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I shall give an illustration of my local prices. This morning, I went through every housing advertisement in the local paper, which is a south London newspaper covering Wandsworth and Lambeth. I tried to find out what was the cheapest property available for purchase in the area. The cheapest price for a one-bedroom conversion was £54,500, which was not the typical price. The usual price for one- bedroomed accommodation in the area, which is not the most salubrious part of London, is £60,000 to £65,000.

Let us consider the cheapest cost, of about £55,000. If one obtains a mortgage at 13.5 per cent., which is under the Government's present base rate, and excludes all policy costs, service charges and ground rent, the interest repayments alone for the cheapest south London house in the newspaper today would be £534 a month, or £6,408 a year. In addition, of course, there would be the costs of fares to work, of the repayment of capital and of insurance.

Nobody who is earning less than about £18,000 a year net would be able to afford, with any prudence, such a mortgage. Who would enter into a commitment in which the outgoings on the mortgage would be more than one third of net income? I know that some people exceed one third of net income, but it is not prudent when one thinks of the other commitments and other expenditure that are associated with a house, such as repairs and insurance.

I represent a constituency where the wages for the middle income group are relatively low. People may be doing useful jobs in London, but they are not highly paid jobs and, for most people, the purchase of the cheapest possible one-bedroom flat, which would not be suitable for somebody who had children, is simply out of the question. For a family with children, the price of a home would not be the minimum of £55,000, but about £75,000 or £80,000. For a first-time buyer in my area, mortgage repayments for such a property would be proportionately higher, running to perhaps £8,000, £9,000 or £10,000 a year. The idea that the people who come to see my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey) or me at our advice bureaux will be able to buy a home on the figures that I have quoted is unrealistic, especially as another mortgage rate rise is still in the pipeline.

What is the next choice for people which is urged on us? It is to go into the private rented sector. I looked in the South London Press, which has a good list of properties available to let under the new regime, to see whether renting might be possible. In Streatham, there was accommodation that would be suitable for a family with children :

"3-bedroom flat can suit 3/4 people. £140 p.w."

That is a rental of £7,000 a year. Yet I am talking about people who will go home with a net disposable income in some cases of only about £8,000 to £10,000 a year.

I think of a nursery nurse, who works with a member of my family, and who comes regularly to my advice bureau. She has a child to look after and, although she has worked all her life, her income is only about £800 a month net, which is about £10,000 a year. She dearly wants to move out of the one-bedroom flat in which she has to share a bedroom with her child into a two-bedroom property, which would give a bit more privacy. In Lambeth, she would have to pay £7,000 a year in rent according to the example that I have given.

To show that that is not an exaggerated figure, I can give plenty of others. For a one-bedroom flat--which

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would be no good for my constituent because she has a child--in Mitcham, which is some way out of the centre, the cost would be £4, 500 a year. If she wanted to rent a two-bedroom flat in Brockley, which is not all that posh, she would have to pay £6,000 a year, and on top of that there would be rates, repairs and service charges. I could go through the figures of the premises that are available to rent in south London. The typical figure for a room is between £45 and £60 a week. Another advertisement says :

"SE15, Double & Single Rooms From £40 p.w."

There is no choice for someone with the typical net income of people doing public service work--even relatively highly paid public service work--in constituencies such as mine.

The third theoretical choice--and this is slightly to bend the meaning of the word "choice"--for someone in housing need who wants better or larger accommodation is to go to the local authority or to a housing association, bearing in mind that most housing association vacancies are nominated by the local authority. However, the depth of the cuts over the past 10 years in the housing investment programmes and the extent of homelessness in London mean that virtually no families without children and virtually no families who are not in priority need of housing will be able to be housed by the local authority.

Housing investment has declined. Let us consider the forecast completions for Lambeth over the next three years. In the current year, Lambeth expects to complete 165 homes. It expects to complete 120 homes in the following year and 87 homes in 1991-92. That is the consequence of the catastrophic investment programme which has been imposed by the present Government.

