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Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham) : Madam Deputy Speaker, I am always delighted to see you take the Chair, because I always feel that I shall be called to speak when I see you come in.
The Government have created an appalling housing crisis--there can be no doubt about that. Government spending on housing was slashed by 53 per cent. between 1979 and 1992. In real terms, using 1992 prices, spending has decreased from £13 billion in 1979 to less than £6 billion in 1992. The Government this year are continuing to slash investment in rented housing, at a time when
Column 864demand has never been as great. For example, local authority waiting lists in my constituency consisted of about 1,000 names in 1979. They now consist of more than 4,000.
The Three Rivers housing association in my constituency receives about 1,300 applications for help every year, but it can help only about 10 per cent. of applicants. Housing needs remain high, but the local authority is unable to respond satisfactorily as, in its enabling role, it cannot replace the loss of more than 4,000 properties in the past 12 years.
My local authority has demonstrated its enabling role by the provision of free land, its commitment to stop disposal as part of estate action, and its willingness to promote home improvement grants in the private sector. It will continue to adopt a positive approach to its enabling role, but that in itself will not meet the growing gap between housing need and provision. Durham city council's stock continues to deteriorate due to inadequate funding. Its on-going stock survey highlights the massive cost of repair, which was estimated to be about £66 million way back in 1985.
Only yesterday, I received a letter from a Mr. Weir, who does not live in my constituency. He is national chairman of the smaller builders group, which is attached to the Building Employers Confederation. The letter states :
"You will recall that some months ago I sent you a report English Homes--A National Asset ?' . . . At the same time I wrote to the Prime Minister forwarding to him a copy of the same report . . . I am enclosing a letter which I have recently received from the Prime Minister setting down his comments and observations on the contents of the report and the Governmental (in)action."
The letter from the Prime Minister's office states :
"The Government realises the potential of the housing renewal/refurbishment sector and appreciates its worth in stimulating the construction industry generally. It feels that the best way to enhance the housing stock is to improve the conditions under which those who are unable to help themselves are able to do so, and to ensure that those who are in a position to better their properties, appreciate the benefits of doing so. The Government regularly reviews its policy in this respect and has taken note of the points raised by the report."
I read that time and time again to look for some clue that the Government would help the building industry. The letter, however, was a load of gobbledegook and meant nothing except that no help would be forthcoming.
In response to my local council's housing investment programme bid, the Government allocated £1.45 million to the council as an annual capital guideline. When capital receipts were taken into account, however, the allocation was reduced to £904,000. The Government give the impression that they allow local authorities to use capital receipts as extra spending for housing programmes, but that is false. Certain capital receipts are used and allowed to be spent, but an equivalent amount is deducted by the Government in the HIP settlement, which is the limit to which the council can borrow. Any other finances that are available for a meaningful capital programme must be financed by the council.
This year, the council eventually put together a programme of about £6.6 million, but had to contribute nearly £4 million from its own revenue, which it raised by average increases in rent of £3 a week last year and this year. Consequently, more and more tenants, both of local authorities and housing associations, are becoming totally dependent on housing benefit. Tenants who pay full rent
Column 865end up subsidising those on benefit. Council tenants are paying the housing benefit of other tenants. That is immoral.
The position is much worse in housing association assured tenancies as, due to the cut in grant rates, nearly 50 per cent. of a development must be financed through the private market. That has led to outturn rents of about £60 to £70 for a three-bedroom house in the region. The only tenants who can afford to live in such accommodation are those on full housing benefit. Once they take a job and come off benefit, however, they cannot afford to pay the rent, so they cannot take a job. That is one of the reasons why Durham city council insists on housing associations building only flats and bungalows in an effort to keep outturn rents affordable.
If we bear in mind the fact that 60 to 70 per cent. of Durham's tenants receive benefits, it becomes clear that it is a major problem and worry, especially as there are rumours that the Government intend to review the housing benefit system. Many tenants are in the poverty trap and cannot take a job because they will not be able to afford the rent. That is a scandal.
According to the Department of the Environment's English house conditions survey, which was published in 1993, nearly 1.5 million homes are officially unfit to live in. Housing starts fell from about 272,000 in 1978 to 163,000 in 1992. Local authority new starts fell from about 79,500 to about 2,800. In the same period, housing association starts only rose from about 21,000 to 34,000. Those figures show the huge number of houses that have not been built in the past few years.
