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Dr. Hampson : I shall give way in a moment. Obviously, I cannot accept too many interventions, but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

At the heart of the recommendations is not only the proposal that there should be a pulling together of Government departmental activities, which the Government have already done, but that local authorities should be a significant part of the coalitions that are involved--the activators. That is what we have been trying to do. There has been an attempt to create a real partnership of all the active participants.

In the old days before the Tories came to power, there were no coalitions-- there was no active participation by the private sector ; it was all done through the public sector. The new coalitions are physically transforming those areas and the knock-on effect for surrounding areas has been huge. The private sector has also put resources into the surrounding areas because the transformation has had a stimulating and catalytic effect.

In Leeds, for every £1 of public money, £6 of private money has been put in. Of course, not all local councils have the same leverage ability. In Manchester, it is much less, but on average, £1 of public money pulls in £4 of private money. Partnership coalitions have worked, as against the non-coalitions of the Labour years, which rarely produced results in Holbeck, Hunslet, cental Leeds, Teesside, Tyneside or docklands

Mr. Gunnell : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the city council has played a major role in the developments to which he referred ? Before the Urban Development Corporation was created, the city council started what was happening on Boar lane as a result of its renovations of the

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corn exchange. The hon. Gentleman said that the royal armouries were won by the Urban Development Corporation. However, he should know that they were won by a joint presentation from the city council and the Urban Development Corporation.

The hon. Gentleman knows that I was a member of the Urban Development Corporation. I was placed on the Urban Development Corporation as a member of the city council to ensure that partnership took place. He should acknowledge that progress in Leeds has been the result of partnership, not the result of

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Traditionally, interventions are short, especially when we have a 10-minute restriction on speeches.

Dr. Hampson : I thought that I had made it clear that I was talking about partnerships. I acknowledge that partnerships have come together, but the catalyst was the Urban Development Corporation. There has been much more transformation in Leeds since the creation of the Urban Development Corporation because it has attracted private capital. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the city council played no initiating role in attracting the royal armouries ; the chief executive of the Urban Development Corporation took the initiative. I say that simply to put the record straight, although the partnership made it successful.

I conclude by referring to some of the overall success stories. We have 17 new restaurants and two new hotels. The canal system has attracted some wonderful places for people to enjoy themselves. There are about 400 to 500 new housing units in various parts of the inner city. There has been more than 3,800,000 sq ft of non-housing commercial and industrial development. About 144 acres of derelict, underused, polluted land have been transformed, as is the case in London's docklands and Liverpool's. Who was responsible for that ? For 15 years, we had local government report after report and discussion after discussion, but nothing happened in docklands. I can remember flying, with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, over the London docklands in a helicopter, and seeing the devastation. We realised that we had to pull the whole thing together and have something that would be the co-ordinating force to cut through the planning red tape and, above all, draw in private money. In Leeds, we now have had Government grants of £51.5 million, and we are drawing in another £317 million of private money. I could go on about other areas as well. Regardless of what the Robson report says, the managing director of Nissan said :

"The achievements of TWDC"

the Tyne and Wear development corporation

"in such a short space of time are nothing short of phenomenal. It has done a power of good for the image and the credibility of the region"

not only the particular site but the region

"in attracting blue chip' companies of real quality to Tyne and Wear. This not only enhances the stature of the area but it bodes well for its future prosperity."

Even our former colleague, now Sir Ian Wrigglesworth--I do not know whether he was speaking for the Liberal Democrats or as a business man--said :

"I am convinced that a considerable contribution to resisting the recession has been made by the work of the Tyne and Wear

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and Teesside UDCs and I think we can draw lessons on how to manage urban development from them . . . The corporations have made a dramatic impact on the areas they cover. They have been an enormous success."

Anybody who goes there can see that success.

The Government have offered hope to no-hope areas, created opportunities to tap the potential that is there and--above all--stopped the slide of decline and the insidious deterioration that had been going on year after year, decade after decade. We have produced partnerships of mutual benefit, involving city councils, the private sector, universities and voluntary bodies. That to me is a great achievement.

