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Column 488making those difficult judgments will understand the need to reach a sensible conclusion in each case, where either is an option.
Mr. Alex Carlile : I apologise for intervening again, but I very much welcome what the Secretary of State has just said. In my constituency, two hospitals house some seriously physically and mentally handicapped people. Will he add to his remarks the belief that some of those people will need not just care but continuing nursing care of the quality they have now ?
Mr. Redwood : They need care that is appropriate for their circumstances. I do not want to get involved in specific cases, for obvious reasons. A judgment must always be made on whether people need medical care, which is under one set of arrangements, or more general care, which is under another. I want them to receive the care that they need. May I make it clear to all those involved in those judgments that, for my part, there is no wish to ensure that they are all placed in the community ? Obviously, I am keen on the policy where it makes sense for them to be put into the community and where they and their relatives, as well as the professionals who make those judgments, think that that is the best solution.
In the "Agenda for Action" in November 1991, we set a target of adding 10,000 subsidised homes over three years. I am delighted that Housing for Wales has provided more than 9,000 homes since then and is on target to provide a further 4,000 in the current financial year. As well as rented accommodation--it is primarily rented accommodation--those will include low -cost housing for sale. To that end, I have asked Housing for Wales to deliver at least 420 homes for low-cost ownership during 1994-95, and I intend to take further action to increase those figures in the future.
Some elderly people find their larger family home too big for their needs. They might like a smaller property, but, if they rent rather than own, it can be difficult to find one. I am supporting the construction of more bungalows for the elderly, which will give them some choice and, where they choose to move, it will free a family home.
Good progress is being made on Wales's first urban village at Victoria, Ebbw Vale. Offices and workshops are being developed alongside homes. All that is in a setting that makes use of garden festival features including lakes, wetlands and woodland. It is a vivid illustration of what can be done to regenerate land ravaged by dereliction. Plans are also progressing well for the urban village in Penarth Haven in Cardiff bay.
I like the idea of urban villages that add something to the rich Welsh architectural tradition. Housing with a heart and communities that are more than the sum total of the houses built are the signs that an urban village has supplanted just another housing estate. Builders and developers take more care with layouts, design and landscaping when they have to persuade individuals to buy, rather than when they are working for the public client. One of the best experiences of my ministerial life before coming to Wales was to award the money to Manchester to demolish part of the Hulme estate--a concrete monstrosity which had aged badly during its short life. It was a standing reproach even to modern brutalism in architecture, and a mocking commentary on the beauty of Bath, which was said to "inspire" it.
Column 489Wales was mercifully spared the worst of such construction, but the warning remains : it is better to involve many rather than fewer in designing and buying houses, as it is more likely that they will reflect the spirit of those who will use them.
Mr. Redwood : I give full credit to the Prince of Wales, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), from a sedentary position, has invited me to do, for his many good and brave words on architecture, which I think have made a strong impact on our architectural debate.
The slab style of architecture reflected only too well a view of society, which said, "We shall give you"--in their words--"a subsidised dwelling unit', if you accept our control of your area. Don't ask for tenants' rights, tenants' information or better services--you should be grateful to us for defining the limits of your horizons. When you give your address, you may not get the job or credit as easily as you would if you came from somewhere else, so your dependence is so much more reliable."
I want an end to such areas. It requires different housing ; different patterns of ownership ; higher expectations. Labour may say that it wants pathways out of poverty, yet it often blocks the roads that offer the most promise to most people.
The other day, I was interested to read that Cynon Valley has decided that its housing problem has improved dramatically in the past three years. In 1991-92, Housing for Wales was spending about £3.3 million in the borough, and the construction of about 115 houses was started. Cynon Valley borough council has now revised its figures downwards, and decided that it needs to build only a maximum of 45 new houses this year. I understand that it has found that there is much more scope for the better use of its existing stock, and that demand is not getting out of control.
