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Mrs. Gorman : It seems that the hon. Member for Workington is slightly agitated about the fact that I am telling truths about which his party does not wish to know and does not wish to go on the record.
Under that scheme, relatively few people were rehoused outside the borough. Most of the boroughs did not want to take other borough's residents. Unfortuntely, fewer than 2 per cent. were, in the emotive language used by the
Column 340Opposition, "shunted out". In fact, few people were housed outside the Westminster council area during the period covered by the report.
Last, but not least, we must deal with those homeless people who live on our streets. It is true that the number of people who are sleeping rough has increased enormously since the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 was introduced. That is partly because people were attracted to the city and thought that they would find accommodation, which, unfortunately, was not available.
Of the people housed temporarily by Westminser, none of them stayed in temporary accommodation for more than a year and, at present, the waiting time is down to under six months. That is a creditable record, not matched by many of the boroughs around Westminster that deliberately put people in extremely grotty hotels and often basic accommodation in and around the central Westminster area. Camden currently has 295 people in almost sub- standard accommodation and does not seem to care that people are living in poor accommodation. Hackney pays for 430 temporary households in Westminster. The story of temporary housing in Westminster is largely one of other boroughs putting their residents into temporary accommodation there.
Ms Glenda Jackson : Would the hon. Lady clarify a point in which she referred to my local authority of Camden? Is she saying that there are 295 families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation or 295 individuals, because there are no families who come under Camden's remit who are in bed-and- breakfast or hostel accommodation and there have not been for more than a year.
Mrs. Gorman : I accept the hon. Lady's intervention. I am dealing with official figures which have been provided by Westminster council-- [Interruption.] --on privately leased units in the city of Westminster. I make no bones about that. Camden has 295 units which are currently leased in the City of Westminster. The situation in Westminster is not one of failure to meet its obligation under the housing responsibilities laid on it--far from it. It is dealing with an extremely difficult and almost unique set of circumstances and doing it responsibly and with admirable zeal.
Another scheme that the council adopted, which was enormously successful in improving the quality of housing, was the housing improvement area scheme, in which Westminster co-operated with the private sector--individual or commercial landlords--and put up half the money under Government schemes to improve areas. Places such as Pimlico benefited from that scheme and improved out of all recognition, as did parts of Paddington in north London.
By improving the general tone of the neighbourhoods, the council made the opportunity to buy more attractive in places where formerly tenants wanted only to get out. Again, the council was both stabilising and assisting the population with sensible policies. All those policies, Government-backed and legal, were undertaken by Westminster to deal with its unique circumstances.
I shall briefly and finally deal with accusations of gerrymandering on the grounds that the council deliberately planted people in marginal wards or Labour wards with a view to influencing their political representation. At the 1990 election, which is discussed in
Column 341the district auditor's report, five Labour wards returned Conservative councillors. Not a single council flat was sold in two of them--West End ward and Maida Vale ward. There was not a single council house sale to a yuppie or a local or anybody. In the marginal ward of Victoria, which covers this area and where Labour has always thought it might win, not a single council flat is available for sale. So there is no question of gerrymandering.
In another one of those five wards, Little Venice, only 26 units of accommodation were sold, but the Tory majority was much greater than that. The Labour party was wiped out. In Churchill ward, only 35 units of accommodation were sold. Again, that was nothing like the overall majority which the Conservative party had and it was certainly not influential. In Bayswater ward, 105 units were sold. In fact, sales in Westminster under the designated sales scheme and the cash incentives are still not as high as the council wishes. Only about 1,000 properties are affected under those schemes.
Westminster council owns 20,000 units of accommodation, which gives one some idea of how influential or otherwise the sale of properties was likely to be on changing the voting results in any one of those wards.
The reason why the council did so remarkably well in the 1990 election was its splendid record on low community charge, which was introduced at the second lowest rate in the country. Naturally, that meant that the sensible people of Westminster turned out in their thousands to vote for the Conservative party, knowing that if there was a Labour council, they were likely to get rates of the proportions in Lambeth, Southwark or Peckham or any other high-spending, poor-level accommodation Labour housing authority. The last thing to which I wish to refer, because it is brought up time and again, is--
We keep hearing about houses that are boarded up. Westminster city council, just like other boroughs, occasionally boards up houses. If hon. Members want to see boarded-up houses, they need only take a walk around Lambeth. It seems that someone has cornered the market in corrugated iron in Lambeth, because so many of the houses are boarded up. Those properties are boarded up because of the threat of squatting. The only way in which squatters can be kept out is by boarding a property up until it is refurbished and tenants can return.