The tragedy is that Opposition Members, such as the right hon. Member for Gorton, have never acknowledged that there has been any achievement. They want to go back and perpetuate a system that was failing the inner cities of this country. The Government have more to boast about.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. We are just about to enter the ten- minute rule period. May I say to new hon. Members who are seeking to catch my eye that the digital clock will flash when they have 30 seconds to go ?

6 pm

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury) : I welcome the Labour party motion, and I shall be advising my colleagues to vote in favour of it tonight. It is true that the motion does not go much farther than reiterating points that have been made several times in the past, but then as long as the Government fail to recognise the importance of the points, it is up to us those of us on the Opposition Benches to reiterate them until the Government are forced to change their policies. Let there be no doubt that the Government's urban and housing policies have failed, and are still failing. The Government's recent study makes it clear that urban deprivation and decay in the core of our inner cities has worsened throughout the 1980s despite all of the resources that the Government have tried to pour into them. That has happened because of the Government's pathological hatred of local government and their ability to ignore local authorities and communities, instead of working in partnership with them. Inner cities face many problems--crime, vandalism, low standards of health and education, high levels of unemployment and many more--but if one aspect of our society lies at the root of all of the problems, it must be housing. Let us consider for a moment the effects of housing on health standards. Inadequate and poorly designed housing can often be both damp and cold. There may be problems caused by asbestos, insect infestation, radon gas, poor sanitation, poor lighting, the use of shared amenities and overcrowding. On the other hand, problems may be caused by living alone without normal social contacts.

We must consider other effects besides the health effects of poor housing. Residents in HMOs--houses in multiple occupation--are 10 times more likely to die in a fire than the average resident. More than half of the walls in newly completed houses fail to meet the Building Research Establishment's recommended standards for noise transmission between buildings.

Meanwhile, 72 per cent. of families in bed and breakfast accommodation in London have no access to safe play

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areas for their children. Is it any surprise that some children grow up alienated from society, and feeling that they have been given none of the opportunities open to their contemporaries to make the most of their own lives ?

What is the Government's answer ? Since 1989-90, there has been a 42 per cent. decrease in funding for new special needs housing. Investment in social housing is set to fall by £1 billion in the next few years. The level of grants to housing associations has fallen and is still falling. Far from providing more affordable rented homes, the Government have done their best to reduce the number by their rent-to-mortgage scheme. The scheme can only be described as a farcical failure. It is reported today by the Association of London Authorities that just seven out of 650,000 council homes in the capital had been purchased under the scheme--precisely 0.001 per cent.

What of the Minister's other great initiative, the White Paper on homelessness ? It has now been almost universally rejected, particularly those aspects which deal with the reform of homelessness legislation. On several occasions, the Minister has assured us that the responses to his consultation paper have been varied and have covered a wide spectrum. I wonder whether he will answer today one specific question. How many of the responses have supported the proposals in the paper which cover the reform of the homelessness legislation, as opposed to those proposals which cover necessary improvements in the advice network ?

What can and should be done in place of the failing efforts of the Government ? The Liberal Democrats believe that our country needs 100,000 new units of social housing each year for the next five years. Interestingly, a recent briefing paper from Shelter produced precisely the same figure.

How are we to achieve that ? Part of the answer, at least, has to be to tackle the problem of empty homes, and I want that to take up a large part of my limited time tonight. I feel that it is a very important subject which has not so far been tackled by either of the larger parties properly. I am talking not just about the widely recognised scandal of empty Government-owned properties--appalling though that is--but of empty properties in all sectors.

In the context of empty Government-owned properties, it may be of interest to the House that I recently discovered why those properties are being left empty. Apparently, a senior officer was asked recently whether he would be prepared to accept young couples into some of the married accommodation in some of his empty sites. He answered that that would be impossible while any soldiers were housed there because some of the young couples who moved in might later split up and divorce, and that would be a bad example for our "young lads". So that is it. The Government waste millions of pounds a year keeping Ministry of Defence properties empty to save our poor innocent soldiers from being contaminated by the knowledge that couples sometimes split up and get divorced. What world do those people live in ?