That is an interesting idea from Cynon Valley. I look forward to that informing the speeches of some Opposition Members, instead of their usual diatribe that the demand is spiralling out of control, and that the only answer to the problem is to build ever more houses of a specific type.
We should make clear the distinction between rooflessness and homelessness. Fortunately, rooflessness afflicts very few people in Wales. In Cardiff alone, where it would be more serious, the Government are paying £800,000 to provide accommodation and support for young, single, vulnerable people. I want no one to be roofless in Wales. I intend to ensure that accommodation is available for those people who need and want it.
Homelessness is a condition which local authorities have a legal obligation to tackle. Many people who present themselves as homeless are by no means roofless, but they live in accommodation that is not ideal and they would like a change. One of the main aims of our continuing large programme of house building of all types is to meet their aspirations.
The proposals on which the Government consulted earlier this year are designed to bring about fairer arrangements for those people seeking a better home, and those people who are waiting patiently for social housing.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North made several comments about the condition of the housing stock and about ways in which housing policy could
Column 490develop. Yes, I, like him, wish more houses to be improved, and I believe that our policy of making available a substantial number of grants to people on low incomes who live in homes of their own that need repairing, is tackling the job manfully. Between January and March this year, 4,194 grant schemes were completed, totalling about £43.7 million. That is another 4,000-plus homes that are in a much better condition. We intend to press on, with substantial sums of money, so that the job can be well done.
I think that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North was mistaking the issue when he commented that we were cutting the HAG grant rate too much, and expecting too much from the private sector contribution. I should have thought that he might welcome that. I hope that the Labour party will welcome it, now that its members are converts to the idea of private capital working alongside public money so that we can have more building work and better conditions for everyone.
It is important that we attract an increasing amount of private money into that type of activity, so that we can build more houses for the amount of public money that we have on offer, because we think that tax bills matter as well as the achievement on the ground, and that is the way of managing both.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North expressed a fear about rents, but he did not take into account building and financing costs, which are vital to the equation before one can predict anything from the HAG rates as to how rents might be affected. I was glad that he praised some methods of shared ownership and assisted ownership, but then he seemed to turn against ownership altogether, which I thought was most disappointing, given the aspirations of many of his constituents.
Wales approaches the end of the 20th century in good heart. Her people are better educated, better housed and more prosperous than at any time in her history. Wales is no longer a nation of tenants in tied cottages. Wales is now a nation of home owners--of those who have seized the opportunity of the Conservative moment, and have a stake in Wales's present and future prosperity. Home ownership--one of the foundation stones of a stable democracy--is now firmly rooted in Welsh soil.
Conservative policies will continue to ensure that advance. If only Opposition Members would join in, they would discover that it is popular as well as right.
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) : That was a fascinating contribution from the Secretary of State. He and I hold degrees in history from the same university, but I suspect that our interpretation of the historic facts of the past few hundred years might differ, at least as regards Wales.
I confess that it is the first time that I have heard the Magna Carta quoted in the Chamber during a debate on housing in Wales. The 13th century barons who devised that great charter in those far off days probably had no idea how most of their tenants lived. I guess that they lived in hovels. I wonder whether, if it were left to the Secretary of State, he might think that the same will happen in Wales, because what he said today bears no relationship whatsoever, either to the recent history of housing in Wales, or to the condition of the houses of the Welsh people.
Column 491The Secretary of State speaks at great length about the significance and importance of owner-occupation, and he is right. He said that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) did not support owner-occupation, which is the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman said. The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North said that owner-occupation is not the only answer, which is what the Labour party says.
Some people believe that the Labour party supports only rented housing, and that the Conservative party supports only
owner-occupation. That is only half right, in the sense that the Labour party certainly believes in a proper choice for people in Wales, as in the rest of the country. Our opinion is that there should be a variety of tenure throughout Wales--that people should have the right to own their houses, but they should also have the right to rent their houses from local authorities, private landlords or housing associations.