Local authorities hold about £6 billion in accumulated capital receipts, yet the Government will not allow them to build houses with the money. If local authorities used the money to build houses, that would help to revive the building industry, which shows little sign of upturn. In the past few years, about half a million building jobs have been lost. It is a scandal. Money is available to build houses and building workers are available to carry out the work, yet the Government, because of their dogmatic policies and hatred of local government, prevent houses from being built. They are prepared to see people without homes as homelessness increases day by day. For misguided political reasons, the Government continue to be obsessed about promoting owner-occupation. The Housing Corporation is top-slicing more and more of its programme into initiatives to promote owner-occupation. The favourite schemes are the tenants incentive scheme and do-it-yourself shared ownership, where tenants are paid cash incentives to give up their tenancy and buy a property on the open market. The Government hope that those incentives--or bribes--will free properties for the poor and unemployed, but they will result in what I can only call "welfarisation". Tenants in work will move out, leaving behind welfare ghettoes of tenants who are unemployed and entirely dependent on benefits, which will damage the social fabric of local communities. Let us make no mistake--that is happening in my constituency, and I suspect in every other constituency.
There is a clear demand and need for affordable rented accommodation, but due to political dogma the Government will not accept that local authorities are the
Column 866best vehicle to provide that much-needed commodity. The level of homelessness is one result of appalling Government policies. The Government seek to add ridiculous proposals to homeless legislation. Those proposals are nailed on the back of political dogma about single parents and families abusing homeless legislation. The sinister part of the proposal involves the suggestion that there should be central control of council waiting lists. That will take away any local control of council housing, and is the Government's ultimate aim.
There has never been a time when the need has been so great for major investment to be channelled towards the public sector. The housing stock that is left to my local authority is in need of substantial investment. The best properties on the best estates have been sold. The Government expect the private rented sector to come to the rescue, but that will never happen, especially in Durham because all private property is rented by students due to the expansion of the university.
The rents being charged in Durham in the private sector are said to be higher than those in the capital, London. The Government's ridiculous
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. I am sorry, but I have to stem the hon. Gentleman's flow.
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham) : This is a broad subject with many interlinked themes, but the Opposition have chosen, at least so far, a narrow approach that is clearly driven more by party political expediency than a long-term housing vision. I propose, therefore, to concentrate on three issues that have not been properly covered. The first involves the position of private leaseholders, an area of housing provision that is extremely important, especially in outer London, and which deserves attention. I will refer secondly to some problems to do with housing associations, and thirdly to the future of social housing. Although all three subjects are of considerable relevance to my constituency in outer London, they are relevant to many other areas too--housing problems are to be found across the nation.
The position of private leaseholders was immeasurably improved by the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. The right to enfranchisement corrected an archaic and contradictory element of the law. Previously, householders were seen to be owners, yet somehow less than owners. They paid the full price and regarded themselves as owners, but their ownership was limited because of their lack of control over much of the area in which their flats were located.
The 1993 Act was thus an excellent reform. It has gone down extremely well in many areas ; it has improved the status of leaseholders ; and it fulfilled a manifesto pledge. It will produce long-term benefits in urban housing provision.
Some unnecessary hurdles remain, notably in respect of tenure and the process of purchase. They give rise to the need for the early introduction of commonhold, specifically designed for this sort of housing. The Government are pledged to introducing it, and I say : the sooner the better. The further reform of housing law that it will bring about will help to extend ownership in practice and will aid transfer.
Column 867The right to enfranchisement still leaves many leaseholders outside, for a variety of reasons that I well understand. I am worried, however, about the development of two tiers of leaseholders. Most leaseholders who are not enfranchised enjoy good relations with their freeholders and with the management companies, but there are some worrying trends, and the worst examples clearly involve malpractice.