It is not just Government-owned properties which are empty. Since 1990, there has been a sudden jump in the previously gradual upward trend in the number of empty properties in England. Each year since then, the number has risen by an extra 50,000 empty homes and that is a tragic waste. There are now also huge numbers of empty commercial properties, many of which will never again be put to commercial use. Here I come to a proposal for the Minister which I hope he will get his civil servants to work

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on seriously. It could, I believe, lead to tens--if not hundreds--of thousands of new affordable properties being made available. I have in the past praised the "flats over shops" initiative, and I believe that it is still worth while, at least in principle. However, it has no doubt hit a serious problem, in that many landlords believe that it is better to hang on to an empty property that has planning permission for commercial use than to allow it to lose that permission by being converted into residential accommodation. That is done in the hope that, at some point in the future, an upturn in the economy will give the property back the commercial value it once had.

The Minister should investigate the possibility of overcoming that reluctance on the part of landlords by allowing some sort of retained commercial-use permission. One might call it a "return ticket" type of conversion to residential accommodation. It is, of course, only a part of the answer that the Liberal Democrats would propose to the problems of housing and urban areas. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House will agree that it is better to use the short time available to me to try to take policy one step further than simply to repeat the points that I and others have had to make all too often in the past, or to go in for the sort of rant that we heard from both Front-Bench spokesmen earlier.

I offer the Minister a free suggestion. Be brave, take the flats over shops initiative forward and allow some sort of dual use permission. Who knows ? The Minister may go down in history as someone who succeeded in helping, rather than harming, the homeless.

6.8 pm

Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley) : The terms of the Opposition motion best describe what the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) would otherwise have said with his usual venom.

The first line of the Opposition motion states that the Government's urban policies have failed. That line demonstrates that the Opposition have no conception of what urban regeneration is all about, because one cannot judge the success or failure of such regeneration inside 30 years. Examples from all over the world confirm that it takes decades to assess the success of regeneration. The Opposition, however, know better than anyone else and they have concluded that our policy has failed.

The Opposition motion refers to our "doctrinaire solutions"--what gall, what spleen from the Labour party. That party got me into politics because I was so furious at the way in which it used its doctrinaire policies to destroy jobs in Hackney, where I worked as a volunteer lawyer. A local factory was closed and 18 delightful Bangladeshi people lost their jobs because it was considered that their boss, a member of their family, was paying them a few pennies too little. Those people told me, with tears in their eyes, that they had been paid 500 per cent. more than they were paid in Bangladesh. They were delighted with such money, but they lost their jobs because of Labour party inflexibility.

The Opposition motion also claims that our policies have resulted in cuts in urban and housing programmes. If we cut our regeneration budget by even 500 per cent., it would still beat by a mile what the Labour party spent on urban regeneration during the 1970s. Then, it spent £25 million a year ; last year, the Conservative Government

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spent £4 billion. If that amount is added to all the money spent on inner cities, the aggregate sum increases to £10 billion. So much for the Conservative Government cutting budgets.

Mr. Straw : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Booth : My speech is subject to the 10-minute limit, so I cannot give way.

If the Opposition are seriously suggesting that we have wasted money, what about the £3 billion we have devoted to attracting urban investment, which is part of the geared £13 billion extra commercial investment in our cities ? According to the Opposition motion, the Government have also undermined voluntary action towards urban regeneration, but we are the party of voluntary action. I used to chair the British Urban Regeneration Association. It has 500 members, many of them voluntary organisations that were established in the 1980s and which continue to thrive.

According to the Opposition motion we have reinforced a dependency culture. That is rich from the Labour party, which created that culture in the first place. The motion also calls for

"the phased release of capital receipts".

