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Column 441represents and the Labour party has gone out of its way deliberately to frighten tenants. It is disgraceful that the hon. Gentleman makes a debating point of it.
Mr. Taylor : I reject absolutely the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Our councillors and supporters have tried only to inform, and to argue that tenants should have a genuine say in the transfer of their housing stock. I may add that they have not supported the Labour party in seeking ballot after ballot, because they would like to see matters properly and independently conducted.
Will the Minister consider giving CNT tenants wishing to buy their own homes the same level of grant and subsidy that he intends giving any housing associations that are interested in CNT stock? If so, that might provide a fair balance and proper choice.
The young are among those most affected by Tory housing policy. In April 1988, the Government introduced income support regulations that created different levels of income support for 16 and 17-year-olds, for 18 to 24- year-olds, and for 25-year-olds. Household levels of income support were abolished, with the consequence that benefit levels no longer reflect the additional costs involved when a young person has no choice but to live away from his or her parents' home. Earlier, I spoke of middle-class suburban values. Another is the assumption that parents can always be relied upon to support their children. For too many young people, that is not the case. Due to the alignment of income support allowances and housing benefit allowances, young people not only receive less help in meeting their personal costs but, if they are on a YTS or are unemployed, receive less help than older people with paying their rent and rates. I have never heard a convincing argument for why that should be, other than that which the Government does not like to articulate, which is that parents are always there, ready and willing to pick up the tab. That is not the case.
Since April 1988, income support has been payable two weeks in arrears, and the Department of Social Security no longer provides deposits to help people to secure accommodation. People needing money in an emergency must now apply for a discretionary loan, which young people in particular are not guaranteed to obtain. Linked with those changes was a Government promise of a YTS place for every young person who wanted one. The Government have been unable to keep that promise. On 9 November last year, the Government admitted that more than 13,000 young people looking for a YTS place had not been found one. As the Government should be aware, that means that those young people are ineligible for any form of benefit support. They increasingly face homelessness and the risk of destitution. They do not even appear in the figures of the homeless, but go unwanted and unrecognised.
Recently, I received a letter from a Methodist minister who picked up on those changes, and who wrote asking how such a thing could be. He wrote :
"Whilst my wife was in St. Austell this morning, she came across a young woman begging outside Tesco, displaying a sign reading, I have no work and no money--please can you spare 10p?' This young woman--she is around 18 to 20--had left a catering course after two years and had come to this area seeking work. She has accommodation in a bed-sit', but is caught in some sort of waiting period' until she becomes
Column 442eligible to draw benefit. She is actively seeking work but, meantime, has no means of support--hence her begging. No doubt this will concern you as it does me, the more so with the temptations which may well come the way of a young woman in this situation. If the present Social Security regulations really are causing such a situation, then they urgently need amending."
They are causing such situations, especially for those who are not even offered a YTS place or who are without a family to turn to. The smug, complacent attitude of the Minister and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South shocked me. It showed no recognition not only of the political propaganda that the Minister has to face in the House, but of the political reality of young people who have no hope of a house of their own or the Minister who wrote to me describing the young lady begging in the street in St. Austell. That attitude does not recognise the people who cannot afford to pay the mortgage on the houses for which they have scraped together the money to buy on the Government's recommendation. It does not recognise the people in pleasant towns and villages who see the devastating impact that neglect is having on those who have always lived there.
