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matters relating to security? Before he replies, will he remember what happened during the Ronan Bennett affair? May I refer him to his reply to me last week?

"I am not prepared to answer questions on security."--[ Official Report, 23 February 1989 ; Vol. 147, c. 1159.]

May I have a frank reply?

Mr. Wakeham : I have a very frank reply. I have nothing to add to the answer that I gave last week, except to say that I have not the remotest idea how the hon. Gentleman's question relates to next week's business.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the disinformation currently being circulated by the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) about the White Paper, "Working for Patients". Will he give an undertaking that the House will have an early opportunity to debate the matter so that we can underline the fact that the Health Service will continue to be free, funded by taxation, and that my constituents will not have their hospital removed into the private sector, as the Opposition seem to suggest?

Mr. Wakeham : In regard to a debate, I have nothing to add to what I have said already. I do not know whether my hon. Friend refers to misinformation supplied by the hon. Lady before or after the White Paper was published.

Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East) : Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 256?

[That this House welcomes the opportunity to consider the Public Safety Information Bill, which comes up for its Second Reading on 24th February, and joins with the all-party group of honourable Members as well as such organisations as the British Safety Council, the Consumers' Association and the Scottish Consumers' Council, and also such local authorities as Slough Borough Council, Middlesbrough Borough Council, Harrogate District Council, Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council, Wansbeck District Council and Bedfordshire County Council, in supporting the Bill ; and further calls upon the Government to support the Bill and assist it in its passage through the House, thus ensuring that the Bill becomes law.]

It relates to public safety information and it has been signed by more than half the number of right hon. and hon. Members. Does he accept that such widespread support fully justifies an early debate on the subject? Does he further agree that the Government should respond to the majority wishes of hon. Members and support the proposed legislation as soon as possible?

Mr. Wakeham : The Government have seen the proposals in the Bill and Ministers have asked the Health and Safety Commission to examine the Bill and let us have its views on the ideas behind it. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 provides a comprehensive framework for public safety and should not be altered without proper consideration.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the rally taking place in the House today of war widows and hon. Members from both sides of the House who support them in their quest for proper and equable treatment by the Government. Is it not time that we had a full debate on the matter? If there is difficulty in finding speakers to occupy all the time allocated to the RAF debate next week, perhaps we could use the time to debate the situation of the war widows who, after 40 years

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or more in many cases, do not receive the same treatment as the widows and wives of those who were our enemies and are now our partners in Europe.

Mr. Wakeham : I cannot add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on the substance of the matter. Whether my hon. Friend's views would be in order in the debate on the Royal Air Force next week is a matter not for me but for Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : The Leader of the House will be aware that within five days of the storm damage to the south of England on 16 October 1987, the Secretary of State for the Environment rushed to the Dispatch Box, at the first available opportunity after the recess, to say that the Bellwin scheme would assist local authorities. The Bellwin scheme allows county councils, after spending the penny rate, to get 75 per cent. grant assistance. It is 17 days since there was storm damage in Scotland. In an answer to me yesterday, the Secretary of State for Scotland said that it is too soon to decide whether the Bellwin scheme should be used for Scotland.

What is the difference between Scotland and the south of England? Has it anything to do with the coming poll tax legislation? There is to be a debate on Monday on the poll tax regulations. Is it right to say that the Bellwin scheme has not been worked out in terms of the poll tax?

Mr. Wakeham : I have no idea of the answer to that question, but I can find it out. However, the hon. Gentleman's suggestions do not sound plausible. It seems to me that it was fairly clear whether the Bellwin scheme applied. I have no reason to believe that the proper procedures have not been followed in this case as in the previous case.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week on the environment so that we may take note of the Government's latest views and examine the suggestions of the Opposition and their alleged keenness to preserve the environment? That is what they claim in their report, but in practice the Labour council in Ealing is determined to destroy 17 beautiful acres of children's playing fields at Cayton road, Greenford, surrounded by very fine trees, and to build on allotments and other nice, environmentally clean areas. Once more the House must take account of the Labour party's actions, which belie its words.

Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend raises an important matter which it is right that the House should discuss. My hon. Friend's best chance of discussing the matter is in the Easter Adjournment debate or in the debate on the Consolidated Fund.

Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar) : Will the Leader of the House find time in the near future to ask the Secretary of

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State for Social Services to explain to the House why there is many months' delay in the printing and delivery of leaflets explaining mobility and disability allowances? I am sure that he is aware that those leaflets have not been available in libraries in Cleveland for many weeks. I hope that the Secretary of State for Social services does not tell the House about the lack of take-up. If people do not know about those allowances, the Secretary of State's figures must be questionable.

Mr. Wakeham : I do not have at my fingertips details of why leaflets are not available in Cleveland. However, I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend and get the hon. Lady an answer to her question.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : May I again draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 498 on airline food and ask for an early debate on the matter? Is he aware that about 209 separate dishes were identified as having been contaminated with faecal remains and that eight Members of Parliament, of whom I am one, will be going to the United States next week? I am sure that he would not want eight by- elections on his hands. I am a very nervous passenger. It is bad enough having the thought that one will be hitting the ground without realising that one will be having the galloping runs at the same time.

Mr. Wakeham : This place would be poorer without the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he has a safe journey.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : Although this may be the last question, I do not think that it is the least important. Will my right hon. Friend raise with the Secretary of State for Defence a problem faced by many people who served in the forces in Crete? An award granted by the Greek Government which was promised during the battle to the men who fought in it is being blocked by the British Government? Those men are extremely concerned, and it seems awfully petty that our Government should be willing to block the award. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for that matter to be dealt with next week and properly cleared up?

Mr. Wakeham : I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate on the matter, and I cannot confirm the analysis that he gave it, but I will certainly see that my right hon. Friend knows of his concern and writes to him.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : The Children Bill has now had its Third Reading in the other place. When can this House expect it?

Mr. Wakeham : I am pleased to hear the news from the hon. Gentleman. The Bill will come to this House fairly soon, and I will be arranging a debate. Obviously, I have to discuss the date through the usual channels. I have no fixed date in mind at the moment, but it will be fairly soon.

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Adjournment (Easter)

Mr. Speaker : I have a short statement to make about arrangements for the debate on the motion for the Adjournment which will follow the passing of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill on Monday 13 March 1989.

Members should submit their subjects to my office not later than 9 am on Thursday 9 March. A list showing the subjects and times will be published later that day. Normally the time allotted will not exceed one and half hours, but I propose to exercise a discretion to allow one or two debates to continue for rather longer, up to a maximum of three hours.

Where identical or similar subjects have been entered by different Members whose names are drawn in the ballot, only the first name will be shown on the list. As some debates may not last the full time allotted to them, it is the responsibility of Members to keep in touch with developments if they are not to miss their turn.


Housing the Homeless

Mr. Clive Soley presented a Bill to amend the Housing Act 1985 and the Housing Act 1988 to make better provision for housing homeless people ; to limit the period of time during which homeless people may be accommodated in bed and breakfast hotels ; to regulate the charges which may be made for such accommodation ; to provide for the regular inspection of bed and breakfast hotels used to accommodate homeless people and to prohibit the use of accommodation which does not satisfy prescribed health, fire, safety and space standards ; to extend protection from eviction to homeless people accommodated for a period of time in such hotels ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 7 April and to be printed. [Bill 91.]

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Early-Day Motion 494

4.11 pm

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It may not strictly be a matter for you, but I know how jealous you are about the Order Paper. I draw your attention to early-day motion 494, which is headed "Comments of the Minister for Sport".

[That this House notes the statement of the honourable Member for Lewisham East, published in the Birmingham Evening Mail on Friday 17th February 1989, to the effect that he was present at the football match Millwall versus Newcastle when, he is reported as saying I was at the Millwall versus Newcastle game when the club rooms, the directors and their guests were attacked' ; further notes that the Chairman of Millwall Football Club, supported by senior officers of the police who were present, has repeatedly made it clear that this was a minor incident when two windows were cracked by visiting supporters who were under police escort at the time and that at no time were any directors of either club or their guests attacked or threatened, and that the Minister of Sport was unaware of this incident until his attention was drawn to it some time later ; and, in these circumstances, has no hesitation in accepting the account of the Chairman of Millwall Football Club.]

It appears that the motion contains certain inaccuracies. It quotes my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan), the Minister with responsibility for sport. The quotations in the motion are grossly inaccurate. As the Order Paper is the official organ of the House and this might bring the House into disrepute, I wonder whether you will join with me in calling for the sponsors to withdraw the motion.