There is a tendency, too, for some companies to buy up freeholds purely as a means of gaining control of management companies and then using the latter as milch cows, sometimes even linked with insurance agencies and housing repair companies. That is because the freeholder has monopoly control over the provision of management company services and the choice of management company. Thus, despite some safeguards built into the law and governing service charges, leaseholders are not yet fully protected. There can be an uneven battle between the smooth management company operator and ordinary people, many of them elderly and at the lower end of home ownership. Some management companies even disregard the law. I know of a number of such examples in my constituency. One company calls itself Manage, Administer and Supervise Ltd., and operates from a PO box in Southend. It has refused to answer perfectly valid inquiries about service charges and insurance submitted by constituents of mine. When I took up the issue, the company's excuse was that it could not answer inquiries about service charges because the files were with its solicitor--an excuse which I suspect would not stand up well in a court of law, and which certainly goes against the intentions of Parliament as expressed in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1885. That Act obliges management companies to reveal simple facts when prompted by inquiries of this nature from leaseholders. This problem clearly needs dealing with.
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point) : Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the greatest culprits when it comes to service charges, the cost of lifts in flats and so on are socialist councils that refuse to accept their responsibility for people who have bought council houses ?
Mr. Merchant : That is an interesting point, but my hon. Friend anticipates me--I was coming to it. Before I do, I should add that I believe that one answer to these problems of management companies is to consider legislating to give leaseholders some influence over which management company they end up with ; perhaps some form of limited joint-- to use a popular word--veto with freeholders when it comes to choosing a management company.
Moving now to my hon. Friend's point, I should like to discuss the problem for leaseholders whose freeholder is not a private organisation but a local authority. The leaseholders have probably exercised their right to buy, and in theory should thereafter enjoy the same sort of relationship with the local authority as they would have had with the private sector.
There are two problems in this connection : the first is the sheer size and power of the freeholder in this case ; the second, the nature and size-- again it is the operative factor--of the housing provided. With a private company, a leaseholder has in fact, if not in law, considerable bargaining power in the matter of high service charges and
Column 868repairs, because the freeholder knows that he cannot press too hard on the leaseholder without upsetting the relationship and making it difficult to recover any money that the management company might spend on repairs. A local authority is in a much stronger position, and does not feel similarly restrained--that is the difference in fact, if not in law.
The problem in my constituency is even more complex. In the Bromley area, about one in four flats--2,000altogether--previously owned by the local authority have been taken over by leaseholders who have exercised the right to buy. They are no longer local authority leaseholders, however, because the local authority has sold its entire housing stock to a housing association.
I strongly support both the right to buy and the transfer to housing associations, but they have created something of an anomaly. The housing association concerned, Broomleigh, is moving to levy severe service charges because of repairs, some of which the leaseholders argue are unnecessary. No leaseholder denies the duty that he has to pay service charges, but when leaseholders receive bills for more than £25,000--considerably more than the cost of buying their properties in the first place--something is obviously going wrong.
The practicalities of the matter have been handled rather badly by the housing association in question. There seems to have been a lack of judgment and sensitivity, not to mention some provocation. This problem needs dealing with ; leaseholders need to be given some protection and some help--perhaps repurchase of their flats, if that is what they want, or perhaps the provision of grant money, not by increasing existing funds but taken from them. These people did, after all, go into purchase with their eyes open, but few of them were aware that such extreme service charges would be levied on them. I certainly hope that some means can be found to help them. In my last few seconds, I should like to discuss social housing. I believe that the Opposition approach it from entirely the wrong angle. They look at it as something to be built on and expanded for its own sake, but surely we need to have a vision of a world in which social housing is no longer necessary because people have been provided with the means to acquire their own homes.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order.
Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South) : Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this debate.
The by-election in Bradford, South was caused by the tragic death of Bob Cryer, to whom many tributes have already been paid. Tonight, I should like to add my own. Bob became a national figure here and was respected as a good constituency Member, fighting for the people of Bradford, South and brilliantly using his knowledge of parliamentary procedure. His outside interests were as numerous as they were varied, ranging from the love of old cars to the formation of the Keighley-Worth valley railway. Bob was loved by his constituency party workers, and will be a sad loss not only to those of us in the Labour and trade union movement, but to all who cherish parliamentary democracy.
Bob Cryer and John Smith were two different types of people, but both were committed, as we all are on the
Column 869Opposition Benches, to making a reality of our vision of a decent, fair society in which every individual has the opportunity to develop his or her potential to the maximum, within the framework of the communities that make up our society. The tributes to John Smith after his sad death show that the country respects principle and honour, but rejects arrogance and sleaze.