We have heard a lot about that from Opposition Members today. Those receipts are already released, so that is another nonsense in the Opposition motion.

The Government's amendment, in contrast, is sensible and factual. It deserves the support of the House. Although the Conservative Government are not doctrinaire, we do adhere to one doctrine, because the Conservative party helps all our people, regardless of background. That is clear from the urban regeneration of Albert docks in Liverpool, which has already been mentioned, Swansea docks, housing in Kirklees and the Ivory house development in docklands. All those regeneration schemes were undertaken in Labour authorities. Time after time, the Conservative Government's urban policies have helped various Labour authority areas with demonstrable fairness. Housing policy is a matrix of many policies, although we have not heard much about the environment, jobs, health or education, let alone about crime or culture. We have heard a lot, however, about local government and housing.

I want to give the picture from around Britain. I want health promotion and education to be part of urban regeneration policy. Recently I visited Battersea technology college. When the school numbers fell as a result of a crisis from 1,500 to just 350, what did we do ? Did we close it and forget about that sad school ? Not at all. We injected £2.4 million and, thank goodness, it is now pulling out of its crisis.

The burglary rate has fallen by 16 per cent. in the past year, thanks to excellent law enforcement in the inner cities. The cultural aspects of urban regeneration in inner cities was recognised recently with certain appointments to the Department of the Environment. I commend the recent quality of life initiative.

We need no lectures on local government. In Wandsworth, for example, £4 per head is spent on cleaning the streets, which are cleaner than those across the border in Lambeth. In Lambeth, it costs £28 per head to keep the streets a lot dirtier than they are in Wandsworth.

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The Labour party calls for more responsibilities to be given to local authorities, but does it want those responsibilities to be given to authorities such as Lambeth or to those such as Wandsworth ?

We do not need to rehearse all the excellent statistics that prove how we achieved great things in the 1980s, especially as they were rehearsed in the debate on 25 March. It would be excellent if more could be done to extend the success of our efforts to motivate people. We have sought to increase motivation in schools through the school truancy initiative. I hope that we will not hurt adult education through our job seeker's allowance.

We have attracted much investment to the inner cities, but we need to do more. Hon. Members have talked about the benefit-poverty trap. There are 10,000 people in that trap at the moment, which is far too many, but the figure does not warrant the casual criticisms that we have heard today from Opposition Members. [Hon. Members :-- "Ten thousand ?"] That figure was quoted in a letter that I received this morning from the Department of Social Security.

Mr. Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West) : It is the page number.

Mr. Booth : I will show that letter to anyone who wants to see it. We must tackle the problems created by the black economy, because people who do not pay tax do not pay towards their civic responsibilities. Thank goodness, our policy of low taxation in the corporate sector has tackled that problem. It has brought people out of the woodwork because it is not too sensible to risk prison when taxation is so low.

We need to provide more money for housing swaps and renovations. On my shopping list, motivation should be at the top of our policy agenda. A strategy on health should also be incorporated in the urban regeneration policy adopted by Ministers. Crime prevention should be considered in a new way and-- [Interruption.] If I can just make myself heard above the chattering from the Opposition-- [Hon. Members :-- "Time's up."] We need new firearms legislation. We also need to amend our transport policy to allow heavy lorries to travel at staggered times during the day.

We need to allow and empower people to renovate voids and we need more of the same successful policies for all our people--successful policy bricks made without straw.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order.

6.18 pm

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking) : I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to make my maiden speech on such an important issue.

First, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Jo Richardson. Jo was greatly admired and warmly loved. She is sorely missed by many people, both in the House and in Barking. Thousands of people in Barking knew, respected and loved Jo and felt that the quality of their lives had been enhanced by her, through either her friendship or her actions on their behalf.