High mortgage costs, high house prices, high rents and the almost total inability to obtain a house by normal means through the local authority mean that in Lambeth we face a devastating problem of homelessness. In 1987, just after the general election, there were 430 families in bed-and- breakfast accommodation in Lambeth borough. On 10 December this year there were 1,177 families in

bed-and-breakfast accommodation--almost three times as many as there were two years ago--and that is in spite of all the efforts that have been made to solve the problem of homelessness by other means. In addition to the trebling of the number of homeless families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, the number of private sector leasing arrangements--one way in which Lambeth borough council has responded--has increased to 493. We now have more people housed under private sector leasing arrangements than we had homeless people three years ago. We have 137 people in reception centres, 89 people in short-life accommodation and five people in furnished voids, giving a total figure of 1,918 homeless families. I am told that the cost to public funds of keeping one mother and child in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London is now £10,000 a year. It is easy to calculate the enormous costs incurred in boroughs such as mine. It is not getting any easier. As the pressure of interest rates builds, and as rents in the public and private sectors continue to rise, the problem worsens. Between 70 and 80 families a week present themselves as homeless, and 600 cases are being considered at the moment.

Hyperbole begins to lose its meaning. I begin to despair as to how anyone is ever housed. I am deeply angry, because it is not as though the predicament in which the homeless find themselves is an accident, as though their

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needs are unavoidable or their deprivation inevitable. Their homelessness is the direct consequence of Government policies and Government lack of investment.

The tragedy is that the problem could be solved. People in London-- especially developers--are finding it difficult to sell houses at the moment. In the docklands area, for example, many houses remain unsold when they are completed or in the course of construction. In the docklands area, land prices are higher than construction costs as a result of Government policy. It would be possible to release the massive amounts of money that are available to buy those properties for rent and eventually to facilitate the transition from renting to owner-occupation of which we have spoken tonight.

6.12 pm

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow) : I should like to begin with two anecdotes. The other day, I was cycling along Knightsbridge and a man at a bus stop stopped me. I thought for a moment that he was going to ask for a lift. In fact, what he asked for was money. He said that he had been robbed and did not have any money left for his train fare home. Being of a naturally soft-hearted disposition, and perhaps in this case rather foolish, I gave him some money, whereupon honesty broke out across his face and he told me, "Actually, I'm going to take it to the nearest pub and drink it."

The second story is the one that we saw in the Evening Standard the other day. It concerns a young man who makes an extremely good living standing outside a tube station with one of those notices round his neck saying, "Homeless and starving". He makes about £600 a week, tax free.

I tell those stories not to trivialise the subject--because homelessness is a very serious problem in London--but because I believe that we must regard it with extreme care. We have to sort the wheat from the chaff. The wheat can look after itself perfectly well, but the chaff obviously needs help and that is why the Government are making £250 million available to attempt to solve the problem. Before I was elected to this place, I used to practise as a fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and as part of my job I used to look in auction catalogues to see what sort of property was coming on to the market. In all the catalogues, there were hundreds of tenanted houses and flats coming up for sale. The reason why they were being sold was that over the years the private rented market has been destroyed by legislation, largely passed by the Labour party. Bearing in mind that Labour legislation, no landlord would take the risk of letting an empty property when he knew perfectly well, first, that the rent would be controlled to the extent that he could not even maintain the property out of it and, secondly, that the sitting tenant and the tenant's successors to two or three generations might have security of tenure. I hope that the Government's policies will put that right, but I am afraid that it will take a long time.

Should the ratepayers subsidise council rents? I do not believe that they should. I believe that council tenants who cannot pay their rent should be helped, but if one asked the average ratepayer in my constituency--not exactly the richest part of London--whether he thinks that he should give a blanket subsidy to all council tenants, one would get a dusty answer.

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What about the right to buy? My council, the London borough of Waltham Forest, complains, like many Labour councils, about the controls on spending capital receipts. Yet my council will not push through sales under the right-to-buy provisions. The council cannot have it both ways. If it will not push through the sales, why on earth should it complain that it is allowed to spend only 25 per cent. of its capital receipts? Moreover, it takes some time to build houses. One cannot put up a house overnight. It takes months to get planning permission and months to do the building work.