At the moment, there are only six squatted buildings in Westminster. Lambeth council has several hundred such properties. That is a measure of the success of Westminster council's policies. The allegations about boarding up property and empty property are nonsense.
I end with an anecdote. When I was a councillor for Millbank ward, we decided that properties on the very old-fashioned Rose street estate immediately to the west side of Horseferry road which had baths in the kitchens should be refurbished quickly. We devised a scheme whereby we offered the residents the opportunity to take another flat temporarily or to receive money for the cost of entering temporary hotel accommodation of their own
Column 342choice for the period. The tenants co- operated. We boarded the flats up and refurbished them in six weeks flat. The tenants returned to their original properties, which now contained brand new kitchens and bathrooms.
If one had toured that estate and counted the boarded-up doors, one would have found whole blocks which were boarded up. However, they were boarded up for the very sensible reason that we wanted to carry out the refurbishment not around the tenants, as that might have taken 18 months, but quickly, cleanly and with the best interests of the tenants at heart.
When we consider those points, and read the report in its entirety, I am sure that the accusations laid at Westminster's door will be refuted.
Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley) : I am glad of the opportunity to make a contribution on a very important issue for which we have responsibility--housing. There can be no doubt that good housing is a fundamental in a decent society. However, we must remember that it involves more than shelter and a roof over one's head.
Housing is crucial to good health, to good education and to good family and social relationships. Wherever we look, the evidence is clear. If one is badly housed, one is more likely to suffer ill health. If one is badly housed, one is less likely to continue in full-time education. If one is inadequately housed, one is bound to be subject to more pressures in one's family and social relationships.
All Opposition Members--and, if they are honest, many Conservative Members- -can tell stories of constituents whose lives have been blighted by the Government's failure to provide adequate housing for everyone. During the months that I have been here, colleagues have told me about the problem of housing in our inner cities. I do not argue with them that poverty is greatest and housing worst in our inner cities.
However, I do not want to consider the housing problems of the inner cities. Instead, I want to address an issue which I feel very strongly receives far too little attention in Parliament. That issue, which is becoming more important in our nation and is a festering sore in many of our cities, involves our outer-ring areas. What is happening in the outer- ring areas of our cities ? What is happening on the housing estates which once offered a new start for a previous generation of inner-city residents ? The Government's policies have consistently led to housing problems in those outer-ring areas being ignored. That is causing great resentment among the residents in outer-ring areas.
The Government's approach to housing finance is almost obscene. They allocate money not on the basis of housing need, but as prizes for competitions which they have invented. Prizes for the estate action competition take up 20 per cent. of the 1993-94 capital spending budget. Two thirds of the £40 million worth of prizes for the housing action trusts went to just two locations.
In the city of Birmingham, the recent housing investment programme bid for £92 million saw £41 million top sliced for estate action, leaving a mere £22 million for all the council housing in the rest of the largest city in western Europe. With regard to the urban renewal scheme,
Column 343four areas of Birmingham each receive £3 million, while the private housing stock in the rest of the city shares £19 million. The situation is clear. The way in which the Government's housing policy operates means that the little money available for housing, both in the private sector and the rented sector, is concentrated in a few mainly inner-city areas. As Government policy intended, that money acts as a magnet for other resources from the council's own budget and from elsewhere.
Over the years, there has been a proliferation of dedicated schemes and special projects and the continued allocation of funds on a competitive basis. The result of that is clear. There has been an increase in the division between housing winners and housing losers. That is not the fault of local authorities. The figures to which I have just referred are not the fault of Birmingham city council or the way in which it would like to allocate its housing resources.
Mr. Baldry : Does the hon. Lady accept that no one obliges Birmingham to bid for estate action, for housing action trusts or for any of the other initiatives she mentioned ? All those decisions, including what bids to make and how to make them, are decisions for Birmingham city council.
Ms Morris : The Government's guidelines encourage city councils such as Birmingham to make HIP bids with regard to other resources which might take the form of city challenge or estate action funds. Does the Minister accept that it is his Department that asks city councils to focus attention on areas of greater housing need and to focus resources within those areas? The Minister should consider the directions in the HIP bid guidelines for local authorities.
Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) : Does my hon. Friend agree that Birmingham city council's HIP bid, which Ministers considered, set out very clearly--and the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction attended a presentation in Birmingham in this regard--the housing needs across the city in the public and private sector totalling £200 million? However, the council was allowed to bid for only just under £100 million and, of that, the council received an allocation of less than £50 million. Does not that show the ridiculous way in which the Government allocate housing finance and how that does not in any way match the housing needs in Birmingham and other cities?