Jo's interests were wide-ranging, but she will probably be best remembered for her commitment to women's rights. Working with women in Barking, she helped to create a well woman's clinic and a women's refuge. In the

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House, she piloted legislation protecting women against domestic violence and consistently led the campaign to defend the Abortion Act 1967. But, in Jo's words,

"All issues are women's issues. There is no such thing as a woman's issue. I believe that women should have a voice in everything. That is not only just, but our country will be the better for it."

The subject of today's debate--housing--is vital in Barking. Barking's housing is a lasting tribute and legacy to Labour's successful public housing policies--good council homes, mostly in cottage estates, at affordable rents, built as homes for heroes after the first world war. Later, as Ford expanded into the biggest urban industrial complex, employing more than 30,000 people at its height, the London county council and the Greater London council built decent homes for those who worked in the Ford factories. It was an effective public-private partnership that worked and delivered many years ago. When Barking and Dagenham council took over the GLC stock, it achieved important social objectives by inheriting such a large stock. Young people grew up, married, and were allocated a flat in one of the few high-rise blocks. They stayed there for three to five years and were then transferred to a home with a garden, which was appropriate for families with young children. The flexibility of a large stock meant that Barking had stable, strong and mixed communities, with great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and children living close by and supporting each other in decent homes at a price which they could afford. That is a culture not of dependency but of opportunity. It is not a weak community ; it is a strong community.

During the 1980s, a third of the council's homes were bought by tenants, but, at the same time, council house building virtually stopped because of Government restrictions. So young couples can no longer look forward to a house with a garden ; the stability of the community is threatened ; opportunity for individuals is constrained ; homelessness, even there, has doubled ; vandalism and crime have spread as children cope with living in high-rise blocks ; and racism is on the increase as white families look for a scapegoat to blame for the lack of a decent home.

The Government's dogmatic and ideological loathing of council housing has created a social and economic disaster for our urban communities. New council house building has virtually stopped. Spending has fallen by a staggering 95 per cent. since 1979. In London, only 63 new council homes are being built this year. So of course homelessness has grown. It has caused misery and locked families into a downward spiral of dependency, and made it more difficult for localities to compete for inward investment. The Government have also forced up social housing rents, with the result that the number of people on housing benefit has almost tripled in 15 years, despite 49 separate changes to the housing benefit system, mainly aimed at cutting the benefits bill. Far from freeing people from dependency, the Government have forced them into dependency. Far from increasing individual choice, families cannot take opportunities to work because, with low-paid jobs, they cannot afford the rent. Far from creating social cohesion, the Government are allowing ghettos to develop in both council and housing association housing. Far from reducing public spending, there has been a staggering growth in the housing benefit budget. Far from helping in the fight against inflation, the Government have fuelled inflation with high rent increases. The economics of

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their policy isYet the economics of the madhouse. They have switched spending from subsidising the building of homes to subsidising rents--from investment to consumption.

The link between housing and urban regeneration in that regard is ironic. In housing, we should invest more in bricks and mortar, yet the Government do not. In urban regeneration, we should invest more in people, yet the Government do not. The gap between the rich and the poor is wider today than it has been for more than 100 years. Joblessness, homelessness, poverty, crime, decay and dereliction in our cities are there for all to see. Those are not the signs of a society at peace with itself.

What has gone wrong ? The regeneration of our urban areas is a difficult and complex part of public policy. Yet it, more than most, has been subject to ministerial whim, short-termism and political gimmickry. The Government have had CATs, HATs, UDCs, enterprise zones, garden festivals and task forces. They have been through city grant, city challenge and now the single regeneration budget. The constant change in an area of public policy where consistency is vital shows that political vanity has triumphed over public interest. Urban regeneration is a long-term project and is vital for a healthy society, yet, for the sake of 20 seconds of prime television time for a here today, gone tomorrow, Tory politician, the Government are prepared to let urban deprivation and social division become institutionalised.

Furthermore, urban regeneration will never work if the Government give with one hand and then take back much more with the other. Their review of urban programmes documents the success of a wide range of urban programme projects. But if local authority spending is cut, housing investment is slashed or section ll funding destroyed, the impact of urban regeneration spending will inevitably be lost in bigger cuts elsewhere. It is obvious.