Mr. Speaker : I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was here a few moments ago, but the matter was raised by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), and dealt with by the Leader of the House. It is not a matter for me.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Chapman.]

4.14 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. David Trippier) : The House has been patient for the last few weeks in waiting for this debate on housing. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and we, too, have been patient in waiting for it. Now that the moment has arrived, I welcome the opportunity of emphasising the Government's strategy on this important subject. The Government's aim in housing is no different from that of any post-war Government. We want decent, affordable and suitable housing to be within the reach of all families. We differ from other Governments, and certainly the Opposition, on the best way of achieving that aim.

Immediately after the war, there were three main policies to restore a decent standard of housing in Britain : first, a huge public sector programme of housebuilding ; secondly, restrictions on private house- building to give priority to the public sector programme ; and, thirdly, controls to keep rents down in the private rented sector. With about 2 million fewer houses than households, that crash programme approach was fairly understandable. As a direct comparison, today we have more houses than households--in fact, 300, 000 more--so circumstances are very different.

The post-war approach to housing worked by putting bureaucratic controls in place of market forces. One can do that for a while, but, in the end, market forces will have their revenge. If market forces and the resources of the private sector are suppressed, we will produce less, we will produce goods that people do not want, and it is certain that we will produce the wrong amount in the wrong places. Sadly, the post-war housing policies of big public sector building programmes and controls of private sector rents trundled on unchanged through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, long after the crisis of housing shortage everywhere had given way to a much more varied pattern of local needs that could not be solved by that blanket approach. As a result, we now have the largest state-owned or public housing sector in western Europe and the smallest private rented sector. Other countries have been far more successful in maintaining investment in the private rented sector by encouraging private investment, and by using public money to supplement private money rather than to replace it.

For example, despite the war's devastation and massive immigration from East Germany, Germany managed to bring demand and supply for rented accommodation back into balance more quickly and effectively that we did. It did that by encouraging private investment. Today, 60 per cent. of German housing is rented, over 40 per cent. of the total is provided by private landlords, 13 per cent. by bodies similar to housing associations, and only 3 per cent. by municipalities. But here in this country, by insisting that subsidised housing had to be built for the public sector, be public sector-owned and have public sector landlords, we also helped to create the major economic problems that were fuelled by the excessive public expenditure which characterised the 1960s and 1970s.

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Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : A Conservative Government introduced the Rent Act 1957, which was meant to encourage private residential dwellings. As a result of that Act, by the time the Labour Government came to power in 1964, far from there being any increase in private dwellings, there had been a substantial reduction, as well as the scandal of Rachmanism and abuse.

People are desperate for accommodation. They come to our surgeries or write to us day in and day out. They cannot afford to become owner-occupiers because they cannot afford a mortgage. How can they afford the new rents which will not be regulated? They cannot afford market rents.

Mr. Trippier : If the hon. Gentleman had listened a little more carefully, he would have gathered that I made a clear distinction between the policy of this Government and that of past Governments. I included Conservative Governments, too. If the hon. Gentleman follows me a little more carefully and opens his ears instead of his mouth, he will hear my explanation of why the Rent Acts are disastrous. I was referring to the inflation which characterised the 1960s and 1970s. There must be a limit on public expenditure. I accept that Opposition Members do not believe that there should be, but there must be, and I will develop that theme later. If the Government absorb too high a proportion of the national output, they will fuel inflation. That was why we saw the record level of inflation of about 27 per cent. under the last Labour Administration. That was why we had the IMF crisis, and why the last Labour Government were forced to cut public housing investment by one third in their last two years in office. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the hon. Member for Hammersmith to intervene.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I will.

Mr. Trippier : In doing so, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain why the last Labour Government cut public expenditure in public housing.

Mr. Banks : I realise that the hon. Gentleman is not an economist and does not know a great deal about housing, either, but he is part of the Government. How can he say that the number of homeless has actually doubled since 1979? Surely that deserves an explanation as well?

Mr. Trippier : I will give the hon. Gentleman that explanation. Like Opposition Members, I do not believe that the problem of homelessness is a matter for housing policy in the round. I shall develop that theme throughout my speech. I noticed that the hon. Gentleman ducked the opportunity that I put to him, and which I now put to the hon. Member for Hammersmith, to intervene now or at some later stage and explain why the Labour Government cut public housing in their last two years.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : I shall deal with it now. I shall not let the Government duck the issue. In their last year, the Labour Government produced over 70,000 houses. It was not one of our best years, not least because of oil price rises. The Minister is saying that he wants to cut public expenditure because it must be limited. Will he limit the public expenditure outlay on mortgage income tax relief, which is now up to nearly £6 billion, one quarter of which goes to those who earn over £25,000 a year?

