on the seafront"— presumably with satellite television and in-house movie channel included. All assistance given with forms for housing benefit which will cover most of your rent. Spend your time taking it easy or learning a new skill from the many courses available locally. Act now. You choose. Stay homeless in the city or get a life. That advertisement speaks for itself.

I commend the actions of Scarborough borough council, whose extremely professional approach to the problem has helped to keep the problems caused by badly run DSS hostels within relative limits. It was the first to use its existing powers of registration. That is why we know that in Scarborough there are 560 DSS hostels. It conducted a survey of the Westville hotel, a well-known DSS hostel—fortunately, it has closed down—in a picturesque little square near Scarborough station. Out of 18 tenants, only five had previous addresses in Scarborough. The rest had come from Wakefield, Leeds, South Shields, Hull, Pontefract, "no fixed abode" and Her Majesty's prison. In other words, two thirds had come from conurbations out of town.

Throughout the campaign, no Member of Parliament representing a seaside constituency had asked for Government restrictions on where people should move or where they can make a living for themselves, but why should small towns such as Scarborough, Blackpool and Bournemouth take more of their fair share of the homeless, when there are empty council houses in Labour-controlled authorities from one end of the country to the other? Even more important, why should a married couple in Scarborough, Blackpool, Bournemouth or Eastbourne, who have been waiting patiently for years for a council house, perhaps for a secure roof over their head before they start a family, go to the back of the housing queue because of some teenage priority waltzing into town? That is wrong.

The drift to the coast can be confirmed in the increase in housing benefit payments. In the four years to 1994, housing benefit payments in Middlesbrough, which is near Scarborough, increased by 30 per cent., whereas in Scarborough the increase was 58 per cent. In Manchester, the increase was only 19 per cent., whereas in Blackpool it was 60 per cent. In Glasgow, the increase was only 18 per cent., but in Margate it was 64 per cent. In Bristol, the increase was a meatier 45 per cent., but in Weston-super-Mare, which is in the same area, it was 70 per cent. In Liverpool, the increase was 29 per cent. In Newquay, it was 80 per cent. Those figures speak for themselves.

There was also an increase in the number of people signing on. In the five years to 1994, the number signing on in Scarborough increased by 62 per cent. In Weston-super-Mare, the increase was 103 per cent. In Margate, the increase was 124 per cent. In Southend, it was 169 per cent. In Eastbourne, it was 196 per cent., and in Worthing, it was 235 per cent. Those are not anecdotal figures, as some in Whitehall would have us believe. There are undue concentrations of unemployed young people drifting to the coast, where there is little or virtually no chance of getting a job. It is unfair to ask resorts to shoulder more than their fair share.

The most unbearable manifestation is the badly run DSS hostel, usually owned or managed by unscrupulous landlords. They are the real fat cats, with their noses firmly in the housing benefit trough. They are the landlords who cram unfortunate tenants like sardines into their hotels. They are the landlords whom I want to drive into the sea and out of business for ever. The badly run DSS hostels can be small former guest houses with five or six tenants, or they can be large former hotels with up to 100 tenants. The effect of just one badly run DSS hostel can be devastating in a town such as Scarborough.

These are just a few of the complaints that I have received from the Scarborough Hotels Association in the past 12 months. Opposition Members must listen very carefully before they vote against the Bill. The complaints included loud music, children crying and screaming, fights and violence, windows smashed, rubbish in hotel gardens, smelly drains, using the garden as a toilet, men holding a dog out of a window, damage to crescent gardens, repairing cars in the street, children being injected with hypodermic needles, guests being accosted, violence in the local store, abuse to guests and hoteliers, obscene suggestions to lady guests, and, finally, guests leaving the hotels, never to return. That is where the problem lies, as it sets up a cycle of despair, a vicious circle, because the hotelier who lives next door does not get any guests the next year, so he in turn has to convert his premises into a DSS hostel, thus establishing the cycle of despair in towns such as Scarborough.

Badly run DSS hostels are often the centre of organised crime and violence. We do not get many murders in Scarborough, but in 1994 we had three, and two of those were directly attributable to badly run DSS hostels. The national crime figures are even worse. They paint an ugly picture that points to drug-crazed youths stealing to feed their vile habits. In the four years to 1994, the national average of convictions for shoplifting increased across the country by 8 per cent., but in coastal resorts, the increase was 47 per cent. The national average for theft from cars increased by 9 per cent., but in coastal resorts, the increase was 30 per cent. The national average for trafficking in drugs increased by quite a terrible 71 per cent., but in the resorts the increase was 101 per cent.

As usual, the devil is in the detail when we look at the figures, because convictions for trafficking in drugs in Eastbourne increased by 81 per cent. In Worthing, they increased by 100 per cent. In Ramsgate, they increased by 165 per cent. and in Scarborough, they increased by a staggering 350 per cent.

These badly run DSS ghettos are no seasonal feature of our cold English winters. They are a permanent and profoundly corrosive feature of life at the seaside. Anyone who imagined for a moment that Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, North, for Bournemouth, East, for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) arid myself would sit idly back and watch the British tourism industry die a slow and agonising death because of such places would be sadly mistaken.

That is why that group of hon. Members representing British resorts—Tories to a man—are grateful for the support that has been given by our hon. Friend the Minister. That is why we are glad that we have made a sufficiently good case for a tougher scheme, allowing local authorities to cut the cancer out of badly run DSS hostels and thus to arrest the decay that has already eaten at the fringes of our great tourism industry. Some of England's finest jewels will thereby be preserved for generations to come.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind hon. Members that Madam Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 pm and 9 pm.

6.50 pm
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Those who read the speech of the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) in Hansard will note the effect of 17 years of Tory government. The hon. Gentleman spoke of an increase in crime, of people being driven by unemployment to the coast in an attempt to find jobs and of a rise in homelessness. Indeed, he treated us to a catalogue of failures, and I am sure that the Labour party in Scarborough will latch on to it. The hon. Gentleman's speech emphasised the need for the fair and proper legislation that is not provided in the Bill that we are discussing.

Housing is a major social problem. In my constituency it is paramount, in both the rented and the owner-occupied sectors. For years, the Government have done little to help those with housing problems. Part I of the Bill supposedly deals with the social rented sector, but in fact it deals only with the Housing Corporation, giving it new powers over housing associations, but no accountability to anyone except the Secretary of State. I consider that part of the Bill cruel and dishonest. It does not allow local authorities to build social housing, although they are expert at doing so and have a long history of social housing management.

The Bill offers no help to the 250,000 people who bought their homes from the social rented sector, and now find themselves in the negative equity trap. It also contains no measures to help the 1,000 families a week who become homeless when their homes are repossessed, although that has a devastating effect on family life. In many instances, such suffering is caused by redundancy or a business collapse. The Bill does nothing to help home owners, or to restore confidence in the housing market. Many people expected it to help tackle the underlying problems facing our housing stock, but nothing has been done to increase investment in either the public or the private sector. The Government still prevent councils from investing capital receipts in social rented housing.

Clauses 15 and 16 refer to the right to buy for housing association tenants. The National Federation of Housing Associations has no objection to its tenants purchasing their homes, and the Government are currently introducing a voluntary scheme that is acceptable to housing associations. In the past, the NFHA has argued that associations should be allowed to sell houses to tenants in particular circumstances, but housing associations fear that they too could experience the devastation experienced by local authorities, given the shortage of houses available at an affordable rent.

The Bill is so inflexible that it may well result in fewer houses in the rented sector, causing greater hardship to people who need social housing. Houses in the social rented sector are already in short supply, and unless the houses that are sold are replaced, the number will be further reduced. The NFHA has told the Minister of its fears relating to the selling of certain houses in certain areas, or houses that were built with agreed terms. It has also described the problems of replacing those houses for rent, and the restriction of future agreements with providers of help.

In the past, people have donated money or land to housing associations with the firm intention that it be used for the specific purpose of providing low-cost rented homes for those most in need. If the Government legislate for the sale of houses that were built with a minimum amount of public money, there will be fewer such donations.

Mr. Curry

That is not true. We have made it clear that, where properties have been built and land donated, there is no question of housing authorities being obliged to put the houses up for sale. As for existing properties, housing associations must opt into the scheme in any event: there is no question of their being compelled to put the properties on the market. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, I am very sensitive to those issues, and we have gone a long way to meet the NFHA.

Mr. O'Brien

I appreciate the Minister's intervention. In Committee, however, there will be more pressure on him to give such assurances, and to ensure that they are contained in the Bill rather than in a consultative document.

The Bill has been criticised by various people and organisations with housing interests, but everyone's concerns have been dramatically heightened by the changes in the law relating to homelessness, which constitute an attack on the most vulnerable people. If the Bill is not amended, some homeless people will never be able to obtain permanent homes from local authorities. Local authorities' duties to help the homeless will be restricted to the provision of a minimum of one year's temporary accommodation. Moreover, if there is suitable alternative accommodation within the local authority area, an authority will not be responsible for housing the homeless. Both local authorities and the NFHA want that part of the Bill to be withdrawn.

The present homelessness legislation provides an important and improved safety net for homeless families and other vulnerable homeless people, allowing them to obtain a permanent home and start to build a stable family life. If homeless people are offered only temporary accommodation, there is every danger that they will constantly be moved around, which will have a tremendous effect on family life. That will have a major impact on stable communities. It will no doubt have a lasting effect on the children of homeless families, who could be moving from school to school every time the family has to move. That part of the Bill should be withdrawn because of the inhuman approach to homeless people.

I recommend to the Minister the proposals by Wakefield metropolitan district council's housing department. In co-operation with the county council's housing association—the Chantry housing association—it is providing homes for homeless people. They are taking over empty properties and improving those properties together. The housing association is making a substantial contribution to the proposals. That will also help some of those unlucky home owners caught in the negative equity trap. The end will soon be in sight for them to be able to sell their properties.

I suggest that the Minister take note of the programme. The housing department press release states: Properties need to be in good, general repair to be eligible for the…scheme. They must be self-contained with their own bathroom, have a fixed form of heating in living rooms and bedrooms and meet a number of basic safety requirements. Owners remain responsible for maintenance during the leasing period which would normally be three years. Without the legislation that is being proposed, local authorities and housing associations are providing accommodation for homeless people. If the Minister had more confidence in the work of those who have experience in providing social housing, and if there were more confidence in local authorities and local housing associations, there would be no need for such legislation.

The Bill is a bad Bill. If amendments are not accepted to provide more openness in regard to the quango of the Housing Corporation, there will be a lack of confidence. If there are no amendments to help and to provide for home owners and homeless people, there will be a greater deterioration in the provision of social housing. To allow more freedom to local authorities to provide houses would be a substantial step in the right direction. We need such an amendment to the Bill.

If changes are not made to the Bill, Labour Members must oppose it and assure people who need help with housing that the next Government, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) will serve as Minister with responsibility for housing, will ensure that such people will be given priority, and that democracy will apply to housing issues. If changes are not made to the Bill to meet some of the points raised by Labour Members, we should oppose it.

7.3 pm

Dr. Ian Twinn (Edmonton)

It is a great shame that Labour Members have chosen, in their destructive way, to oppose the Bill and to announce that they will vote against its principle at the end of this Second Reading debate. It seeks to extend choice in housing. It seeks to extend the stakeholder principle, but Labour Members want to throw it away. As soon as we have a practical illustration of how their policies could be implemented, they want to vote against it. Two sets of standards are being operated by Labour Members. Today, we will see them being operated once again, when they will kick in the teeth people who are trying to get a hold of a stake in society.

Besides extending a stakeholder's rights through housing ownership and through opportunities for private and social renting, the Bill would extend fairness and justice throughout our housing system—principles to which Labour Members should pay a bit more attention rather than sniggering and sighing when they are mentioned. Conservative Members get just as angry about housing issues as Labour Members. We are all constituency Members of Parliament. Most of us sit in our surgeries on Fridays or Saturdays and listen to hard cases about housing.

It is wrong to take individual cases and build laws on them alone: we have to examine what is happening over the whole sector. The present housing allocation system, for example, operates against the interests of people who are being responsible and who have genuine housing needs—they are outcasts from that system. I hope, therefore, that Labour Members will think again about their objections to the principle of the Bill.

The right-to-buy measures are particularly welcome. It is wrong that, if two people are on the housing list, in places one and two, and go along for their allocation of housing, the first one can be allocated a local authority house and gradually develop the right to buy, but the second can be allocated a housing association house and be denied the right to buy. Both properties are developed with taxpayers' money, from public funds. One person gets the right to buy; the other is denied it.

I am pleased that the Government have listened to the pleadings of Conservative Members that there should be some justice, and that people who occupy social housing that is provided from public funds should have the right to buy. That is a great step forward and puts right a great wrong.

I am especially pleased that housing associations will be able to re-use funds thus realised and provide new social housing in their areas. Some Conservative Members who are great supporters of the housing association movement have been disappointed by its allowing itself to become sub-agents of local authorities in housing. Although that matter is not dealt with in the Bill, I hope that my right hon. Friends in the Government will reconsider the way in which housing associations operate, because they could be far more flexible towards specialist groups and in meeting specialist housing needs.

One of things that most frustrates me as a constituency Member of Parliament is that people who thoroughly deserve and need to be rehoused fall through the net of local authority rules on housing. For example, on Friday night a woman came to see me who has privately rented a one-bedroom flat for 17 years. She is a single mother with an 11-year-old daughter. She has been on Enfield borough council's housing list for 17 years. She lives opposite a tower block where vacancies frequently arise, but she has always been denied a place in two-bedroom accommodation.

The mother has been told by the now Labour-controlled authority that it is acceptable for her to share a bedroom with her 11-year-old daughter. [Interruption.] The Labour Whip, the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), believes that that is acceptable.

Ms Hilary Armstrong (North-West Durham)

My hon. Friend is not a Whip.

Dr. Twinn

The hon. Lady believes that it is acceptable for the 11-year-old daughter to be forced for ever to share with her mother.

The local authority will not allocate accommodation to the mother because, every time there is an allocation, the property goes either to people with an emergency medical need or to people on the homeless list. The Bill's housing allocation changes are therefore to be greatly praised.

Mr. Betts

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Twinn

No. We have no time, while there is a 10-minute limit on speeches, for one of the hon. Gentleman's rambling interventions.

The leasehold reforms in the Bill are especially welcome. There is room here for agreement even with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), who appears to take a Stalinist view on most housing matters—perhaps he agrees with what we are trying to do on leasehold reform. The Bill deals with unscrupulous landlords who have found ingenious loopholes to exploit in the present law. Perhaps they divide freeholds between related companies to avoid the right of leaseholders to buy, or do not tell leaseholders when freeholds are transformed, or put in outrageous demands for service charges that are unjustified by the work that has been done, or send grotesquely inflated bills for work that should not have been undertaken. The Evening Standard has been especially good at exposing what has been happening. A company called Linkproud has been operating with Empress Estates throughout London in a most outrageous way. The Bill seeks to tackle such practices and to give leaseholders some real power over unscrupulous freeholders.