The Secretary of State touched on that side of the equation only very lightly, because he told the House and, I suspect, the nation--I mean the British nation rather than the Welsh--that his views on housing are effectively laissez-faire, fairly right-wing, ideological Conservative views about owner-occupation. He failed to mention--perhaps he does not realise, but I am sure that he does--that the percentage of people in Wales who own their houses is extremely large. In our south Wales valleys, a massive proportion of people own their houses. It is no new phenomenon to them.
It seems to me that the Secretary of State failed to understand that, although there were problems in the past with regard to the building of council house estates, because enormous estates were built which were too big and caused all types of social problems, the housing problems in Wales would have been phenomenal if those local authorities had not built those houses in past decades.
Mr. Sweeney : Although it is true that, historically, the percentage of owner-occupancy in Wales has tended to be high, is not it fair to say that it has increased from 59 to 72 per cent. since the Conservatives took over power from Labour ?
Mr. Murphy : Inevitably the right-to-buy legislation has meant that thousands of council and development corporation houses have been bought by tenants. Of course the percentage of owner-occupation has increased. There is nothing new about that development or that phenomenon. In those intervening years, however, the number of people who are waiting for homes on council house waiting lists has also increased. There are now 75,000 people in Wales whose names are on local authority waiting lists, and there are nearly 19,000 names on the waiting lists of housing associations. So although, yes, owner-occupation has increased, at the same time the number of people who desperately need accommodation has also increased.
Why on earth cannot the Government understand the need for all types of accommodation, as all European Governments do ? Perhaps that is the reason why the Secretary of State does not like it very much. He knows that, in Europe, there is a genuine and good mix of rented accommodation, private and public, and owner-occupation. That richness of diversity of tenure provides the answer to the housing problems in Wales, as it does to
Column 492housing problems in Britain as a whole. To that extent, the Secretary of State did not answer the questions that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North rightly and properly asked in his good speech.
Mr. Jonathan Evans : The hon. Gentleman misses the point. The figure for housing stock in Wales today is more than 100,000 higher than it was 14 years ago. The homelessness problem has been caused by marital breakdown and because young people now elect to leave home earlier, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. We have the highest divorce rate in the whole of Europe, which is probably why many of the people are on the waiting lists.
Mr. Murphy : It may be that the divorce rate is high, but this is not a debate on moral values or divorce. It is a debate on the housing needs in Wales. I do not know whether constituents come to the hon. Gentleman's advice surgery every week to talk about accommodation problems, but I am convinced that all hon. Members--whether they represent a Welsh, English or Scottish constituency--will have had the same experience. The problem of housing is high on the list of those who visit our advice surgeries, not simply because they are divorced or because they are single parents, although those are important factors. What do we do with divorced people ? Should we not house them ? What about the children involved ? Are they to be denied housing because their parents are divorced ?
We are mistaken if we believe that the housing problems have disappeared simply because the right-to-buy policy has given people the opportunity to buy their own homes from local authorities. The Government are spending much less on housing in Wales than they have for a long time. Between 1989 and 1994, spending on housing fell from £197 million to £79 million. Council house rents have gone up. While the Government have been in power they have been obsessed with local authorities and their role in the provision of housing, whether in Wales or the rest of Britain. They will push up rents as high as they can to ensure that houses are sold to tenants. As a result, council house provision in Wales comes to a halt. Although almost 250,000 houses are still owned by local authorities in Wales, they still need maintaining. The Government have fallen down on providing sufficient money to local authorities to do the job.
The Government state that housing associations are the social providers of housing. I agree with the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North when he says that we are now in deep trouble because of the changes that the Government are making to the subsidies paid to Tai Cymru and housing associations. The reduction of the grant from 62 to 55 per cent. next year means that rents will rise on average by about 34 per cent.--they have already risen by 61 per cent. since 1989.
It will become evident that the only people able to afford the rents will be those whose rents are paid by some form of housing benefit. The last thing that we want to do is to turn the estates built by housing associations into ghettos.