Bradford is the fourth largest metropolitan district, with a population of more than 490,000. The diversity of the district in geographical terms is as complex as the make-up of its population. Those of us who have lived and worked in Bradford all our lives would like to live nowhere else.
The proud heritage of the wool capital of the world has brought an international presence in our architecture--the magnificant Alhambra theatre, the area of Little Germany and the many imposing mills, such as Salts, Listers and Fosters, whose names mark the industrial heart of Bradford and which crafted a work force not frightened of a hard day's work, but always determined to receive a fair day's pay. Last year in Bradford, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Independent Labour party, formed in Bradford as a result of the Manningham mill dispute. Its motto then could apply equally today--"The Liberals are the party that can't. The Tories are the party that won't. Labour is the party that will."
Within 15 minutes of leaving the city centre, one can be on the brooding moors of Haworth or without one's hat on Ilkley moor. In that heritage, I have a great pride, but I also have a great responsibility in representing the people of Bradford, South. The people of Bradford want a decent caring Government to create an environment so that, when they are ill, they are treated at the point of need regardless of age or ability to pay. When they are old, they want to receive a pension that allows them a quality of life in keeping with the sacrifices that they have made over the years that they have contributed to Britain's well-being.
When they need housing, they want a choice of tenure. Home ownership is not the only option. In Bradford, 9,000 people require housing, and local authorities must be allowed to use their capital receipts to build affordable homes. When their children need educating, they want them to be educated in schools, colleges and universities that are well equipped, with motivated staff. But most important of all, the people of Bradford want a Government who will sustain an economy that will develop and provide the opportunity for the dignity of work for all, so that people can make real choices in their lives. Bradford has to create 1,000 jobs a year just to stand still. Youth unemployment on our estates and in our ethnic minority communities is alarmingly high. Our manufacturing industry has been dramatically reduced, but in Bradford there is a great spirit of partnership, with all sectors fighting to protect and promote the district.
It is not uncommon--indeed, it is the norm--to see the trade unions and the chamber of commerce discussing economic and industrial objectives, or the university and religious groups campaigning together to ensure that Bradford retains its section 11 funding, which is so desperately needed. Will Departments and Ministers stop passing the buck for section 11 funding, and meet the need for jobs in Bradford and the schemes that require support ?
Column 870The council and the police work together to promote a safer city through a community safety board, and also combine to rid the city of drugs.
The resilience and strength of that partnership, however, has received some blows from the Government. There has been the loss of assisted area status with the decision that Folkestone is more deserving than Bradford, the loss of the urban programme and the cutting of Bradford's standard spending assessment, which resulted in a cut of £18.3 million and affected every family in the district because less could be spent on essential services. Yes, there has been city challenge and estate action, but those have had limited impact when measured against Bradford's needs.
A successful housing urban policy is easily achieved if one lets the democratically accountable local authorities work in partnership with other local agencies, deciding their own criteria for developing their district's future. The electorate of Bradford, South have put their trust in me and the Labour party. The British people should have their chance to put their trust in a Labour Government as soon as possible.
Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) on his excellent maiden speech and his tribute to his predecessor. The hon. Gentleman has clearly described to the House the advantages and heritage of his native city as well as its problems. I am sure that he will be a formidable fighter for Bradford and I wish him well. I am sure that he will be with us for many years.
I regret that I cannot be quite so complimentary about the speech made by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), which was long on words but short on content. His only policy was that, if one waves a magic wand and liberally sprinkles someone else's money, all urban problems will be resolved instantly and overnight. [Interruption.] Coming as I do from one of the great northern cities of this land, I have to say that urban problems have taken a long time to develop-- [Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but a number of private conversations seem to be going on--something which I have noticed previously. If hon. Members wish to engage in private conversations, there are plenty of places to do so outside the Chamber.
Mrs. Knight : Urban problems have developed over a considerable time. There are two main causes. First, housing has moved out of the centre of the cities to the large, formless municipal housing estates which have built up on the edge of those cities. That has been instrumental in breaking up old and traditional communities and new communities have not formed in those estates--estates which have also then been neglected by many of the local authorities.
The second cause is the second industrial revolution, which has resulted in companies and industries which previously occupied large tracts of land and employed a large number of people investing in machinery, technology, innovation and computerisation which in turn has resulted in far fewer people being required to produce the products of that company or that industry. Couple that
Column 871with the inclination and tendency of many companies to move to green-field sites and the consequence has been the urban problems that we now see.