One group of leaseholders will be listening carefully to Conservative Members on the topic of leasehold and freehold reform. They are the people who bought local authority properties in tower blocks and in system-built blocks. Some of the descriptions of unscrupulous landlords could be applied to some local authorities, which have inflicted inflated and unjustified bills and outrageous behaviour on right-to-buy leaseholders. I hope that, in his winding-up speech, my hon. Friend the Minister will assure us that the proposed provisions for freeholders will apply also to local authority freeholders. That would go some way towards helping those who are trapped, in difficult circumstances, in leasehold properties in tower blocks.

I welcome some of the Bill's detailed proposals, such as the proposed action to end forfeiture proceedings until service charges have been properly confirmed. The absolute right, to be given to leaseholders, to buy their freehold is also important. We must take the gloves off in the battle against freeholders, and the Bill does just that. I hope that, in Committee, hon. Members will stand up for the rights of existing tenants and for those in real housing need who have slipped through the present system. We should not give in to the Opposition, who extrapolate one sectional interest and use it to attack the Government.

It was quite clear that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) had not read the Bill—some of his comments about it were blatantly wrong. As has been said, the hon. Gentleman went perilously close to misleading the House. I am sure that, in his wildest dreams, he would not want to do that. I recommend to Opposition Members that, in future, they spend their weekends more productively by reading legislation before they dare to speak about it in the House.

7.11 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

The fundamental cause of our housing problems is the lack of affordable accommodation. That is why more people than ever are homeless and begging in the streets. It is why there are more people than ever in temporary or bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It is also why the Government are desperately fiddling about with a rationing system for homelessness and entry to the housing queue. Rationing occurs when there is a shortage, but the Government do not acknowledge that and they are not trying to solve the basic problem.

It has not been said today that, in England and Wales, with a population of about 50 million, fewer houses are being built in the public rented sector than are being built in Northern Ireland, which has a population of 1.5 million. We could have an interesting debate about why the Government think that it is necessary to build more social housing in Northern Ireland but do not apply the same criteria to the rest of the United Kingdom.

The second underlying problem is that the Government have done nothing to help low-income home owners. The Bill will not help them either. Conservative Members have asked how we would pay for such help, but until we address the issue of the reform of housing finance we will not be able to get that one right. The housing finance system is inequitable and inefficient. Does anyone seriously believe that £10 billion a year on housing benefit, much of which goes to landlords who do not need it, is a good way to subsidise housing? The Government started to recognise that when they reformed mortgage interest relief—by cutting it. They did it in the worst possible way because they gave no help to low-income mortgage holders, which is what they ought to have done. That is why some people are still in mortgage difficulties.

Conservative Members who ask about financing should remember that about one in nine homeless applications to local authorities come from people who have had their houses repossessed. The mortgage company or bank gets the house and can sell it; the local authority puts the family into bed-and-breakfast or temporary accommodation for which we, the people, pay. As a result, the family suffers incredible stress while the house sits empty awaiting sale in a depressed housing market which it depresses still further.

Before the last election, we suggested to the Government a mortgage rescue scheme that was designed to help such people. I had it costed by the Council of Mortgage Lenders. At that time, the chief executive of the council was a member of the Tory party and had been a Tory candidate at an election. He accepted that the package was cost free, but the Government refused to accept it.

The Secretary of State outlined his proposals for freeholders and the hon. Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) said that it was time we took the gloves off. We said that, and tabled amendments to that effect, in Committee on the Bill that became the Housing Act 1988. Conservatives voted them down. The Secretary of State says that he wants to get tough on landlords who are not fulfilling their obligations to people in houses in multiple occupation. We have known about that for years. We twice put down amendments to the 1988 Bill to deal with that, especially in the context of seaside towns about which the Secretary of State also spoke, but Conservative Members voted them down. It is only now that the consequences of their actions in relation to what became the 1988 Act are beginning to be felt. They must face the fact that they have failed to act on such problems.

The issue of empty properties is dealt with only as an aside in the Bill, but we have heard about it from Conservative Members. For the past 16 years, the Government have consistently been the worst offenders on empty properties. Even now, in the Biggin hill area, they are dumping Government homes on the public market for sale. There is much negative equity in that area, and their action will depress the housing market even further. They could save money by transferring those houses to housing associations or local authorities, which could deal with the queue about which the hon. Member for Edmonton complained. That is a way in which to address the problem of rationing that the Government have created.

Local authorities and housing associations are much more effective at letting properties than the private sector or the Government. Hackney has been mentioned as a bad example. I am the first to accept that, in the past, Hackney's management has not been good. However, a year or two ago, Hackney's voids were about 5.3 per cent. They are now down to about 3 per cent., but only if the tower blocks that the Government have said must be knocked down are taken out of the calculation. The Government are giving money to have them knocked down.

We are in a febrile political atmosphere, but I should have thought that even in this pre-election bonanza period we could still get some cross-party agreement that, by and large, it is desirable to take tenants out of high-rise flats before they are demolished. I have given the reason for the Hackney figures being so high; we should focus on that as well.

My advice to the Government is simple: stop selling Government-owned empty properties, start handing them over to housing associations and councils and start dealing with the rationing that the hon. Member for Edmonton does not like. Conservative Members complain about the right to buy in rural areas in certain circumstances. I wish that the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) were in his place. The right to buy, matched by a duty to replace and a housing finance system that enabled councils and housing associations to replace homes that were sold, is a good policy. A housing policy that consists of a right to buy but does not enable replacement of the homes that have been sold is a disaster, but that is what the Government have given us over the years. Now, suddenly, the hon. Member for High Peak and some other Conservative Members have begun to complain because they fear that too many houses might be sold in rural areas. Exactly the same problem has been hitting us in urban areas for donkeys years. If we could have replaced the houses that were sold, we would not have the queues of today and there would not be 2,000 or 3,000 people in areas such as mine living in emergency accommodation.

The problem is primarily the Government's. Yes, one or two people abuse the system and keep their council houses when they should get rid of them—there are examples of that in my constituency—but the core problem lies with the Government for it is they who have failed to provide the mechanism by which the houses that are sold can be replaced so that more houses can be made available in the rented sector.

What is the fundamental problem? A housing finance regime that allows all the money to be allocated in housing benefit instead of recognising that we need to return to a system—as the Duke of Edinburgh's report, with which just about everyone agreed, rightly said some years ago—of subsidising bricks and mortar, at least in part.

There is no sense in giving, as we do at the moment, housing benefit subsidy to a landlord who is in prison for harassing tenants. The Deputy Prime Minister has the audacity to say that the Labour party is on the side of villains. I have never heard of any Labour policy that argues that taxpayers' money should be used to subsidise people who are in prison—which is what the Government are doing now. It is a disgrace, we know that it is, and it should be brought to an end. If we are to do that, we must reform housing finance and recognise the rights of tenants.

I welcome the introduction of an ombudsman. We proposed that, too, during the Committee stage of what became the 1988 Act, and the Government rejected it. I am in favour of enabling the Housing Corporation to step in when bad management occurs in housing associations or councils, and to take other action to transfer accommodation from such landlords.

Why will the Government not introduce something similar in the private rented sector? Why should we not be able to strike off a bad landlord in the private rented sector who has been harassing tenants? Why do we send them to prison at enormous cost, subsidise them while they are there, and allow them to let the house and receive yet more subsidy when they are released? That is subsidising the villains. That is being on the side of the villains.

Most private landlords are good. Why do we not introduce something adventurous and flexible for a change? I would be quite prepared to subsidise private landlords in exchange for guarantees about good management—another suggestion that I made many years ago. If they failed to deliver good management, they would be struck off. That is the key to housing policy. We should stop worrying about ownership and concentrate on quality.

7.21 pm
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

I welcome the majority of measures in the Bill. I especially welcome the further modest encouragement and incentives that it provides for the private rented sector. I am conscious that, in my constituency, many houses are under-occupied, often by elderly people who would welcome a tenant or two. Too often, however, they hear horror stories from people who have experienced bad tenants, so they dare not take the risk.

The Bill provides for quicker eviction of tenants who do not pay their rent and makes the advantages of shorthold more widely available so that landlords may be assured of the agreed period of tenancy. I hope that more potential small and inexperienced landlords and landladies will have the confidence to make their spare rooms available to those who are seeking accommodation.

I welcome, too, the redressing of the balance in the duty of local authorities to house local people who need accommodation, so that those who are born and bred locally, rather than those who become homeless away from their home town, are favoured. That will give more hope to local people on the waiting list, who see complete outsiders being housed before them. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration confirmed, that proposal in no way removes the safety net for homeless people.

The Bill aims to help local authorities to respond more effectively to the immense problems posed by houses in multiple occupation. There is no doubt about the need for stronger powers. The lives of my constituents who live in the neighbourhoods of some of the properties of a well-known local provider of bedsits, Mr. Dave Wells, are a continual misery, as my postbag testifies.

The behaviour of tenants, of course, cannot be directly blamed on the landlord or the owner of the property, but landlords must demonstrate the responsibility to ensure that the neighbours enjoy a right of privacy and are free from the tenants' noise and nuisance. Unfortunately, as my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) said, people dare not complain for fear of threats and retaliation from those against whom they are complaining. Tenants are also entitled to a reasonable standard of accommodation that is safe and free from damp and rot and crumbling walls, which is certainly not the case in some of Mr. Wells' properties, as I have seen for myself.

Until my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's speech this afternoon, I feared that the Bill would prove inadequate to deal with houses in multiple occupation. That fear results from the change of use of buildings from hotels and guest houses to bedsit hostels, primarily aimed at benefit claimants, which has occurred in my authority and others in tourist areas, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) so vividly referred.

Such hotels are bought and converted into multiple units to house a maximum number of tenants. It has become big business for commercial landlords, who advertise in the inner cities and in the Republic of Ireland that those on benefit should claim in a more attractive area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough said, some of those hostels have a reputation for being places of drug-related, drink-related and crime-related behaviour. As well as being offensive to local residents, the hostels very quickly lead to neighbouring hotels, especially those that cater for young families and coach parties, losing business, and the entire tourist area becomes threatened by a vicious cycle of decline and decay.

It is now clear that the planning controls introduced almost two years ago to address that problem are not working because of a lack of precise definition of a hotel, a hostel and an HMO. In any case, the controls cannot be applied retrospectively.

The new powers that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced today will allow local authorities to close down hostels without compensation in response to legitimate complaints from people in the neighbourhood. I welcome that, as I am sure does my local authority in Bournemouth.

The Bill does not, however, give local authorities what I believe they need to be able to respond effectively to the problem of HMOs once and for all. We need a licensing scheme, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough referred, which local authorities can opt for, depending on the severity of the problem in their area. It would require not only that the property be fit and proper, but that its owner be a fit and proper person to run or manage the property.

The Government have decided that such a scheme would be too costly and bureaucratic. I do not agree. A licensing scheme need not be universal. It could be limited to local authorities such as mine and those in other seaside resorts such as Blackpool and Scarborough, which are pressing for it as the only way in which to protect their tourist areas.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

And Morecambe.

Mr. Atkinson

And Morecambe, as my hon. Friend says. The scheme would be no different from that which applies to rest and retirement homes for the elderly, which are run by a licensee whose licence is subject to periodic renewal.

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration to give further thought to the need for a voluntary licensing scheme that local authorities could use when they experienced particular problems with HMOs, which a registration scheme, such as that in the Bill, will not address.

7.28 pm
Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

In June last year, the Chartered Institute of Housing published a report entitled "A Point to Prove" which examined cities such as Sheffield and my own town of Birmingham. It demonstrated the direct relationship between poor housing conditions, the crises in education and health and the problem of rising crime. It also demonstrated that repossessions, negative equity and rough sleeping were symptoms of the much wider housing crisis that is facing Britain.

With Government estimates showing that there will be about 3.5 million new households in England alone in the next 10 years, the institute calculated that around 120,000 new homes would be required each year in the social rented sector. Against that background, the Government have a great opportunity with the Bill to deal with those issues and to do something about an experience that I am sure every hon. Member encounters every week at his advice desk.

Unfortunately, neither the Bill nor the White Paper that foreshadowed it begins to tackle the problems. I welcome some parts of the Bill, albeit with some qualification. It is good that some progress is being made in relation to anti-social behaviour, but many more and different actions could be taken as well. It is also good that efforts are being made in relation to leasehold reform and houses in multiple occupation. I agree, however, with the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) that much more needs to be done in those spheres, and that we particularly need to examine the issue of a proper licensing scheme.

Against that, however, other aspects of the Bill are downright odious, such as weakening tenants' protection from eviction and restricting housing authorities' duty to provide accommodation for the homeless. I am still waiting for Ministers to provide a definition of which homeless families they think it appropriate to put into temporary accommodation and throw out of that accommodation later. We have given examples of possible families, but they have said, "It's not them." Sooner or later, Ministers will have to say which homeless families are appropriate for temporary accommodation. If they cannot say which families are appropriate, Ministers will have to question why that particular provision is necessary.

The Bill will have a particularly severe effect on young people. In my constituency, the south Birmingham young homeless project has already shown how the Bill, combined with the changes in housing benefit regulation, would do much to prevent young, single, homeless people under the age of 25 gaining access to secure and affordable housing.

The most striking feature of the Bill is perhaps its utter irrelevance to solving the central problem, which is the shortage of affordable homes. There is a desperate need to increase housing investment. In the west midlands, the number of homeless people in 1979 was only 6,360. By 1994, that figure had risen to 16,800. In 1979, 8,103 council, new town and housing association dwellings were started; in 1994, less than half that number were started. In the four years between 1990 and 1994, the number of mortgage possession actions rocketed in that one region.

On one level, Ministers seem to think that the shortage of affordable homes is an issue—at least they appeared to acknowledge that in what they said about the right to buy for housing associations. Why do they not follow through with the same logic when it comes to local authorities and do something to release the capital receipts that are necessary to take action against the housing shortage?

Obviously, we have become used to the Government's prejudice against local authorities. However, they must recognise that housing associations are also suffering under the financial policies that have been imposed on them by the Government. Housing associations reckon that we need about 90,000 new social housing units a year from now on. In the coming year, however, there will barely be 50,000.

The housing crisis in Britain is not just about building new homes, as important as that is; it is also a question of repairing existing homes. Because of my advice bureaux in Birmingham, I know exactly what that means. Each year, Ministers require local authorities to understate what they need to invest in home repair and, each year, Ministers then under-allocate according to that understated request. To put right its housing stock, Birmingham's real requirement is about £200 million per year, but it is not allowed to ask for that money. This year, less than £40 million has been allocated to it in terms of borrowing approval.