If ever there were a prescription for social divisiveness in Wales, that is it. What we need is what Governments of
Column 493both colours developed in my town of Cwmbran --the only new town in Wales for 30 years. They developed a mix of owner- occupation and houses with reasonable rents. That mix will disappear and all that will be left in Wales will be rented provision that provides nothing more than welfare ghettos, which will be bad news for Wales.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones : I thank my hon. Friend for giving way because I am interested in exploring that issue. Does he also recognise that it is not only the new build housing association areas that are becoming welfare ghettos, but older, inner city areas ? House prices are relatively cheap in such districts, so housing associations have bought up about one fifth or perhaps 30 per cent. of the housing stock--I know that that is true in certain parts of Cardiff. Those districts are becoming ghettos as a result of the policies that my hon. Friend is explaining.
Mr. Murphy : My hon. Friend is right--I know that he has personal experience of those districts as he has represented them, both as a Member of Parliament and as a councillor. It is important for us to realise that the problems that we have identified exist not only in the valleys and rural areas, but in Welsh cities. I fear that the divisive policies that the Secretary of State has announced this afternoon could make the position even worse.
Society in Wales is becoming polarised, which is the last thing that we want. We need much more harmonisation, which can occur only if there is a proper mix. But because the Government are obsessed with not allowing local authorities to play a housing role, either as a provider or an enabler, we find ourselves in a serious situation. The Nationwide building society has threatened to pull out of the housing association sector as a direct result of the Government reducing the grant from 62 to 55 per cent.
A subject that must exercise the mind of anyone involved in housing in Wales or any public representative in Wales is the Government's consultation exercise on homelessness. I welcome the Secretary of State's announcements on any action that will reduce homelessness. If the right hon. Gentleman listened to the radio this morning, he will know that 500 church housing groups have condemned the Government's latest proposals on homelessness. The Government are setting the desperate against the very desperate. We must not create a situation where those on housing waiting lists are set against those who are homeless--they are often the same people.
Statistics show that, in 1992, only 11 per cent. of households that were accepted as homeless were rehoused in ordinary council houses. That shows that the policy does not work. I suspect that the Government's hidden agenda--perhaps not in Wales, but elsewhere in Britain--is to see the homeless figures fall. They wanted unemployment figures to fall, so they changed the system and massaged the figures. They say that homelessness does not exist, so the figures fall, but the problem remains. I urge the Secretary of State to think hard. All sorts of people in Wales, including those in women's refuges, could lose out as a direct consequence of the Government's proposals on homelessness.
The Secretary of State talks about the housing stock in Wales. As the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North rightly said, 37 per cent. of houses were built before 1919. Some 42 per cent. of all Welsh owner- occupied houses in Wales are in need of repair. Although the finance
Column 494has been increased in the past few years, it is not new money. Instead of being used for council stock, the money is being spent on private stock. Whoever heard of a system where a mandatory grant for housing renovations cannot be used because the local authority has been cash limited by the Welsh Office ? As a result, I suspect that villages and towns, particularly in the valleys, will be severely affected by the dotty combination of Government policies that do not seem to mix.
The maximum renovation grant has been reduced from £50,000 to £24, 000. Obviously, the houses most in need of repair are those least likely to be repaired, and the quality of housing will be affected. Our rural districts are also hit.
Mr. Murphy : Two years before a general election I am not in a position to give the figures and I would be foolish to do so. If the Secretary of State would tell me by how much the Government were to increase or reduce taxation next year, I would be prepared to answer his question. He knows that when the Labour Government come to power after the next general election, we will look at the books and work out our priorities. Our priorities will be different from those of the present Government. We intend to use the capital receipts held by local authorities to build houses and to improve the council stock. We would not do something as daft as to award a mandatory grant, but not allow a local authority to use the money.