Those problems must be studied and addressed in a number of ways. It is sad how local authorities have tended to stand by and watch rather than do something. In an earlier intervention, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) said that Sheffield council had done a lot, because it had given planning permission for the Meadowhall shopping complex. But that was the only thing it did for the acres of industrial derelict land in the city. The one and only thing it did was to pass planning permission for a shopping complex. It sat back and watched. It was the introduction of an urban development corporation into that city that resulted in land being developed, the dereliction being cleared, roads being built, new companies moving into new buildings and jobs being created. However, many inner-city residents have been loyal to their inner-city neighbourhoods. They like them and they have received real benefits from the targeted programmes such as renovation grants for private housing and estate action for municipal housing.
The Robson report, to which Opposition Members have frequently referred, in its assessment of the impact of urban policies, said that those policies have positively addressed the problems of inner-city housing. It also said that programmes such as derelict land grants, enterprise zones and urban development corporations have been real attractions for industry to come back into urban areas and so resolve some of the urban problems that we have, bringing jobs to the citizens who live there.
The hon. Member for Blackburn was extraordinarily selective in his quotations from the Robson report. He neglected to say that the report showed that we had improved employment prospects for residents of urban areas by our urban policies. He neglected to say that the capital base schemes, the infrastructure projects, were praised in that report. He neglected to mention the Robson report's praise for city challenge and he neglected to say that the criticism of so many employers in the urban areas is that local authorities have done nothing about urban regeneration. They do not see local authorities as being important in that process. Those were as much the report's conclusions as the negative slant that the hon. Member for Blackburn chose to give it.
The next step forward in urban regeneration must be developing partnerships. City challenge has been a tremendous catalyst for bringing local businesses and organisations together and has resulted in imaginative developments of large areas. My constituency lies between two main cities-- Nottingham and Derby. Both won city challenge with their imaginative bids. Being sandwiched between those two cities does not mean that Erewash is without urban problems, so we put together our own partnership--the Erewash partnership. The "we" in that is the local council, TEC, chambers of trade, business community and other major players in the area.
The partnership's strategic aim is to attract business and employment to Erewash. It may not be a city, but with two principal towns, it certainly has some of the urban problems mentioned today. The partnership is looking to the single regeneration budget. The key to successful urban policy is creating and continuing an effective partnership between local people, the private sector, voluntary agencies, local authorities and
Column 872central Government. The single regeneration budget has brought together a considerable number of programmes under one comprehensive and understandable heading.
I was concerned when Opposition Members mocked the amount of money in that budget. A sum of £1.4 billion is available for 1994-95, which is a considerable amount to spend on urban regeneration, and significant evidence of how seriously the Government pursue such policies. I hope that budget, coupled with the Urban Regeneration Agency, will result in 200 hectares of derelict land in Erewash being redeveloped soon.
There must be a leader in any partnership. I am a strong believer in a leading role for local businesses. Local authorities have a tendency to pepperpot too much on a plethora of small community initiatives--an advice shop here, a small project there. Although they may be commendable in their own right, that approach tends to overlook the overall objective of attracting businesses and companies to an area so that jobs are created. However important may be the social aspects, we must concentrate on job creation. A small social project might provide temporary comfort but it will not resolve the principal problem.
One aspect of urban policy not touched on yet is education. Just as industries and their requirements have changed, so have the skills needed in the new jobs that they provide. For too long, urban schools have not ensured that their pupils learn as much as they could. Leafy suburban schools have often done a much better jobs for their leafy suburban pupils than an inner-city school has done for its inner-city pupils.
For many years, I was an education committee member and often heard the statutory appeal of last resort from parents who wanted their children to attend a school other than that which the local authority had nominated. Invariably, those parents were from inner-city areas. They clearly knew why one school was preferable to another. They asked, "Why not publish the problems of one school and the benefits of another ? That information should be made public." It is now. Those urban problems are seriously addressed by Government policies and are benefiting the people who live in urban areas. Jobs are being created to provide local employment. That wins praise from the people who live there, and it should be praised also by the House. 7.14 pm
Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley) : Birmingham has taken more initiatives than most authorities to secure its own economic prosperity. Its skill in securing European Community resources and its practice of working together with local industries means that, over the past 10 years, Birmingham has secured 20,000 jobs that would not otherwise exist. Despite that, the country's second-largest city still has more overcrowded housing, more children living in unsuitable accommodation and more people on income support than almost any other city in the country.