Many councils have great assets in the shape of commercial properties. My own council has a rent roll of about £1 million a year from commercial properties. But when I asked, "What exactly are these properties valued at?" I discovered that the council has not a clue what the capital values of the properties are. Surely the council could sell some of those properties and apply the proceeds elsewhere, but that is a point that many councils simply have not taken on board. Look at the GLC, which owned thousands of commercial properties and did not bother to review the rents for years and years. The London residuary body has been selling some of the properties and it has become clear that some rents have not been reviewed for 20 years. Some authorities have had no idea of how to look after their properties.

I come now to housing action trusts. It is proposed that there should be a housing action trust in my constituency. I know that some Labour Members are not in favour of housing action trusts. I hope that they will make the journey out to Walthamstow to the Boundary road estate and say to the tenants there, "We do not approve of housing action trusts. We do not like the idea that the Government might actually pay to knock down these three horrendous tower blocks and replace them with decent housing." They might also say, "We approved of the scheme of the London borough of Waltham Forest to replace those blocks which would have meant an increase of £15 a week in the rents of all council tenants in the borough."

I see that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is shifting anxiously in his place, so let me finish by asking exactly where all the new houses of which the Labour party speaks so grandly are to be built. London is a mature city and has been a mature city for hundreds of years, so where are the houses to be built? Are they to be built, perhaps, in Old Dagenham park? I am sure that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) would be only too keen to assure his constituents that Ravenscourt park will not be built on, and that we do not want to build in Hyde park or in the green belt. I hope that Opposition Members would not advocate a return to the building of tower blocks, which to my mind represent one of the most horrendous forms of housing ever devised. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is laughing. Perhaps he would like to tell his constituents that he is all in favour of building tower blocks. To my mind, they breed hopelessness and despair. I am sure that they breed unemployment and I believe that they also breed housing problems because they breed social problems. Many people leave home because they cannot bear to live there any longer.

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Obviously the answer is to pull them down and replace them with the sort of housing that was there before-- traditional terraced houses with gardens. That is what people want, and I believe that we should provide it.

6.20 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will see you afterwards.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) has a charming and disarming way of addressing the House. It is no wonder that he was voted the most romantic Member of Parliament. He told us an anecdote. As he is the Member for Walthamstow, what was he doing cycling through Knightsbridge? He did not tell us. If he spent more time cycling through Walthamstow, he would see more of the problems facing his constituents.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow even comes to the House looking like Neville Chamberlain's private secretary. Many of his views hark back to those days, and I shall touch on some of them.

Personal anecdotes are no way to solve London's massive housing crisis. The hon. Member for Walthamstow asked why local authorities could not use the commercial opportunities represented by their land holdings and assets. They cannot do that, because the Government will not let them : it is as simple as that.

The hon. Gentleman should learn something more about capital receipts and the restrictions that have been placed on their use by central Government, in particular by the Housing Act 1988. He should know that that Act prevents more than 20 per cent. of receipts from the sale of council houses being used to build in the first year. The rest has to go towards the reduction of debts. At least in the past the whole 100 per cent. trickled through. Now it does not and some £8 billion of accumulated capital receipts cannot be used.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow wanted to find out why local councils are unable to use accumulated capital receipts, and why they do not release some of their assets. He should have asked why the Government that he supports will not allow them to use those receipts to reduce housing waiting lists, by building new homes.

I do not want to hear any lessons from the hon. Member for Walthamstow, who peripatetically cycles through Knightsbridge, about the problems of tower blocks. Newham has 110 tower blocks--the largest concentration in the country. Members of Parliament for Newham represent more constituents who live above the tenth floor than is the case in any other borough, or any other three hon. Members. Even though they live above the tenth floor, their feet are firmly on the ground.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the vast majority of them do not want to live in tower blocks, but what can we do? The hon. Gentleman suggested the attractive idea of knocking them all down and building nice little town houses. We would like to do that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will use his good offices with his Front Bench to allow us to do that in Newham.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) rose--

Mr. Banks : I will give way to my good friend, or rather, to my acquaintance.