Ms Morris : My hon. Friend is right. We both have constituents who suffer as a result of the way in which the Government allocate housing money. I also attended the presentation when the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction heard Birmingham's HIP bid. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) was as delighted as I was by the compliment that the Minister paid Birmingham city council for the way in which it runs its housing stock and the way it acts as a housing authority. If local authorities want money, they must play the Government's game. However, the way in which the rules
Column 344are written mean that many areas and many people never stand a chance of winning. According to the Government's guidelines : "Estate Action will increasingly focus on the re-generation of larger, more run down estates."
Housing action trusts are offered for larger inner-city estates. City challenge draws together initiatives in urban and inner-city areas and urban renewal money is allocated on the basis of an area strategy. It is obvious that local authorities are constantly under pressure from the Government to focus resources in a few areas and usually in inner cities.
While Ministers tour the country for photo opportunities in successful projects, whole chunks and swathes of our housing estates receive absolutely nothing, and they are often outer-ring areas. My constituency is one of the areas that the Government choose to ignore. Constituencies such as mine and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield attract very few of the scant housing resources. But we too have housing need. We have pockets of deprivation ; I know that they are not as large as those in other constituencies. We have unfit houses ; I know that the situation is not as bad as it is in some neighbouring wards. We have homeless people ; I know that the problem is worse elsewhere.
Two in every 100 constituents in one of my wards have houses with outside bathrooms or toilets, or share such facilities. Despite the fact that the number of elderly people in my constituency is in the top seventh nationally, 44.2 per cent. of houses have no central heating. It is the 14th worst constituency in that respect.
Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East) : When dealing with her constituents, does my hon. Friend encounter the same problem that I find time and again when dealing with mine? They ask, "Why is the council's priority this rather than that? Why has it spent such a huge amount on that estate when it cannot even provide me with a date for something that is basic and fundamental?" Does my hon. Friend also find that, every time, she effectively explains that the rules about housing finance have been imposed upon the local authority by central Government 90-odd miles away? The quality of decision taken in Whitehall cannot be equal to the quality of decisions that could be taken nearer to the problems locally.
Ms Morris : My hon. Friend is right. We have seen massive centralisation in respect of decisions affecting very local matters such as a house in a street or a street in an area. I am sure that my hon. Friend's constituents also ask him, "How bad does my house have to become before it falls into the category that the Government think need assistance?"
There is no doubt that constituencies such as mine have great housing need, but they are made to compete with areas that have even greater housing need. The 2 per cent. of my constituents without indoor facilities have to compete with the 4.6 per cent. in the neighbouring Sparkhill ward. The 44 per cent. of my constituents without central heating must compete with the 62.5 per cent. in the nearby Washwood Heath ward. The result if obvious-- constituencies such as mine lose, and need is unmet.
Just as the proposed new Government guidelines for homelessness attempt to pit the homeless against the inadequately housed, so the Government's obsession with competition pits people with poor housing against people with even poorer housing. The Government should be
Column 345under no illusion about the potentially devastating consequences of making the needy compete against the more needy.
The statistics show that outer-ring areas, constituencies such as mine, are often the losers when it comes to housing allocation, are where unemployment is increasing the most and where crime has risen the most. People in outer-ring areas have a growing feeling of isolation and community breakdown, and they consider that the Government are ignoring their needs and leaving them out. I do not question the need of areas with city challenge and estate action status. I would be the first to welcome an attempt to regenerate those areas, but let us be clear about why special projects exist. The Government did not choose their strategy because it is the best way of meeting housing need ; it is born out of the need to concentrate resources because there is not enough to go round. Their strategy is born of the political objective of eventually handing over publicly renovated houses to the private sector. That strategy is driven by the desire to take the role of social landlord from local authorities.
The Government have singled out my local housing authority as being one of a high standard, yet its housing investment programme allocation has fallen from £67 million to £62 million, £53 million and £49 million in recent years. The Government leave it with little discretion as to how to spend its money. The Government's policy has turned it, just as it has turned every other local authority, into a city of housing winners and housing losers. Conservative Members expect millions of citizens to live in conditions which none of them or their families would tolerate.
The housing crisis now extends far beyond the inner areas of our great Victorian cities. It is at the root of many other problems which we have discussed in the Chamber. Saddest of all, it is a crisis that the Government have never, and certainly not today, shown any ability to solve.
Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak) : I am grateful to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle). I hope that he will listen carefully, because it might enable him to get some of his facts more accurate than he did when we had a discussion on Radio Leeds on Thursday morning. During the radio phone-in, the hon. Gentleman told listeners that not one penny of the money that had been raised from council house sales could be spent on housing. Perhaps on further reflection he will accept that that is not the case. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman stated that the number of houses is getting "smaller and smaller" all the time. That is a quote from him. I hope that he will further reflect on the fact that that is not the case. As he knows, there are 2.5 million more houses in Britain today than there were in 1979.
Mr. Battle : I kept a note of what was said. I shall show the hon. Gentleman the transcript, because he seems to have a selective memory. I said that we were short of houses to rent. Under the Conservative Government, since 1979 the number of homes to rent in Britain has decreased by 2 million. Now tell me about the facts.
Mr. Hendry : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He worked himself up into his usual hysteria slightly more quickly than he normally manages, but I will gladly look at the transcript with him. It appears that the misuse of facts is spreading to all opposition parties. On housing, we have a tremendously positive story, and it is not just the fact that there are 2.5 million more houses in Britian today than there were 14 years ago, but the encouraging construction figures, particularly in the private sector. Also, the year-on-year number of families who are accepted as homeless has been dropping for 18 months.
Is it not slightly unfortunate that, if we have two months of bad news, the Opposition and the pressure groups who talk about housing say that that is a trend, but, when we have 18 months of good figures, they say that it is too early to tell and we cannot judge the figures yet?
Elsewhere, the figures are looking better as well. Figures on the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation are immensely encouraging and must be welcomed. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, today's figures on repossessions, showing a further substantial drop, are good news indeed.
Also useful are figures recently produced by the Bank of England on the extent of negative equity. They show that, between the first and third quarters of last year, the number of households with negative equity dropped from 1.8 million to 1.2 million, and that the total negative equity involved dropped from £11.7 billion to £7.3 billion. All hon. Members want the amount of negative equity to go down further, but that is a much more dramatic, impressive drop than was expected.
As joint chairman of the all-party group on homelessness, I find particularly encouraging the dramatic drops in the number of people sleeping rough. Independent figures collected by the London Homelessness Network suggest that the number of people sleeping rough in central London has dropped by two thirds over the past two years. All hon. Members would expect those encouraging figures to continue. On this optimistic note, it is worth pointing out that there is more good news to come. Indeed, it is already in the pipeline. The new right of repair, which will come into force in April, will enable thousands of tenants in all parts of the country who have had to wait endlessly for basic housing repairs to have the work done privately under a certain cost ceiling, and to pass the bill to the local authority.
As has been said already, we have seen encouraging progress in terms of the reduction in the number of empty properties owned by the Government. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) gave a figure that he must realise is completely out of date, as it includes a huge number of individual units in nurses' hostels. If the suggestion is that each of those could be used to house a homeless family, that is a very worrying prospect. Such accommodation is clearly unsuitable for homeless families, and such an arrangement would be unsuitable for the nurses living on site.
The figures have been revised, and we now find that the proportion of Government-owned houses currently empty is much lower than was previously estimated. More important, the Government are taking a direct lead. Here I should mention the pressure that was announced in the Budget--especially the pressure on the Ministry of Defence, which, I willingly accept, has been the worst
Column 347offender in this respect. If the Ministry of Defence is to maintain its defence budget, it will be expected to make better use of its housing stock. That is a move that I hope the whole House will welcome.
I also welcome the changes to be made under phase 2 of the rough sleepers initiative. I accept that there is concern about this matter. Last week, at the request of John Bird, the editor of The Big Issue , I looked at McNaughten house, which, under these proposals, may well be closed. Within a few hours, I spoke to the Minister, and an assurance was given that the Government fully accept the need for off-the-street accommodation and are committed to keeping it. In the case of an establishment like McNaughten house, the main question is whether the owners are seeking an extension of the lease.
I welcome the consultation paper on the review of homelessness legislation, which was published last week. It is vital that the Government take action to remove some of the distortions in the current housing structure. Like all other hon. Members, I receive many letters about housing. Most of these come not from people who are homeless. [Interruption.] I probably get rather more letters about general homelessness than does the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), as, being chairman of the all-party group, I am contacted by people in all parts of the country.
In my constituency, I receive a few letters from people who are homeless, but a much larger number from people who want help to secure a council house as they are in inadequate accommodation. Those people wait their turn, but never seem to make progress up the waiting list. One does not wish to discriminate against anybody, but the situation must be put into more balance.