The Department of the Environment's recently published "Index of Local Conditions" shows that Birmingham is now the most deprived area outside London and the fifth most deprived area in the country. Against that background the Government, amazingly, have steadily reduced the resources available to the city. Despite the fact that only four other local authorities have worse
Column 873overcrowding than Birmingham, its housing investment programme allocation dropped from £67 million to £62 million, then to £55 million and last year to £49 million--a fall of almost 27 per cent. over the past four years.
Although Birmingham is the fifth most deprived area in Britain, its revenue support grant settlement has decreased by almost 5 per cent. in real terms over the past two years. It is appalling enough that the Government have failed to secure for the people of this country the most basic necessities- -a decent home, safe environment and secure and fulfilling employment. Worse still, they have failed to allocate resources fairly. When the Government's own figures show Birmingham to be the country's fifth most deprived area, why does the city rank only 21st in the amount of standard spending assessment per head ? Will the Government reflect the conditions revealed by the local conditions index in the next revenue support grant settlement ? I look forward to hearing the Minister's answer when he winds up. Birmingham, like other authorities throughout the country, has been compelled to play the competition game to secure sufficient resources--and it has done so successfully. Under the single regeneration budget, the competitive approach to resource allocation will reach unbelievable heights. Areas of expenditure never previously subjected to competition will be included. Section 11 funding--the money available to help school children whose first language is not English--will be subject to competition. The Government have given no guarantee that all local authorities will receive money. It is likely that some currently in receipt of section 11 funds will get nothing and that children who are well served by that support will see their life chances diminish.
What kind of moral base is there to a Government who make children who need help with learning compete for funds against families who are inadequately housed ? What economic sense does it make to compel small businesses to compete against training organisations ? Why should the needy compete against the even more needy ? If urban areas are to be economically vibrant and inner city communities are to be strong and secure, none of those people can afford to be losers--yet some of them will be. Statistics from the Library estimate that the total SRB budget will show a £150 million cut compared with urban spending seven years ago.
The Government talk a lot about partnership. Birmingham city council has played its part in regenerating our city, and local industry has played its part in trying to secure a sound economic base and employment future. Everyone in the city has been badly let down by a Government who have failed to play their part. Central Government cannot abdicate responsibility for adequately resourcing the needs of people who live in cities. The notion that the private sector can and will fill that gap proved to be wrong wherever it was tried.
Another aspect that I have mentioned in previous debates is the danger of the current over-emphasis on competing for resources. To compete successfully and to make the most of diminishing resources, cities concentrate the resources they win in the areas of greatest need, which are usually the inner cities. The result is that areas of our cities--usually the outer-ring areas such as the one that I represent--consistently lose out in the resource bid game.
Column 874City challenge, estate action and inner-city partnerships all concentrate resources in one area. However, there is a need outside that area. In the outer ring there is inadequately built post- war housing. There are children doomed to spend their childhoods at the top of a multi-storey block of flats. There are constituencies like mine, which has one of the largest proportions of pensioners but the lowest proportion of houses with central heating.
Outer-ring areas are all too often the areas with the least social cohesion. They do not have the history and background of a community living and sharing together. It is in those outer-ring areas that there is now the greatest increase in the levels of crime and unemployment. Yet those are the areas that will lose out in competitive bidding. As more resources are brought into the competitive bidding strategy under the SRB budget, those areas will lose out even more.
Apart from the self-evident fact that it is wrong to ignore the needs of the people in those areas, there are social consequences. People living in those areas of need, which lose out in the bidding process, look to the slightly more needy in the inner city and resentment grows. The Government's housing and urban policies pit the disadvantaged against the even more disadvantaged and people in need against those who are in even greater need. Our cities are crying out for policies that assess need and meet need and for a Government who are prepared to take their share of responsibility for ensuring that that happens. It is of great sadness to the people in the city of Birmingham that, under this Government, neither of those things is likely to happen.
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester) : If there is one thing that this debate has shown, it is that the Labour party does not know how to make it, but does know how to spend it. It is certainly a great deal more enthusiastic about spending it than about making it.