Mrs. Gorman : I thank my hon. Friend and acquaintance for giving way. Is he not aware that in

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Wandsworth ugly tower blocks have been made into desirable residences by selling them off to young people in the private sector? Now they are lovely.

Mr. Banks : I agree that they may be desirable residences for those people who earn six-figure sums, but those flats are selling for £100,000. What good is that to homeless people living in Wandsworth? Of course that can be done. Most luxury hotels are tower blocks but conditions in them are nothing like the conditions found in tower blocks in Newham. The hon. Lady, despite her red dress, should be more practical when she expresses her views to the House. The situation is fairly clear. The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who is not in his seat at the moment, said that people get into problems with mortgage arrears because they cannot manage financially, that they mismanage, and that that may result from the family breaking up.

Someone who had an average mortgage advance in London in spring 1988, when interest rates were 9.5 per cent., paid £520 a month. Now, with interest rates at 14.5 per cent., the same home owner is paying £740, a difference of £220, or a 42 per cent. rise. That is not mismanagement by the individual householder, but mismanagement of the economy by the Government and that has caused the ludicrous rate of interest that is now being imposed on home owners and on businesses. That is why people find it difficult to meet their mortgage repayments.

It is not broken marriages that lead to difficulty in paying the mortgage, but difficulty in paying the mortgage that leads to broken marriages. I know that from the personal experiences of some of my constituents, and not, I hasten to add, from my own experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) also gave a good description of the situation that we have had to face at our surgeries. We have not made it up. The Minister tried to suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) had made it up. Somehow, we had created a problem that does not exist except in our vivid imaginations, but the reality is there every day in our offices, and every week in our advice surgeries. People come in and break down crying, "What are we going to do?" All we can do is offer them a tissue and a shoulder to cry on ; local authorities cannot solve their problems because of the restrictions placed on house building by the Government.

How has the problem arisen? One does not need a PhD in housing administration to work out why homelessness has doubled since 1979, when that wretched party was first elected to government. It has doubled because the housing investment programme has been slashed by almost 100 per cent.-- I think by about 70 to 80 per cent. in real terms.

Ten years ago, Tory and Labour local authorities in London were building 25,000 accommodation units a year. Now they are building around 2,000. That is where the housing problem comes from--the failure of the Government to allow local authorities to use their own resources to try to solve their housing problems.

I could get exceedingly angry, and I regularly do get angry, when I am confronted with problems that I cannot solve. The only way those problems can be solved is to get rid of this wretched Tory Government and get a Labour Government elected who are committed to doing something about the scandal of homelessness in Britain.

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In 1989, despite 10 years of Government economic ineptitude that has reduced us to a sideline position in Europe, we are still one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Yet people are sleeping in cardboard boxes a few yards from this place, and thousands of families are living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, with all that that means in human misery. It is a scandal that should be hung round the necks of the Government until they are booted from office. Homelessness is one of the issues that will ensure that we get rid of them.

6.28 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : When a Minister gets the kind of reception at the Dispatch Box at the beginning of a debate that the Minister for Housing and Planning got today, it is normally because people feel angry or because the Minister is not dealing with the issues seriously and in depth. Today both situations apply. Hon. Members are justifiably angry, and people right across the board are angry about the growing housing crisis in Britain.

The Minister does not have a good case, and that was why there was such a vacuum in his speech, and why there is a vacuum in Government policy. That is why we do not have a proper housing Minister. The Minister spends most of his time privatisating water and his junior spends most of his time privatising the Property Services Agency. Housing is a second-rate issue for them. For the welfare of thousands of people throughout the country, however, it is vital.

The Government have gone seriously wrong. I must tell the Minister and other Conservative Members who have spoken that Labour is not alone in accusing them of having a disastrous policy ; nor are housing organisations alone in accusing them of having a disastrous policy.