Not everybody seeking a council house is in need of permanent council accommodation. Some people's needs would be met by short-term provision. Providing someone with a house for 20, 30 or 40 years--some council houses are passed on to other family members--is not necessarily the best, or even an appropriate, solution.
I object to the hysteria that has greeted the publication of the consultation paper to which I have referred. My right hon. Friend the Minister has referred to the suggestion that we could see a return to the "Cathy Come Home" situation. The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) referred to this matter on BBC Radio Leeds last week. It really is unmitigated drivel. Since "Cathy Come Home", we have seen the introduction of income support to ensure a degree of social security for families--
Mr. Hendry : And family income supplement was not in place in those days. More important, we now have housing benefit--introduced by a Conservative Government, of course. This benefit is available for use either in the private sector or in the public sector. Thus the extreme cases of homelessness depicted in "Cathy Come Home" simply could not exist today, and nothing proposed in the consultation document would result in the return of such a situation.
I should like to express some concern about three aspects of the consultation document. First, I hope that my right hon. Friend will assure us that those who are forced
Column 348to leave home and are vulnerable will not find themselves on the street. This point was made forcefully by Centrepoint in a briefing that was sent to hon. Members.
Centrepoint does tremendous work in this field, as do other charities. One of its particular anxieties is that an abused mother should go to a housing office on a Friday evening only to find that, because she cannot be assessed immediately, she is left on the street over the weekend. It is important that we should be assured that such vulnerable people will be treated as urgent cases.
Mr. Henry : I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that assurance. Most of us believed that such would be the case, but my right hon. Friend's categorical assurance will be comforting to the charities in this field.
The second key element of the consultation document concerns the fact that the role of the private sector must be enhanced. I am certainly encouraged by the fact that the proportion of houses in the private rented sector is beginning to grow. That could be accounted for partly by the current housing situation, in which people who cannot sell their properties seek to rent them out, and those who are not ready to commit themselves to purchase go for renting in the meantime. However, I am not convinced that the changes proposed in this document will, by themselves, bring about the necessary growth in this sector. We need to go further.
I am encouraged by the extension of the tenants incentive scheme to become the cash incentive scheme. However, there is also a strong case for looking at the incentive scheme for tenants who move out of the public rented sector into the private sector. We need an assurance that provision will not be for a period of just six months, after which the people concerned will again be homeless, but will be for a significant period. There will be considerable scope for introducing such a scheme.
I encourage my right hon. Friend to talk to his colleagues in the Treasury about the proposal to extend the tax-free element of rental income. It seems to me quite reasonable that, if a person can rent out a room of his home for £60 a week, a similar income derived from the letting of a private house should be tax-free. This matter was eloquently dealt with in a pamphlet that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) produced last year. The principle could be applied to newly available properties. We also need to move towards a strategy for vulnerable young people leaving home. Many such people going to university live in halls of residence. They are housed, fed, clothed and given social support.
Mr. Hendry : I have been saying this for a long time, and it is very similar to things that have been said by my right hon. Friend the Minister. I am grateful that, for once, the hon. Member for Leeds, West and I are in agreement.
We must consider the needs of people leaving home at the age of 16 or 17. Youngsters coming from backgrounds other than those from which they might well go to university are more vulnerable and need more help in the
Column 349early stages. It is not enough to say that they can move into flats and fend for themselves--budget, cater and provide for all their own needs.
There is very encouraging evidence of the success of the Foyer scheme. This is a national network that concerns itself with the accommodation, training and work of young people. I hope that the Government will continue to provide backing in this area, and will move towards a national strategy to cater for the needs of young people leaving home.
I will touch briefly on only one other point before sitting down, as I recognise that a number of other hon. Members wish to speak. I believe that too much emphasis in the housing debate can be put on the need for new build accommodation. Figures such as 100,000 or 200, 000 houses are bandied about, but too often those figures are unsubstantiated. In particular, I do not think that we should talk the whole time about new build when there are over 750,000 houses which currently lie empty in this country.
The Government are setting an example in terms of their housing stock. They are trying to help in the private sector--by far the biggest sector, with nearly 700,000 empty private houses--through the encouragement of housing associations and of managing agents. They are also trying to help through the flats above shops initiative, but I want them to go further. If, for example, a house is kept empty by a private individual, that individual is relieved of half his council tax bill on that property.