We had two important debates earlier this month. In the one on competitiveness on 17 June, just one Labour Member made a contribution of any significance. It was a whole day's debate. In a debate on 23 June on the opportunities for United Kingdom exporters, just two Labour Members contributed--the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the Front- Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell). Those were crucial debates about the wealth-creating base of the economy which enables us to afford a decent housing policy. I should have liked to have seen as much enthusiasm for those debates as Labour Members are showing for this debate.
Having said that, I welcome the debate--although I welcome the Government's reasoned amendment rather more than the hysterical tone of the Opposition's motion. Housing does not always command the political priority that it deserves. I believe that poor housing is a cause of poverty and is caused by poverty. Preventive health, good education and effective policies on law and order depend crucially on the foundation of adequate housing.
I welcome the opportunity to debate those issues today, just as I welcome the opportunity to debate the Government's policies on urban regeneration. They have many spectacular successes to their credit. I think in particular of the town of Corby, which I had the privilege
Column 875of visiting. I saw what the Government's policy, working in partnership, had achieved for a community that had been decimated by the closure of its steel works some years ago.
A policy of urban regeneration requires active intervention by the Government, who have not been short on that. They have appointed as chairman of English Partnerships, the urban regeneration agency, my predecessor Lord Walker of Worcester--and they do not come more active than him. I am aware of the success that he intends to make of that organisation.
I want to highlight three aspects of Government policy and their impact on my constituency. The Government's amendment rightly stresses the role of the single regeneration budget--£1.4 billion in 1994-95, which is a not inconsiderable sum. That will have a vital role to play in urban areas throughout the country by better focusing 20 different Government programmes.
I make a special plea for my constituency. Worcester is a much misunderstood city. It is true that it enjoys a close relationship with its rural hinterland and it is proud of its links with the agricultural community in the rest of the county. However, Worcester is essentially urban with many typical inner-city problems. I am glad to say that the Government have recognised that on a number of occasions. They provided limited funding for the living-over-the-shop initiative, they provided generous sums for estate action grants, and recently they have provided money through the capital partnership system for energy efficiency and environmental projects on a large council estate at Dines Green. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister visited the estate last year and planted a tree. There is still much more to do. Worcester has had a good unemployment record over the last year with a spectacular fall of 20 per cent. in the rate. However, the fact remains that in many areas of the city there are heavy concentrations of unemployment, especially in Tolladine, where almost half the unemployed of Worcester city reside. That is why the city council and others are joining together in a bid for funding under the single regeneration budget. They will make a presentation to the regional office for the west midlands on Friday.
It is a crucial project and I hope that it will attract the fullest support of the Department of the Environment. The partners are Worcester city council ; the land owner, the British Rail Property Board ; the training and enterprise council, HAWTEC ; Hereford and Worcester county council and Worcester college of technology. The city council is engaged in an active search for a private sector developer to take forward the project.
The proposal is for the regeneration of the Tolladine goods yard for employment, training and community purposes. It is a 20-acre site that has not been developed so far because it requires new road access, a new foul sewer, clearance of dereliction and some decontamination. Overcoming those problems will unlock a site with both road and rail access--and I am especially glad about the rail access--capable of generating some 600 jobs in the office, industrial, warehousing and service sectors of the economy of my city. The site is adjacent to the Tolladine housing estate, which has a lack of social facilities and high unemployment levels. The refurbishment of a Victorian railway building on the site as the "Tolladine Centre" would provide a social centre for young people and a facility to help local residents to gain job skills to match the needs of the new employers whom we are confident will be
Column 876attracted to the site. The regeneration of the goods yard would also significantly improve the residents' physical environment. That regeneration--and this is a point to which I think the Government will attach importance--will complement the work of the multi- agency Tolladine estate project, which already involves the local community in many different ways. It was set up to deal with the needs of the younger residents of the area for social facilities and job training. This initiative should attract my right hon. Friend's fullest support, which I hope will be forthcoming in due course.