If the Minister had said that the Government were trying to do what they could, but that they recognised the failings and that more needed to be done, that would be one thing. But the Minister gives the impression that he honestly believes that there is nothing wrong, that no more needs doing, that everything about the Government's policy is right, that there is no omission and no improvement possible. That makes me angry because it shows a fundamental unwillingness to face up to the realities for people today. I hope that as the Minister reads the reports of this debate and the reports from many different organisations, he will reflect that he was wrong after all to take the attitude he has shown today.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. It may be for the convenience of the House if I say that the Front-Bench Members will seek to catch the eye of the Chair at 6.40 pm. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind, given that a large number wish to participate in the debate. 6.12 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : I must say to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. M. Taylor) that my hon. Friends do not think that everything is right, but he is wrong when he says that everything is wrong. My hon. Friends are more realistic about their record of achievement. However, they have achieved a tremendous amount in comparatively few years. No doubt that achievement will continue. I want to return to the subject of inner cities and the area that I represent in inner London, and to comment on some of the achievements and some of the problems waiting to be resolved. This Government of all Governments have accepted the major challenge to provide a better quality of life for people living in urban areas. The problems in accepting that challenge are considerable. Areas such as Wandsworth face the major problem of dealing with the designers and planners of the past and with vast numbers of high-rise dwellings. The high-rise dwellings of former Socialist administrations in
Column 443Wandsworth have resulted, 10 or 20 years later, in the crime, deprivation and isolation that we see today and there are mammoth problems to be overcome.
Such problems affect families and communities because we have areas in which people feel that they do not know each other and in which they feel that they can no longer send their children out to play with other families and know that they are safe. They have either to keep their children indoors or let them go out, where they pick up bad habits from their role models who are, of course, older children. Sadly, we cannot pull down those tower blocks because that would be too expensive a solution, but we can remedy the problem. If we had been able to pull down the tower blocks, we would have been able to house the same number of people on the same area of land in terraced houses with gardens and we should have kept the communities that we have lost.
That is a major problem, and in trying to solve it we have other problems. In my area, there is a paucity of land available for development. That is not true of all areas, but it is true of my part of inner London. In some areas the Land Registry can help in identifying and releasing land for development, but not in mine. We also have the continuing problem of social change. We have higher rates of divorce, young people leave home earlier, there are more single parents and more people coming out of institutions and looking for accommodation in society.
I salute the Government's achievements, which have been many. An enormous amount has been achieved through the Estate Action programme, for example. Hon. Members need not take my word for it. They can come to Wandsworth and see what a Conservative Government and a Conservative council have done together to rejuvenate an area of high-rise council estates.
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : Why has Wandsworth borough council kept Park Court on the Doddington estate in Battersea, with 86 houses, empty for two years when there is a large queue of people for homes?
Mr. Bowis : Park Court is one of the blocks on the Doddington estate which is being completely refurbished so that it can be offered back to the tenants who resided there. It can also be offered to people on the waiting list. Some homes will be for rent and some for purchase. In refurbishing those homes, the council will bring new life into the estate. Alongside that redevelopment is low-rise development with landscaping and all the other amenities that enable one to achieve a more popular and habitable living area in a high-rise estate. I do not apologise for that.
There has been an enormous achievements, in crime prevention. Hon. Members need not take my word for it. They can come and see the partnership in Wandsworth between the Government, the Department of the Environment and the Home Office and the crime prevention measures that have led to new areas of lighting, locks, ground floor gardens and the moving of walkways. We know what needs to be done in Wandsworth, and we have a good example of partnership there. Tremendous strides have been made on sheltered accommodation and home improvements throughout the borough.
We have seen the enormous achievement of home ownership. Three million more families nationally own their homes than in 1979. Locally, 12,500 council dwellings
Column 444have moved into private ownership, including 3,500 council flats. Half have gone to sitting tenants and half to people on the waiting list.
That is an enormous list of achievements, of which the Government can be proud, although I believe that there is a long way to go on home ownership. We still have more nationalised housing than anywhere else in Europe, but the Government are freeing people from being locked into dependency on tenancy, whereas Labour Governments have sought to perpetuate that.
We still have particular problems in inner London. We have the problem of empty properties, and other hon. Members have referred to the problem of empty council properties. I shall not dwell on that except to say that the Government are moving to rectify that. There are still problems in the private sector, and we should not under-estimate them. If private sector properties are empty for a period of years, perhaps we should consider trusts taking them over and letting them.
We should consider the question of squatting. Squatters jump the queue over more deserving people on the waiting list. The definition of homelessness needs to be considered. There are far too many cases in my constituency of people who suffer overcrowding, such as five people living in one-bedroomed accommodation, people in accommodation that needs repair, and disabled people who live upstairs and cannot get out. They are being jumped over by people who are defined as homeless and who, for one reason or another, seem to be able to reach the top of the list ahead of others. Sometimes that may be justified, but too often it is not.