When the Minister criticised, or rather tried but failed to criticise, my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) about the state of repair of the housing stock, he ignored a report produced by the Conservative- controlled Association of District Councils, which could not have put it more clearly when it said : "But neither of these estimates take into account the need for resources to tackle additional dwellings falling into disrepair in the private sector or the further deterioration, while awaiting attention, of stock already in poor condition. It is therefore clear that at the current level of public expenditure the bulk of the stock condition problem cannot be tackled within the next decade." The ADC called for an increase of a minimum of £35 billion, although the upper end of its proposed scale was £50 billion. Its view is seconded by the Conservative-controlled London Boroughs Association and most Conservative councils throughout the country. On what is the Government's reputation built? They came up with one or two policies in 1974 which, stupidly, they have stuck to. They said of helping first-time buyers :

"The first part of our programme for doing this is to reduce the interest rate charged by building societies to home buyers to 9 per cent. and ensure that it does not rise above that figure Our second proposal is to give first-time purchasers of private houses or flats special help in paying the deposit."

In 1979, they backed off a bit from saying that they would keep mortgage interest so low. They were not specific but, when it came to it, the first thing that they did, in November 1979, was to increase the mortgage interest rate from 11 to 15 per cent. On only two short occasions during

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the past 10 years has the mortgage interest rate been below 10 per cent. That is a measure of the Government's economic policy failure. The hon Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), who was the Conservative spokesman on housing at the time, said just before the general election :

"as soon as we are in office we shall introduce a scheme that we announced not just today but as long ago as three and half years ago.

Under that scheme, the first-time buyer will receive a tax-free bonus of £1 for every £2 saved. Therefore, if he saves only £300, he will receive a bonus of £150 when he buys his house".--[ Official Report, 20 February 1978 ; Vol. 944, c. 1047.]

The hon. Gentleman spelt the scheme out in more detail. Neither of those promises was kept. They were both clearly broken.

The Prime Minister said in 1980 :

"I recognise that the Government are borrowing too much. The interesting correlation is that when the Government borrow less interest rates go down. I shall be delighted to have the support of the right hon. Gentleman"

a reference to the then Leader of the Opposition, now Lord Callaghan--

"and those who sit behind him to get down Government spending and borrowing, because interest rates will then go down."--[ Official Report, 22 November 1979 ; Vol. 974, c. 554.]

What went wrong with the theory? It is a disastrous failure. Interest rates are still incredibly high. The failure has been unique.

Recently, something important in housing happened. The former Secretary of State for the Environment was moved to the Department of Trade and Industry, much to the regret of that Department, and we now have a new, green Secretary of State who does not understand much about housing but knows that he has a crisis on his hands. He is much more in the mould of the previous Conservative Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). Significantly, for the first time in 10 years, as a result of the appointment of the new Secretary of State, instead of going down, the housing investment programme is to go up next year. But what the poor new Secretary of State does not know is that he has already been kiboshed by his predecessor, who put through the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 which will mean that there will still be a cut of no less than 24 per cent. in the HIP.

I am grateful to the Minister for Housing and Planning who, although he may have misquoted me several times, did me the courtesy of quoting me almost word for word when he lifted my Labour party press release in which I spoke about rents going through the roof. One of the things that I recommended to the Conservative party, and have done for a long time, is to enable local authorities to extend the lease-back scheme in the private sector to bring into use the thousands of privately-owned empty properties. Lo and behold, the Minister has done that, using almost my very words. He has, however, done it late, and it appears that there is still no policy because only in November, under the previous Secretary of State for the Environment, the Government said that they would not extend the lease-back scheme.

Those of my hon. Friends who served with me on the Committee stage of the Local Government and Housing Bill will remember that we were told that the lease-back

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scheme would not be extended, although we pleaded for it. More of a crisis was brought on when the Government put out their new rent guidelines, based on the capital value of houses. That was guaranteed to send rents rocketing.

I put out a press release saying that rents in Mole Valley, which is represented by the chairman of the Conservative party, would increase by a fantastic £5.20 a week in the first year, and by 115 per cent. over a longer period. Then, in a letter dated 8 December 1989, local authorities were told that the Government seemed to have misjudged the situation and that they would like to review it before Christmas. They do not know what they are doing because they do not have a policy. That is the reason for the crisis.