Let me tell the House what that means in human terms. At my advice bureau last week, I received two delegations of residents who live in tower blocks in my constituency. One delegation was from a block called Kempsey house, in Bartley Green, and the other was from three tower blocks off Long Nuke road in the Weoley ward. The conditions in which they have to live were summed up in a recent letter sent by a local Labour councillor to the local housing department after a visit to those blocks. He said: I am concerned about the appalling dampness in the flats in David Cox Tower in Long Nuke Road. Spending a winter in these blocks means a winter of misery. The heating is totally inadequate, the insulation in a pre-cast concrete building is hopelessly inadequate and undoubtedly contributes to massive condensation. The general dampness that results from this is injurious to the people who live there. Of particular concern is the health of the young children. To start life in the atmosphere that pervades these flats throughout the winter and spring is dangerous and contributes to these children being prone to bronchial and other diseases to the chest. Many of the people in the flats are on low incomes and get into awful financial problems because of the cost of electric heating in one room only. It costs them a fortune to fight what is frankly a losing battle. That councillor went on to describe the situation of one resident as follows: Her bedroom is, at the moment, impossible to live in. I would say it is positively dangerous to sleep in because it is so damp. I put my hand on the boarded area that obviously houses a metal downpipe and that was wringing wet. I could see water dripping off the ceiling and the whole window wall was very damp. The carpet was damp and wet in sections. Clothes in wardrobes and chest of drawers quickly become damp and attract mould so they cannot be left in the room". The residents in such blocks are not well off. However, in order to make up some of the shortfall in housing investment that the Government have allowed, tenants in Birmingham last year agreed to a £2 a week rent increase in order to begin a programme to fit UPVC window replacements and to install central heating. This year, however, Government policies will make the problem worse. Is the Minister going to deal with the problems that proposed changes to rent rebate subsidy will cause? In Birmingham, the proposed changes will mean that any rent increase above £1.17 will entail the council losing Government housing subsidy.

The system is complicated—they always are—but the impact is real enough. If the housing revenue account is to be balanced, something that would have required a rent increase of about £2 a week under last year's rules, will—if the Government's proposals go ahead—require Birmingham council tenants to pay an extra £10 a week in rent. Tenants will not be able to afford that, and the consequence is likely to be cuts in the window and central heating replacement programme. That means that people in my constituency will continue to live in cold and damp surroundings. That is the real impact of the Government's housing policy, but it is not even mentioned in the Bill.

The craziest thing of all is that the Government's attempts to save money end up costing money. The extra burden on the national health service because of asthma alone, which is induced or aggravated by poor housing, is estimated to cost £437 million every year. Where housing is poor, criminal activity is high. Wealthy homes are not the most likely to be burgled. The poorest council tenants are more than four times more likely to be burgled than those in affluent suburbs.

When all political parties are stressing their wish to improve standards in education, how can we ignore the impact that poor-quality and insecure housing is bound to have on children's performance at school? How can we ignore the impact that constant changes in housing have on those children? Those changes are likely to happen because of the changes in regulations regarding housing the homeless and temporary accommodation.

Faced with all that, why do the Government refuse to take action? I should like to conclude with a quotation from Peter Ambrose, who is the director of Urban and Regional Research, in Sussex. He said: Poor housing affects over ten million people"—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I am sorry, but time is up.

7.38 pm
Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

I begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the very good news that he gave my constituency towards the end of last year on the housing investment programme. Blackpool's HIP allocation, which was £1,866,000 in 1995-96, has risen to £2,734,000 for 1996-97—an increase of 47 per cent. No other local authority has received such a substantial increase, and that is good news for housing in Blackpool and for my constituents.

That contrasted significantly with what the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) said about the Government failing to invest in housing. The hon. Lady has, of course, disappeared—she is no longer in her place. The longer I stay in this place, the more I notice that Liberals tend to be here today, gone tomorrow.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

As far I can see, there is not a single Liberal Democrat Member in the Chamber. Clearly, housing is of no great importance to the Liberal Democrats. Once a Liberal Democrat makes a long-winded speech, that is the lot for the day.

Mr. Elletson

Absolutely. As my hon. Friend says, the hon. Member for Christchurch made an extremely long-winded speech, which means that there is much less time for other hon. Members.

I also take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on the Bill, because much of what it proposes will be welcome news for my constituents. The Bill builds on the Government's record over 17 years of giving people more choice in housing and of enabling more people to own their own home. The Bill's proposals to increase home ownership are good news, and there is also good news for the increasing numbers of council tenants who, during the past 16 years, have been given the right to buy. It is good news also for those who want a real say in how their homes are managed.

I also thank the Minister for the help that the Department of the Environment has given to my constituents in the Queen's Park estate, who have been struggling for the past two years to free themselves from the Stalinist clutches of Blackpool's housing authority.

Mr. Sykes

It is a Labour authority.

Mr. Elletson

As my hon. Friend points out, the housing authority is controlled by Labour. It has not, however, been subject to the recent breath of fresh air of so-called new Labour that has apparently swept through other local authorities. Blackpool is, unfortunately, still a very old-fashioned housing authority. The tenants on Queen's Park estate are seeking to run their own affairs and manage their own estate and, in that regard, they will be given a great deal of valuable help and advice by the tenants' participation advisory service. I was asked to pass on the thanks of the tenants to the Minister.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Elletson

No. I have given way once already, and I have only 10 minutes in which to speak. I should crack on, because I want to make one or two points that are of specific relevance and importance to my constituents.

The two aspects of the Bill that I want deal with have great importance not only for my constituents but for those in seaside resorts throughout the country. First, I shall refer to the provisions in the Bill dealing with houses in multiple occupation. Secondly, I want to say a few brief words about the provisions for dealing with anti-social tenants. Those provisions will make a great difference to the quality of life of a lot of people in my constituency and throughout the country.

The House has heard what a significant problem HMOs, or benefit hostels, are for seaside resorts. It is difficult for hon. Members who do not come from seaside constituencies to understand how damaging such places can be to the tourism industry and to the quality of life of the ordinary people who live in towns such as Blackpool, Morecambe, Scarborough or Bournemouth.

Unfortunately, the tourism industry does not always get the attention it deserves. It is one of the biggest employers in the country, and one of the fastest-growing industries world wide. The industry significantly depends on its seaside element, as about 50 per cent. of all tourism in this country is connected with the seaside. We must not underestimate the importance of dealing with this crucial problem.

The growth in the number of benefit hostels in seaside resorts has been highly damaging to the tourism industry. There are about 2,000 to 3,000 benefit hostels in Blackpool—a staggering figure. There is no way on earth that the people in those hostels come exclusively from Blackpool, the Fylde coast, Manchester, Liverpool, Lancashire or anywhere in the north of England—they come from all over the place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) has pointed out that thoroughly unscrupulous landlords, who operate the most Rachman-type businesses and often put tenants into the most disgraceful Dickensian conditions, are deliberately advertising for customers to come and claim their benefit by the seaside. That has had an appalling effect.

I shall refer briefly to a number of roads in my constituency to give an example of the sheer scale of the problem. These are roads throughout Blackpool and the surrounding area to the north. In Pleasant street on North Shore, cars have been broken into and cars and local shops have been vandalised. Fights have occurred between groups of residents from the hostels and rubbish has been set alight.

In one particular hostel, the New Beverley hotel on Pleasant street, there have been four drug-related deaths in the past year. One of the victims was a 19-year-old drug addict, who was well known to the police. He had beaten up a pregnant woman and some elderly folk, he burgled homes to feed his drug habit and he had a string of convictions—exactly the sort of character one wants living in the middle of prime tourist accommodation. Just two days before his death, he had been released on bail from Lancaster Farms young offenders unit.

In Regent road, Blackpool. there are a number of HMOs. The inhabitants bring out their armchairs from the hostels and sit on them on the pavement. They block the footpaths and swear at and abuse the passing public. One of the law-abiding citizens who has to live in this street was recently threatened with a bayonet. The police are called to this road usually every week.

I have received regular complaints that inhabitants in Knowle avenue, further up North Shore, have been sitting on the pavement all day, drinking and verbally abusing the passing public. One young woman wrote to me to describe how she witnessed a young man from a hostel urinating from the second-floor window on to street. Many residents are too frightened to walk past the hostel at any time, day or night.

The complaints that I have heard about Maitland avenue in Cleveleys range from music being played loudly until 2 am every day, to constant loud and foul abusive language, known drug-taking and fights on the premises that usually result in the police and paramedic services being called. In one particular incident, a man wielding a carving knife and shouting a torrent of abuse chased another man down the street. There is a massive amount of theft of property from cars.

How can we deal with that problem? The Government have gone some way in the Bill towards addressing the issue of a registration scheme, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) that the Bill does not go far enough. I was delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had to say about the scale of the powers that he appears to be ready to offer to local authorities to enable them to close down places that are having a significantly deleterious effect on the local community. I believe that the best way of ensuring that that happens is through a proper licensing scheme—possibly self-financing--that allows local authorities to opt in. In any event, we need a licensing scheme. I hope that when the Government table their amendments to the Bill, we shall see the introduction of such a scheme—

Madam Deputy Speaker


7.48 pm
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

We were not long into the Secretary of State's speech before the difference between what the Government say about housing and what they intend to do about it became apparent. The Secretary of State managed that in his first sentence, when he talked about the right of every family to a decent home. Unfortunately, nothing in the rest of his speech pointed to a single measure in the Bill that will provide any more homes to make that aspiration come true.

It is not that we are spending less on housing now than we were in 1979. It is just that we are spending the money on different things. Judging by the breakdown of total expenditure, we are spending only a quarter of the total housing budget on bricks and mortar. In 1979, we were spending three quarters. The difference is simple. In 1979, 10 per cent. of the total budget was spent on housing benefits and support for rent, but now it is 50 per cent. In their housing standards, the people of Britain are paying for the Government's policy of creating unemployment and forcing up rents. The money is there, but it is not being spent on providing houses and improving housing in the way that it was.

Indeed, the target that the Government set for themselves in the White Paper that they issued last year aimed not at increasing the number of homes, but simply at making more of them owner-occupied. The Government's obsession with owner-occupation has been a problem for the past 16 years. Rather than having an obsession with providing decent homes, they have one with trying to make as many homes as possible owner-occupied.

Hon. Members have mentioned people who have bought flats in tower blocks, and face massive charges for them. Of course, if the charges are over-inflated, it is wrong, but during the 1980s, under Conservative Government legislation, the Government urged people to buy the flats, criticising Labour councils that warned them of the difficulties that they would get themselves into. Again, that shows their obsession with owner-occupation and with pushing into owner-occupation people who should never have been encouraged into it in the first place.

Our surgeries show us the real housing problems. Housing is certainly the major issue in my surgeries. In the 1970s, council tenants would have been asking for repairs, but that is not the case now as we have an excellent and responsive repair service in Sheffield. People now come with their rehousing and homelessness problems and because of neighbour disputes. The first two problems can be put down to the fact that we are building half the homes for rent that we were building in 1979. Homelessness has doubled in the country as a whole and, in Sheffield, it is running at six to seven times the rate that it was when we had a Labour Government in power as well as a Labour council.

The homelessness provisions in the Bill and the way in which the Government intend to deal with homeless families will cause me to vote against it tonight. Several Conservative Members, including Ministers, have said that they have not read the Bill, as published. I have read it several times and the more I read it, the less I like it. No one will pretend that there are not some difficulties with the administration of the present homelessness legislation. Of course, there are conflicts when there is a shortage of housing—conflicts between the homeless and those in housing need. Occasionally, people use the homelessness route to queue-jump, but that is not a reason for tearing up the legislation and throwing away the rights of every homeless family. Local authorities are under pressure because of unsatisfactory and insufficient housing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said, it is a problem of rationing. There are too few houses to go round.

Hon. Members cite examples of queue jumping and, of course, there may be some truth in some of them. In others, what is meant by queue jumping is the fact that, in the early 1980s, families could have expected to get a family home through the waiting list after two or three years and would have waited with their parents or in-laws, but as the waits have increased to 10 years for the same properties in my city, family pressures become so great that people cannot manage to live together any longer. That is why many young couples end up homeless and at the local authority's door. They are forced there by the intolerable pressures that the Government and their housing polices are putting on family life. That is not queue jumping, but the failure of Government policy, and that is what needs to be rectified.

Ministers have said over and over again that homeless families may still get secure accommodation, but they will have no right to it. In some circumstances, they may be fortunate enough to get it. If the Minister intends to deal with the problem in his reply, he must explain how the legislation will work. My understanding is that a right to interim accommodation comes under clause 147. Clause 151 provides a statutory duty to provide temporary accommodation, which may not be applied if other accommodation in the area is available—clause 155—and if the temporary housing offer is in local authority housing, a family can stay only for a maximum of two years in three. In the meantime, under clause 151, the family might become eligible for a local authority property through the housing list, according to the allocation policies in the consultation document.

There is no certainty that a family that is given a two-year temporary tenancy, which is subject to periodic review—possibly every year—will be eligible for that property at the end of, or during, the two years and no certainty that it will be offered any local authority tenancy during that period. At the end of the two years, the family, which has been accepted as unintentionally homeless and in priority need, could be forced on to the streets, or into a hostel or a property that the local authority has temporarily leased. Even if the family gets a local authority tenancy because of its position on the housing list and according to the allocation criteria on which the Minister is consulting, it could be a different property from the temporary property. The family will therefore be faced with upheaval, not merely of its home life, but of its social life and its children's education. That is not good enough. It is not acceptable and we shall fight as vigorously as we can against it, today and in Committee.

If the Minister thinks that I am wrong and that he has a correct understanding of the Bill, I hope that he will respond. I will even give up my time now for him to explain precisely how I am wrong. If he does not explain it, I shall take it that I have given an accurate description of the Bill and that it takes away the right to secure and permanent accommodation. That is why we shall oppose it.

Neighbour nuisance is now a significant problem. We welcome some of the measures as far as they go, but I am concerned that we should not treat all council tenants as potential problems. I am worried about introductory and probationary tenancies because they stigmatise every tenant before they do anything wrong.

Secondly, it is not only tenants who create problems of neighbour nuisance. Some of the worst cases that I have come across have involved owner-occupiers. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) proposed a community safety order, which could apply to anyone, not merely to tenants. I hope that the Government will consider that idea, because we have to be even-handed when dealing with the problem.

Finally, on houses in multiple occupation, we need a licensing system. All the responses to the Government's consultation exercise showed that the organisations concerned with housing believed that that was the right way to proceed.

There is a further difficulty. The Government must define what a house in multiple occupation is. Last year, in a difficult court case involving Sheffield city council, because some students in a house happened to share certain domestic activities, such as eating, the courts found that what everyone thought was a house in multiple occupation was not classified in law as such. That is worrying. It is a loophole about which I have written to Ministers. I hope that they will define what is a house in multiple occupation and conclude that the law needs changing.

In conclusion, the Bill is a missed opportunity at best. At worst, it does damage to those people in greatest housing need, and we shall vigorously oppose those elements of it that do so, particularly the removal of the right of homeless families to secure and permanent accommodation.

7.58 pm
Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West)

I welcome the Bill as a further step forward in our housing policy. It deals with tenants, landlords and leaseholders. I listened carefully to the extraordinary speech by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). There are several implications to be drawn from what he said. He implied that the Labour party would bail out people with negative equity, raise mortgage tax relief, lower rents for council tenants—thereby increasing costs for council tax payers—and build council houses, thereby stopping grants to housing associations.

Mr. Raynsford

indicated dissent.

Sir Anthony Durant

That was what was implied by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras.