The other day I received a letter from a constituent which asked the following question :
"18 months ago, my sister got pregnant--she then moved (almost straightaway) into a three bedroomed council flat Shall I get pregnant and do things the wrong way round? Will that help my chances?"
That is not the message that we should give young people in need of housing. Such an attitude is true of too many housing associations. I received a letter from a couple in which the young man was training for the ministry. They have been told that they must wait until either they are married or living together. They said that they did not want to live together. The Peabody Trust said :
"The criterion the Trust has recently adopted in this respect is that couples approaching us must either be married or must show a commitment to the relationship in the form of being already living together."
That is not the answer that we should be giving to young people who wish to "do it the right way".
There is one injustice that the Government have not yet put right. Housing associations are central to the Government's housing plans. When they are good, they are excellent but when they are poor they can be tyrannical. We must try not to set a new trap that will prevent people from owning their own homes. My mailbag is full of letters from constituents saying, "The Government have given the option of home ownership to council tenants. Why cannot I have it? I have lived in a housing association property for the past 20 years. My family have grown up in it and I have spent thousands on improving it, yet I am not allowed the right to buy it." Others write and say, "The council has just moved me into a housing association property for its own convenience, and nobody told me that I would lose the right to buy." That behaviour is unjustified. As we bring in more housing
Column 445association properties to help solve problems of housing and homelessness, more and more people will fall into that trap unless we give them the right to buy their housing association property. I hope that no hon. Member will try to tell me about tenants transfer discounts of Home Ownership for Tenants of Charitable Housing Associations. HOTCHA was not so hot, and TIS--the tenants' incentive scheme --is a 'tisn't in London, given that the average price of a council flat after discount is £15,000 while the average after a TIS is between £50,000 and £70,000. For Londoners TIS ain't on. I beg my right hon. and hon. Friends to reconsider this matter. Increasingly, housing associations are funded by the taxpayer and the ratepayer, and we therefore have a right to tell them how that money should be spent. It should be spent on providing rented accommodation, from which people can eventually step on to the home ownership ladder by exercising the right to buy. We need also to consider the possibility of allocating a quarter or a third of housing association funds with specific strings attached, insisting that properties should be provided for equity sharing schemes so that the sons and daughters of those who exercise the right to buy can climb up a stage on the home ownership ladder. It is time to right an injustice that has stayed with thousands of London families, and families throughout the country, for far too long.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : One of the saddest things about this debate has been the repudiation, not only by the Minister but by Conservative Back Benchers, of the previous policies of the Conservative party. Public housing did not begin with a Labour Government--not even with John Wheatley, whose Housing Act 1924 led to the building of about 500,000 houses. Public housing began before that, and was determined by the needs of the people. Let us consider the history of Parliament from 1915 onwards. Perhaps the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) is related to Griffith-Boscawen who said, "If it is right to have public education and public roads, why should it be wrong to have housing built by the state and by local authorities on behalf of people in need?" He was absolutely right to argue that case.
Some hon. Members who have appeared on the Conservative Benches during the last couple of Parliaments do not seem to understand their own history. Some of them have never heard of Joseph Chamberlain or of others in their ranks who argued consistently over the years that local authorities and the state should play a positive role in meeting the needs of the people. They seem not to know that, and that is a great pity. Perhaps they should look into their own history. I was born and bred in a very small town. I was not born in Liverpool ; I went there later, during the war years, and settled there after the war. I was born in Hertford, which is 20 miles north of London and had a population of 12,000. Even in that small community, we had council houses and council estates. I can name some of them. There was Gallows Hill estate--admittedly not a very good name--and there was the Bengeo estate, through
Column 446which I passed on my two-mile walk to the church school. My mother insisted that I went to the church school. There were other estates in that small town.