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Mr. Trippier : It could possibly be the greatest understatement we have heard in the House that the last year of the last Labour Government was not one of their best.

We can assume that that is correct because it led to the general election at which they were defeated. The hon. Gentleman, however, did not answer my question.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we were building more houses than have been built since, but he asked a fair question. Why did the Labour Government cut back on housing? He should know--I do not think that he was here at the time--that many of us on the Back Benches fought strenuously against the housing cuts that were being made by the Labour Administration. They unfortunately had to make those cuts because they were asked to do so by the IMF, which adopted not the Socialist policies for which some of us were arguing but the capitalist Tory policies to which we objected.

Mr. Trippier : The hon. Gentleman knows that I have some respect for him, not least in the matter of his honesty, and that was an honest comment which I believe to be true. The only correction I would make is that, prior to the IMF coming on the scene, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury of the day, now Lord Barnett, had already cut that budget, and in the noble Lord's book "Inside the Treasury" he explains in clear detail what happened during the period to which the right hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : We know all about that.

Mr. Trippier : I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman may know, but some may not. The noble Lord says on page 91 of his book : "My main difficulties were with Peter Shore, who as Secretary of State for the Environment, controlled very large budgets in the local authority field. I felt some of them were eminently cuttable', especially in expenditure on roads and housing."

The hon. Member for Walton will agree with that, in view of what he said in his intervention. The Labour party still does not seem to realise that the old approach carried the seeds of its failure and of that Government's destruction.

In private renting, the fixing of rents at levels that could barely cover the cost of repairs has led to a catastrophic decline. Private renting provided 50 per cent. of the total stock of dwellings in the country immediately after the war. The figure is now only 8 per cent. That is in stark contrast to 30 per cent. in France and 40 per cent. in Germany.

That 42 per cent. of the private rented stock is in poor condition is a direct consequence of the interference in the market that prevented good landlords from making a modest return and encouraged disreputable landlords -- [Interruption.] I thought that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) would come in at that remark. I referred to the disreputable landord, the type to whom the hon. Gentleman keeps referring ; he dreams or has nightmares about Rachman and has already mentioned him in this debate.

Mr. Winnick : I have indeed.

Mr. Trippier : If anyone deserves to have nightmares, it is the hon. Member for Walsall, North. I admit that

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disreputable landlords were encouraged to get rid of their tenants to cash in on the price gap between tenanted properties with controlled rents and empty properties for sale. Some people, such as the hon. Member for Walsall, North, find it difficult to believe that the Rent Acts, which were designed to protect tenants, should, in the long run, have done so much harm, but they did. In fact, they were absolutely disastrous.

The council sector, like all centrally directed programmes, gradually lost touch with what people wanted and eventually produced the concrete mazes that we see in many of our inner cities today-- Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West) rose --

Mr. Trippier : --including the city which the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) represents.

Mr. Battle : Despite that remark by the Minister about my city, I am not sure that he knows that the Government of which he is a member did not give much assistance in sorting out the concrete jungle built by Shephards, but that is another story.

Why was public housing built in the first place? Was it not because conditions in the private rented sector, which predominated in cities such as mine, with 172,000 back-to-back properties, were so bad that public health legislation had to be passed? That led the Government to decide that the only way to provide housing with inside lavatories, bathrooms, and so on, was to build them through the public sector, supported from the common treasury. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that that is not the history of public housing?

Mr. Trippier : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have listened more carefully to my remarks about what happened immediately after the war. I have no doubt that there was all-party support for that crash building programme. That is no excuse for the decline in the private rented sector from 50 per cent. to 8 per cent. today, in contrast with the position in other developed western countries.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : My hon. Friend is right in what he says about concrete jungles. I lived in east London and saw how that area was reduced to a concrete jungle by Labour housing policy. Is my hon. Friend aware that Ealing council will do the same to Ealing unless it is prevented from doing so?