Mr. Raynsford

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Anthony Durant

I shall not give way. I have said what I have to say on that, and I feel that there was such an implication.

I welcome several of the proposals, because they have been raised by my constituents over the years. First, there is the right to buy from charities and housing associations. That has been a great grievance in my area, which has a large amount of such property. People felt that the situation was unfair.

I am delighted that the powers of the housing ombudsman will be increased. That has not been mentioned this evening, but it is an important step forward. The right to buy has been one of our great policy successes.

There is some agreement across the Chamber on multiple occupation. We must have more safeguards and standards. There is a lot of multiple-occupation property in Reading. I do not have the same problems as hon. Members with seaside constituencies, but many people live in such properties. Registration must come and monitoring must follow it to keep decent standards for people in multiple-occupation houses.

I am delighted that housing benefit will be tightened up. That has been a great racket and there have been cases in my constituency. We need better guidelines.

Small landlords need more help. There was great criticism of reducing the time for non-payment of rent from 13 to eight weeks. I am in favour of that. How can small landlords stand so long a period of non-payment before they can go to court? That is wrong. I also welcome the move to shorthold tenancies so that we can further develop the rented sector.

I favour tightening up the homeless list. Queue jumping is a great grievance in my town. Many people come to see me who have been on the housing list for years, waiting and waiting. Every time they come near to getting a property, someone on the homeless list jumps the queue. I favour one queue—a system whereby the homeless will be put into temporary accommodation and take their turn in the housing queue. I support that strongly because it is the right way to proceed.

I want more hostels. London's experience has been successful in developing hostels for homeless people. Many such people are not in the best condition when they come into accommodation. I do not have many homeless people in my constituency, thank heavens. There are only about 50 people sleeping on the streets in Reading, so I am fortunate. Some of them live in squalid conditions and when they come into accommodation, they need help and guidance. We need more hostels around the country.

I am much concerned about leaseholders. I trust that amendments to the Bill will be introduced to safeguard their position. There was a leasehold property in my constituency in which all the balconies were falling down. It was dangerous and I tried to find the owner, but it was practically impossible to find who owned the block. I went round and round in circles and never found out who owned it. In the end, I think that the council did something about it and safeguarded the balconies on the flats. We have to do more about leaseholding and the ownership of leasehold properties. The present law on tenants trying to take over leaseholds is far too complicated. I look forward to when we can introduce commonhold. I hope that we shall move in that direction. I look forward to the Government introducing further amendments, as mentioned in the press, to strengthen the position on leaseholding.

I hope that the Government will, as announced today, introduce a further Bill dealing with the Latham proposals on contracting, which are important to the construction industry. I am disappointed that this Bill does not deal with them. As chairman of the all-party group on construction, I am very keen about that. I hope that I will be reassured that a second Bill will implement aspects of the Latham report. It was a good report, which is supported by the industry in general—although not by some of the bigger companies. We need to encourage the construction industry. It has gone through a bad time from which it has still not emerged. It needs help and I was disappointed that there was not more help for it in the Budget.

I welcome the Bill. All its aspects have come up in my constituency surgery. If we can implement it, some of those grievances will go. It is a useful and worthwhile Bill which I support strongly.

8.5 pm

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

I shall be brief, but I am the only Welsh Member to speak tonight and there is an important Welsh dimension to housing policy.

The problem with housing policy, as with many other policies, is that it has been bedevilled by ideology. That has been particularly unpleasant for us in Wales because the ideology that has informed policy development has been so alien to us. It is only because enlightened people in Wales have insisted on being pragmatic that anything at all has been achieved over the past 16 years—and quite a lot has been achieved. Despite those achievements, in 1994 there were still 23,000 people homeless, according to Welsh Office statistics and according to Shelter, there were nearer 60,000.

I shall base my remarks on the publication, "Target 2000", which has been prepared for the Welsh Federation of Housing Associations. The first point made by the document is that we need a proper description of need both for the local level and for the whole of Wales. There is no such description currently, which means that we do not have an adequate strategy. The existing strategy is one for the allocation of available resources, which is another thing altogether.

Resources are declining. The number of dwellings provided in the social sector through Tai Cymru funding, along with private funding, has decreased from 5,274 in 1992–93 to 4,197 this year. It is projected that the number will go down to just over 3,000 in 1996–97.

Secondly, we have something close to parity in Wales between the number of dwellings and the number of households—in fact, there is a small surplus—but we still need about 10,000 social houses per year to achieve decent housing for all by 2000.

Thirdly, there is overwhelming evidence that the priority need in Wales—and I am sure that this is also true in England—is for affordable, rented accommodation. With owner-occupation at 72 per cent. in Wales in 1994, compared with 59 per cent. in 1979, it is clear that the trend towards owner-occupation has gone far enough—perhaps too far. According to the 1991 census, 8 per cent. of private homes in Wales were vacant or not being used as a prime residence, compared with less than 2 per cent. vacant in the social housing sector.

Some owners are unable to sell their property and let it on a shorthold tenancy. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but it is an indication of a surplus of owner-occupied properties.

Some 20 per cent. of the Welsh population earn less than half average earnings, which means that they are probably ineligible for a mortgage. According to the report's author, the home ownership market in Wales is saturated. It is in those circumstances that the Welsh Office, obedient to its London masters, has set a target of 80 per cent. owner-occupancy in Wales by 2000. Such a target is clearly perverse, irresponsible, probably damaging, and ideologically driven rather than pragmatic. Policy in Wales is currently moving in the opposite direction to what is relevant. The 80 per cent. target could be achieved only at the expense of a reduction in the number of properties available for rent, unless the number of house completions is significantly increased.

A strategy for providing the necessary additional social housing should consist of a combination of new build and a significant number of acquisitions from existing housing stock, both houses in good condition and houses for renovation. That would be good environmentally as it would discourage the development of green-field sites. It would also be appropriate in a country where, in 1993, 13.4 per cent. of occupied first homes were considered unfit, many houses dating from before 1919, which puts Wales just below central London in terms of the proportion of unfit properties there. Housing associations, along with what will now be other social housing providers, should be empowered and encouraged to make such acquisitions from existing housing stock. The funding process must recognise the higher costs of renovation, not least VAT.

We also need a means to enable demolition and infill building where appropriate. The time comes when all buildings reach the end of their useful lives and demolition is a more cost-efficient solution than renovation. I was glad to note that Tai Cymru has recently restored housing associations' power to acquire existing property. But that power is severely restricted and housing associations, local authorities and the new local companies that will come into force need greater freedom. More emphasis must be placed on that activity.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) spoke about the need for resources for such a programme. I previously mentioned that 10,000 properties per annum were needed for the social sector in Wales, which means doubling the existing programme. Plaid Cymru has no hang-ups about the amount of public investment as a proportion of the total economy that is required for that, nor about funding such investment from general taxation if necessary, especially as that activity creates employment and reduces the benefits bill in the process. We recognise, however, that other people have problems about that approach. The Government's answer, at least in part, is to create local housing companies that can raise private finance and therefore mobilise additional resources.

I agree with the recommendations in the Chartered Institute of Housing report, which suggest a two-pronged approach: first, a shift of emphasis in terms of public spending from the current use of the public sector borrowing requirement to a general Government financial deficit approach, distinguishing between public spending and public investment; and, secondly, the creation of non-profit-making local housing associations, wholly owned by local authorities and able to borrow against the security of the rent stream and asset values.

The case for more public subsidy in bricks and mortar to reduce rents is now well established. Moreover, the fact that central Government only partially pay for housing benefits to council tenants means that other tenants subsidise those benefits. That is unjust and an anomaly.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I call Mrs. Jacqui Lait.

8.15 pm
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye)

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this debate, especially as I was able to speak last week on a subject that was also of great interest to my constituents. All aspects of this Bill affect my constituency in some way, so I welcome the remedies that it will provide for many of the problems that I and other hon. Members find in our postbags.

I welcome the exemption in the Bill of rural housing from the right-to-buy provision. That is not because I am not a great supporter of the right-to-buy policy but because I have had representations from almost all my parish councils and from many people who live in villages in my constituency saying that they do not want their communities to expand. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said that housing stock that is sold should be replaced. That is easy to say, but when an area is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, a site of special scientific interest, an environmentally sensitive area and, now, a European special protected area, it becomes extremely difficult to find the land on which to replace that housing.

I welcome the provisions on anti-social behaviour. Several hon. Members have outlined the problems in their areas. I particularly welcome the proposal that both social and private landlords will be able to take action against those who behave anti-socially without the victims having to give evidence before the courts. I have been struck by the number of people who tell me that they dare not stand up in court for fear of being victimised further.

I also welcome the proposals on homelessness. Although I do not wish to repeat many of the points that my hon. Friends have made, I have been struck by the number of honest, decent, respectable people who have come to my surgeries or written to me saying that they have endured difficult housing conditions for a long time and then been pipped at the post when it was their turn at the top of the housing list. A recent "Panorama" programme highlighted a 17-year-old girl who was four months pregnant, based in Hastings, and who had been given her own flat. That is a result of current policy. We should ensure that the waiting lists help those most in need, including those who have waited for a great length of time.

As I represent a seaside constituency, I welcome the measures on houses in multiple occupation. I shall not add to the litany of complaints about those houses because I agree with all the points that have been made. Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that the definition of "houses in multiple occupation" excludes self-contained flats and flats in large houses where a flying freehold has been long established?

My hon. Friend the Minister may recall a case in my constituency where the local environmental health department was making life very difficult for residents in a mansion block with flying freehold, largely because the concept of flying freehold is not well understood. I am glad that we have been able to clarify that situation, but I would be grateful if my hon. Friend will confirm that those sorts of flats are excluded from the legislation. It reads as though they are, but I would appreciate that confirmation.

I turn now to the issue of leaseholders. There has been much publicity about leaseholding in London blocks and on large estates. On most of those estates, the freeholders are very respectable and responsible and they are only too keen to ensure that their leaseholders get an extremely good deal. In areas such as Hastings, freeholders may once have been residents of Hastings, but that freehold has been sold on and on. In such circumstances, it is very difficult for leaseholders not only to trace the freeholder but to withstand the demands of the freeholder and the managing agent.

Leaseholders in my constituency face two problems. The first concerns their ability to purchase their freehold. An elderly lady in my constituency wishes to buy her freehold and she made an offer in September 1994. On 5 January 1995, she informed me that she had not received an answer, despite letters from her and from her solicitors, and from me, to the managing agents, Oakleigh Property Management Ltd., and to the freeholders, Ashcorn Estates Ltd. Interestingly—or suspiciously—both of those companies share the same address of 2a Belmore Hill court, Morestead road, Owslebury near Winchester. I hope that, as a result of my comments this evening, they now take action. I believe that the Bill will make it easier for people such as my constituent to buy their freehold.

The second problem concerns the notorious area of repairs, insurance, builders and surveyors, and residents being forced to pay inflated bills for shoddy work. I am grateful that the Bill addresses these issues too. One of the remedies for leaseholders involves the use of the leasehold valuation tribunal. Will my hon. Friend confirm whether that tribunal has any right of enforcement? If not, how is it proposed to enforce the tribunal's decisions?

I welcome those aspects of the Bill which deal with leaseholding and I am sure that many leaseholders will agree that they are practical suggestions for resolving existing problems. I hope that they will close existing loopholes and that no more will be opened. The current situation whereby leaseholders are forced to take their cases to court definitely works to the advantage of the freeholders. I am very conscious that changes which will enable leaseholders to hold freeholders to account more cheaply will go some way to addressing that problem.

In light of that and given the fact that my private Member's Bill, the Leasehold (Reform) Bill, is designed to reform aspects of leasehold law, I was grateful to receive the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) on the issue of commonhold. I plan to include that in my private Member's Bill, and I hope that—in tandem with the body of law that is being developed regarding leaseholding—we shall resolve the difficult and aggravating position of leaseholders and freeholders. It seems to be a particularly English and Welsh system of law and, as a Scot, I do not find it easy to understand.

I also endorse the recommendation by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West that the Latham proposals be carried forward in the next Housing Bill. I hope that we shall move quite quickly, as much of the construction industry is very keen to support the Latham report. That should assist the construction industry in the future.

8.24 pm
Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)

I shall spend most of the time available to me tonight addressing that part of the Bill which deals with criminal and anti-social behaviour on housing estates. However, I cannot speak to the Housing Bill without also referring briefly to several other issues.

I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) graphically expose the conditions at the Clarendon Court hotel, which is under the authority of Westminster city council. Taxpayers are funding that hotel and its appalling conditions through the housing benefit system—that is a modern scandal of epic proportions. Although we do not have the equivalent of a Clarendon Court hotel in Coventry, I assure hon. Members that the provision made by some private sector landlords amounts to a disgraceful rip-off of the housing benefit system and of the taxpayer. The Government know that, but they tolerate it and allow it to continue.

Housing cost figures mean different things in different parts of the country, but the local authority in Coventry can still provide a decent size family dwelling for less than £40 a week. However, families are forced increasingly into small, antiquated and unhealthy accommodation for which the taxpayer is paying more than £80 per week through the housing benefit system. That is a growing problem.

When considering the dilemma of our public finances, one should look no further than the Government's mismanagement of the housing benefit and housing subsidy issue. In large part, that money is going to landlords who should not receive such support. They are ripping off the taxpayer while providing inadequate housing.

Although other hon. Members have covered the issue adequately, I shall turn briefly to the Government's proposals on homelessness. The House is facing an adverse public reaction to the passage of bad law. That fact was graphically illustrated by the poll tax and the Child Support Agency. We are in danger of doing the same thing in this instance because dogma has overtaken common sense. The laws with regard to housing allocation for the homeless have been reviewed again and again not by Labour, but by Conservative Ministers and Conservative Governments. We are now finding that proposals which were thrown out by Conservative Ministers are being offered as law.

I believe that this measure is born not of common sense or any attempt to introduce fairness into housing waiting lists, but of scapegoating. The Conservatives have realised that people are very angry about the length of housing waiting lists. In Coventry there are waiting lists of up to 14 years for local housing stock in some of the more desirable parts of the city. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras exposed the fact that the supply of local authority housing has fallen to the disgraceful level of only 400 new houses provided nationally.

How have the Government responded to that situation? Instead of accepting the failure of their policies and addressing the problem, they have looked for a scapegoat. Government Members try to tell ordinary people who are on housing waiting lists—which were created by the Government's policies—that it is the fault of the homeless. They say that they shall sort out the homeless; they shall be put at the back of the queue, housed in temporary accommodation and then everything will be all right. That is another example of the Government's looking for a scapegoat instead of a solution. The legislation simply will not work.

I now turn to anti-social behaviour. At the start of the debate, the Secretary of State said that the Government were committed to action, but did not have the support of the Labour party. He said that the Association of District Councils was opposed to the only solution—introductory tenancies.

I have a document from the Local Authority Working Group On Anti-Social Behaviour, which lobbied Parliament last Thursday. That document is supported by the ADC and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. It endorses the Labour party's position on anti-social behaviour, and demands—as it has demanded Government action for the past four or five years—that the Government give local authorities the power effectively to tackle criminal and anti-social behaviour on our council estates.