I sometimes compare the lot of those who lived in council houses with the circumstances in which we lived. Our accommodation was damp, and my brother got TB and died at the age of 21. Others like us lived in dreadful conditions with mould on the walls, and the private landlords did nothing for people. The council houses were wonderful in comparison.
I then went to the great city of Liverpool. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) is not here. She knows what I mean when I call her "luv", because it is a Liverpool expression. In some parts of the country it would be "duck" and in Cornwall, for example, it would be "dear". My remark was not a sexist remark but a Liverpool remark, and I want to put that on record in case people write to me and say, "My God, what a sexist thing to say."
The hon. Lady and I both come from the city of Liverpool. I have lived there since the end of the war and my wife was born and bred there, on the Norris Green estate, a working-class housing estate. People used to pray that they would get to live in such a place. When my mother-in-law moved from rooms into a house--the house in which she still lives and in which she brought up her family--she took with her a handcart with the few odds and ends that she had ; she did not have any furniture.
Conservative Members say that people do not want council housing. It is all right for the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South. She was born round the corner from where I now live. She would not know what living in council housing meant to people. I do, although I have never lived in one. As it happens, I have been an owner-occupier since the end of the war. First I lived in rooms and then I saved up to get a mortgage. I know that millions of people in this country have benefited from living in council housing and that they have been able to live a decent life because of it.
People are worried sick about the Government's new housing proposals. They do not know what will happen to them or whether their house will be handed over to some other landlord. I do not know what the leaflets say, but I know that my constituents write to me expressing concern, not because they have received leaflets but because all their lives they have lived happily in those houses. Of course people want decent houses. They want their repairs done and they want their houses properly looked after and modernised--as many of them have been looked after and modernised by local authorities. I urge hon. Members to visit my mother-in-law's street. It is easy to tell the council houses from the ones that have been bought : the ones that have been bought are running down because people cannot afford to keep them in proper order. That is what is happening. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) may laugh, but I challenge him to come to Liverpool and look at all the houses that people have bought but are being repossessed because they cannot afford to meet the mortgage repayments. It may be different in other parts of the country.
Column 447Mr. Brandon-Bravo rose--
I shall conclude by quoting some figures. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South also used figures. According to the Department of Environment housing and construction statistics published in October 1988, a total of 81,099 local authority houses were started in 1977. In 1979 the figure was 47,465, but by 1988 the figure had fallen to 15,204. Those are not my figures ; they are the Department's figures.
I can also quote other figures, such as those relating to the homeless. A recent written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) shows that, at the end of June 1979, only seven local authorities had over 20 and up to 50 homeless households requiring bed-and-breakfast accommodation. By the end of March 1988, a total of 26 towns and cities had more than 20 homeless households. The position is becoming worse.
I do not have time to quote all the facts and figures, but the housing crisis still exists. It is worse than it has ever been for ordinary working people, especially in London. Where do ordinary working people in London live? From where can they get housing? There are not even the rooms that used to exist. That is why there is such a rise in the number of homeless. We have to do something about it. The only solution is to get rid of the Government's policies. I hope that when a Labour Government are elected, we shall tackle the housing crisis for the first time. I believe passionately that no Government have really dealt with it properly. Like many workers among the Opposition, I know about living in lousy, rotten conditions and it is about time that it was stopped once and for all. 6.32 pm
Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton) : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) for curtailing his remarks. I would not contradict what he said about his constituency, but in Ealing the position is reversed. The council houses that have been bought are well maintained, and the houses owned by the council are vandalised, squatted in and left empty for too long.
I shall address my brief remarks to the housing pressures in London and the south-east. Many of the symptoms have already been referred to--house prices increasing two and a half times in the past 10 years, rising faster than incomes ; sadly more families accepted as homeless ; young people sleeping on the streets ; and problems in recruiting professionals such as teachers and nurses in London. There are also many concealed households, as young people stay with their parents because home ownership or renting is not available.