Even in their own terms, trickle-down policies do not work. Canary wharf provides a potent visual reminder of that. We shall regenerate our urban areas only if we build from the bottom up. We need partnerships, not patronage--partnerships with people who live in the areas as well as with businesses that work in the areas. That depends on recreating strong, independent local government and really decentralising power, resources and decision-making to localities. They should not be run from Whitehall.

If localities are to be successful, they need civic leadership to promote the locality, argue for resources, seek inward investment, and foster civic pride and identity. Yet 15 years' worth of legislation has undermined that civic leadership. In London, civic leadership has been abolished. Without it, we shall be unable to create the partnerships that are essential to regenerate our urban areas. It means less power to Ministers ; allowing diversity and experiments ; and tolerating, not destroying, opposition. In London, it means creating a strategic and democratic voice for the capital. In Barking, we have the people--nearly one in six are out of work. We have the land, with 800 acres on the east Thames corridor. What we lack is the freedom and opportunity to act and facilitate change. When Jo Richardson made her maiden speech 20 years ago, she talked about exactly the same issues that I have raised today. What an indictment. We cannot afford to throw away the future for our children. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past 15 years.

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6.28 pm

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak) : I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate. I declare an interest as the chairman of a small private sector housing company.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) on the speech that she has just delivered to the House. She arrives in the House with a reputation as a formidable, determined and hard-working lady with passionate, sincerely held views. In that respect, she is identical to her predecessor. The whole House has been impressed by the way in which she commanded its attention, and we look forward to hearing from her on many occasions in the future. We wish her very many happy and successful years in the House.

The speech of the hon. Lady was in sharp contrast to that of her hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), which was depressingly familiar. There was an unfortunate slur in the way in which he sought to denigrate the whole of the Government's inner-city industry programme. It was not simply a slur on the Government, as we would expect from the hon. Gentleman ; more importantly, it was a slur on the many people in the voluntary organisations, the local authorities and the businesses trying to get started and to build up the inner-city areas who have put in so much time and effort to regenerate their areas. The way in which the hon. Gentleman treated them was a gratuitous insult.

Perhaps we should not have expected more, because we know that the hon. Member for Blackburn has been closely associated with the preparation of the leadership document for the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), and it is astonishing that in 20 points for revival--set out, not just as 20 of many, but as the 20 points for revival--urban regeneration and housing are not mentioned once. The only time that housing is mentioned is on page 15 of a 20-page document, where it merits one line of comment. Homelessness merits half a line of comment. That is a pretty sad indictment of the way in which the Labour party views that issue.

If we are considering a motion which seeks to criticise the Government, we need to establish in what way the Government are being criticised. They certainly cannot be criticised for a decline in the number of houses in this country by comparison with 15 years ago--there are nearly 2.5 million more houses in this country than there were then. They also cannot be criticised for a worsening in the quality of that housing, because we know from the housing conditions survey that the quality of housing is higher than it has been in the country's history.

A report said that one in 13 houses were sub-standard, but we know that economic revival would return many to good condition. People have put off making repairs. People are buying houses again and, as the market becomes more vibrant, many repairs will be carried out. In the brief moments allowed to me, I shall concentrate on the future. We need to do more about rehabilitation. Figures are bandied about to the effect that 100,000, 150,000 or even 200,000 houses need to be built in this country each year, but we need to do more to bring back into use the 850,000 houses which are standing empty, and to rehabilite those houses which are occupied but which are not of the standard we want. Progress is being made in that respect already.

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The Government must take the lead, and they have done so by cracking down on those Departments, such as the Ministry of Defence, that have not made good enough use of their property. Further action needs to be taken in many areas, for example, by local authorities. I make a specific case in relation to empty police houses. If one's name is on a waiting list, there is nothing more galling than to find that two police houses in one's village or community are boarded up, overgrown and gradually falling into dereliction, as is happening in too many regions.