Everybody in Wales agrees that the problem with owner-occupation is not so much that it is bad as that people in Wales often cannot afford to become owner-occupiers. I welcome anything that the Government do to provide low- cost housing in Wales for
owner-occupation. That is vital, but we must not forget that in many of the cities and valleys of Wales--although not so much in the rural areas--there are secondhand homes which are quite old but which can be bought for £30,000 or even less. In 1990, the Council of Welsh Districts reported that 54 per cent. of new households in Wales could not afford home ownership. The same is roughly true today. Private house building is down ; only 6,000 were built last year, as opposed to 9,000 five years ago.
What I am saying holds good for every part of Wales. Dyfed has the lowest average male manual earnings of any British county. Powys has the lowest average male earnings in the country. In Mid-Glamorgan, 22 per cent. of men and 40 per cent. of women are economically inactive. In Gwynedd, male disposable earnings are 14 per cent. below the British average. Wales is at the bottom of the earnings list in Great Britain. If people do not earn enough, they cannot afford mortgages. That is why only 6,000 new houses a year are being built now.
Mr. Jonathan Evans : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, according to figures published by Lloyd's earlier this year, the average amount spent on housing in Wales is 16 per cent. of a person's income, whereas in England it is 19 per cent ?
Column 495lowest earners, and that in turn means that people in Wales, especially young families setting off up the housing ladder, cannot afford to buy houses.
Mr. Sweeney : Surely that is only one half of the equation ? If housing costs are lower in Wales, then lower wages in Wales should not make the slightest difference. In fact, if the gap between English and Welsh housing costs is wider than the gap between earnings, Welsh people will be better able to buy their own homes.
Mr. Murphy : But even people in the parts of Wales with traditionally low-cost housing cannot afford to buy. The survey done by the CWD four years ago showed that the average price of a house was about £31,000, and it has not changed much since. Even so, houses are not being bought. No one should delude himself that people in Wales are in a position to buy houses straight away. They are not. We know that young couples do not enjoy the same opportunities today as they did 10 or 15 years ago--whether to buy a house, or to rent a house from an association, a local authority or the private sector. That is why 5,000 people in my constituency linger on the waiting list, and the situation is not improving.
The answer is not to say that we need more private-sector owner-occupied houses. That is certainly part of the answer, but it is only part of it. Because the Government do not want to allow councils to be involved in house building, and because they are cutting back the work of the housing associations, matters will only get worse. I think that we need another report on Tai Cymru. We have heard about all the reports on other quangos, and I should like to know what Tai Cymru is up to half the time. If the Government keep on cutting grants, it will not have much left to do. I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State will have a look at Tai Cymru's work in the months to come.
We must allow councils to start using their capital receipts to buy houses. We also need a change in planning laws in our rural areas so that people can stay in the villages and towns in which they were brought up. The Government must abandon their homelessness review and provide proper accommodation for those in desperate need of it. More members of local authorities must be represented on the board of Tai Cymru--none of them are at present. The Government must abandon their obsession with local authorities.
Only this week, the Queen gave her Royal Assent to the Local Government (Wales) Bill, and within six or seven months, the new shadow authorities will come into being. Those 22 new authorities in Wales will be housing authorities and the opportunity exists to allow them to provide proper housing for the people of Wales. The Government should give them the resources and the opportunity to do just that.
Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor) : The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) said that he was concerned about the fact that there was insufficient housing provision in Wales. As I listened to the list of prescriptions that he gave the House, however, it seemed to me that everything that he proposed would lead to less housing being available.
Column 496The hon. Gentleman complained first about the rehabilitation of property. I acknowledge his point about the financial difficulties that have resulted from fiscal changes to do with VAT and charges. He also rightly outlined another problem : when someone goes to rehabilitate a property, he does not know what difficulties he may find, so the costs, necessarily, become higher. The hon. Gentleman suggested that grants should therefore be higher. Without more resources, however, that would mean fewer houses. That is the difficulty that has faced Tai Cymru in all its decisions. It has not opposed rehabilitation ; it is just that, if we choose the more expensive route, we end up with fewer houses. That is surely not what we want, given a recognition that we must provide more social housing, and it goes against the direction in which our policy should be aimed.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North also spoke about rents. The same trade-off applies to rents. If we drive them downwards, perhaps by increasing housing association grant rates, as the hon. Gentleman proposed, again, without increased resources, there are bound to be fewer houses. That points up the emptiness of the remarks by the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who was not prepared to tell us anything about resources, but who was prepared to describe the direction in which we should move in respect of rents, HAG rates and so on. Without additional resources, I repeat, in the end, that fewer houses will be provided.