The Secretary of State had the audacity to suggest that the ADC is opposed to tackling the issue. The position is quite the reverse. The document states that introductory tenancies will not work unless they are accompanied by action to restrict the availability to tenants of judicial review to challenge a Local Housing Authority's decision to terminate an introductory tenancy.". Those are the real grounds for opposing introductory tenancies, not those that the Secretary of State attempted to put to the House.

Criminal anti-social behaviour is a growing problem on housing estates. The issue has been raised in the House, sometimes by Conservative Members with specific problems, bt:t mostly by Labour Members demanding that local authorities be given the powers to sort out a small element on our housing estates that drives the overwhelming majority of residents to distraction.

We are not talking just about music in the middle of the night or rowdy behaviour outside somebody's house, although that can be a massive problem. We are talking about escalating intimidation, including violence, burglary and forced entry into people's houses. The issue cannot be tackled without additional powers.

In one case in Coventry, a tenant exercised the right to buy and bought a council house in the middle of what became a problem area. There were problems next door and the house was effectively destroyed—along with the one next door—leaving the family with massive negative equity on a property that was no longer worth a light. The wife had a nervous breakdown, and when I met him, the husband was attempting to hold down a job in London and commute back and forth, desperately trying to keep the family's finances together. That is an example of a huge problem that the Government have refused to tackle for a long time.

It is disgraceful for the Government to suggest, as they did at the weekend, that the Labour party is not prepared to tackle crime. The record shows that the Labour party, the AMA, which has a Labour majority, and the ADC have been demanding effective action from the Government for some time. They are worried that the Bill will not lead to that effective action.

For heaven's sake, let us have some proper scrutiny of the proposals in the Bill to make sure that they work. Let us listen to the local authorities that will have to exercise those powers. If we do not, we shall wind up with soundbite politics, the Conservative party attempting to say that it is tackling law and order, and a piece of legislation of absolutely no value.

If Conservative Members do not make the legislation work, they will expose themselves as interested in law and order only when it affects a rich and privileged elite, and not being concerned with issues that affect the majority of law-abiding people living on housing estates in our cities throughout the length and breath of the country. If they do not take action, we shall expose them for exactly that.

8.34 pm
Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

I welcome the opportunity that the Bill provides to explore in detail the present housing problems and examine various alternative proposals. I agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) that there should be proper scrutiny of the various proposals in the Bill, in Committee and afterwards. I say that with some comfort, because I am already serving in one Committee, so I will not be serving on the one considering the Housing Bill.

I should like to lay down two basic principles regarding housing policy, neither of which refers to tenure. In Britain, we have been concerned to advance owner-occupation, but that has not been the case even among the middle classes in some other countries in Europe or in north America.

The first principle is the right of all to a secure roof, although we might argue about the location, the cost and with whom it is shared. In that context, I welcome what has been achieved since 1990 by the rough sleepers initiative in substantially reducing the number of those sleeping rough in central London. I am concerned to hear from Shelter the suggestion that hostels in central London cannot always cope with the number of people seeking access. I hope that that problem will be addressed, and that the rough sleepers initiative will be continued, properly resourced and extended where necessary to other centres outside London.

I hope that we can be more effective in going back to first causes regarding those sleeping rough, and finding out whether it was the local authorities or perhaps their families who let them down and caused their unhappy circumstances. Many of them suffer from mental difficulties or drug or alcohol problems, and other caring or public authorities should take responsibility for them.

My second principle was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait). We must make better use of existing housing stock and areas of development, rather than constantly intruding into green-field sites. In my constituency, there has been strong resistance to the development even of private housing estates on green-field sites, and I am sure that the development of council or similar estates would also be resisted.

We have an opportunity to do that, because, for the first time in more than a century, perhaps as a tragic consequence of the recession, we have balanced development in our economy. There is no longer the constant flow of people from the north coming south in search of work, that has continued for the past century. That has certain merit in that it gives us the opportunity to look again at our housing policy.

In that respect, I welcome the view of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. It agreed with the view expressed in the Government White Paper that predated the Bill: The Government must ensure its housing policies support sustainable development—getting the right kind of housing in the right amount in the right place and in the right way so that the environment is protected and enhanced. The CPRE continues that it is rather disappointed that the Bill makes no reference to environmental and planning concerns and contains no measures to help integrate housing, planning and environmental policy. Those measures are necessary; if we cannot address them in the Bill, we must do so elsewhere.

Like many Members, I welcome certain measures in the Bill. I particularly welcome those relating to homes in multiple occupation and neighbour nuisance, although I know that the two issues are not totally interrelated. Those problems do not occur only in seaside resorts, although we have heard powerful and impressive speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson), for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) and for Hastings and Rye.

Problems have occurred in Taunton. Rowbarton, in the northern part of Taunton, has many houses in multiple occupation. One night last autumn, there was an incident in which someone got hold of some firearms that were being illegally kept in a house, and shots were fired. The police were called, and there was much fear and concern in the neighbourhood.

Subsequently, there was a large public meeting, which I and representatives of the police and every possible public authority attended. The feeling was strongly expressed that there should be snore rigorous control of some landlords. I noted with interest the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth, East and for Blackpool, North about the Bill's provisions in respect of landlords of property in multiple occupation. I hope that that issue will be examined as the Bill proceeds.

I welcome the exclusion from the right to buy of housing association properties in certain rural villages. I hope that Ministers will carefully consider the views of the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and the Rural Development Commission on the Bill's proposed safeguards, because those organisations have raised particular concerns in their letters to us.

I have no particular brief for Shelter, which recently organised a meeting in my constituency which I, the Bishop of Taunton and the director of Shelter attended and addressed. Shelter went about things in a fairly overtly party political way—perhaps we should expect it to do so, in a pre-election year. However, I know and respect certain people in my constituency who, through the organisation South-West Housing Aid, work closely with Shelter.

A letter from Chris Holmes, Shelter's director, states: Shelter's experience, even with the existing safety net, is that many homeless families and vulnerable single people experience long stays in temporary accommodation before being offered a permanent home. The proposals in the Bill will mean that many homeless families and their children will be forced to move from one insecure temporary place to another, facing the poverty trap of high rents on restricted housing benefit. They will also add to local authority bureaucracy. The cost of these changes will not only be borne by homeless families. They will cost the taxpayer too. After the meeting in my constituency, a friend and neighbour who happens to be a Labour voter wrote to reiterate those concerns: Insecurity is one of the most stressful and divisive dangers to family unity, and the proposed provision only for short-term help, followed by even shorter-term help…will result in many more broken families, with all the distress and the expensive burdens that places on society". Another constituent wrote to point out, for example, that a number of people in professional and other posts are employed on short-term contracts, which creates an insecurity of income that relates to the problems of obtaining secure housing.

I hope that the Committee will examine those important issues, because we need to be reassured, as we approach a general election, that there are not the problems that Shelter and others have alleged will arise.

I have spoken on housing matters several times since I was elected, and Opposition Members will recall my concerns. However, I am aware of the danger of intrusive substantial new housing developments on green-field sites, which is why I made an important point about that matter at the beginning of my speech. At the same time, it is offensive to us to see people sleeping rough in central London.

I hope that central Government, local authorities and voluntary organisations will be able to tackle that problem—which stems from wider issues, including the breakdown of families. The Conservative party believes in the integrity of the family, which means helping people who have suffered as a result of family breakdown and providing a housing policy and accommodation that keep families together rather than breaking them up.

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

First, I must declare that I have registered interests in housing, but as far as I can see, they are not affected in any way by the proposed measure.

The Bill is a prime example of the Conservative party saying one thing and doing the opposite. It has continued to preach the virtues of owner-occupation, but the Bill, while offering the prospect of wider owner-occupation at the expense of housing associations, will create only 1,200 sales in the first year. The Bill does nothing for the 1,200 people and more whose homes are repossessed every week, who lose their status as owner-occupiers and get nothing in return.

The Government also preach the virtues of the family, but Bishop Jim Thompson, of the Church of England's social policy committee, rightly said of the Bill's proposals for tackling homelessness: We believe that these represent a step backwards for a civilised society to make and have seriously adverse effects on the lives of homeless families with children. Even the Bill's title is hypocritical. It cannot properly be described as a Housing Bill when it does not provide resources for additional housing or for improving the quality of existing properties. Instead, the Bill introduces measures to deprive people of housing. It will shuffle thousands of people into temporary accommodation, restrict tenant choice, restrict the activities of councils and housing associations, and add a further sorry chapter to the Government's 16 years of neglect of social housing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) pointed out that homeless legislation has survived intact since 1977, including the whole of the Thatcher era. Even Nicholas Ridley, who was hardly a liberal, concluded that it was working well. No one outside the Tory party and its various front organisations supports the Bill, except those who hope for a cash return from it. The Bill deserves to perish, and the Government should be judged by it and perish with it.

As a Member of Parliament representing a Leeds constituency who spent some years on the city council's housing committee, I can say that the Bill's effects on Leeds well illustrate my abhorrence of the measure and my condemnation of its homelessness proposals in particular. The council states: households found to be homeless and with a legally defined priority need should have a reasonable priority in rehousing. However, in Leeds homeless households with a priority need are treated as part of Group A"— the top group— of the waiting list and the Council aims to achieve a balance in allocations between homeless households on the waiting list and council tenants seeking a transfer. In 1994/95, 17.5 per cent. of new lettings of council homes were made to homeless households in priority need; 40 per cent. were to other households on the waiting list; 41 per cent. were to existing council tenants transferring to other council housing (including those transferring by mutual exchange) and 1.5 per cent. were let as part of the National Mobility Scheme. In addition"— to its balanced policy on the rehousing of people who are homeless— the Council does not have sufficient temporary accommodation, for the homeless households it accepts as homeless over the year. The proposals in the Bill could inevitably mean the Council having to resort"— for the first time— to the use of Bed & Breakfast accommodation. There is also insufficient available, affordable family housing of sufficient quality in the private rented sector into which homeless households could be directly rehoused. Therefore, the legislation would actually make life much more difficult for the council, which already has a balanced housing policy.

The council's views are in line with the Church of England's national housing coalition, which has conducted much research on the proposals, and published that research in October 1995. Its report said: It is not true to say that homeless people are 'jumping the housing queue' and forcing other 'more deserving' people to wait longer on the Council housing waiting list". It continues: The main factor determining the rate at which people are rehoused…is not the number of people accepted as homeless, but the supply and availability of social housing". The report pointed out that people are not homeless as a temporary measure but, in general, on a long-term basis. It pointed out that people are not homeless from choice. They are not responsible for being homeless. People pushed out of their homes, as the report makes clear, include those who are forced to flee difficult even dangerous situations". Homelessness is often a problem of safety and security for families, especially families with children.

The Government, of course, have only just released the guidance on which they are consulting local authorities. The Government should have thought twice before they published lists for councils that are already making their own sensible priorities on housing homeless people.

In Leeds in the past financial year, although 2,318 households were accepted as homeless, a further 3,212 were found to be homeless but without a priority need for housing. The breakdown of the figures shows that more people are housed as a priority for reasons including domestic violence, the loss of private rented housing and mental ill health, and for special reasons, perhaps because they are vulnerable young people. Anyone would agree that those categories of homeless people deserve urgent attention. Some of those categories are included in the guidance on which local authorities are being consulted by the Government.

Why is consultation taking place at that time, when the results of that consultation will come back to the Government after the Standing Committee has considered all those issues? Is that a thoughtful way to proceed? I agree that local authorities need time to reply, but they must reply by 25 March 1996, by which time the Committee will probably have finished. Surely the timing suggests that the Government's consultation is again intended to provide a rubber stamp for what they already propose to do.

The alternative of the private rented sector, which is suggested by the Government as a possible way forward, does not appear to be any answer. The Church of England's research shows that most landlords in the private sector want a deposit and guaranteed rent in advance, and they provide less security and, assisted by the Government, higher rent levels.

The Bill is a package of misery for all those who are in genuine housing need. It should be thrown out.

8.54 pm
Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South)

I wish to be brief because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.

A civilised society is one that creates an environment in which there is adequate housing for its people. What is wrong with the Bill is that the Government have looked only at one type of housing for the past 17 yearsowner-occupied. Their policy and dogma have been created around that.

Hon. Members from all parties have said today that housing should be a concern for all of us. We can all quote casework from our surgeries of the number of housing problems that come along. The core of the Bill should have been about increasing social housing provision in the rented sector. The Bill has 181 clauses and 144 pages, and the core of it is the question of waiting lists and how people figure on the waiting lists, not meeting need.

I find it offensive that the Government, who have tried to divide society for the past 17 years in many economic areas, are now trying to divide those in housing need by saying that certain people, and they mention single-parent families, are a problem that has to be resolved. That is very offensive.

There have been 10,000 objectors to the Bill. The Minister will have to reply to them, because they are not people with knee-jerk reactions but professionals in the housing sector, the voluntary sector and other charitable organisations.

The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) mentioned the rough sleepers initiative. It is scandalous that, as we approach the 21st century, we have rough sleepers not just in London but in towns and cities all over the country. That is an absolute disgrace when one considers the resources that the Government have had at their disposal for the past 17 years.

The Bill is about dogma. The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration has said many times in the House that he does not think that it is appropriate for local authorities to build houses. Why not? That is a legitimate choice for tenants, if they want their local authorities to build houses.

We have seen a move to housing associations. There are many good housing associations, especially those that have coped with special needs in society. However, housing association grants have been cut. The money that was spent by local authorities was moved to housing associations and their grants were cut. That has meant that the smaller associations have been put in jeopardy and have been unable to provide the services that people require. The housing associations are now having to compete for grant, so they have become bigger and moved away from their local areas, where they developed, and have lost local accountability.

I believe that local authorities should be allowed to build houses because that is what people want. Local authorities, through elected members, know the needs of people in their areas.

There is nothing in the Bill to help with the problem of negative equity and mortgage arrears. People have faced the pain of living in a house that is no longer worth what it was when they first bought it and they have got into arrears because of the economic situation. We must look at housing and plan it differently. The job for life is no longer available, and people have to change their job profile up to three times during their career. The 25-year mortgage for those who can afford to buy may not be sustainable. We must consider different housing finance.

We are approaching the 21st century and it is time to consider the problems that we have created. For example, there are problems on large estates where the Government encouraged people to buy their homes. It is interesting to reflect on projects such as city challenge and the regeneration budget. Those who bought their houses were not able to benefit from the regeneration schemes. It was ridiculous that in many areas people were penalised for buying their homes. In some instances, the result was behavioural problems on estates.

I am concerned that tenants' rights in the private sector have been weakened. I am concerned also about women who are the victims of domestic violence. How will they be treated under the new regime? The Bill leaves many questions unanswered. I am sure that we shall take it to pieces in Committee, clause by clause. There are 10,000 objectors and many of the organisations that represent them are not automatically friends of the Labour party, despite what Conservative Members have said. Instead, they are organisations that care about housing. We must ensure that we provide housing to meet the needs of society into the next century.