I very much welcome all that the Government have done to improve the position, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on what he is doing to reduce voids in local authority stock, to reclaim and use derelict land, to get the urban development corporations to provide affordable housing and to turn round difficult-to-let estates through Estate Action. More power to his elbow, but even if all that is done, there will still be a housing shortage in London and the south-east that can be met only by building more houses. Even SERPLAN, which is
Column 448notoriously conservative, has now agreed that by 2001 100,000 to 120,000 dwellings will be needed in addition to those already planned.
I want to rebut the view that the answer to our problems in the south-east is to adhere to a strict planning regime and simply hope that development will take place elsewhere. I welcome the economic revival of the north, and the confident statements from the business community and its civic leaders are music to our ears--our strategy must be to build on that--but it is important not to dismantle or destabilise the economic base of the south- east and, crucially, not to enforce the relocation of residents from the overcrowded south to the north.
Some of my hon. Friends wish to hang up a "house full" sign on the door of the south-east, tightly to restrict further development and let the market do the rest. I find such a solution unacceptable. It is certainly unacceptable to the DTI. In its evidence to the public inquiry into proposals for a new country town at Foxley Wood, the DTI was provoked into saying :
"Past policies of discouraging development in relatively prosperous locations, or even steering that development to other parts of the country, have not met with success. It would therefore be a mistake to interfere with market forces by putting protective barriers around the south-east and other desirable areas in the hope that this would open up opportunities elsewhere."
We are a party that responds to market forces. We believe in reading the signals given by the market, and the policy of freezing development in the south-east is the very negation of what we stand for. The transformation of the country's economy has been achieved through acting on the supply side, finding out where the bottlenecks are, and removing restrictive practices by trade unions, anti-competitive agreements and the rest. The housing market cannot be expected to work with one hand tied behind its back.
What happens to the nurses, the teachers and the postmen who live and work in the south-east? As we have heard, local authorities are increasingly committed to rehousing the homeless, and those people often cannot afford to buy at the moment, let alone if the restrictive policies advocated by some people are pursued. The communities that would result from such policies would be unbalanced, polarised and unstable. The social cement that binds us together would not exist. We would have only the prosperous and the poor, and the children of people in the south-east would have real problems in finding somewhere to live.
Our strategic objective should be to manage and exploit the economic strengths of the south-east for the benefit of its residents and the rest of the United Kingdom. We need more houses. The rapid rise in land prices in England and Wales has increased fivefold in the past 10 years. Much of the land that has become available has not gone to the groups that most need housing, so there has been a mismatch between the type and location of new housing and the reasonable expectations and aspirations of local people. That is an understandable reason why planning committees can turn down development applications because they do not consider them relevant to local needs.
No one can argue that the land does not exist. Between now and the end of the century, 20 per cent. of agricultural land will become redundant--much of it in the areas of housing shortage. Farmers have already applied for 150,000 acres to go into the set-aside scheme. My right
Column 449hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made it clear that change of use is needed. At the Conservative party conference in 1987, he said :
"We must accept that more land will have to come out of agricultural production. So we must facilitate this change, to the benefit of our rural areas, and not obstruct it."
I see no reason for us to turn our backs on the one form of development that is most urgently needed--homes.
At the moment, the planning system cannot cope. Farmers and landowners have to play rustic roulette. They either get planning permission and their land is worth £1 million an acre, or they do not and it is worth £1,000 an acre. If they get consent, the developer will maximise his profit by building high-value units often beyond the reach of local pockets. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) that we need a halfway stage--to give planning permission if the land is sold at a realistic price, which means that properties can be bought or rented by people on average incomes, and if the properties are offered in the first instance to local people doing key work or to the children of those already living in the community.