If it is a commmercial organisation which is wilfully leaving an empty flat above its premises, it should not be entitled to get the half rebate on the council tax. Therefore, where properties are owned by corporate organisations, those organisations should pay the council tax in full, so the costs of keeping those buildings empty are brought home to them.
Local authorities remain big offenders in the matter of empty houses. We heard earlier from the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland). Last year, I took part in a BBC television programme from the Moston estate in central Manchester, where 18 per cent. of houses are empty. Since then, the estate has been given a vast amount of money under the estate action programme to help bring some of the empty houses back into use. However, there will continue to be a problem until local authorities can prove themselves better wardens of the public interest and until they start to look after council stock better.
I am sympathetic to suggestions that, if councils do not make good use of properties, or do not bring them back into use quickly, those properties should be made available to individuals, who will bring them back into use as quickly as possible.
My final point relates to empty offices. We have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) talk about the volume of derelict land in London. A huge amount of that derelict land has been designated for office development. There are already the equivalent of 25 empty Canary Wharf towers which have been built in the central London area. The Government have said that they will encourage and support moves to change those buildings into living accommodation where it is appropriate and possible.
Such properties may be suitable for short-term accommodation for students, and for young professional people who want to live in the city rather than be forced further out into the suburbs. That is an idea whose time has
Column 350come. I am not talking about every building, but there are a significant number where it is possible that that approach could be widely used.
There has been a significant improvement across the board in the statistics relating to housing and to homelessness. That is something which all hon. Members should welcome. The Government's policies are producing results, and are very much on track. I encourage my colleagues to reject the motion tonight, and also to make sure that sensible views are expressed as the consultation document moves forward. My hon. Friends must make sure that the views of our constituents, who have overwhelmingly backed that consultation document, are heard widely.
Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East) : This debate on housing is overdue, and I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends for using this Opposition day debate to place on record our criticisms of the Government's policy on housing, which have persisted since 1979.
If the Minister needs evidence of the Government's gross neglect, he need do no more than look at my town of Wolverhampton. In 1979, there were approximately 2,000 people on the waiting list ; today, there is a waiting list of 13,000. Hon. Members should just consider the misery and the frustration which lie behind those statistics. In the few minutes which I have allotted to me, I will make a few comments on housing co-ops. As a Labour Co-operative Member, and proud to be so, I wish to point out that housing co-operatives are an ideal way of harnessing personal responsibility to meeting housing need. They are important in terms of maintaining choice and diversity, as well as accountability to users.
Recently, the chief executive of the Halifax building society acknowledged that little choice exists in Britain between owner-occupation and local authority/housing association renting. What is needed is a recognition of the distinctiveness of co-operative housing, and the role it could play in a comprehensive housing strategy. More could be done to support innovations such as self-build for rent, and many different types of co-operative housing schemes.
When one considers that homelessness has increased by more than half since 1979--from just over 56,000 to over 148,000--and that homes needed for rent outstrip supply by 100,000 homes, the case for housing co-ops is overwhelming.
Unfortunately, the Housing Corporation's response to the substantial cuts-- cuts of £320 million, as the Minister knows--to its approved development programme has been to reduce the share of that programme that is devoted to housing co-operatives from a promised 3.4 per cent. to 1.3 per cent. That commitment to housing co-ops of 3.4 per cent. was promised me by Sir Christopher Benson in 1992 when, as we know, he was chairman of the Housing Corporation. I was then, as I still am, the chairman of the all -party group on housing co-operatives. The Minister was a founder member of that group, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth).
Given that the percentage of all public spending on housing has been reduced from 6.1 per cent. in 1979 to 2.5
Column 351per cent. in 1993, I am sure that all hon. Members will recognise that that is a severe reduction of housing co- operative support from the Housing Corporation.
The Minister has supported tenant management co-operatives, and I understand and welcome the basic principles of the right to manage introduced in the Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. However, I fail to see how that makes up for the increase in housing provision, given that it is a right for existing tenants in existing homes. Indeed, local authority housing starts have fallen from 100,000 in 1979 to 2,000 in 1993.
With the current levels of homelessness, with 60,000 people in temporary accommodation, with 1.5 million people on waiting lists, and with 500,000 people in mortgage arrears and in the trap of negative equity, will the Minister and the Government admit that what is needed is not the tinkering that the latest document represents? Changing definitions does not change the underlying reality of the problems which those figures manifest.
Will the Minister admit that what is needed is a comprehensive strategy that recognises, and fully and equitably supports, a mix of tenures and ownership? That, as I have suggested, would harness the energy and the innovations which have been shown by all involved in co-operative housing.