I shall comment on the rough sleepers initiative. The majority of rough sleepers--although, heaven knows, not all of them--live that way through no fault of their own. The Government have recognised the need to assist them through the initiative. A minority of rough sleepers behave in an intimidating way or irresponsibly, but the majority demand our support. That has been forthcoming. Some £96 million of public funds was provided in the first phase of the initiative, providing 3,500 beds in London. In the second phase, running through to 1996, a further £86 million is being provided. A report by the director of Homeless Network to the all-party parliamentary group on homelessness and housing need said : "The Rough Sleepers Initiative has provided a route off the streets for literally thousands of people in Central London. However, it has not solved the problem. The RSI is not a preventative programme, and the number of people becoming street homeless continues unabated . . . The work will need to be taken forward and extended in Central London beyond 1996. There is no reason why the model could not be adapted elsewhere where there are sufficient concentrations of people sleeping rough and where the local voluntary sector infrastructure exists or could be built up." I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Minister can guess what is coming next. I believe that Worcester is just one of those places. We have two admirable facilities for the homeless, the Maggs day centre and St. Paul's--a residential hostel--but they have to live from hand to mouth. Worcester is a compact city, but proportionally its problems are as great as those of the metropolis. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not only carry forward the initiative in central London, but extend it to other areas such as Worcester. There has been a dramatic fall in the number of families living in temporary accommodation in Worcester city. We now have only 12 in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and 64 in temporary accommodation in total : the number has fallen from a peak of 189 about a year ago. That reduction is due to a combination of good management on the part of the Labour- controlled authority--I say that in all fairness : its housing stock void level is only 0.4 per cent., which compares very favourably with some London Labour-controlled authorities which have rates of over 9 per cent.-- and Government policy, to which it is a tribute.
The policy of providing assured tenancies enabled better facilities to be found in temporary accommodation for the homeless, and the bringing forward of Housing Corporation funds created some 40 new tenancies in Worcester from a new housing association which made its own dramatic contribution to the reduction in the number of people living in temporary accommodation and registered homeless in my city.
I am glad to say, however, that Conservative-controlled Wychavon district council has gone a stage further and implemented a large-scale voluntary transfer of its stock to
Column 877two brand-new housing associations, Droitwich Spa and Rural and Evesham and Pershore. Their exit from direct provision will--through effective privatisation of the stock and the debt that goes with it--enable them to repair and maintain that stock, and to provide 1, 000 new units of social housing over the next 10 years. I attach particular importance to that. I urge my right hon. Friend to do all that he can to create more large-scale voluntary transfer schemes ; I also urge Worcester city council to re-examine the possibility of doing the same in its area.
Three Government policies--the single regeneration budget, the rough sleepers initiative and the large-scale voluntary transfer programme--are correctly focused and are capable of bringing enormous benefits to my constituents. I commend the Government amendment to the House.
Mr. Stephen Timms (Newham, North-East) : Thank you for the opportunity to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker.
My predecessor, Ron Leighton, who tragically died in February, was held in high regard by hon. Members on both sides of the House--as many have taken the trouble to tell me over the past three weeks--and also in the constituency. I worked with him first as a Labour party ward official, then as secretary of his constituency party and then during my 10 years as a member of Newham council. For the last four years I was leader of the council and saw at first hand the enormous volume of work that Ron took through, and the depth of his commitment to Newham : he was a tireless and determined advocate for the borough.
Ron took a particular interest in employment matters, and was deeply concerned about youth unemployment. He chaired the Select Committee on Employment for some years, and was responsible for a number of key reports. I particularly remember the Committee's investigation of the employment effects of urban development corporations. The report concluded that there had been a wholly inadequate impact on local unemployment in UDC areas. It was a landmark, responsible--in docklands, at any rate--for a much more constructive approach on the part of the London Docklands development corporation, from which Newham has continued to benefit.
Ron was the first chair of the Newham needs campaign, which was set up to draw attention to the inadequacy of the revenue support grant settlement for Newham and to the fact that the council had £20 million less to spend on services than the Government's own calculations suggested was necessary to provide a standard level of service in the borough. Ron was determined to draw attention nationally to that anomaly, and he therefore persuaded the campaign to organise a rally in Trafalgar square on a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon last November. Most of us expected very few people to turn up, but it was a great tribute to Ron's energy and the esteem in which he was held in Newham that several hundred braved the cold to ensure that the borough's voice was heard, and a very effective demonstration was achieved.
Newham combines, to a unique extent, deprivation on one hand and the potential for regeneration on the other. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) pointed out, the Department of the Environment