Many reasons for opposing development are based on sheer selfishness. The secretary of the village conservation society is often the chap who bought the last Wimpey house on the site of the old village school. He is often advocating restrictive development policies which, had they been adopted a few years back, would have meant that the house in which he now lives would never have been built. Other motives are more defensible, but one can overcome the understandable unhappiness of local people by insisting on a higher quality of design and on planning gain, so that there is real advantage to local communities if development goes ahead. Many of the issues that I have raised fall outside my hon. Friend's brief, although they fall within his Department. I hope that, as a party, we can approach the subject in the spirit that I have outlined and come up with solutions in keeping with our party's broad sympathy to respond to and harness the forces of the market--solutions made more urgent by a humane desire to see our people adequately housed. 6.40 pm
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) : The debate has been wide, but I shall confine my remarks to housing in Wales. When we look, as we must, at the result of the Government's housing policy in Wales, we see that there is no doubt that the problems that have been highlighted by my right hon. and hon. Friends are even worse in the Principality. Wales has the oldest housing stock in Britain. Of all its houses, 40 per cent. were built before the first world war. Despite the fact that the Government have done some work to improve the condition of those houses, their own house condition survey admitted that about £500 million is still necessary to put right the houses in the Principality.
Welsh district councils have said that they need more money for environmental schemes and more grants for low-paid owner-occupiers to carry out urgent repairs. Low-cost houses are important in the valleys and elsewhere in Wales. The staggering rise in private house prices during the past year is more obvious in Wales than elsewhere. There was a 52 per cent. rise in private house
Column 450prices in Wales in the past year. That is more than in any other region. It is more than in London, where prices rose by about 15 per cent., and in the country as a whole, where prices have risen by about 31 per cent.
We have seen widespread gazumping in the Principality. The Prime Minister tells us that private industry and estate agents should work out their own solutions to gazumping. That is not the answer to a major problem in England and Wales. High interest rates and low salaries in Wales mean that young people cannot afford new houses. The only people in Wales who can afford new houses are those who come in from elsewhere and are second, third, or even fourth-time buyers. That fact must be contrasted with the lack of local authority housing.
One of the most staggering remarks in the debate came from the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). She said that no one actually wants council houses any more. I wish that she would say that to the 70,000 people who are on waiting lists in Wales or to the other people throughout Britain who badly require housing. In the years of this Government, 60,000 council houses in Wales have been sold, and 30,000 more are planned to be sold. The rate in Cardiff is 73 sales a week. The housing supply is effectively drying up. In 1975, a total of 8,000 houses were built in the Principality. Last year, 900 were built, and they were mainly specialist housing. In some district council areas in Wales it takes up to 10 years before people can get the council house which the hon. Lady said they do not actually want. In the past 10 years, there has been a 174 per cent. increase in rents in Wales.
The traditional supplier of houses in Wales is the local authority, but people cannot now look to their local authorities for housing. If the hon. Lady has her way, they will never be able to. It is wrong to talk of councils in Wales and the rest of Britain building only bad, decrepit housing. That is by no means the case. Local authorities stuck stringently to the Parker Morris standards. This Government relaxed those standards. Council houses were often better built than private houses.
Housing associations are now seen as the panacea for housing problems in Wales and Britain. The public expenditure White Paper states that they are the main providers of social housing. The organisation Housing in Wales has been created for that purpose. It is elected by nobody and is accountable to no one, save the Secretary of State himself. Its very creation is a slap in the face for local authorities in Wales, with all the experience that they have gained over the years in providing houses for our people. The £72 million that that body has been given should have been given to councils to put right their stock and to build houses, as they have been doing over the decades.
Housing associations will not provide the answer to social housing problems. Rents will rise through decontrol or the replacement of secure or assured tenancies, and the need for market rents. Those who are just above the housing benefit eligibility level will be caught in a poverty trap.
Housing associations in Wales provide houses for people. A recent survey undertaken by the associations showed that one in five families in housing associations earn less than £40 a week and that only a handful earn over £100 a week. How will the associations deal with the problem of single, young people in Wales and elsewhere who cannot afford mortgages?
Column 451There has been a rise in homelessness, the extent of which is more staggering than we have seen for many years. There has been a 100 per cent. rise in 10 years. Six thousand people in the Principality are now homeless, and that is not counting those who are regarded as homeless but are not in the official figures. Matters have been made worse by a rise in rent arrears and mortgage defaults. It is no wonder that the Audit Commission said that some councils will be unable to meet their legal requirements.