I said years ago what Conservative and Labour councils throughout the country said--"For heaven's sake recognise the fact that you are creating an enormous housing crisis." I repeat, for the benefit of hon. Members who have said that they did not hear any policy statement, that one way in which to tackle the problem is to allow local authorities to use capital receipts. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green wanted to do that. He claimed, possibly correctly, to be the first Conservative Member to invent the right to buy. He also said that local authorities should keep the receipts and use them for housing. As I said in Question Time, when the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green pushed for that he was moved to Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State said I was insulting Northern Ireland by saying that. I do not agree. The Prime Minister insulted Northern Ireland and her housing Minister, because he was right.

Sir George Young : Is the hon. Gentleman saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) was the housing Minister? Perhaps he would like to give the dates.

Mr. Soley : I am referring to the first years of the Conservative Government--1979 and 1980.

Sir George Young : I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that, in 1979, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) was the housing Minister and remained such throughout that Parliament.

Mr. Soley : My dates might be marginally wrong.

Mr. Howard : I can help the hon. Gentleman. The time which the hon. Gentleman has in mind is when my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) was shadow housing spokesman. He was indeed moved to Northern Ireland, not in any sense for the reason that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, but because the late Airey Neave was assassinated.

Mr. Soley : The latter assertion is not the case, I am sure. It would be much more impressive if, instead of worrying about the dates when the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green spoke on housing matters, the Minister concentrated on the issue, which is the use of capital receipts. If they were used now, we could allow local authorities and housing associations to start building, repairing and renovating again. That would not be significantly inflationary because, as I said to the Minister earlier, the skill crisis in the building industry would not allow us to use the money quickly. It could only be used over several years.

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Mr. Howard : If the hon. Gentleman is so certain that capital receipts would not have inflationary consequences and has succeeded in persuading his colleagues of that proposition, why is there no reference to that policy in his party's policy review?

Mr. Soley : In the policy review process, there was never intended to be any detailed statement of that policy-- [Interruption.] That is right. We were reviewing the thrust, direction and aims of party policy, not the detail. That is coming along and has been given in many of my statements--and the Minister knows it. He need not worry about that.

I turn now to some of the comments made by other Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) is a classic example of why the Government have got housing so seriously wrong. He talked about extending the right to buy and about what a marvellous idea it was. He suggested doing it this way, and extending it that way and talked about all the things that we could do to increase it. However, I want to ask the hon. Gentleman a question that he has not answered, asked himself or even thought of. If we sell all the rented properties, where will the sons and daughters of the people who have bought those homes, or the local people, find somewhere to rent? In the hon. Gentleman's own area the local people cannot find places to rent. Those local people, their sons and daughters, the postmen, teachers and others cannot find anywhere to rent because about 1.25 million houses have disappeared from the rented sector in the past 10 years. Half have been sold and not replaced in the council sector and the other half have disappeared from the much-loved private sector. Why? Because the Government have failed to address the issue of housing finance. It does not pay to replace houses for councils, housing associations or the private sector. Therefore, they are all selling their properties. Even now, housing associations are not back to the position they were in in the mid- 1970s. How on earth can the housing association movement, which has recently made public statements on this aspect, make up the difference that has come about because of the cuts in local authority housing?

The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) said that repossessions are not caused by interest rates, or not to any great extent. That would be laughable if it was not so tragic. He said that repossessions were caused mainly by unemployment and marital breakdowns. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) dealt with the point well. Someone with a £40,000 mortgage on which the interest rate was 9.75 per cent. when the mortgage was taken out but which then increased to 13.5 per cent. would have to pay an extra £1,016 per annum. If we are not saying that that can lead to economic distress, what are we saying? The figures given by the building societies are phenomenal. The figures for repossessions have escalated dramatically. In what was effectively the last year of the Labour Government--the figures carry over to the following year --there were 3,020 repossessions. That was in 1980. Every year thereafter the figure has risen until in 1987--the last year for which figures have been given--repossessions numbered 22,630--a sevenfold increase, which is a far larger increase that that for house purchase and, of course, that figure will increase even more. The

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dream of home ownership is being turned into the nightmare of bed and breakfast, paid for by the ratepayers who are soon to be the poll tax payers.