Derbyshire, the area in which my constituency lies, has the worst record in the country in this respect. Gradually, after much pressure from the Labour housing chairman of High Peak borough council and myself, action has begun to try to put that issue right, helped a great deal by the task force set up in the Department of the Environment.

Labour local authorities which allow their houses to stand empty must be forced to bring them back into use. They would be better advised not to speak about being allowed to spend their capital receipts, but to do more to collect the rents that are already due and are waiting to be collected.

The bulk of the problem of empty houses lies, not in the public sector, but in the private sector. There have been many welcome initiatives, such as the use of housing associations as managing agents, and the "flats above shops" initiative, but we need to go further.

I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) speak about bringing office space into use. That is not a new Liberal party policy ; it is a well-established Hendry policy, which has been announced in press releases in the House, and on which my right hon. Friend the Minister has been lobbied endlessly at briefing meetings, dinners and so on.

If the Minister looks, he will see that in almost every speech on housing that I have made in the House in the past two years I have spoken about trying to make better use of empty commercial space. I am delighted that the Liberals have converted to that policy, and I hope that they will support it.

Mr. Rendel rose

Mr. Hendry : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way, but I am more than happy to discuss the matter with him later.

We need to do more to bring empty private housing stock back into use. For example, if one has an empty flat above a shop, it is wrong that one should obtain a council tax rebate on that property. We should send out a clear message that that is socially undesirable and therefore, not only should one not obtain a rebate, but one should perhaps be surcharged. If a flat is owned by a family who are trying to sell it after someone has died, that may be different, but, especially if the flat is commercially owned, owners should be penalised if they are doing a disservice to the community in which they operate and work.

We also need to consider new build. In terms of public sector new build, we are on target for the commitment that we made two years ago--indeed, we are well beyond it. In the election manifesto we promised 153,000 new housing association houses, and I believe that we shall exceed 171,000 over a three -year period.

We should look to housing associations to be more imaginative. For example, we should consider making housing association grant available to private developers.

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We should take a portion of a housing association's grant and ask private sector developers to bid for that grant, and find out how many houses they can build in competition with a housing association. That would make them operate more competitively and cost-effectively.

In considering grant levels, we also need to put pressure on the banks and to ask why they are willing to lend to all of us in the House at a mortgage rate that is lower than the rate at which they are willing to lend money to a housing association to build houses as a corporate organisation. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will find it possible to put pressure on the banks to show more flexibility in that respect.

We also need to encourage the housing associations to go further along the lines of the right to buy. That is one way in which they can generate more resources from their existing capital base, which can be ploughed back into housing and into building new capital support.

I strongly welcome the homelessness review that has been announced and carried out by the Department of the Environment. It goes to the core of a problem which we find in our constituencies, and which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State described so clearly. People in my constituency are fed up with waiting patiently on the housing list and being told that they are 20th or 30th this year and next year they may be 18th or 28th and will make the most fractional progress up the waiting list when people who they know are taking advantage of the rules are jumping straight to the head of the queue. That is an abuse which needs to be eradicated. I know from my constituency that 55 per cent. of the houses allocated by the local authority went to people who were not previously on the waiting list. That demonstrates the magnitude of the problem.

To my mind, housing is at the core of the issue of urban regeneration. We shall not solve the problems of urban regeneration until we have kicked out the Labour authorities that have ruined many of our city areas. [Interruption.] I say that because many of the people who have moved out of the cities, many of people who have moved their businesses out of the cities and many of the teachers who have moved out of the cities have left because they did not like the Labour rating policy or could not afford it, and did not like the policies, which were hostile to business, to individuals, to enterprise and to wealth creation. Until we have reversed that situation, we shall not get the policy straight.

At the same time, Conservative Members are right to pursue a policy of co- operation with those local authorities that wish to work constructively with the Government. That is what the Minister's policy is doing, and I wholly support the Government's amendment to the motion.

6.38 pm

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