Mr. Dafis : The balance between HAG and private money is crucial. In theory, we can increase the number of houses if we can continue to increase the proportion of private funding--but there must be a cut-off point. That is the vital balance to be struck between the number of houses provided and the rents charged. Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of further reducing HAG in Wales ?
Mr. Evans : The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we cannot drive down HAG rates inexorably without ultimately finding that private finance is not available. The hon. Gentleman will know that I addressed the Federation of Welsh Housing Associations conference precisely on that point. We know from private financiers that once the proportion falls below 50 per cent., private finance may dry up. We have not yet reached that point. Still, the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the issue for the future. A move in the opposite direction, to increase HAG rates, will inexorably lead to the provision of fewer houses.
Earlier in the debate, I intervened to say that the Welsh housing stock currently stands at record levels. That fact is not generally acknowledged when we debate housing issues. Since 1979, for instance, more than 100,000 extra homes have been provided. I return to the point about Cynon Valley : I recognise that homelessness there has increased, but it has done so at the same time as the population has declined, even though we have provided more homes.
Social factors are the reason why we need so many more homes--there are many more households. This is not a moral judgment or an attack upon those who, for one reason or another, have been engaged in a marital breakdown, but we cannot say in a politically correct way that we shall not speak about, or draw attention to the fact that, despite the massive addition to the number of houses in Wales, we still have a prevailing homelessness problem.
Column 497We have to examine the reasons for that and, at the same time, recognise that there is a duty on the Government to do what they can to alleviate that problem.
I make no apology for saying that during the past 20 years, the divorce rate has doubled and we now have the highest divorce rate in Europe. Those are important factors in understanding some of the difficulties that are placed within the remit of Government in addressing housing problems. What is the response ? Since Tai Cymru was formed, 22,000 extra homes have been provided. Housing for Wales has so far spent £903 million, provided by the Welsh Office in a variety of ways. Listening to the debate, one would think that the whole thrust of the Housing for Wales programme is towards home ownership of one sort or another, through shared ownership or whatever.
Housing for Wales aims to deliver about 10 per cent. on the assisted ownership basis, according to the latest proposals, and the fall from that initial target of 10 per cent. has been due largely to the recession in house prices. All the evidence shows that in recent years people have not generally been going into private home ownership so much because, for the first time, we have seen the phenomenon of declining house prices.
As we now have historically low interest rates and house prices are starting to rise again, it is essential that Tai Cymru should take advantage of that by returning to the 10 per cent. figure and helping those people by adopting the remarks and words of the hon. Member for Torfaen and offering people the choice. If up to 10 per cent. of the people funded by Tai Cymru wish to take advantage of the scheme, they should be able to do so. The great advantage is that if we are able to spend the money in that way, we shall end up housing more people, and that has to be in everyone's interest.
Mr. Dafis : Would the hon. Gentleman approve of an increase over and above the 10 per cent. currently allocated to the owner-occupied sector ? Would he like that percentage to increase beyond 10 per cent?
Mr. Evans : I believe very much in choice. If I have a criticism of the original "Agenda for Action" paper--I have to be careful as when it was published I was deputy chairman of Tai Cymru--it is that the Government set a target for owner-occupation. I do not believe that the Government should be setting a target for the level of owner-occupation that they would like in Wales. I believe in choice, and Tai Cymru is right to devote 10 per cent. of its resources to providing the opportunities for people to exercise that choice. If a significant number of people wish to exercise it, we can consider expanding the scheme thereafter, but that is the advantageous way to move.