When the Labour council took over in 1986 there were 30 families in bed-and -breakfast accommodation waiting to be rehoused. People were sucked on to that list from all over the nation and from all over the world, so that the list now comprises 1,300 families and the cost has risen from £300,000 to £16 million per annum. The only way to rehouse all those people in Ealing would be to build on every blade of grass and turn the borough into another concrete jungle, but that must not be allowed to happen.

Mr. Trippier : I understand the problem outlined by my hon. Friend and, if anything, he understates the case. Because of the dramatic development of public housing, the housing stocks in each borough were too great for people to manage efficiently.

I do not want to tar all councils with the same brush, but monopoly suppliers in any market tend to see their tenants as dependants instead of as consumers. The modern-day municipal paternalists and their defenders on

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the Opposition Benches are genuinely confused--none so much as the hon. Member for Walsall, North--as to why their brand of paternalism does not work. They do not see that the root cause of the problem is the assumption that they know what is best for the tenants. In direct contrast, this Government's approach is that those tenants should be free to make their own choices.

Mr. Skinner rose --

Mr. Trippier : This is a short debate and I have already allowed perhaps half a dozen interventions. I have tried to be fair to the House, but I now must press on.

The first of our policies is to put the consumer first. We believe that people can, should and want to take personal responsibility for their housing. State resources should be concentrated on those people who are genuinely in need and who are not able to compete in the market. But they, too, should have far more choice than they have had in the past, including the right to change their landlords if they do not get a decent service.

The lack of response by the state-directed system of housing supply has meant that, although countryr j 3-8wide there are enough houses for everybody, there are severe local shortages in some areas. In areas of shortage, the most vulnerable households could suffer severely if Government support were cut off. So we intend to maintain a major programme of subsidised housing, but we cannot do that unless we make every penny of public money count.

The second part of our policy is good housekeeping in the use of that public money. Because public expenditure must be limited, choices have to be made. The old approach, with its insistence on the exclusive use of public sector resources, while rents were often kept low for local political reasons, entailed a huge amount of waste and inefficiency.

If we can get private investment to add to investment by the public sector in housing, why not do so and build more houses? If better-off people can afford to pay higher rents, why hold their rents down and so reduce the money available to support poorer people? Why should taxpayers, many of whom are not well off, pay subsidies to people who do not need them? Why should we use public investment where private investment will do the job?

We should focus public resources on those who need them most--the poor, the elderly, the chronically sick and the handicapped. That approach of consumer choice, good housekeeping and focusing support on those with the greatest needs, has shaped the Government's housing policy since 1979. We started with the expansion of home ownership, but the Labour party attacked our right-to-buy policy.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport) : I have been waiting patiently for my hon. Friend to refer to private housing. The Minister has spoken of local authorities and the way in which they have restricted the supply of rented property. Would he like to say something about tight planning controls and their effect on the price of building land? Is he aware that during the 1960s agricultural land was being released at almost three times the rate it is today and during the 1970s at almost twice the rate, and that the price of building land is going through the roof? In the north-west prices increased by 90 per cent. in 1987 and are likely to have more than doubled in 1988. There will be a

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great effect on the price of housing. Figures issued only last week show that the price of housing in Southampton went up by 50 per cent. last year.

Mr. Trippier : I have sympathy with my hon. Friend's remarks. That is precisely why my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Water and Planning recently announced measures that will help to ease the position.

I was saying that the Labour party viciously attacked the right-to-buy policy. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that it would not work. But it has worked well ; in fact, it has been an astonishing success.

Well over a million council tenants have bought their own homes since 1979, which is bringing in billions of pounds of private resources to ease the strain on the public purse. They are taking the management of their housing into their own hands. There have been 4 million first-time buyers since we came to power in 1979. Two out of three households in England own their own homes. Now we are tackling the rented sector.

First, in the rented sector, new tenancies at market rents will encourage existing landlords to continue renting. The tax incentives in the business expansion scheme will accelerate that process. Secondly, in the housing association sector, a 70 per cent. increase in public resources will be supplemented by extra private money to give it new impetus. Thirdly, the financial system for councils' housing will be changed so that they cannot hide poor performance by subsidies from the rates. If they do not operate efficiently, the results will be only too visible to their tenants.