What of the future? The Secretary of State for Wales has provided an answer. He wants to give away council houses altogether. That is a dotty idea. It is as absurd as it is impractical. It has been universally condemned by every Welsh housing association and other housing bodies. The impartial South Wales Argus called it political engineering of the most sinister kind. Public housing stock in Wales and Britain as a whole would be destroyed at a stroke if the Goverment's proposals were put into operation. The Secretary of State's statement has more to do with internal Tory party politics than with the proper provision of housing in Britain.
There is no doubt that housing in Wales is at a crisis point. First-time buyers cannot afford to buy. There are fewer and fewer houses to rent. Housing association rents will rise dramatically. The financial future for housing is bleak, with housing revenue accounts not to be helped any more by rates. That will fall heavily on pensioner schemes. There has been an effective cut in housing figures over the past 10 years. Wales has lost £1.25 billion in housing money which should have come to it over the last decade.
Housing in Wales is a time bomb which the Government must defuse. Ministers should plan for a balanced provision between rented and private housing. Instead, all that we are offered is the jungle of the free market which will no more solve Wales's housing needs than Britain's housing needs.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope) : I will not be able to reply to all the points made by the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) and I hope he will forgive me for not entering into the details of Welsh housing. There was a full debate on Welsh issues yesterday.
The hon. Gentleman did not make proper reference to the Welsh house condition survey. The latest survey shows that significantly fewer houses in Wales are now unfit. The proportion of houses without basic amenities has almost halved since 1981 and many fewer houses are now in a state of disrepair. These improvements have been particularly marked in areas such as Gwent, where unfitness has more than halved since 1981 and is now well below the Welsh average. I suspect--without having detailed knowledge of circumstances in Wales--that much of what the hon. Member for Torfaen said exaggerated the problems in Wales. We have had a lively debate with some excellent contributions, especially from my hon. Friends. We particularly welcome the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). She commanded the attention of the House, she spoke with knowledge and experience as a former chairman of Birmingham city housing committee and she made some
Column 452well-researched and telling points which caused confusion among the Opposition. I hope that she continues to speak out on the important subject of housing.
We also had important contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer), for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) and for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), and I hope that I shall have time to respond at least to some of the points that they made. A common strand that has run through all speeches has been that more houses must be made available either through better management or through new building in the pressure spots, be they in London, the south-east or elsewhere. But before we can have more houses, we must have the land on which to put them, and that is where the planning system comes in.
That issue was addressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Dorset, West and for Ealing, Acton and, in an intervention, by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell), who said that restricting housing land led to a consequential increase in the cost of that land and, therefore, house prices.
The latest household projection clearly shows that more housing will be needed in the next decade, not so much because of any population increase as because of the increased rate at which the existing population forms new households. The reasons for that are many. The fact that elderly people are living longer, the increasing divorce rate, the growth of one-parent families and the fact that young people are leaving home earlier are all contributory factors. Some say that the new demand for housing should be accommodated within the existing urban areas, as a means of taking pressure off the countryside, especially green field sites, and to encourage urban regeneration. They are right. That should happen as far as possible, but it is impractical to expect all new demand to be absorbed by our older urban areas.
We are doing as much as we can to encourage the process. Urban development corporations, enterprise zones, simplified planning zones and the financial incentives offered by city grant and derelict land grant are already doing much to rehabilitate urban areas by encouraging new enterprises, new homes and new jobs.
But cities need their open spaces, too. It is not the business of the planning system to direct people where they should live--to cram them into towns when that is not where they want to live--which is not only immoral but self-defeating. We need more housing in areas outside the major conurbations. Too often, development plans propose new enterprises and new jobs because of the prosperity they bring, but shun the new homes that are vital to go with them, or hope that neighbouring areas will accommodate them.
That is often referred to as the "not in my back yard" philosophy. People who support that philosophy fail to realise that increasingly they will be unable to recruit the skilled labour that their businesses need because the price of housing will be beyond the reach of many of the candidates and because the available housing is likely to be snapped up by the more affluent, thereby excluding from the housing market the local people whose interests they are trying to protect.