My hon. Friends have raised many of the matters to which I wished to draw attention. I hope that there will be the opportunity to examine them in more detail. Rightly, we have had a major debate that has focused on the rights of individuals to be properly housed. A Labour Government will be the only vehicle to ensure that people get what they deserve.

9 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I am delighted to be able to speak in this important debate. The Bill is yet another example to prove that the Government still have positive policies for the future. When I asked the hon. Members for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) what their policies were, how many social homes they would provide and how much money they would spend, neither of them—they are Opposition party spokesmen—was able to give me a positive answer.

The Government are making positive decisions. They have introduced a major Bill with many provisions that are designed to improve the plight of all those who want a roof over their head. During the 17 years that a Conservative Government have been in power, we have enabled and empowered people to make choices about their own lives. As a result, 78 per cent. of the population own their own home. That is a creditable achievement. Given a reasonable economic improvement in the housing market, I am sure that we shall see further increases in owner-occupation.

We are concerned also about the private rented sector. I am delighted that there are provisions in the Bill to encourage it still further. During the currency of the Labour Government in the 1970s, they regulated out of existence 400,000 private rented sector homes. Instead, this Conservative Government wish to encourage that sector. I welcome further deregulation, which will encourage more landlords to let their houses.

A sector that should be especially encouraged is homes over shops. There have been several initiatives to do so. In every small market town—there are many in my constituency—there are homes that could be let by the private rented sector. They are not let because of fear of Labour Government regulation. At the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s the Labour Government introduced a penal regime. A future Labour Government might return to it, so we should not become complacent. Rental income was classed as unearned income and taxed at a staggering 98 per cent. If the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) is proud of that record, what else is he proud of? That penal regime was a disgrace. That is why 400,000 houses were regulated out of the market.

Mrs. Maddock

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I have less than 10 minutes now, but I shall let the hon. Lady intervene briefly. After that, I shall not give way.

Mrs. Maddock

How many flats over shops would the hon. Gentleman like to see come into use? How much money would he like to see the Government make available for such a scheme?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

As I said, I shall not give way again because I have only a short time available to me.

The answer to the hon. Lady's question is that not every issue can be addressed by money. There must be confidence in the private rented sector. Liberal and Labour Members are not doing much to bring that about by their speeches.

There are many parts of the Bill that I welcome, including the formation of a housing investment trust. It will be an excellent vehicle to enable the Government to lever in money in addition to the £18 billion a year that they are spending in the housing market. I am delighted that the private sector is playing its part. I do not know why the hon. Member for Greenwich laughs, because I thought that the Labour party would be even more pleased to provide more homes and to let the private—

Mr. Raynsford


Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am not giving way, as I have only 10 minutes.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman would be pleased that the private rented sector would be spending more and more on providing social housing. I wish that the Government would go further and allow, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith), the private sector to take part in the housing investment programme grants, so that it could take some of the risk of producing social housing as well. I urge the Government to go further and faster in that respect.

There are many other areas of the Bill that I warmly welcome. As has been said many times, we all have surgery cases involving obnoxious next-door neighbours who cannot be evicted by the council or the housing association. I warmly welcome the fact that the Government are acting in that respect. If those obnoxious neighbours are given a temporary house, I urge that if they misbehave still further, they should end up with lower and lower-quality housing. That is what they deserve.

The Evening Standard ran a campaign on bad landlords. Nobody would support bad landlords under the leasehold system, and I warmly welcome measures in the Bill that will clarify some of the misunderstood provisions in the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, particularly in relation to the scam that has been perpetrated by a small minority of leaseholders who have been creating flying freeholds. It is a disgrace that they have used loopholes to get round the provisions of the Act, although I do not particularly approve of it. I welcome the fact that the Government, through the Bill, have filled those loopholes.

As a chartered surveyor, I warmly welcome the valuation provisions that the Bill includes in relation to the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act, because they will clarify the role of the valuer and precisely how he is to value marriage value and so on. It is wrong that we have not had an ombudsman who could cover housing trusts. The fact that he will be given powers to decide difficult cases must be warmly welcomed.

The Government are courageous to introduce the Bill. The major area of contention, as has been mentioned this evening, is that of the allocation of housing lists. For too long, it has been politically incorrect to talk about the categories of people who are entitled to be housed in local authority housing.

I shall give the House an idea of the gift that we give people in public sector housing. Let me quote some figures that I unearthed today. A typical rent for a one-bedroom house in the Cotswold district council area today is £45 per week. I went to a leading building society to obtain a mortgage cost to cover £40,000, and found that a typical repayment mortgage over 25 years was £67 a week. If one had to buy an annuity after tax, the difference would be a staggering £18,000. So in effect every single housing association and local authority that allows a tenant to come into a one-bedroom house, built at a cost of £40,000 of taxpayers' money, is getting a capital gift of £18,000. That is why it must be right, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) said, that where there is a finite amount of public sector housing, we should encourage greater mobility in that sector. I asked the council how many tenants it encouraged last year, because of declining requirements in their older age, to move into a smaller house. I was told that the answer was six—three of whom have written to me—so we are not getting the mobility in the public sector that we deserve.

I warmly welcome the Bill. The paucity of policies that both Opposition parties displayed this evening is a disgrace. Every single person should be reminded of that time and again until we discover how much the Opposition parties will spend on their housing policies. Will it be more than the £18 billion that we are currently spending? If so, by how much? The Opposition parties can laugh, but the people are entitled to know the answer to that question as soon as possible.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity.

9.9 pm

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

I shall take a very different line from the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown).

In his opening speech, the Secretary of State said, in connection with part II—which deals with houses in multiple occupation—that he already intended to introduce amendments to a Bill that was printed as recently as 18 January. It is incredible that the Government should wish to amend their own Bill before it has even been given a Second Reading. I accept that the Government may well be moving in the right direction, but—unlike Conservative Members—I want to see all the implications, and all the loopholes, in print before I support the legislation.

Conservative Members should bear it in mind that numerous attempts have been made to control the appalling problems that we are discussing, although we accept that regulation is needed to deal with those problems. I say "regulation"; given that Conservative Members constantly speak of deregulation, it is surprising that they should now recognise that regulation is necessary to make such houses safe for people to live in. I stress the word "safe".

Part V deals with the conduct of tenants, a subject that is likely to provoke considerable debate during the Bill's later stages. Hon. Members on both sides of the House want to ensure that council tenants can live in peace and quiet without being disturbed by the life styles of others, but we should not allow that to be seen as merely a council estate problem. I am told, in writing and by those who visit my advice bureau, that the problem is on the increase: it is a sign of the times, and it now affects many areas of Burnley. It may be easier to control it by means of legislation applying to council estates, but we should ensure that those living elsewhere can also live peaceful lives.

Chapter II of part III makes "minor amendments" to the leasehold reform provisions in the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. During the passage of that legislation, we repeatedly told the Government that they were not tackling the problem properly, but I do not believe that the minor amendments contained in the Bill deal with outstanding major leasehold reform issues. The hon. Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) mentioned commonhold; I know that that is not a matter for the Department of the Environment, but some people want the difficulties to be resolved once and for all.

The Secretary of State referred to the consultation document on the allocation of accommodation by local authorities that was recently issued. A response is demanded by no later than Monday 25 March. It is no use our being able to discuss what the Government say in the document in Committee and on Report; we need to know what responses are forthcoming, and what the Government intend to do.

Opposition Members have said several times that the Bill does nothing to deal with real housing problems. A monthly snapshot survey that is produced by the National Council of Building Material Producers underlines the problem. Sixty-one per cent. of respondents say that order volumes have decreased. To the question: Are you working at a satisfactory level of capacity utilisation? 100 per cent. say no. Zero per cent. say that business confidence has increased and 39 per cent. say that it has decreased. Those are the latest figures, published in December. What an appalling reflection it is of what those people feel about the position.

In 1979, there were 8,649 council and new town dwelling starts in the north-west; last year, there were three. What has the Tory party done on housing since it won the election in 1979? Homelessness was a big city and a London problem; the Conservative party made it a national problem. In every town, we now have homelessness.

Like other councils, Burnley council did away with its points system and had an open waiting list. Other than for people wanting specific houses of a specific nature, there was no problem. It had a surplus of houses in 1979; it now has a waiting list and has had to go back to a points system.

The Government do not deal with housing grants in the Bill, as they had originally planned. I believe, however, that that will be done in the other Bill that will go to the other place. The Minister knows that every council cannot apply the mandatory grant system in the way that they are supposed to because they do not have the money.

Homelessness has been created. There are not enough houses because we are not building them. I want local authorities to be the main provider of housing to rent, but if the Government favoured housing associations and were to let them meet the need, I would accept the position. However, they are not doing that. We know that every independent body says that we need to build about 100,000 houses to rent a year, but we are not building half of that, which is appalling.

The Churches' response to the Bill is presented by Church Action on Poverty, the Catholic Housing Aid Society and the Churches National Housing Coalition. Their view, which is reflected by Shelter and by almost every independent body, is that the Bill's proposals on homelessness are wrong. Their briefing states: The Government has accused homeless people of 'queue-jumping' and maintains that the changes will be fairer to people on the waiting list. Yet this claim is refuted by housing departments and organisations across the country. None of the local authority associations believe there is a need for change. No evidence for this 'queue jumping' has ever been produced by the Department of the Environment. The argument is further undermined by Government commissioned research showing that 74 per cent. of households accepted as homeless are already on the waiting list. The Bill will create more problems than it solves. It tackles the problem and tries to do away with homelessness by saying that people should go into temporary accommodation. The Government need to provide resources now to ensure that there are houses for people to rent before it is too late and they are kicked out of office.

9.17 pm
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

I was the sponsor of an early-day motion on rural housing in the previous Parliament, which led to the successful policy specifically dealing with the particular problems of rural areas. The early-day motion was a precursor to the change in Government policy leading to local authorities being able to grant planning permission for low-cost homes to be tenanted by local people on low incomes, on land outside the village envelope, provided by sympathetic landowners at less than the market value for building land. I welcome the fact that the right to buy will not apply to settlements of fewer than 3,000 people, although I understand that it will be necessary now for the Government to designate individual parishes accordingly.

In some cases, that may lead to a certain amount of disillusionment and disappointment in instances where there are communities of more than 3,000 souls, but which regard themselves as essentially rural communities. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister therefore to adopt maximum flexibility in the matter so as not to prejudice the success of a policy that has been introduced to deal with a specific problem and is working well, with a fund of good will from all sides. There is good will from the people who provide the land and from the planners and, of course, the policy has been welcomed by the beneficiaries.

I remind the Minister that South Shropshire district council in my Ludlow constituency is one of the relatively few local authorities to have implemented large-scale voluntary transfers of council houses to housing associations. I urge my hon. Friend to study the effect that that has had upon the finances of that authority and to look sympathetically at the consequences.

9.20 pm
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)

I declare an interest, which is recorded in the Register of Members' Interests. I am a consultant to HACAS, the social housing consultancy.

We are considering the Government's second Bill on housing during this Parliament. The first became the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, and it was announced shortly after the 1992 general election. The current Bill represents the Government's last realistic opportunity to legislate before the coming general election. What are we to make of their two legislative offerings in this Parliament, and how do they match Conservative party promises that were put before the electorate in 1992?

An analysis of the contents of the 1993 Act and of the Bill is an instructive and revealing exercise, especially when the contents are contrasted with the Government's promises to the electorate and placed in the context of what has been happening to housing in Britain over the past four years. They have been grim years for people in every tenure. Home owners have endured continuing problems of mortgage debt, repossession and negative equity on scales that have never before been experienced. No wonder they feel betrayed by a Government who promised to help home owners but who turned their backs on them when the going got rough.

The Government promised to maintain mortgage tax relief but cut it twice. They have compounded insecurity in the market by cutting the income support safety net. They are led by a Prime Minister who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, claimed in January 1992 to have stopped repossessions, but who has not lifted a finger to help the 200,000 householders who have had their homes repossessed since then.

I understand that the right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), the chairman of the Conservative party, has recently launched what he calls a "hypocrisy watch". He could make no better start than by comparing the glib promises that his party and the Prime Minister made in 1992 about helping home owners with the systematic and cynical betrayal of home owners that has characterised the Government's actions over the past four years.

In case any Conservative Member has a doubt on the subject, I remind the House that, in the week when the latest repossession figures are due to be announced—they are expected to show repossessions continuing at the appalling rate of 1,000 every week—we are considering a Bill that contains nothing for home owners in difficulty, nothing to ease their fears, nothing to help to restore confidence in the market, and nothing to reduce the tide of repossessions which, according to the Prime Minister, was supposed to have stopped four years ago.

All that the Bill offers to home owners in difficulty is the prospect, if they have their homes repossessed, of even harsher treatment as homeless families. They are more likely to be refused help under the broader definition of intentional homelessness. Even if they are accepted by local authorities, they will be condemned to linger in temporary accommodation because the Government intend—although the Secretary of State revealed earlier that he was a little confused on the issue—to prohibit councils from rehousing homeless families directly into permanent housing. Home owners have been betrayed by the Government and the Bill compounds that betrayal.

Leaseholders have suffered an equally raw deal over recent years. Many leaseholders in former council properties have found themselves trapped with no prospect of selling their homes, or have been confronted with huge repair bills that they simply have not the means to pay.

Private leaseholders have every reason to feel betrayed by the Government, for the Tories promised them the chance to enfranchise their homes. Indeed, that was supposed to have been one of the main purposes of the 1993 Act. As we warned at the time, the Act was so riddled with complexities and loopholes it proved only too easy for landlords to frustrate the hopes of leaseholders. Consequently, very few leaseholders in flats have been able to buy the freehold of their homes.

The 1993 Act was of course the third attempt by the Tory Government to legislate on leasehold reform. Their previous attempts in 1985 and 1987 had equally failed to provide effective remedies for leaseholders confronted with incompetent or unprincipled freeholders or managing agents. In the course of the past year, we have seen all too many examples of that—some from supposedly reputable bodies, such as Smith's Charity, which sold the freehold of its estate over the heads of its leaseholders in breach of the 1987 Act, and got away with it because the Act contained no penalties against defaulting landlords.

Other examples have arisen in less illustrious quarters, including a certain Harold Bebington, mentioned by name by the Secretary of State, and his accomplices Malthouse and Chevalier, who have been terrorising leaseholders all over London with unreasonable demands backed by threats of forfeiture. We should be quite clear about who is responsible for this deplorable state of affairs. Responsibility lies fairly and squarely with the Government, who promised to help leaseholders but failed them—not just once but three times.

Nor can the Government plead ignorance. We warned them time and again when the 1993 Act was going through the House that it would not work. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) pointed out, he warned them too in the late 1980s about the failure of measures to provide proper redress for leaseholders. They ignored our warnings and they have only themselves to blame for creating this mess. Sadly, all too many leaseholders have had to pay a heavy price for the Government's stubborn incompetence.

The reason for the Government's failure to give effective help to leaseholders is all too clear. The Tories dare not act decisively in the interests of leaseholders because they are beholden to the big landowners who have contributed large sums of money to Tory funds. The hypocrisy watch, if the right hon. Member for Peterborough is serious about it, could well find a great deal of interesting evidence on that particular issue. That is why we are sceptical of the promises emanating from the Secretary of State about the measures in the Bill that are supposed to give redress to leaseholders.