Instead of silly schemes and the Minister trying desperately to react by saying, "Take in a lodger to help pay your bills", without recognising that he must change the law to enable that to happen, he should call in the lending societies, including the banks and the other finance companies and say, "One in 10 of all homeless families are homeless because they cannot pay their mortgages. It is unacceptable that such families with children should go into bed and breakfast. Let's call them in and have a system whereby the local authority or the housing associations could buy the property from you, the lending organisations, and convert it into a rented property." I accept that some funds will be needed for that, but the amount would not be enormous.

Alternatively--the Halifax and other building societies are prepared to consider this--we could have the system that I understand was used in the 1930s in which the ownership was converted and the property became a rented property with the lending organisation either managing the property or paying a housing association to do so. There are many other innovative schemes, but all that the Minister can suggest is, "Take in a lodger" because, he says, if things go wrong, it is easier to get them out under the provisions of the 1988 legislation. He says that such people should simply be put into the street--

Mr. Howard rose --

Mr. Soley : I shall give way to the Minister in a moment. The Minister said that the Labour party wants to create queues. Well, we did not create the queue for the cardboard boxes, did we? We did not triple, quadruple or whatever the housing list queues, did we? The Conservative party did all that and those queues are a disgrace. Mr. Howard rose --

Mr. Soley : Yes, I shall give way to the Minister on one last occasion.

Mr. Howard : On the subject of lodgers, is it the hon. Gentleman's position that building societies should be encouraged to place obstacles in the path of those who wish to take in lodgers? That was the only point that I addressed in my speech on this matter, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us his position.

Mr. Soley : Subject to satisfactory safeguards, I have no objection to the Minister, the building societies and the other lending organisations getting together to allow that to happen. However, any such provisions must not mean that when the home owner wants to get rid of an individual or when the building society has to repossess because that idea does not work, those people then become homeless almost overnight, adding to the cardboard box queue.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) should be ashamed of himself for using the example that he did. He is one of those Conservative Members who represent the dinosaur tendency. Anyone who believes that all those homeless and hungry kids who are begging on the streets can get £600 per week for doing that must be out of his tiny little mind. I emphasise that teenage children are begging in the streets and that most of us are

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seeing that for the first time in our lives, because one would have to be 60 or 70 to have seen it before. The vast majority of those young people are desperate.

Prior to being elected to the House in 1979, I was a probation officer in one of the most difficult areas of London, but even with homeless youngsters being unloaded at King's Cross and Euston, I could always find such people a roof over their heads unless they were violent or drunk. That cannot be done now. They have to be told to take their place in the queue for the boxes or to take their place in the queues for council homes--

Mr. Summerson rose --

Mr. Soley : I advise the hon. Gentleman that the Government have created a major and drastic housing crisis, the like of which no one in this country has seen since the end of the second world war. That crisis is hitting the home owner, those who rent in both the private and the public sectors, and it is even hitting the Government. They own no fewer than one dozen homes in my constituency where we have one of the worst housing problems in the country. Those properties have been empty for up to 10 years, yet the Government refuse to let the housing associations take them over. I am talking about three and four-bedroomed houses and flats. The Government say, "We are keeping them empty because they are near Wormwood Scrubs prison and in the long term we want to knock them down to provide car parking and landscaping." That is a measure of the Government's disgraceful policy and it will be thrown out with the Government.

6.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope) : What a disgraceful display of synthetic indignation-- [Interruption.] This three-and-a-half hour debate has been the Opposition's chance to tell us about their housing policies--[ Hon. Members-- : "No."]

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West) rose

Mr. Speaker : Order. The Minister has only got half a sentence out.

Mr. Chope : The Opposition have blown their chance. They have shown that they do not have any coherent housing policy--

Ms. Armstrong rose --

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