When authorities like Southwark can allow properties to remain vacant between relets for an average of 24 weeks, or nearly half a year, it cannot be denied that better management is badly needed. Just nine Labour- controlled inner London boroughs, and Liverpool, account for 38 per cent. of the national total of rent arrears, at £86 million between them. Large amounts of arrears, sometimes running into four figures, are owed by individual Labour councillors. It cannot be denied that better accountability is vital.

Mr. Heffer : I am sorry to interrupt the Minister once again. On the question of rent arrears in Liverpool, is he aware that, in Liverpool more than 15,000 people have been out of work for longer than five years? If the Minister wants to know about rent arrears and the problems of the unemployed, perhaps he should come to some of the estates in my area and see how the people survive on that basis.

Mr. Trippier : I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am well aware of his estates. He knows that because of my frequent visits to Liverpool.

My interview on Radio Merseyside this morning with Keva Coombes resulted in the leader of Liverpool city council admitting that it was totally unacceptable to have arrears at the level they are in Liverpool and that it adversely affected those who were paying their rents as well as the ratepayers, because the council has been taking money from the general rate fund to subsidise the housing revenue account.

Council tenants who feel unhappy with the service that they are getting from their landlords will be able to opt out and accept a new landlord, often a housing association. Whether they go or stay, their freedom to choose will act

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as a stimulus to efficiency and service. Indeed, it is already doing so. There are plenty of examples of deathbed repentance by councils who are trying to win back the affections of their tenants. In addition, a new system for allocating resources for investment by councils would ensure that resources for renovation are much better focused on the areas of real need, rather than on areas that have the most receipts. Opposition Members should welcome such a change, if only they understood it, for many of the areas that they represent will benefit. In the recent Second Reading debate, the hon. Member for Hammersmith seemed to understand so little that he appeared to be quite scandalised by a reform that would help the poorer areas.

Alongside these policies, we are also introducing new arrangements for improvement grants, so that they are concentrated on those people who most need support, while maintaining a level of expenditure that in real terms is almost double the level of that it reached under the Labour Administration. Twice as much money will be available, and it will be better targeted on the less well off. I should have thought that Opposition Members would welcome that ; but they would not recognise good news if it jumped up and hit them in the face. When combined, these new policies will have a much more effective impact on the most severe forms of housing need, including homelessness. Housing provided with the help of public sector funds will correspond much more closely with what the tenants themselves want. That is why they will no longer be entirely dependent on their local councils. That is why the Opposition are so agitated. Homelessness is one of the most bitter legacies of the old approach to housing that is still espoused by the Opposition. It really is amazing that with 300,000 more houses than households there should still be more than 30,000 homeless families in temporary accommodation. There can be no clearer demonstration of the misallocation of resources that always results from a State-directed approach to housing.

As the Audit Commission's report on homelessness pointed out, if the average period taken to re-let a vacant local authority property could be reduced by three weeks outside London and six weeks in London, the number of vacant properties could be reduced to such an extent that an extra 17,700 relets would become available. I know that the Housing Act 1988 has been debated exhaustively but there is one topic that needs to be dealt with now--the Opposition's misleading and irresponsible propaganda. All over the country, material is being produced and circulated to tenants on tenants' choice and housing action trusts, which is full of untruths. I am naturally constrained, Madam Deputy Speaker, to use parliamentary language. But it is full of untruths and half-truths and economical half-truths and terminological inexactitudes. Elderly tenants are terrified by leaflets suggesting that their properties are to be handed over to the reincarnation of Rachman. What deceit. The hon. Member for Hammersmith is party to that deceit. He undertook to condemn misleading propaganda about tenants' choice. He will recall giving me and the House that undertaking when we were considering the Housing Bill last November. The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that promise. I wrote to him on 19

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December, enclosing a leaflet produced by Nottinghamshire county council, which is full of complete distortions of the truth. I shall give just one example. It says that rents will go up to market levels under tenants' choice. There was no mention of the fact that the only landlords allowed in tenants' choice will have specifically signed up to charge rents that those on low incomes can afford. There was no mention of the fact that rent levels and arrangements for reviewing them will be one of the matters on which tenants vote.

Mr. Soley : I must correct the Minister before he gets deeper into the hole. The leaflet was not issued by Nottinghamshire county council. I checked that, and I was going to tell the Minister later. The Minister is doing exactly what he has accused the Opposition of doing. The leaflet was issued at a much earlier stage in the Bill's consideration by a housing group that was not related to the council.

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