We appreciate the feelings of those who see the character of their neighbourhoods changing and their communities being dominated by outsiders, be they commuters, second-home owners, retired people or people
Column 453who have come from other countries. The answer cannot be to pull up the drawbridge; on that, the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West were important because he drew attention to the possibility of more housing land being brought forward on a voluntary basis by people being prepared effectively to give it as a gift for use by housing associations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West referred to a potential fiscal problem in that connection, especially for capital gains tax. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Government are well aware of the anomaly and are looking closely to see whether there are any practical means of distinguishing these cases in a way that would enable us to deal with that problem.
Another initiative that we have taken in recent weeks has been to announce a new deal which will bring considerable comfort to those who live in rural areas, particularly in rural villages, and who resent the fact that their sons and daughters cannot afford accommodation in the place where they were brought up and wish to remain.
We have said that exceptionally--and only exceptionally--local authorities may, where there is a demonstrable local need, grant planning permission, on sites where it would not normally be granted, specially for low-cost housing for local needs. They should also make arrangements to ensure that housing remains within the low-cost, local needs sector. It is crucial that these sites should be additional to, and not instead of, the provision for general market housing as set out in the development plan. The scheme should be used not as a means of keeping out outsiders but for bringing more land into the market place and making it available for local people. I hope that some of these initiatives will be welcome in west Dorset. I must emphasise that I am not advocating random development. Development must be properly planned, and it is important to remember, when considering household projections, that the need for development is absolute. So far as possible, we shall reduce existing under-used and derelict sites in the conurbations. We shall also maintain the green belt and other specially protected areas. But we shall still need fresh land for housing, and I look forward to the unanimous support of the House in willing not only the end but the means to ensure that enough houses can be built in the years ahead. I hope that hon. Members listened with interest and respect to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton, who dealt with this issue with considerable knowledge.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) raised a number of points, but in the time available to me I shall deal only with his wrong assertion that the biggest cause of homelessness was mortgage repossessions. In the third quarter of 1988, a total of 7 per cent. of homelessness was attributable to mortgage repossessions. That was down
Column 454from 10 per cent. in the previous year, so the trend is going in the opposite direction to that which the hon. Gentleman alleged. That demonstrates the scaremongering attitude that Opposition Members often adopt. They pay lip service to the idea of a property-owning democracy, but seem to seize any and every opportunity to try to frighten people away from home ownership. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) did not miss that opportunity. He made assertions about the consequences for people who purchase houses in his area.
An independent report found that, on average, right-to-buy purchasers were less heavily committed than other first-time buyers. The report stated :
"Most buyers have found the problem of purchase and the experience of home ownership to be entirely unproblematical."
Some people have taken on larger mortgages than perhaps they would have done had they known the extent to which interest rates would go up. I was disappointed that no Opposition Member pointed out that there is often scope for people in that situation to let one or more rooms in their homes, so helping to deal with the problem of homelessness.
An initiative in that connection, on which the Opposition poured cold water, was brought in by the Housing Act 1988. It will make it easier for resident landlords to remove difficult tenants, an inhibition which has caused many people to be reluctant to let parts of their homes.
The Opposition have been in one of their doom and gloom moods. They speak of a housing crisis which is really a crisis of their own. They lack a housing policy. Government successes have that effect on the Opposition. The more successful the Government are, the more gloomy the Opposition are. The more successful our housing initiatives are, the more gloomy the Opposition are.
Socialists have good reason to be gloomy about housing. On national policies, they can hope that the public have short memories and have forgotten what Socialist policies were like in practice, but the Opposition are confronted daily by local examples of their policies in practice.
We have seen already this year harrowing pictures of estates in Lambeth where tenants live like prisoners behind barricades. One would think that that might have shaken the Opposition from their complacency. The hon. Member for Hammersmith suggested that it was because of a lack of Government funding, but in the past year Lambeth has refused to collect from its tenants rents amounting to £5 million. Those rents could have been spent on improving property. Those estates represent Socialist housing policy in practice. The political views of a housing officer are more important than his management responsibilities. Rents may be low, but the standards of maintenance and repair are even lower--
It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to Order [24 February].