Although the Secretary of State does not look the part, he has all the hallmarks of the second-hand car salesman, whose firm has already conned an unfortunate motorist with not one but three successive dud vehicles, none of which worked. Now he is trying to convince the unfortunate buyer that the fourth old banger that he is offering will turn out to be a top-class, high-performance vehicle. Like any such salesman, he is not giving the potential victim the opportunity to inspect the vehicle or take it for a test run. As my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) pointed out, the Secretary of State is promising clauses that are not in the Bill, yet it was published only 10 days ago.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

The hypocrisy watch could still apply to the hon. Gentleman because his party tried this line of leasehold enfranchisement in 1968, yet did nothing about it during its time in office in the 1970s, because it realised how complicated the matter was.

Mr. Raynsford

On the contrary, the Leasehold Reform Act 1967—not 1968—was the one and only successful piece of legislation. It has helped hundreds of thousands of leaseholders to enfranchise. It did work, it was a Labour Act, and the contrast between it and the Tory efforts of the 1980s and 1990s is very interesting.

The Bill's proposals for leasehold reform are quite inadequate, and the Government admit as much. They acknowledge that the clauses in part III, chapter II involve only "minor amendments" to the 1993 Act. The Secretary of State is promising to introduce more clauses as the Bill progresses, but he is still refusing to countenance a right to manage for leaseholders, which would give them a powerful means of redress against rogue landlords.

Against a background of intensifying threats of forfeiture and scandalous demands for large service charges, the Secretary of State has not even bothered to reply to the urgent request that I made of him a week ago for a short emergency Bill to provide immediate protection against forfeiture, providing cover for leaseholders throughout the period—it will be a long one--that this long, complex and controversial legislation will take to wind its way through Parliament. Why is the Secretary of State so reluctant to act decisively? Once again, it is difficult not to suspect the influence of the big landowners.

What about more fundamental reforms, including the introduction of commonhold—supported by two Conservative Members in this debate—which was promised in the 1992 Conservative manifesto but not delivered? That is yet one more broken promise. Leaseholders, like home owners, have every reason to feel betrayed by the Government.

Tenants in all tenures—private, council and housing association—have equally good grounds to complain about the Government's record. They have seen their rents forced up deliberately by Government policy by between two and three times the rate of inflation. When tenants and Labour Members complained, Tory Ministers repeatedly told us not to worry because, in the felicitous phrase much used by the current Secretary of State for Transport, then the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction: Housing Benefit would take the strain. What a con that was.

Millions of tenants were forced deeper into benefit dependency and the poverty trap and when, inevitably, the housing benefit bill went through the roof, the Department of Social Security cried, "Halt." The outcome is an appalling mess in which large sums of public money have been expended on housing benefit, with not all of it, by any means, going to people in need or to bona fide claimants, while investment in new housing has fallen—as many of my hon. Friends have emphasised in this debate—to the lowest level for 50 years.

During the past five years, we have on average started only 35,000 new rented homes a year, compared with more than 130,000 rented homes on average each year under the previous Labour Government. Is it any wonder that we face such a crisis today? Is it any wonder that the level of homelessness is double what it was when Labour was last in power? Is it any wonder that families are consigned to long periods in bed-and-breakfast hotels, or that young, single people are sleeping and begging on our streets? They are the sad symbols of the failure of Tory housing policies during the past 17 years.

The Bill will do nothing to remove those symbols from our society. It will do nothing to stimulate a new building programme, which is so desperately required. That programme could be kick-started today if only the Government had the will, and the imagination to release local authority capital receipts. That programme would help our hard-pressed house building industry and get thousands of unemployed building workers back to work. It is a programme which everyone in the country other than the Government knows makes economic and social sense.

Instead of decisive action to get more homes built, the Bill gives us more tinkering from the people who, in their previous housing Bill, gave us the remarkable rents-to-mortgages scheme. I am sure that Ministers would like to forget that little episode and draw a veil over it, but they cannot because it was the flagship of part II of their 1993 legislation and their main offering to tenants in the social rented sector. We warned them at the time that the rents-to-mortgages scheme was a non-starter but, as with their flawed leasehold measures in part I, the Tories stubbornly pressed ahead, insisting on the merits of their proposals.

What has happened? As we predicted, the scheme has proved a hopeless flop. The Minister was forced to admit in a parliamentary answer last autumn that, to date, despite 13 clauses in legislation and more than £140,000 in promotional expenditure, there have been only 13 takers in the whole country. I may be doing the Government an injustice—perhaps the number of takers has increased in the past two to three months. If so, I will happily give way to the Minister to allow him to announce the number of tenants who have taken up the rents-to-mortgages scheme. He might perhaps even add a few thoughts on the cost-effectiveness of the whole exercise.

The Bill comes from the very same stable—from the same Government who botched three previous attempts at leasehold reform and gave us the rents-to-mortgages scheme. Is it any wonder that the Government are so mistrusted?

Tenants in the private rented sector in particular will be alarmed by the latest Tory legislative offering. Not only does part III further weaken the already very limited safeguards available for tenants seeking private rented housing, but part II lets down large numbers of tenants living in bedsits in what are known as houses in multiple occupation. Ministers are well aware of the concentration of problems in such properties—the high incidence of unfitness and serious disrepair, the squalid conditions that too many bedsit tenants have to endure and the often life-threatening hazards that are sickeningly brought to our attention time and time again when fires or defective gas appliances kill innocent people week after week, month after month, year after year. The hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) highlighted one particularly tragic case that occurred in that town two years ago.

The Government know all about that dreadful toll. They issued a consultation paper a year ago that admitted the existence of problems, and they saw the evidence that was presented in response. Three quarters of the respondents told the Government what was needed, and a number of hon. Members from both sides of the House have given the Government the same message this evening. We need a national licensing scheme to ensure that there are proper standards in all such accommodation in all parts of the country, but the Government will not listen, and they will not act. They have put their ideological hostility to regulation ahead of their responsibility for safeguarding the lives of tenants. They have tried to cover their tracks by tinkering with the existing local authority powers to register some types of multi-occupied housing, but they know that that will not be adequate. Some Tory Members have said that tonight also.

Perhaps the most telling comment on the Bill's proposals is the contrast between the powers given to the Secretary of State to fix the maximum level of fee that can be charged for registering a property, as against the restriction preventing a local authority from registering houses containing four or fewer bedsitting rooms, even though those properties are known to be death-traps. The interests of the landlord and his freedom to let squalid property count for more with today's Tory party than the lives and well-being of tenants. There can be no more shameful example of the dereliction of duty of this discredited Government.

While the Bill manifestly fails to meet the country's pressing housing needs—in many respects, it will make a bad situation worse—it is not entirely devoid of worthwhile measures. On the old principle of an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters eventually composing "King Lear", it would have been surprising if the Government, having spent so long on working up such a lengthy package, had not managed to hit on at least one or two sensible proposals.

We support—indeed, we originated—the concept of local housing companies proposed in part I, although we are looking for a rather different framework to give more safeguards to tenants and to the local authority that decides to set up a company. We support—indeed, we advocated several years ago—the establishment of an independent housing ombudsman, and we shall back that proposal. We support—indeed, we have campaigned for—more effective measures to deal with anti-social behaviour. Again, we want to see proper safeguards in place to avoid the innocent being caught up.

We must also nail the pernicious lie that implies that only tenants are guilty of such behaviour. It is sadly symptomatic of the Government's attitude that part V, which addresses this issue, is headed "Conduct of Tenants". I spell this out to the House—anti-social behaviour is unacceptable, whether it is perpetrated by tenants, owners or anyone else. It must be stopped, whoever is responsible.

We also support the principle of voluntary purchase grant and the right to buy for housing association tenants. Once again, however, we are looking for safeguards to ensure that the benefit for those who are able to buy their homes is not at the expense of others who depend on a good supply of affordable rented housing.

Those rays of light are sadly eclipsed by the main thrust of the Bill, which is profoundly misconceived and will do immense damage. It is hardly surprising that the Government's attack on the homeless is relegated to the end. The fact that it comes in parts VI and VII is perhaps a sign of the embarrassment that the Government should feel about these mean-spirited proposals, which have rightly been condemned by the overwhelming majority of people who have examined them.

The 10,000 people who responded to the first consultation two years ago were almost unanimous in calling on the Government to abandon the planned changes to the existing legislation. The housing profession, local authority associations, the housing association movement, the voluntary organisations representing and working with homeless people, and the Churches—plus all of the signatories to today's advertisement in The Times—have spoken with one voice in calling for the Government to think again. Only a Government as stubborn, stupid and out of touch as this one could still press ahead regardless. Everyone else is out of step except our little Johnny, is presumably the sad attitude that they are taking.

What the Government are proposing in parts V and VI is wrong. If it were to be enacted, it would put the clock back to the era of "Cathy Come Home", when homeless families were all too often trapped in a destructive, downward spiral of insecurity, recurring homelessness and desperation. The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, introduced as a private Member's Bill with support from both sides of the House, except for right-wing Tories, broke that cycle. It is a sign of how far today's Tory party has lurched to the right that the Government are proposing to attack the 1977 legislation, which was reviewed by the Deputy Prime Minister, when he was Secretary of State for the Environment in the early 1980s, by the late Lord Ridley and by the Governor of Hong Kong, when they were Secretaries of State in the late 1980s. The latter said: The present terms of the Act strike a reasonable balance between the interests of the genuinely homeless and others in housing need."—[Official Report, 15 November 1989; Vol. 160, c. 243.] Now, with no material change of circumstance in the meantime and with the numbers of homeless exactly the same as in 1989, today's Tory party proposes to scrap that framework. The Government have no justification for what they are planning, no electoral mandate and no support outside their own ranks.

We shall vote against the Bill because those and other measures in it are wrong and damaging. We shall fight it tooth and nail through every stage of the parliamentary process. We shall do all in our power to stop the Bill in its present form reaching the statute book.

9.40 pm
The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration (Mr. David Curry)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) for indicating his support for a large part of the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) said in his very sane speech that the measures should be put into some form of strategic context. It might help the House if I outline that context.

We have to face a background in which new social patterns are emerging. It does not matter whether we like it or not, it is a fact and policy must address itself to it. The multiplication of households and the changes in families are matters that we must note. There is pressure everywhere, in all advanced industrial states— [Interruption.] It is no good Opposition Members cackling—their Treasury spokesman has recognised that pressure.

There is pressure on public expenditure and pressure in all industrial societies to redefine the frontiers between a legitimate demand on public expenditure and what people ought to assume as their own responsibilities. That is inescapable and it is the broad context in which the Bill must be seen.

For example, we want—I want it in particular, given my responsibilities—housing to be seen much more in the context of regeneration. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who is Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment, touched on that theme in what I thought were perfectly sensible remarks.

We want diversification of tenure, for example. That is why the right to buy will enable housing association tenants to buy their existing homes and to anchor home ownership and diversity in the same neighbourhood. My right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South and the House will be interested to know that more than 120 housing associations, from the very large to the very small, have already shown an interest in taking up the voluntary conditions that we will offer when the Bill becomes law.

Mr. Turner

Is not the Minister being hypocritical? Why is there no proper provision in the Bill for housing co-operatives? Why have the Government given them such a terrible deal in the past four years? How can he stand at the Dispatch Box and say that he is interested in diversity of tenure, when he has a report before him telling him that housing co-operatives have the best added value and security of tenure that one could ask for? He has a report from Price Waterhouse telling him that. Why does he not act on it?

Mr. Curry

For someone who has only just arrived in the Chamber, that was a marathon performance—and irrelevant to the Bill. The hon. Gentleman should have been here for longer.

Secondly, we want to develop the idea of estate renewal for the same purpose of helping some of the worst estates. Thirdly, we want to establish housing companies to open the way for private investment in housing. That is part of the process of diversification.

We want to achieve a better balance in the housing market. I have constantly said that I do not believe that a sort of apartheid division of the housing market between owner-occupation and social housing is satisfactory. There must be a more vigorous private rented sector. That is why there are measures in this Bill and in the Finance Bill to deliver it.

We also need sustainable home ownership, because there are young people who want to start their lives, when they are getting established, in a property with a flexible form of tenure. That is important as part of a sustainable agenda. We want communities to be more able to sustain themselves. That is why we are going to take action against tenants who behave badly—the victims are always their neighbours who live on the estate. We must deal with houses in multiple occupation so that people have security without a mammoth amount of regulation such as the hon. Member for Greenwich promises.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Curry

I have given way once and it was a mistake that I am not going to repeat.

Mr. Turner

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish that the Minister would answer my question.

Madam Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Curry

We have to tackle abuses by freeholders exercised against leaseholders. That is the framework in which we are bringing the Bill forward.

Finally, and importantly—although it is by no means the dominant part of the Bill—there is the fair allocation of resources, which brings us to the duty to the homeless. Bringing new players, expertise and resources into a sector that, until now, has depended heavily on public expenditure and must seek new sources of supply, is the strategic purpose of the Bill. It is worth setting that out.

I realise that many hon. Members are concerned about the homelessness provisions, though, to judge by their remarks, I doubt whether many of them understand the provisions, which have to be read alongside the proposals on allocations that we issued at the end of last week for consultation. The present legal situation is that, under the House of Lords ruling on the Awua case, there is no safety net and the duty to the homeless can be discharged in as little as 28 days. It does not matter what most authorities do; that is the obligation on them.

We intend to create a fair system of allocation while preserving the safety net so that people are treated equally. We intend to spell out the effect of the provisions in guidance, a draft of which we published for consultation last week. When a homeless family presents itself for housing, it will be placed in temporary accommodation that must be appropriate to its needs and affordable. That could be in local authority housing, housing association property or the private rented sector. If the family meets the criteria set out in the guidance—the allocations have been framed to take special account of the needs of children—it will be able to receive permanent accommodation as a priority through the housing register criteria.

Mr. Betts

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Curry

No. That could include housing in the same local authority or housing association property used for temporary accommodation. Very few families will still in be in temporary accommodation after two years.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Curry

I shall not give way because I have important ground to cover. I am interested in one thing only: setting out a fair system of allocating housing to those in need according to their need. I am not in the business of doing down the homeless or of persecuting or rescuing fallen women or anyone else. My concern is to meet need and not to pass judgment on people's life styles. I want those with needs to know that they have a fair chance to get housing. I want to ensure that the genuinely homeless family with long-term social needs is housed and that the family struggling to make do, to make ends meet and hang on, will also have its needs recognised.

Homelessness is not a single circumstance. Our basic allocation rules go back to the Housing Act 1935. That is when the criteria for insanitary and overcrowded housing, and large families in unsatisfactory housing, were set down. Those are physical conditions. We must now bring that legislation up to date and recognise the new social needs that have arisen from the changes in society to which I referred earlier, and the fragmentation which many of us may not like but which policy must address. That is what our allocation criteria and consultation try to do.