Let me also outline to the House a view that I have expressed on several occasions in relation to general housing provision. Tai Cymru currently provides about 4,200 houses. The Welsh Affairs Committee received evidence from the chief executive of Tai Cymru to the effect that we need to provide up to 5,000 houses per annum and I support that target.
We have to bite the bullet and challenge those people presenting significantly higher figures. I am aware that Shelter Cymru and the Welsh Federation of Housing Associations are talking in terms of an expansion upwards to 10,000 units per annum. I doubt whether that could be delivered, but one has to recognise what the cost of that provision would be. Looking at the implications for private
Column 498finance--some of which have been raised by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North--that would ultimately mean the Welsh Office spending about five times as much on social housing in Wales as it does today. Those who support Shelter Cymru's aims should recognise the substantial financial costs.
Even if we had unlimited resources, it is important to recognise some of the other problems faced by those who are looking for proper and adequate housing within their own communities. I speak particularly about rural communities in my constituency. In recent weeks, I have spoken to some of my constituents in Llangattock and Bulch. The Llangattock community is quite small and the national parks planning guidance, policy and programme for that area allow for the building of 15 houses in Llangattock in the next 10 years. I understand that the policy has been approved, or at least examined, by the Welsh Office. There are 98 people on the waiting list in Llangattock, yet under the planning process only 15 new houses will be built in the next 10 years.
That problem exists not just in my constituency ; there is a similar problem in Bulch and in the constituency of the hon. Member for Yns Mo n (Mr. Jones). Recently, the hon. Gentleman and I were helpfully sent housing strategies and operational plans from Mr. John Arthur Jones, the noted director of housing in Yns Mo n, which make it quite clear that planning permissions within Yns Mo n are insufficient to address the number of people actually on the housing waiting list in the area.
There are real planning permission problems in some of our rural areas and I believe that the Welsh Affairs Committee, while expressing concern about some aspects of planning permissions that had been granted, invited the view that there should be some developments in some areas based upon the Welsh settlement pattern. That is important in some parts of rural Wales and is not always recognised by planning authorities.
It is important for the Government to examine the allocation of housing. Although I recognise that additional houses should be provided, allocation is also a matter of great concern. This afternoon, my right hon. Friend announced some changes to the development board, following a number of critical reports, one of which related to a housing allocation matter that activated the entire Welsh media. I spoke today to the local government ombudsman's office and I was informed that in the past five years, he has confirmed 16 cases of critical reports on local authorities in relation to housing allocation matters, 14 of which were serious enough to warrant a finding of maladministration. That illustrates that the allocation of housing is not a matter to be thrown aside ; it requires some important consideration.
Mr. Murphy : I do not want to pre-empt the hon. Gentleman, but I assume that he is going to give some consideration in his comments about allocation, as he knows that the vast bulk of local authorities in Wales allocate by a proper points system. What does he mean by further consideration ?
Mr. Evans : My area has moved to a points allocation system which, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, favours people who present themselves as being immediately homeless--those who are effectively roofless. If a person takes steps to find himself some temporary accommodation while seeking permanent
Column 499accommodation from the local authority, sadly, as things stand today, he or she will be on waiting lists for months, if not years, and ultimately probably not housed at all. Those who make no effort to find themselves temporary accommodation have an advantage over those in housing need who make some temporary arrangement, who, as a result of having taken that temporary arrangement, are disadvantaged in housing allocation thereafter. The whole issue should be examined by the Government and changes brought forward.