Some people become homeless because they have long-term social needs, and they will receive priority. Others become homeless because of shorter-term circumstances—perhaps economic circumstances that can be -changed. It is not reasonable that everyone who is declared homeless, irrespective of whether it is short or long-term homelessness, should necessarily enjoy a route to permanent accommodation, with all the rights that that brings, including the right to buy and, in some circumstances, virtually the right of succession. That is at the heart of our argument on homelessness.

Our guidance recognises the needs of people with temporary or insecure tenure, families with dependent children or expecting a child, households with a special need for settled accommodation, and households with limited opportunities to secure accommodation. The Bill is about need, not morality; it is about fairness, not discrimination; and it is about openness in allocation, not fixing.

I respect the local government history of the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) and the sincerity that he brings to this debate. He asked me a specific question to which I shall reply. The Government oppose one local authority being able to transfer to a second authority its homelessness duty to rehouse after 12 months. We shall consult local authorities on how long it is reasonable to maintain that responsibility and the housing benefit charge with the placing authority.

The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) was wrong to say that there would be exclusions from advice. It is a complicated measure in the Bill, so I shall write and give her chapter and verse to sustain the statement that I have just made.

As one or two hon. Members mentioned it towards the end of their speeches, it might be sensible if I discuss the rough sleepers initiative. It has been a successful programme. We have built new accommodation units and many people who are taken off the streets by the outreach agencies are then placed in permanent accommodation. Anyone who considers this matter for more than a second, however, will realise that it is wrong to say that people's problems, no matter what they are, can be solved by giving them a roof over their heads. We know that we face increasing problems of drink, drugs, mental illness and ordinary illness and we must find the means to help those people in a much more specialist way. That is why we are moving towards a new phase of the rough sleepers initiative. We have collected the replies to the consultation document and are studying them now. They follow the broad lines of the Government's ideas and I hope shortly to lay down the route that we intend to take to advance that important initiative.

Many hon. Members mentioned the housing association right to buy. Let me make it clear what we are doing. Rural areas will be exempt for the reasons that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave. Housing associations can opt in, in respect of their existing housing, but can withhold property built with charitable donations, property whose sale price will not meet the debt on the property, and a wide range of special needs housing. We have designed the measure as a practical response and it is fair to say that it has been welcomed by the National Federation of Housing Associations, and more than 120 housing associations have already shown an interest in taking it up. The hon. Member for Greenwich said that he supported the broad principle of the measure. We want to anchor different sorts of tenure in the local community so that we do not have ghettos of home ownership, social housing or any other sort of housing. We want to create communities that work because that is the essence of regeneration.

I recognise the urgency with which some of my hon. Friends want action on houses in multiple occupation. The work of my hon. Friends the Members for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) and for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) in mobilising opinion on that matter has been important. My hon. Friends with south coast constituencies have also experienced difficulties. I accept that the problems are considerable and that they must be addressed. The provision of hostel accommodation must be placed alongside the needs of the local community and the requirement to maintain a mixed community. There is no point having benefit hostels if the jobs that are sought migrate because of the damage done to the reputation of the towns by the establishment of the hostels.

Local authorities must have clear and enforceable rules on safety. They must be able to say "enough is enough" when it comes to approving new establishments and closing those which are not managed effectively and responsibly. It is stated on the face of the Bill that the registration and control scheme can be refused if the owner is not a fit person to manage the establishment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) mentioned the issue of self-contained flats. They are within the scope of the definition of houses in multiple occupation and they are excluded from the scope of the registration schemes.

Our measures on anti-social behaviour received an equally warm welcome. I recognise that nobody will formulate a perfect solution to that problem, but we have a duty to assist local authorities when they are determined to tackle it. I think that that determination is shared by most hon. Members. I am sure that we have all had the experience of visiting local housing estates and speaking with tenant groups, perhaps in the local church hall or at the local library. They tell us how a handful of people, and perhaps their children, have made life a misery and how they intimidate witnesses. It is very difficult to get prosecutions and there is a downward cycle of intimidation and fear on the estates.

We do not have a perfect answer any more than the hon. Member for Greenwich does, but I promise that we shall seek to collaborate in Committee to find measures that will address that problem. It is an urgent issue which is related to quality of life and to making communities work effectively. We are determined to deal with the intimidation and fear which many people—particularly the elderly—in those circumstances face.

I am grateful for the support shown for the measures dealing with leaseholders. Housing for private sector development is not in the Bill because we had to make room for the leaseholders issue, which is an extremely urgent matter. The Bill already contained more than 180 clauses and, while I may have a number of unrealistic ambitions, the ambition to be in charge of the largest Bill ever to be introduced in this place is one that I can forgo without any great sense of self-sacrifice. A second housing Bill, which will contain the Latham proposals, will be introduced in the other place. We shall deal with the leasehold measures; it is an urgent matter and we are committed to bringing proposals forward.

The hon. Member for Christchurch mentioned her commitment to phase out mortgage interest relief coupled with mortgage benefit. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, she has no doubt read her party's submission to its Whips Office. Under the heading "Lib-Dem Weaknesses" it states: our intention to phase out MIRAS will cripple mortgage payers and exacerbate negative equity… our policy on helping home owners suffering from negative equity is expensive and ill-thought out". If the hon. Lady had read the document produced by someone who is described as "Political Warfare Officer", no doubt she would have been better informed for the debate.

As for the Labour party, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) may have inadvertently picked up the speech that he intends to deliver on Wednesday in the revenue support grant debate. If I know him, I suspect that parts of his speech today will be largely interchangeable with that speech. However, the Labour party has not said what it intends to do. We know that old Labour wants to build council houses. Labour Members say continually that we must build more council houses, but they will not say how they would pay for them.

Labour Members recite the magic incantation, "We will release capital receipts"; that is the magic abracadabra of the Labour party's policy. However, Labour Members will not say how many or over what period. They will not reveal their mechanism for redistribution due to the inconvenient fact that the receipts are not where they are needed. In other words, all we have is a slogan which is devoid of any substance. As my right hon. Friend said, we have been promised a blinding revelation in that area for months, but it has not come.

I think that Labour is acting out a charade. Is it opposed to the creation of housing companies in the private sector? The answer is no. Is it opposed, in principle, to the housing association right to buy? The answer is no. Is it at odds with us over helping local authorities deal with anti-social behaviour? The answer is no. Is it disputing the need to develop the private rented sector to provide real choice in housing? Again, the answer is no. Is it contesting the need to help leaseholders who suffer exploitation by bad landlords? No. It is a matter of degree, not direction. Is it against the need to improve the quality of regulating HMOs? No. It is a question of degree. Even on homelessness, I suspect that Labour agrees that we need a single route towards housing.

It is all hypocrisy and humbug. The Opposition have no housing policy. It is constantly promised and never delivered. We have a surrogate opposition to our measure. They have no measures of their own and I commend ours to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 290, Noes 259.

Division No. 37] [10.00 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Dicks, Terry
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Dover, Den
Alexander, Richard Duncan, Alan
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Duncan-Smith, Iain
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Dunn, Bob
Amess, David Durant, Sir Anthony
Arbuthnot, James Dykes, Hugh
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Eggar, Rt Hon Tim
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Eletson, Harold
Ashby, David Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Baldry, Tony Evennett, David
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Faber, David
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fabricant, Michael
Batiste, Spencer Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bellingham, Henry Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bendall, Vivian Fishburn, Dudley
Beresford, Sir Paul Forman, Nigel
Biffen, Rt Hon John Forth, Eric
Body, Sir Richard Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Booth, Hartley Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Boswell, Tim Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) French, Douglas
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Gale, Roger
Bowden, Sir Andrew Gardiner, Sir George
Bowls, John Garel-Jones, R Hon Tristan
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Garnier, Edward
Brazier, Julian Gill, Christopher
Bright, Sir Graham Gillan, Cheryl
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Browning, Mrs Angela Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bruce, Ian (Dorset) Gorst, Sir John
Budgen, Nicholas Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Burns, Simon Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Burt, Alistair Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Butcher, John Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Butler, Peter Grylls, Sir Michael
Butterfill, John Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Hague, Rt Hon William
Carrington, Matthew Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald (Epson and Ewell)
Carttiss, Michael Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Cash, William Hampson, Dr Keith
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hannarn, Sir John
Chapman, Sir Sydney Hargreaves, Andrew
Clappison, James Harris, David
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Haselhurst, Sir Alan
aarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Hawkins, Nick
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hawksley, Warren
Coe, Sebastian Hayes, Jerry
Colvin, Michael Heald, Oliver
Congdon, David Heathcoat-Amory, David
Conway, Derek Hendry, Charles
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Hicks, Robert
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Cormack, Sir Patrick Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Couchman, James Horam, John
Cran, James Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Day, Stephen Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Powell, William (Corby)
Hunter, Andrew Rathbone, Tim
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Redwood, Rt Hon John
Jack, Michael Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Richards, Rod
Jenkin, Bernard Riddick, Graham
Jessel, Toby Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Jones, Gwilyrn (Cardiff N) Robathan, Andrew
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Key, Robert Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
King, Rt Hon Tom Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Kirkhope, Timothy Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Knapman, Roger Sackville, Tom
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N) Scott Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Shaw, David (Dover)
Knox, Sir David Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Sims, Roger
Legg, Barry Skeet, Sir Trevor
Leigh, Edward Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lester, Sir James (Broxtowe) Soames, Nicholas
Lidington, David Spencer, Sir Derek
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Lord, Michael Spink, Dr Robert
Luff, Peter Spring, Richard
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Sproat, Iain
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
MacKay, Andrew Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Maclean, Rt Hon David Steen, Anthony
McLoughlin, Patrick Stephen, Michael
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Stem, Michael
Madel, Sir David Streeter, Gary
Maitland, Lady Olga Sumberg, David
Malone, Gerald Sweeney, Walter
Mans, Keith Sykes, John
Mariand, Paul Tapsell, Sir Peter
Marlow, Tony Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Temple-Morris, Peter
Mates, Michael Thomason, Roy
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Mellor, Rt Hon David Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Merchant, Piers Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Mills, lain Thurnham, Peter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Moate, Sir Roger Tracey, Richard
Molyneaux, Rt Hon Sir James Tredinnick, David
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Trend, Michael
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Twinn, Dr Ian
Nelson, Anthony Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Neubert, Sir Michael Viggers, Peter
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Nicholls, Patrick Walden, George
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Waller, Gary
Norris, Steve Ward, John
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Wadle, Charles (Bexhill)
Oppenheim, Phillip Waterson, Nigel
Ottaway, Richard Watts, John
Page, Richard Wells, Bowen
Paice, James Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Patrick, Sir Irvine Whitney, Ray
Patten, Rt Hon John Whittingdale, John
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Widdecombe, Ann
Pawsey, James Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wilkinson, John
Pickles, Eric Willetts, David
Porter, David (Waveney) Wilshire, David
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Yeo, Tim Tellers for the Ayes:
Mr. Timothy Wood and
Mr. Gyles Brandreth.
Abbott, Ms Diane Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ainger, Nick Fatchett, Derek
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Faulds, Andrew
Allen, Graham Redd, Frank (Birkenhead)
Armstrong, Hilary Fisher, Mark
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Flynn, Paul
Ashton, Joe Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Austin-Walker, John Foster, Don (Bath)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Foulkes, George
Barnes, Harry Galloway, George
Battle, John Gapes, Mike
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Garrett, John
Beith, Rt Hon A J George, Bruce
Bell, Stuart Gerrard, Neil
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bennett, Andrew F Godman, Dr Norman A
Bermingham, Gerald Godsiff, Roger
Berry, Roger Golding, Mrs Llin
Betts, Clive Gordon, Mildred
Blunkett, David Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Boateng, Paul Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bradley, Keith Grocott, Bruce
Bray, Dr Jeremy Gunnell, John
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Hain, Peter
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hall, Mike
Burden, Richard Hanson, David
Byers, Stephen Hardy, Peter
Callaghan, Jim Harvey, Nick
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Henderson, Doug
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Heppell, John
Campbell-Savours, D N Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Canavan, Dennis Hinchliffe, David
Cann, Jarnie Hodge, Margaret
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery) Hoey, Kate
Chidgey, David Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Chisholm, Malcolm Horne Robertson, John
Church, Judith Hoon, Geoffrey
Clapham, Michael Howarth, Alan (Strarrd-on-A)
Clelland, David Howarth, George (Knowsley North)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd)
Coffey, Ann Hoyle, Doug
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hutton, John
Cousins, Jim Illsley, Eric
Cox, Tom Ingram, Adam
Cummings, John Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Jamieson, David
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Janner, Greville
Dafis, Cynog Johnston, Sir Russell
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Darling, Alistair Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham Ctral) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth) Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I) Jowell, Tessa
Denham, John Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Dewar, Donald Keen, Alan
Dixon, Don Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Dobson, Frank Kennedy, Jane (L'pod Br'dg'n)
Donohoe, Brian H Khabra, Piara S
Dowd, Jim Kffoyle, Peter
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Liddell, Mrs Helen
Eagle, Ms Angela Litherland, Robert
Eastham, Ken Livingstone, Ken
Etherington, Bill Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Llwyd, Elfyn Raynsford, Nick
Lynne, Ms Liz Reid, Dr John
McAllion, John Rendel, David
McAvoy, Thomas Robertson, George (Hamilton)
McCartney, Ian Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Macdonald, Calum Roche, Mrs Barbara
Mackinlay, Andrew Rogers, Allan
McLeish, Henry Rooker, Jeff
Maclennan, Robert Rowlands, Ted
McNamara, Kevin Ruddock, Joan
MacShane, Denis Sedgemore, Brian
Madden, Max Sheerman, Barry
Maddock, Diana Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mahon, Alice Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Mandelson, Peter Short, Clare
Marek, Dr John Simpson, Alan
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Skinner, Dennis
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Martin, Michael J (Springburn) Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbuty)
Martlew, Eric Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Maxton, John Snape, Peter
Meacher, Michael Soley, Clive
Meale, Alan Spearing, Nigel
Michael, Alun Spellar, John
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Steinberg, Gerry
Milbum, Alan Stevenson, George
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Stott, Roger
Moonie, Dr Lewis Strang, Dr. Gavin
Morgan, Rhodri Straw, Jack
Morley, Elliot Sutcliffe, Gerry
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wynshawe) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Mowlam, Marjorie Timms, Stephen
Mudie, George Tipping, Paddy
Mullin, Chris Touhig, Don
Murphy, Paul Turner, Dennis
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Tyler, Paul
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Vaz, Keith
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Walley, Joan
O'Hara, Edward Olner, Bill Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
O'Neill, Martin Wareing, Robert N
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Welsh, Andrew
Pearson, Ian VVigley, Dafydd
Pendry, Tom Williams, Rt Hon Alan (SWn W)
Pickthall, Colin Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Pike, Peter Wilson, Brian
L Pope, Greg Winnick, David
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Wise, Audrey
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E) Worthington, Tony
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Wray, Jimmy
Prescott, Rt Hon John Wright, Dr Tony
Primarolo, Dawn
Purchase, Ken Tellers for the Noes:
Quin, Ms Joyce Ms Janet Anderson and
Radice, Giles Mr. Joe Benton.
Randall, Stuart

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).