If the Government encourage local authorities to provide temporary accommodation, perhaps in the private sector, for people who are immediately roofless, they could take action with regard to other aspects, one of the most important of which concerns houses in multiple occupation. I have received a letter from Radnorshire district council which draws attention to the Prime Minister's commitment, given in the House on 6 May 1994, to have a Government review of the licensing of such houses. Some documents that have been sent to me show that the likelihood of injury to tenants in such accommodation is six times higher than is the case with other tenants. That leads me to the view that action is necessary. I welcome the fact that there has been a 34 per cent. reduction in the use of bed and breakfast accommodation, but I should ultimately like to see its use eliminated. I am strongly of the view that it has no part to play in Britain's housing provision. I am also concerned about overall levels of housing benefit. However, in deference to the House and the fact that others wish to speak, I shall leave that point.
Much has been said about Tai Cymru's proposals about assisted ownership. As I said earlier, that amounts to barely 10 per cent. of the overall resources that will be made available by Tai Cymru, which will still be geared towards the provision of rented housing for those in housing need. Housing for Wales should be congratulated on the significant contribution that it has made in that sector over the past five years. It would be wrong if the tenor of the debate were to lead to the view within housing circles in Wales that the thrust of Tai Cymru's provision in future will be directed only towards owner-occupation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : By making his excellent choice of subject for today's debate, the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) drew from the Secretary of State an interesting and provocative statement about the future of housing in Wales. I share with the Secretary of State the hope that owner-occupation can be increased substantially, particularly if that makes it accessible to a wider range of people in the social stratum of Wales. It is extremely important that quality housing should be available to as wide a range of people as possible. The evidence suggests that those who own their own houses sometimes look after them rather better than do those who live in homes in public ownership, so more owner-occupation could lead to a higher quality of property in Wales.
One issue on which the Secretary of State's statement was a little disappointing was housing for rent for young people. The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that 16
Column 500and 17-year-olds cannot and should not expect to be provided with their own properties to rent. Family life has its difficulties. All of us who have been the parents of teenagers know that the period between 14 and 18 can be one in which there are tense moments, but they are part of building towards an adult life.
However, the Secretary of State may have overlooked the extent of the need for housing for rent for young people older than 17--the 18 to 25 age group. I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) about the increasing divorce rate throughout the United Kingdom, but that is a fact with which we must live.
It is also a fact that, in well-regulated families, parents experience intelligent but difficult, or intelligent but wise, young people who, when they reach the age of 18, 19 or 20 build up their own relationships and rightly want to lead their own independent lives, and perhaps are entitled to expect society to give them a footing on the housing ladder. In rural mid-Wales--for example, in Newtown or Welshpool in my constituency--it costs as much to rent a room or a small flat as it does in London, but the wages are significantly lower. There is not the supply of houses to rent that is needed. I do not suggest that that is logical. Many people in the construction industry do not realise that there is, potentially, significant income to be made from building flats to rent. The Government should encourage developers to realise that the opportunities are available and that they are rather foolish not to take them up, but they are not doing so.
Therefore, I invite the Government to consider whether there might not be ways to give private developers, rather than the money, the confidence to realise that building houses for rent for young people is a realistic way first, to provide properties in which young people can live and, secondly, to make a reasonable amount of money from sound business investment. Particularly among the smaller developers--in rural Wales it is inevitable that developers will be small--there is a lack of confidence in that.
That is not a matter of ideology. It is destructive to talk about left and right-wing ideology when one is discussing the building of houses in which young people can live. It is inevitable that there will be a mix between public housing, in one form or another, and private housing, but we must try to ensure that we achieve the quantum of housing that meets at least the majority of need. I think that all hon. Members are worried when young people, sometimes with a baby or expecting a baby, come to them, and they find that one partner is living with one set of parents and the other with the other set of parents. That is a common experience. We must do something more to try to provide such people with the properties that they need in the period before they have the earnings and the capital base to borrow money from banks or building societies. In this short contribution--I know that others wish to speak--I want to make three other points. The first relates to renovation grants. The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North was right to refer to the appalling waiting lists for renovation grants. In my constituency--I have written to Ministers about one or two of the cases--young people live in caravans for years because of the queue for renovation grants. Some of those renovation grants are for old properties that are well worth saving ; some are of